Today I opened a bottle of a Marqués de Riscal Reserva 2004, a wine from the Rioja wine region in Spain. I like it very much because of its typical rich taste, and because it brought back memories about my first wine experiences.
We grew up close to the city of Cologne, well-known by its huge cathedral (see here, you may have to click on the British flag on the site to read the text in a language that’s similar to the one spoken in the US). That’s about 50 miles away from the most famous wine regions of Germany, the valleys of the rivers Ahr and Mosella. The Mosella region is the home of some of the best Riesling wines in the world. Good starting point for a wine drinker, don’t you think? However, I wasn’t interested in wine at all. Not even in other types of alcohol, despite the fact that Cologne is one of the centers of beer brewing in Germany.
My wine story began at the age of about 30, and it started in the lovely city of Madrid, Spain. Before traveling to Madrid, I had trained the son of the owner of a small company in Madrid on some computer equipment. Apparently this training went very well, so I was invited to come to Madrid to set up the equipment and finish the training there. Probably I should mention that my wife was born in Mexico, so I had had the opportunity to learn some Spanish before.
After my arrival in Madrid, the ceremony started. As a big thank you to me, because I had taken such good care of his son, the owner of the company, el patrón, took me out for a dinner. Nobody else, just the two of us. It was a great honor for me. He took me to a beautiful place called “El Meson de Madrid”, one of the best restaurants in central Madrid at that time.
We started at the bar eating some tapas, little snacks with ham, olives, and lots of other good things. My patron didn’t even ask before he ordered some Rosado wine with the tapas. So here I was, in one of the best restaurants of Madrid with a very nice and grateful host, and I didn’t drink any alcohol. I somehow worked around this, though. The tapas were excellent, and the flower next to me looked a lot happier after some Rosado from my glass. At least to me. My mood started rising, I thought I had mastered all cliffs already.
Well, not really. We sat down at a table, again my host ordered everything. I didn’t object, because he wanted to present me the best things this restaurant had to offer. It was around Easter time, so he ordered “Cordero a la parilla”, grilled lamb. And, of course, red wine. Today I don’t remember the name of the wine anymore, however, it was from the Rioja region, and two servants lined up to open it, so it must have been a special wine.
I was close to dying. There was no choice; I couldn’t break my host’s heart by not drinking the wine. And how would I explain my problem to him? Wine is a basic part of daily nutrition in Spain, not “alcohol”.
So I tasted the wine, and I was surprised. I had never tasted any comparable wine before, and I liked it. The lamb was just outstanding, a house specialty. From sip to sip I could hear my Spanish improving. After two glasses of wine I felt like I could discuss Don Quixote’s adventures in his mother language. My host was pleased to see me enjoying everything that much. Fortunately, there is mercy in this world, and the bottle ended early enough for me to survive the evening.
Tasting this fantastic Rioja today I must say that Spanish wines are still among my favorites, and I can’t have one without thinking of this evening with El Patron.
I used the rest of that week to drink wine at lunches and dinners. I wasn’t a wine drinker then, but I started to detect a universe unknown to me before my trip to Spain. And I enjoyed it.
To end the story, my wife flew to Madrid for the weekend to join me there. She found her husband speaking Spanish with a surprising lot of Madrileño accent and drinking wine. My wife is the greatest of all wives, so she thanked God that I finally had detected wine, and since that day in 1986 we have enjoyed a lot of wine together. She insisted that I lose the accent, though.
My Rioja is coming to an end, and so is the story. The tasting notes for the Marqués de Riscal:
Marques de Riscal Reserva wines are predominantly made from grapes from Tempranillo vines over 15 years of age, grown in the best clay-limestone soils of the Rioja Alavesa. This variety withstands oak- and bottle aging well thanks to its good balance of acidity and fine tannin. A dark cherry color with good depth. Balsamic aromas with hints of ripe fruit, complex and spicy. The attack is fresh and light, with soft, rounded tannins. The finish proves persistent with some reminders of toasted oak. Its passage through the mouth is pleasant and elegant, fresh and easy to drink.
This wine pairs well with ham, mild cheeses, casseroles which are not too spicy, pulse dishes, poultry, red meat, grilled and roast meat.
Salud a todos!