Rioja mixes old and new

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Futuristic architecture reflects a new attitude towards wine

The Rioja wine region in northern Spain is a great example of what is old is new again. At 96 years old, she is the oldest designation of origin (DOC) in the country. But the current generation of winemaking reprimands the dusty image, making Rioja a hot laboratory for experiments outside the rigid age designation system. And the new wave is reflected in the stunning vineyard architecture that the region is now known for.

“Rioja has always been progressive – it was just not always allowed to be progressive. These creative genes and abilities have existed and were always present, ”says Ana Fabiano, author of The Rioja wine region, the first comprehensive look at classic and contemporary winemaking there.

The majority of wines are still produced under the close supervision of the regional DOCa Control Board, but since the introduction of the cosecha designation in 1991, which enabled winemakers to produce fresher, younger wines, Rioja is moving towards a fresher interpretation of itself. self. You can still get an old school Rioja with its classic leather and tobacco profile, but under a new level of guarantee of origin without age restrictions, you can also easily find wines with lighter flavors that favor fruit concentration over barrel spice.

And the bodegas themselves also get “extreme makeovers” through futuristic architecture that often sings to heaven. Fabiano calls the combination of design art and wine art “a dual experience on multisensory levels.”

Here are a few wineries to stimulate your senses:

Bodegas Ysios. Perhaps the most famous symbol of this movement is the architect Santiago Calatrava’s Bodegas Ysios 2001 in Rioja Alavesa – a cathedral of wine that is largely credited for starting the design trend. The architect noted that the site presented challenges with character changes in the landscape of up to 10 meters and so much area occupied by vines. This was solved by creating a “surface wave” with a wavy roofline that is both kinetic and graceful, reflecting the Cantabria mountains as it looks towards. In the end, it makes a statement to be about both Rioja and something else in the world (yes, the soaring interior offers prominence in the sky). The magnificent architecture supports the small scale of wine production, its modernity contrasts with the centuries-old vines in vineyards.

Herederos del Marqués Vine by Riscal. Added to Rioja’s “starchitecture” portfolio is this winery hotel, designed in 2006 by Canadian-born American architect Frank O. Gehry, who also designed the similarly clad Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa. Built against the backdrop of the historic winery (1858), the hotel was a novelty when it first opened – stainless steel and magenta titanium ribbons rolling out as if the building were a gift unpacked – attracting a trendy international clientele. It was easy to think of the whole package as garish, even a little gauche or as a fun house with ribbon candy. But in front and close by, it is a wonderful, lively building that reflects the changing light all day and parts of the surrounding landscape. You can not help but be charmed by it. The 18th-century cathedral in the background provides the perfect context for what is both old and new in Rioja.

Baigorri winery. Significantly more down to earth but no less stunning is Bodegas Baigorri, ai Rioja Alavesa. The dramatic zinc and glass cube sits on top of a plateau and offers spectacular 360-degree views of the properties that define Rioja: mountains and vineyards. The gleaming pavilion, designed by Basque architect Iñaki Aspiazu, plunges seven stories into the ground, creating a microclimate in a mesoclimate. It provides a glimpse into the future of winemaking, where climate change is an unpredictable fortune teller. Winemaker Simon Arina Robles calls the structure “architecture in the service of wine” and adds: “We are the only winery where [it] plays a 100 percent role in the wine. Gravity fed, lacking pumps or other machinery that sharpens the grapes, the vineyard in its solitude and humiliating exposure to the elements, seems like its own kind of temple.

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