Book Review: The Finest Wines of Rioja and Northwest Spain.

This book is a part of the series of illustrated guides the University of California is publishing called Fine Wine Editions. The books follow an outline that will look familiar to the readers of the International Wine Review. The first part of the book looks at the history, geography, grape varieties, viticulture and winemaking of the region. The second part of the book profiles individual producers and their wines. And the third part of the book focuses on food and wine of the region. The book is a great travel guide for the wine tourist to this region of Spain.

Five sub-regions are covered in this book: Rioja, Navarra, Bierzo, Rías Baixas, and the Basque country. Since the IWR team has done extensive reports, and travels, in most of this area, the book brings back lots of memories. The maps and the photographs are beautifully done, but the real highlight of the volume is the winery and winemaker profiles. For Rioja, these profiles include CUNE, López de Heredia, Muga, Rioja Alta, Roda, Bilbaínas, Señorio de San Vicente, Sierra Cantabria, Artadi, Marqués de Riscal, Nuestra Señora de Remelluri, Remírez de Ganuza, Viñedos de Páganos, Marqués de Cáceres, Bodegas LAN, all wineries I’ve visited and know well and endorse as being worthy of special attention. Each winery writeup identifies what is unique and special about the winery and offers recommendations as to the best wines being produced.

The Rioja region receives the extensive attention it deserves. By comparison, the section on Navarra is relatively thin with no discussion of the colorful history and delightful towns (e.g., Pamplona) of the region, and while leading wineries like Chivite, Artazu, Inurrieta, and Castillo de Monjardín are profiled, other outstanding wineries like Finca Albret, Ochoa, Palacio de Otazu, Príncipe de Viana, Señorio de Arinzano, and Viña Mangaña are not. I wish the book did a bit more to inform the reader about some of the lesser known, but high quality, wineries of the region.

The sections on Bierzo, Rías Baixas, and the Basque country follow the same model as those on Rioja and Navarra. The book ends with a discussion of vintages and the outstanding restaurants of the region.

The Finest Wines of Rioja and Northwest Spain is written by three Spaniards—Jesús Barquín, Luís Gutiérrez, and Víctor de la Serna—with an intimate and extensive knowledge of the wines of Spain. Their expertise and familiarity with the subject of the book is very evident, and we strongly recommend this book to both real and virtual travelers to this part of Spain, especially Rioja.

Published by the University of California Press, Berkeley, CA 2011.

Donald Winkler, Editor
International Wine Review
February 2012

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