Eventually tiring of being lazy in the sleepy town of Haro, we walked to Martinez Lacuesta – a vineyard a little way outside the town. Martinez Lacuesta is known not only for wine, but for vermouth – they craft various lines of the stuff and are quite well-known for it. Seeing as we had recently become vermouth connoisseurs, this was exciting news. The day was hot and gorgeous, as every other day in La Rioja had been.
Lourdes, our lovely tour guide, took us through the paces of the winery and the history of wine making in the region. Martinez Lacuesta produces 1 million bottles per year, harvesting fruit from 55 hectares of land, plus buying additional grapes from “Rioja” certified soil. Areas of the neighboring Vitoria region can have soil considered high-enough quality to be used for production of Rioja wine – and is so termed “Rioja Alavesa”. We went below ground to the stainless steel fermentation tanks, today with modern filtration methods, but back in the day, egg whites were used to filter sediments out of the wine before ageing. Today, with the size of the tanks, that would mean 1400 egg whites per tank! Curiously, have you even noticed that regions known for red wine production also seem to have an abundance of eggy dessert and cake recipes? Here in Rioja, the leftover yolks were given to local convents, where the nuns made rich biscuits with high egg yolk quantities in the recipes 😉
Young wines at Martinez Lacuesta are aged for 6 months, Crianza for 18 months, and Reservas for two years in the barrel, and four in the bottle. During barrel ageing, due to the arid conditions of the below ground storage area, up to 53 000 liters per year (3%) of wine are lost to the atmosphere – the angel’s share. We continued on and learned about the Vermouth production – an active part of Martinez Lacuesta for almost 80 years. Vermouth comes from the German word Wermut – wormwood, the signature bitter bite found in the stuff. Vermouth is essentially just fortified wine with various botanical elements added. It’s a main ingredient in two of THE BEST cocktails in the world – the Manhattan and the Negroni.
Back above ground, we tried both a white and red wine, as well as two Vermouth’s – the Reserve and a special editon, aged in Acacia wood. The special edition was too good to pass up and I went home with a bottle.
A couple more glasses of wine and we were ready for a siesta. . . and later, one last vermouth before leaving the Rioja region the next morning. Nos vemos Rioja!