ONE OF the best aspects of the wine trade is the opportunity to taste and to travel, as well as to re-acquaint friendships with other merchants across the country. So, a few weeks ago I was very excited indeed to make my first journey to La Rioja, to sample the famous hospitality, tapas and wonderful wines. My ultimate destination was to Bodegas Martinez Lacuesta in Haro, but I first made my way to a bar in Stansted Airport to meet up with the other dozen or so merchants who had teamed up to put their own personal resolutions and diets to one side and venture forward to taste and eat all that Rioja has to offer in the name of their customers!

Once arrived in the town of Haro in Rioja Alavesa, we made our way to the outskirts of the town to the new site of Bodgeas Martinez Lacuseta. The Bodegas had recently moved from the historic cellars of “Ventilla 71” in the centre of the oldest part of Haro, to a modern purpose built facility that acts as a visitor centre, winery and cellars. It is extremely impressive. We were met by Company Principal Luis Martinez Lacuesta and Export Manager Alvaro Gutierrez, who showed us around this wonderful bodega and led us to the much awaited tasting room.

The next few hours were spent in the wonderful pursuit of Rioja Wines. We tasted through all the wines that the Bodega had to offer. The Martinez Lacuesta Rioja Blanco was a delicious 100% Viura and the Martinez Lacuesta Rose had soft red fruit with a vibrant citrus freshness.

The Campeador Crianza 2005 is an outstanding wine, a blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha that spends 18 months in French oak. The “Ventilla 71” Reserva was produced to mark the relocation of the Bodega and has wonderful fragrant flavours of cherry, chocolate and new wood.

However, the star was the Martinez Lacuesta Gran Reserva 2001, a magnificent blend of Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo. It had a wonderful fragrant nose with an elegant powerful palate of fruit cake fruit. Everything a Gran Reserva should be.

After this marathon tasting a local dish of potatoes and chorizo cooked in a beef stock was served. This hearty and delicious lunch was washed down with the excellent Crianza 2006. Feeling suitably refreshed, we then raced off for a vineyard tour before returning to our hotel. Our next appointment was in Logrogno to experience the famous tour of the tapas bars that are found in the narrow streets of that town. After a quick glass of Martinez Lacuesta Barrel Fermented White Rioja 2009, the tour began in earnest and we slurped, munched, gulped and nibbled are way from bar to bar. As the evening wore on, a decision had to be made whether to return home to Haro or continue to explore the delights of Logrogno. I bravely decided to continue and all in the name of our customers.

Mark Banham
Palmers Wine Store