• Roger Jones on a tasting visit to six of Rioja’s top bodegas

    Earlier in the year, when he was visiting Haro to find out more about the relationship that exists between Rioja and Bordeaux, wine expert and chef Roger Jones visited six of the top bodegas in the region – La Rioja Alta, C.V.N.E, Bodegas Muga, Bodegas Roda, Bodegas Bilbainas and Bodegas Gomez Cruzado– over the course of three days. At each estate he tasted through the entire range of wines, many of which were paired with local delicacies.

    Earlier in the year, when he was visiting Haro to find out more about the relationship that exists between Rioja and Bordeaux, wine expert and chef Roger Jones visited six of the top bodegas in the region – La Rioja Alta, C.V.N.E, Bodegas Muga, Bodegas Roda, Bodegas Bilbainas and Bodegas Gomez Cruzado– over the course of three days. At each estate he tasted through the entire range of wines, many of which were paired with local delicacies.

    mm By July 6, 2022

    “These were three days in Rioja that will not be forgotten… I cannot wait to revisit these wines and share them with friends,” writes Jones.

    Although Logrono is the Capital of Rioja, the wine capital is Haro, home to the biggest names in Rioja, with seven of them set around the Haro train station, a strategic historic gateway for supplying Rioja wines to the outside world. The main reason for my trip here was to attend the Bordeaux Wine Encounter event or, to give it its full name the Barrio de la Estación International Wine Encounters 1: Bordeaux which you can read about here. The Bordeaux Wine Encounter was a special event which highlighted the help Rioja gave to Bordeaux with its wine supply during their troubled times. Once the event had finished I then visited the six bodegas that had helped set up the Wine Encounter and was treated to an extensive tasting at each.

    Jones (l) with Manuel Muga

    Bodegas Gomez Cruzado

    Founded in 1886, and describing itself as a boutique winery with an annual production of 250,000 bottles, Bodegas Gomez Cruzado has David Gonzalez as head winemaker. The vineyards are old and from some of the highest elevations of Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. Gonzalez highlighted the importance of the cooler conditions that these vineyards give, highlighting the freshness and acidity, as well as the ageability of these wines.

    Its Primary collection consists of six wines;

    Gomez Cruzado Blanco and Vendimia Seleccionada (both 2 year old wines), Gomez Cruzado Crianza (3 year old), Gomez Cruzado Reserva (5 year old), and its special vintage wines; Gomez Cruzado ‘Honorable’, and Vina Motulleri Gran Reserva.

    Gomez Cruzado also produces three unique ‘village’ wines sourced to highlight these specific tiny ‘sub regions’; Pancrudo is sourced from the village of Badarin, in the southern part of Rioja Alta, with red soil and high elevation.

    Cerro Las Cuevas is sourced from Ollauri a terraced century-old vineyard, with inclinations up to 50 degrees, and its pebbled limestone giving wines depth and concentration.

    Finally, Montes Obarenes is the most local of the wines coming from Haro which is perfect for white grapes – rich soil, with the Ebro River also bringing freshness to the wines.

    As this was the first visit of the morning we were feasted on new season white asparagus, Iberico ham and the most perfect light delicate Spanish omelette made with free-range eggs, local potatoes and extra virgin olive oil, with a touch of salt.

    Gomes Cruzado Montes Obarenes 2018 – Blanco

    Viura, Tempranillo Blanco, Malavasia, Garnacha Blanca y Calagrano.

    Stunning, fresh and buttery (from the French oak barrels), this will age; love the purity, precision and brightness, an exceptional white wine.

    Gomes Cruzado Montes Obarenes 2015 – Blanco

    Viura, Tempranillo Blanco, Malavasia, Garnacha Blanca y Calagrano

    Tried this both in magnum and bottle, showcases how these wines age gracefully, still precise, clean and focused an impressive wine, although rich it has the minerality and freshness to carry it, and the purity is immense.

    Gomez Cruzado Pancrudo 2019

    100% Garnacha

    Fresh ripe and pure, this Garnacha has ripe undertones of cherries and raspberries, spices, and a lingering delicate soft fragrant finish. Again the purity and finesse shouts out.

    Gomez Cruzado ‘Honorable’ 2017

    Tempanillo, Graciano, Garnacha y Mazola

    This has been made since 1913 and is aged in French Oak, like the purity and sweet balsamic undertones.

    Vina Motulleri Gran Reserva 2011

    Temparanillo (70%), Garnacha (25%), Viura (5%)

    Chocolate and truffle aromatics, Wow what a stunning wine, dark fruited and spiced palate but the mocha and truffles continue to excite, on the mid-palate it is juicy with spiced, luscious brambles, an outstanding wine that will age for decades.

    Bodegas Bilbainas


    Our second visit of the day meant jumping onto Quad bikes and hitting the 14 hectacre Vina Zaco vineyard of Bodegas Bilbainas, on a rather crisp fresh wintery March morning. It certainly wiped away any remnants of the previous night’s antics. This vineyard overlooks Ebro river, giving that added fresh cool air to produce Tempranillo grapes that are deeply flavoured.

    Established in 1901, with the first vintage of Vina Pomal released in 1904. This Bodegas has more vineyards than any other in Haro (250 ha) and over 130 ha surrounds the estate, with one of the regions most extensive underground cellars.  This winery goes back to 1859 when it was owned by French producers; Freres & Cie, and purchased in 1901 by a group of Spanish businessmen from Bilbao.

    Vina Zaco, Rioja, Vinedo 2017


    Damsons, violets, then jasmine, vanilla and blueberries with bright fresh red berries mid palate with a cocoa spice. Modern and expressive style.

    La Vicalanda Gran Reserva 2015


    Cherries and plums, hint of floral perfume, with violets, beautifully smooth and seductive on the mid palate, with spices giving it a lift, lovely texture.

    Vina Pomal Gran Reserva 2014

    Tempranillo (90%), Graciano (10%)

    Classic Rioja, and drinking very well currently, luscious long and lingering with a multitude of focused berries from dark red to black.

    La Rioja Alta  


    Our third visit of the day was to La Rioja Alta and with the clock racing to 3 p.m. it must be time for lunch and we were not to be disappointed with an indoor BBQ with young lamb cooked on dried vines.

    Set up originally in 1890 by a group of five local Riojan and Basque families, it was merged into Don Alfredo Ardanza’s winery in 1904, and of course since then the two most important wines from the Bodegas are named after these two dates 890 and 1904. The first wine made, the Reserva 1890 was made by their then French winemaker Monsieur Vigier, interesting too is that their first president was a woman; Dona Saturnina Cid y Garate. The actual name La Rioja Alta, S.A was established in 1941, and they registered the Vina Ardanza brand in 1942.

    Finca Martelo 2015

    Tempranillo 94%, Mazuelo, Garnacha, Viura

    Bright intense and focused, silky, velvety, it is a mouthful of joy, bright fruited with hints of shortbread and vanilla spice perfect with slow cooked oxtail.

    Vina Ardanza Reserva 2015

    Tempranillo (78%) Garnacha (22%) 

    Blackberries to the fore, clean and distinctive, love the purity, one of the best Vina Ardanza that I have had for the last few decades. Rich and textured, both complex and delicate giving an outstanding balance, pure heaven.

    Vina Arana Gran Reserva 2015

    Tempranillo (95%) Graciano (5%)

    Multi-spectrum of dark and blue berries, rich savoury balance, offal and lamb meat juices, sweet caramel and bright berries carries it well, hints of smoke but then glazed over with bright bilberries, Delicate feel that drinks so well, still so fresh and exciting, complex and age worthy.

    La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, 2011

    Tempranillo (89%) Graciano (11%)

    Dark fruited with balsamic, spices, cocoa, leather, after eight, long lingering fresh mid palate, liquorice and more spice on mid palate, with saddle and cedar.

    With lunch running late and a Siesta not forthcoming a refreshing Cerveza in the centre of Haro was the ideal break prior to our final Bodegas of the day; CVNE



    Compania Vincola del Norte de Espana (C.V.N.E) was set up by the Real de Asua brothers in 1879, in the now historic Barrio de la Estacion railway station, originally they had come to the region for health reasons but set up a World-renowned family winery that has grown over five generations.

    Maria Urrutia Ybarra

    It now has seven wineries across Spain; CVNE, Imperial, Vina Real, and Vinedos del Contino in Rioja, Roger Goulart in Penedes, Belain Ribera del

    Duero and Virgen de Galir in Valdeorras.

    We were greeted at the Bodegas by Maria Urrutia Ybarra, a direct descendant of the founders and currently the Marketing Director and Board Member, together with Maria Larrea, Technical Director including overseeing the winemaking of all Cune and Imperial wines.

    We started the proceedings with a master class of Imperial Gran Reserva, aged for a minimum of 24 months in new French and American Oak barrels, with racking every 8 months, then once bottled are aged for a further 36 months before being released. Wines are only produced in exceptional years. Here were my highlights;

    Imperial Gran Reserva 2016

    Tempranillo (85%) Graciano  (10%) Mazuelo (5%)

    Cherries and spices, deep silky mid palate, red and dark berries hints of cocoa, tobacco, elegant silky and refined, this will evolve beautifully.

    Imperial Gran Reserva 2015

    Tempranillo (85%) Graciano  (10%) Mazuelo (5%)

    Cherry on front, then rich balsamic, dried Christmas fruits in liquor, vanilla spices, silky cocoa and delicate cedar, and luscious evolving well.

    Imperial Gran Reserva 1976

    Tempranillo (85%) Graciano  (10%) Mazuelo (5%)

    Amazing aromas of offal and meat dripping, juicy lambs blood, cherries and tobacco spice, bright clean and focused on mid palate, copper flavours, touch of sour fruit which lifts it. There is a tough of Soy, giving that umami feel, still plenty of life in this supreme wine.

    Other highlights besides dinner included;

    Monopole Clasico Blanco Seco 2018

    Viura and others including some Manzanilla

    Clarified in concrete tanks, before fermentation in stainless steel tanks and then aged on lees in used large barrels and casks, including some time under a  ‘flor’ yeast as in the sherry process. Bright orchard fruit, pears and apples then almonds, saline notes, chamomile, brioche, wow what a stunning refreshing wine, perfect way to brighten up the evening.

    Vina Real Reserva 2016

    Tempranillo (90%) Garnacha (10%)

    Toasty spiced red berry nose and perfume, clean and focused, like the precision and purity of this, it is focused and pure.

    Bodegas Muga


    The final day took us to Bodegas Muga where a planned 7.30 a.m. Hot Air Balloon ride was cancelled, replaced with a tour of the Bodegas including their Cooperage, where they produce their own wine barrels.

    Bodegas Muga was founded by Isaac Muga and his wife Aurora Cano in 1932, and our hosts at the Bodegas were Manuel and Juan Muga, and I must say that this is the first time that I have seen a “Lazy Susan” used in such an exceptional way in delivering one of the most fabulous collection of exceptional wines to a gaggle of wine journalists. Difficult to list the entire star wines from this majestic tasting but here are a few of my favourite wines.

    Flor de Muga White 2018 and Rosado 2020

    Both these were served at the end of our mega red tasting and their freshness and vibrancy were a refreshing finish to the tasting. The White is made from Viura, White Grenache and Maturana. 6 months in lightly toasted French casks, with a further 12 months in bottle, green apple, tangerine and pink grapefruit, loved the minerality and depth & texture of this racey wine with attitude.

    The Flor de Muga Rose is made from Garnacha Tinta, fermented in small oak Vats, from separate plots, then left on lees for 4 months before blending. This is a serious charming Rose, stone fruit and citrus freshness with delicate spices and floral tones, a serious grown up Rose.

    Here we go then on the reds

    Manuel Muga

    Muga Reserva 2005

    Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta, Mazuelo, Graciano

    The precision and beauty of this wine is immense, bright purple fruit, delicate tannins, subtle hints of milk chocolate, refined vanilla, silky blackberry puree, fresh and vibrant. Aged for 22 months in their own barrels made from 80% French and 20% American.

    Muga Seleccion Especial 2010

    Tempranillo, Grenache, Mazuelo (Carigan) and Garciano

    Aged for 26 months, fined with egg whites, left in bottle for further 18 months before release. Loved the concentration of this wine, which also had an incredible purity, lightness on palate and that lingering purity and precision on the clusters of red and black fruits, touch of espresso but lifted by the citrus acidity.

    Muga Seleccion Especial 2004

    Tempranillo, Grenache, Mazuelo (Carigan) and Garciano

    ‘Punchy and funky’ my first notes stated, dense garnet, black cherry with graphite undertones, smoky bbq fire, juicy meaty, with a fine acidity at end to cut through this wine.

    Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2015, 2005 & 2001

    Tempranillo, Grenache, Mazuelo (Carigan) and Garciano

    The grapes for the Prado Enea are the last to be harvested, with most of the grapes sourced from high attitude plots. 36 months in barrels, after the initial 16 days in large Vats which has no added yeast or temperature control.

    The 2015 again displays that perfect purity that the Muga house displays, dark fruit with spices and a hint of ginger biscuits. Ripe blush clusters of perfect berries, silky, vanilla and seamless, will age beautifully, although I did enjoy it on the day.

    The Prado Enea 2005 is a concoction of berries dancing on the palate, think strawberries, damsons, red currants, Scottish raspberries, then the complexity of truffles, leather and cedar, thick but luscious, evolving well. An outstanding wine.

    The Prado Enea 2001 is pure heaven, an exceptional vintage, the purity and precision is just perfect, a dreamy wine, that perfect balance of soil and fruit, forest floor, truffled nuances, cherries and damsons, hints of crisp chocolate shards, thank you Muga family for this.

    Torre Muga 2016 & 2004

    Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graciano

    18 months in new French Oak barrels, the 2016 is dark fruited with smoky notes, herbaceous (rosemary at the fore), liquorice and black pepper spice. The 2004 has evolved perfectly highlighting the darker aromatics, which have soothed out over the years giving a silky inky style. This is more akin to a Bordeaux style.

    Aro Muga 2019 & 2010

    Tempranillo and Graciano

    18 months in new French oak barrels, the 2019 is fresh ripe, gushing with spiced red fruit, violets, graphite, Dundee cake spices, big but elegance shines through. The 2010 Aro is a marvel, cassis and cedar on the forefront, there is espresso and damsons, lovely cedar toasty feel, meat dripping, pure and quite wonderful.

    Following this Epic Tasting we were whisked off to the newest Bodega in the Haro Station region; Bodegas Roda and what a send off from our Haro trip with an outstanding traditional Rioja lunch.

    The lunch itself needs it’s own feature, a warm vegetable minestrone style Rioja soup, full of amazing root vegetables, brimming with depths of flavour perfectly matched to the White Roda I, then a quite brilliant Ox Cheek slowly cooked to perfection that raised the red wines to their perfect drinking window.

    Bodegas Roda


    We were welcomed by the charming Victor Charcan Tabareres, Sales Director at Roda, which is located on the edge of the river Ebro, founded in 1987, with 70 hectares of their own vineyards and established local growers providing a further 50 hectares of vineyards.

    Roda aim to showcase the aromas from the vineyards, oak is used but in the background, they are looking for freshness, full wines but fruity long and distinguished.

    The vineyards are sourced from different eco climates, with altitude changing from 380m to 650m, integrating the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Continental climates brought together by the mountainous region, refreshed by the Ebro.

    Roda 1 Reserva Blanco 2019

    Grenache Blanc, Malvasia, Viura

    New kid on the block, this very impressive debut white is rather special, love the intensity combined with the silky mid palate balanced by the precise minerality (wet stone) and fresh citrus hit, think White Bordeaux with a fresh clean cut.

    Roda 1 Reserva 2017


    Focused bright fruit, hints of tobacco and then plummy dark fruit, there is a lovely silky feel to this, and that mountain freshness, sweet and spiced together, touch of cocoa.

    Roda 1 Reserva 2007


    Silky smooth, gentle truffled nuances with an uplift from red berries, love the freshness on this making it moreish.

    Roda Cirsion 2018

    Tempranillo 89%, Graciano 11%

    Cocoa, spices, violets all evolve from the perfumed nose, the mid palate gives way to bright red berries, clusters of precise berries, and hints of tobacco.

    These were three days in Haro that will not be forgotten; I cannot wait to revisit these wines and share them with friends. An incredible welcome by all and a huge thankyou to the brilliant Carlos Perez from www.mahala.es who not only arranged the trip but put up with us all, thank you.

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