An Ode to a Big Spanish Red Rioja

Wines from Rioja are like no others.

It was September 2003, post 9/11 but pre diaper and shoe bombs, and my first trip to Europe. We picked Barcelona as if we knew better. Why not? It still had Roman ruins and was on the Mediterranean Ocean. The size was manageable enough and it was on the cheaper side compared to the bigger European cities. It was in Spain and everyone spoke Spanish.

What I didn’t know was that it was about to be hailed a FOOD AND WINE MECCA. And La Mercé Festival was in full swing, which is kinda like Mardi Gras, without parades and the plaças are rocking all day and night.

There was an underlying scent that I could smell roaming the cobblestone medieval streets. While it wasn’t strong it was rich and decadent. I was a wino, but cheap and ignorant. My travel partner, who is more worldly and knowledgeable than I, took me for tapas and some vino de la casa. That solved the mystery of the scent. It was a red wine from Rioja; a simple vino tinto! I quickly learned “una copa de vino tinto por favor”! There was nothing like it; rich, smooth, strangely heavy for such a warm region, and immensely delicious. Each day started to revolve around wine time. See the Fundació Joan Miró, have some wine. See the chocolate museum, have some wine. See Gaudi and Picasso, have some wine. It was brilliant! Almost randomly, 4 more friends showed up, and we drank wine.

The days were filled with running around the town, having paella and sitting on the beach with our feet in the Mediterranean Ocean. I am not sure if I have ever turned a city so inside out before, even going into the suburbs for Spain’s, at the time, only comic book museum. Since Spain wasn’t in World War II, they had a different evolution in superhero comics with the Spanish Civil War and Revolution being anchor events. The museum was awesome. It was in some old dude’s basement and business hours, while posted, were merely a loose guideline. After waiting with another nerd, this one from Germany, we got the tour in French. It was awesome! Pages of comics, some original and some photocopies, tacked to presentation boards like the ones used in American elementary school science fairs. These boards snaked around the 500 square foot basement.

As the trip was coming to close, we scored some hash and 2 tickets to see Spiritualized and the Residents on the waterfront in an old train hangar. The sun was setting in bright coral bands across the sky and the smell of Rioja filled our noses as we rigged cigarettes to smoke the hash and sink into the evening.

It’s been 15 years since that trip and that smell still drives me to joy. A good one, a bad one, a cheap one; if the wine smells like a wine from Rioja I am happy.

Try out the Vivanco Reserva for an excellent 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano blend. It can be found for around $20, comes in a cool bottle and is vegan-friendly.

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