Tuesday 3 September
Today is Rioja wine day. We have a winery tour and tasting booked for this morning at the Bodega Franco-Espanolas which is just down the street, across the iron bridge, from the hotel. In times gone by the winery and vineyard were outside the town, but despite development around the estate it continues as one of two now within the city. The winery is quite large, producing over a million bottles per annum, and very high tech. Very similar in the equipment and techniques to an Australian winery in fact. The one difference is the insistence on using cork for the bottle closure. All the old stuff about the wine needing additional oxygen to develop, discredited by research in Australia. More of corked wine later!
Being a defined wine producing district under European rules, growers and producers are very limited in the grape varieties they can use. Traditionally the Rioja area grows Vinura, Grenache and Tempranillo, however Franco-Espanolas have just introduced chardonnay into one blend (but no more than 40%) as permitted by the authority. The white wine was a semisweet Vinura/Chardonnay blend and tasted first, followed by two reds, one of which was a Reserve and national prize winner.
After our visit we have about an hour until our next appointment, so we peruse the veggie market and buy some fruit for lunch. Back to the Calle Ruavieja for our 2.00pm appointment at Calado del siglo XVI wine cellar. Located on what is believed to be the oldest street in town it is also part of the Walk of St. James. Here We learn how wine used to be produced. No crushing or de-stemming, the grapes are just dumped on the floor within a low wall on the ground floor. A few days and the juice within the grapes naturally starts to ferment. Then on to next door and a large wooden press set into the walls operated by two men. The juice flows on to the sloping floor and down a small hole. In the cellar below the juice is collected in large ?wooden vats for storage of a few days or more. The slightly alcoholic grape juice was drunk in preference to water we are told. Sounds like the Way beer was treated in medieval Britain.
After the tour there is... Yes more tasting. Kathy is starting to despair of Rioja whites!
Time for more postcards as we have found a post-box around the corner. A good price of €0.40 per card and we find a tobacconist for the €1.50 International stamps. Of course by now the post-box has an “out of order" sign but we find another near the restaurant with a recommendation from Irene. 8.00pm and the restaurant is still closed, not good. We don't want pintxos tonight because we are desperate for some salad and vegetables, plus tomorrow is another pintxos crawl in San Sebastian. We opt for Cafe Calenda as it’s menu de dia looks good. €14 for a big salad, followed by pork casserole or hake, a drink and sweet or coffee. If you select a wine then a ¼ bottle is included. Not a carafe, a whole bottle appears on the table. Must be a trick, better not drink too much. Unfortunately, the wine is quite badly cork tainted. No problem, they record it on the computer till and then bring out another bottle. Tastes good! Amazing value, a glass of vino de casa costs between €1.20 and €1.60 (the white costs more). We really enjoyed the food and could not fit in the home-made cheesecake. Nada mas gracias.