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Pedro-the Pied Piper mesmerizes at Haro Station Wine Experience

Posted: Monday, 26 September 2016 11:57


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Pedro-the Pied Piper mesmerizes at Haro Station Wine Experience

Sep 26: The big highlight of the Haro Station Wine Experience, La Cata del Barrio de la Estación was a Masterclass of 150 minutes conducted by Pedro Ballesteros MW, with all seven winemakers of the District wineries participating and talking about the special feature of their region, wines and tasting the 3-4 components of the final expected blend, writes Subhash Arora who believes this is a novel, though slightly cumbersome and slow method of conducting tastings and ought to be repeated in tastings at more Masterclasses

Click For Large ViewWhen I  met Pedro Ballesteros earlier this month in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, where he has been a fellow judge with me at Mundusvini international wine competition for the last few years, he presented DO Rueda wines from Spain one evening in conjunction with Wines of Spain. When I told him I was also headed for the Haro Station Wine Experience in a couple of weeks where he would conduct a Masterclass, he gave me a preview of the Tasting to be conducted at Bodegas Bilbaínas.  

Most wine tastings are passive in the sense that the wines are selected from a few wineries. The presenter like him talks a bit of the wines, region and the winery and tastes with the people present and it’s all over. The one at Haro would be a different, experimental tasting, he assured me excitedly, where live blending would be done by the tasters like me in the company of winemakers. There would be no cause of apprehension since the people would decide how to blend the wines which are actually ‘work-in-progress’ currently but there would be no embarrassing questions asked.  The winemakers might even gain from the expert comments from the tasters, he assured me.

Click For Large ViewPedro Ballesteros is a Master of Wine with a difference. A very practical wine expert, he makes things appear rather simple. The wine stories he tells are riveting. I seldom miss his Masterclasses.  He is like the proverbial Pied Piper who attracts people to come to these tastings, not only because he is a Master of Wine but also because he makes them very crisp and refreshing. I knew there would be heavy rush for his Masterclass and chose to be one of the early birds, taking my seat in the pole position in the large hall which got filled with 200 people soon. It was later I was to learn from him that another Masterclass in the afternoon would be a repeat performance for another set of 200 people.  

Tasting Extraordinaire

Although this problem is reducing continually in the international forums, many Spanish wine tastings are conducted in Spanish with no translation facilities. Mercifully, this tasting was an exception though all winemakers would speak in Spanish, excellent translation facilities were provided. Ballesteros,  accompanied by enologists of the seven participating wineries- López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, La Rioja Alta, Bodegas Muga, Bodegas Roda, Compañia Vinicola del Norte España (Cune), Bodegas Bilbaínas and Bodegas Gómez Cruzado, was ready to offer this extraordinary Master Class at shortly past 10 am on September 16.  These seven wineries are the members of the Association that had organised the second edition of La Cata del Barrio de la Estación.

Click For Large ViewEach table had 10 glasses and a 100 mL measuring beaker- 4 on the left, 4 on the right and 2 in the middle, making a set for 2 tastings. The sommeliers poured a wine from the winery that was still to undergo blending. In the other 3 glasses were different wines that might or might not be in the final blend but were only the accompanying artists in the final blend. One would taste all the 3-4 wines poured in a beaker in certain proportion and pour the mixture in the 5th glass in the middle and taste and tweak a little to find the best blend for oneself.

Pedro started by saying this was the height of a classic region where people studied each area, plot and their soil before making different wines and then blended to the taste of consumer. The intimate knowledge of ingredients made the whole bigger than the parts, stressing that soil was not the only factor.  One doesn’t find information on how to blend on internet or in school.  That’s why this was not a passive tasting but an Interactive tasting where we would create our own wines.  He called it a tasting with heart, head and hands-and 10 glasses!

López de Heredia Viña Tondonia was the first winery whose 4 wines were poured with the first glass having a base wine sample of 2008 ‘Six Year Old Wine’, a classification prevalent in Rioja where Four and Five year Old Wine also existed. These wines were samples from the cellar and no bottle aging had been done yet. To add to the twist, we were told that one of the samples would not be used in the cépage (final blend) while the other two would be in the blend in a proportion that we would decide for ourselves and the winemaker had yet to finalise.

Like in any Masterclass tasting, we were told the history of the 140 years old winery which produced and sold wines in bulk and shipped to France by train and hence the Haro station. Earlier no vintages were mentioned on the label. They later started bottling wines. Till early 1900s aristocracy in Madrid was drinking French wines. But these wines started appearing in the market. Till 1954, French names like Burgundy and Bordeaux prevailed.  Reserva and Grand Reserva were recent classifications.

Click For Large ViewSecond wine sample poured in the second glass on the left, was fuller bodied wine with higher alcohol. Third wine was fresh and acidic. Fourth was a 2009 vintage sample. We were told that the first wine was 80% in the actual blend. Different choices and different proportions selected by different people but it made an interesting b lend for everyone.

Similarly Roda presented 2015 Tempranillo from different parcels. This was followed by Bodegas Bilbaínas owned by the Raventos family which owns 20% of the Click For Large Viewvineyards in Haro, giving samples one of which was with the local Graciano grape. La Rioja Alta presented Tempranillo and one Garnacha sample. Muga selected 4 varietals of 2015 vintage. Cune chose to deconstruct their world famous Imperial Reserva 2014. Gomez Cruzado was the only winery presenting a white wine – a blend of Viura (Macabeo) and the recently discovered white varietal- Tempranillo Blanco.

Although the Masterclass session was rather lengthy- it went on for the full 150 minutes allotted to it, the presentation by 7 winemakers showcased the wines of the region rather well and impressed on us why Rioja does not believe in a single vineyard varietal but blending is the strength. Long ageing and experimentation with different type of oaks-including American and French oak with different toasting, gives these producers the title of Masters of Blending.

This was truly the highlight of the Haro Station Wine Experience. An interactive and unrepeatable ‘En Primeur’ tasting that allowed the participants to discover the origin and secrets of the blended wines so characteristic of Haro District and which form part of the genesis of the Rioja wines being  produced today. Hopefully, more similar tastings would come up in future where the participants could taste even varietals from different plots or regions and experiment with different blends.

For an earlier related Article, visit Haro Station Wine Experience Big Hit for Riojan Sub-region

Subhash Arora

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