Wine and Health: Rioja Congress 2017


Today is a pretty good day. First, because this eternal flu seems to be  going away. After many days drinking water and little wine, I can finally go back slowly to my regular drinking habits. and also my writing too.  Since my sojourn in Spain, I developed a good habit of having wine on a regular basis with my meal.

When I was living in Madrid, I used to live on Fernando Catolico street on the quiet residential district of Chamberi. I rented a room with breakfast and supper included. Lunch was on my own and also wine. By trial and error, I discovered this wonderful little restaurant just 5 minutes away from my flat. Restaurant La Tuna on the 68th civic number of that street. It is a family owned operation. I think the family came from the La Mancha wine region. What I definitely know is that they were a family of vinegrowers.


Food at La Tuna was not exactly gastronomical fare, more in the lines of comfort food. The menu will change daily but it rotated a few weeks or so. For 3 plates and a bottle of wine, they would charge 10.00 Euros. That was a sweet deal. I used to have lunch, almost every day. Friday was my favorite. They used to serve homemade breaded chicken escaloppe with a hearty portion of french fries. For starters, there was a magnificent lentil soup with chorizo bites and for desert there was always a classic Spanish dessert such as Crema Catalana.

The wine used to be pretty acceptable. It was a mostly a blend of Cencibel and Tempranillo, fruity and rustic with a brawling acidity.  The kind of wine that you would gulp it down.


Drinking wine on a regular basis, is always a good thing. While browsing the Spanish wine news, I just found out that the VIII International Wine Health Congress will be celebrated in Rioja.  This is a congress in which the latest findings of  wine consumption on health will be discussed. If you want to read the whole article, you can check it out at the Spanish newspaper, El Mundo.

These are the points that there will be discussed:

  1. Personalized diets according to age group
  2. Diet effects over gene transmission. For instance, how the food diet of grandparents affect their grandchildren.
  3. New focus studies over wine polyphenols.
  4. New protective elements of wine.
  5. Wine effects over intestine microbiology
  6. Wine and the mediterranean diet.
  7. polyphenols effects on diabetes.
  8. Wine polyphenols effect on diabetes.

This congress is a shining light while many European health policies consider wine simply as an alcoholic beverage and not as a food. Along our shores, in a study done by celebrity Chef Ricardo and Leger Marketing reveals that Quebecers are the largest wine consumers across Canada. whatever this Congress effects would have any impact on the Canadian scientific community is to be seen. Already, they are skeptical about the positive effects of wine consumption.

This is a time of Bonanza for Spanish wine sales in Canada. According to the news agency EFE, in the first six months of 2016 alone, sales increased to a healthy 10 percent for a value of some $45.7 million. Interesting fact, is that much of the growth occurred in the Ontario province, which is the second largest market after Quebec. For the full press release of EFE, click here.

However I am confident that much of the growth of Spanish wine sales will come from Quebec in the near future. As I write this, the SAQ ( Quebec Liquor Board) continues in their cost saving program for wines of the regular catalog to regain parity with the LCBO. This is wonderful opportunity for the Spanish wine industry. However they have to act fast and not sleep on their laurels.

Good, tasty and friendly wines for your pocket


Nobella Viura 2016. SAQ # 12698311. $8.00

It is still quite possible to drink Spanish wine, even if you are very limited in your income. Simple yet with delicious fruit orchard notes. Medium body and fresh. Nice white to have with a quick fish dinner on monday night. Nothing complicated, just pleasure.


Ijalba Solferino Rioja 2014. SAQ # 13004449. $15.05

Ijalba does it again with this organic blend of mostly Tempranillo with Maturana. Solferino grapes are pressed by foot and is made with the carbonic maceration style. On the nose, this Rioja is very expressive of ripe red fruits, with a hint of licorice and church incense. On the mouth, very round and friendly with flavors bringing to mind more red fruits and red licorice. Soft tannins with a medium-long finale. Possibly the best value in the Spanish category at the SAQ


Solaz Tempranillo-Cabernet Sauvignon 2014. SAQ # 00610188. $11.05

Simple aromas of dark plums, toasted wood and dry italian herb spice. On the mouth, easy-going with a medium acidity. Savoury and vinous with a rather short finale. Its a good choice to have with a chicken club sandwich.


Vina Ijalba-The Quintessential Rioja wine.

The Ijalba Family

Readers of my blog may be familiar with the wines of this emblematic Riojano producer. I had a chance to taste many of their wines since the creation of this blog. So today’s post is like a visit to and old friend.If you are new to my page, you are about to discover some pretty darn unique wines. If you are a regular, my post will be like a review

My first encounter with Viña Ijalba was about 15 years ago. Back in 2002, I was a wine rookie living in Madrid looking for a top quality Rioja producer with a price range to fit in my student allowance. In an obscure tasting of countless Rioja wines at the UEC ( Union Espanola de Catadores), the Ijalba wines really stood out for their clarity of fruit, elegance, freshness and discrete use of oak.

The winery was founded in 1975 and currently has 80 hectares under their wing, farmed organically. Ijalba has indeed, gained much acclaim both within Spain and internationally for their incredible result with organic viticulture, as well as their expertise of obscure varietals. These wines, almost in extinction are amongst the few modern Riojas that contineue to impress me with their balance and style, without sacrificing Rioja “personality”. The winery was the first Rioja winery to convert to organics, and a peculiarity  for the region, is that all grapes used for the wines are 100% estate-grown.

Ijalba contiues to  set the tone for environmental awareness in the region, from its organic production to its extensive re-cycling and environmental certification for the winery.  Originally, the vineyards were all planted in abandoned  quarries, which justify the remarkable minerality they are endowed with, especially their bolder reds and, in particular, after some bottle age. The estate’s other distinction is the championing of the less-known varieties of Rioja such as the two Maturanas  and Graciano.

Wines available at the SAQ:

Viña Ijalba 2014 Graciano. SAQ # 10360261. $21.95.

Ijalba’s mission statement is to resurrect the traditional grapes of Rioja, and this wine  from their  20 hectare Graciano vineyard (the largest in the world) has been the flagship since they premiered the varietal bottling in 1995. Growers renounced  from Graciano because of its problematic low yields, but the freshness  and mindblowing perfume of the grape are an important part of what makes Rioja blends distinctive. 2011 brought to this wine an unexpectedly lush texture and seductive blackberry flavour.  Compared to the 2012, the 2014 is heftier with well endowed woody aromas.  In the mouth, it has that trademark clarity of fruit with a dark seduction on the palate.


This wine was outstanding with a dish of homemade smoked ricotta ravioli in a tomato sauce. The bold structure of the wine was molding the acidity of the sauce in the palate while the minerality of the Graciano was a dandy complement smoothing out the pungent flavours of the ravioli.

Ijalba Reserva 2012. SAQ # 00478743. $21.35

As always a careful blend of the oldest tempranillo and Graciano from Ijalba. Very spicy nose bringint to mind balsamic notes with a mix of red and black morello cherries. In the palate, powerful  but with  a firm structure, good acidity to keep in checks the wine.


Simply, a match made in heaven. You may think that a glass of white will work best. But I find that the spices and bold flavors of the seafood in the paella go hand to hand with the aromatic notes of the wine. In addition, the crispy texture of the rice, subtle the rough edges of the wine.

Vina Ijalba delivers the goods at La Grande Degustation


Another very interesting producer from Rioja present at La Grande Dégustation de Montréal was Vina Ijalba. Ijalba has set the standard for environmental awareness in and around Rioja, from its organic production to its extensive recycling and environmental certification for the winery. They are also famous for bottling obscure indigenous varietals in mono varietals. For more information on them, you can check my previous post on them.

At the table of Ijalba, I decided to tasty  only the wines availabe on private importation. At the SAQ, you can find currently five of their bottlings. These are Genoli, Graciano, Reserva 2010 and Maturana Blanca 2013. In addition, the magnificent reserva seleccion especial 2005. Ijalba is imported by Charton-Hobbs in the Quebec market.

Tasting notes:

Aloque Rosado 2014

( 50% Garnacha-50%Tempranillo. Clarete method of Riojan vinification)

Delicious crisp red fruit on the nose such as cherry and strawberry. On the mouth, medium body, very round, almost like a buttery texture. Flavors bring to mind hints of caramelized red fruit, spices and herbs. A pleasant revelation.

Livor 2014 Tempranillo

( 100 % Tempranillo. Destemmed fruit, No wood, just 100% inox )

Very explosive nose. Smoke and licorice with exuberant black fruit in both dry and confit form. On the mouth, full body, concentrated with supple tannins but nicely balanced. To buy by the case.

Solferino Tempranillo 2012

( 100 % organic tempranillo. Aged 4 months in new oak)

On the nose, reminiscent of traditional Rioja. Aromas of American oak. Coconut, orange, vanilla. Full body with firm tannins.Very elegant and racy like a fine Bordeaux. Lots of length here.

Murice Crianza 2011

( 90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano. 12 months bottle aging in American oak and a further 6 months in bottle)

On the nose lots of jammy red and black fruit. Also some balsamic cream. On the mouth, full body. Smooth and creamy. Elegant with ripe tannins.

Dionisio Ruiz Ijalba Maturana Tinta 2011.

( 100 % Maturana Tinta, an almost forgotten Riojan variety. 15 days fermentation in bordeaux barriques. Malolactic fermentation in new french oak and aged on its lees)

Very balsamic nose. Lots of licorice, anis and spearmint. Ripe black fruit and eucalyptus. Young with austere tannins. Excellent quality.

A succulent Spanish tradition: Tapas and Wine

For those of you that do not know , a tapa, the miniature cuisine from Spain, is a finger food eaten between the meals. In Spanish culture, tapa means “cover or appetizer”. The Real Academia Española de la Lengua defines a tapa as “any portion of solid food able to accompany a drink”.  In Spain, you can choose from four types of tapas: cold, fried, sauce based and warm. The fried tapas available in Madrid, like boquerones, calamares, croquets, fritters and sausages, are the most popular. The tapas served with salads can even replace a complete lunch. Tapas are made from both animal-based and agricultural products: anchovies, beef, cheeses, cocktail onions, dry nuts, meat, mackerel, sardines, squid, tuna, and vegetables. However, no tapa will be complete without olives.

In ancient times, many taverns covered sherry glasses with bread or meat slices to prevent dust particles and flies from falling in the drink. In fact, salty chorizo or ham pieces stimulated thirst, increasing alcohol consumption. Taverns, as a consequence, recorded an increase in sales of alcohol, the slices and other related snacks, which were known as tapas. And tavern owners became more creative in offering snacks to accompany the drinks. This tradition of special snacks continues, but in a different form. The main purpose of contemporary “tapeo”, the art of eating tapas, is bringing people together for a conversation instead of focusing on meals.  In Spain tapas are generally eaten standing and in small quantities like birds. Another reason to nibble tapas between meals is the Spanish custom to have dinner very late (9-11 p.m.). Tapas are also a good choice for afternoon socializing on weekends.

If you want to learn to make tapas, there are a few places in Montreal and its surroundings offering courses on Spanish cuisine. These are: La Guilde Culinaire and La Academie Culinaire. La Guilde Culinaire offers a 3h 30 min course for a cool $129. You get 2 glasses of wine.  On the other hand, La Academie offers you a 3 h course for a $109. There is also in Montreal south shore, Atelier Culinaire, offering a 3 hour block of tapas and Spanish cuisine for $104. But if I were you, I will keep my 100 bucks or so and get the recipes from the internet. There are many  terrific sites such as Foods and Wines from Spain  with authentic recipes. Keep your money to buy the food and the wine.

5 All time favorite Spanish wines to accompany home-made tapas that wont break your bank account:

Voir la photo agrandie du produit. Cette photo s'ouvre dans une visionneuse et peut comporter des obstacles à l'accessibilité.

Parès Baltà Calcari Xarel-Lo 2013. SAQ Code: 11377225. $19.25. D.O Penedes.

The roots of Parés Baltà goes all the way back to the 18th century. Parés Baltà produces a wide range of high quality wines and cavas that has been both nationally and internationally acclaimed. In addition, their vineyards are biological.  Pale yellow color with green nuances. Clear and transparent with medium intensity on the nose that brings  to  mind pear and banana. In the mouth it is fresh with a good acidity and balance.  90\100.

Voir la photo agrandie du produit. Cette photo s'ouvre dans une visionneuse et peut comporter des obstacles à l'accessibilité.

Ijalba Maturana Blanca 2013. SAQ Code: 11383596. $23.35. D.O Rioja.

This is, in case you were wondering, the only Maturana Blanca in the world. Ijalba has taken upon themselves a mission to resurrect this almost extinct variety, fostering the world’s only known vineyard of it – just a bit over two hectares, which is almost peanuts. And yet, it is the grape variety with the oldest known citation in all of Rioja – a written reference dating back to 1622. On the nose, the wine display beautiful citrus and peachy notes. On the mouth, it is round and velvety with a zippy acidity. Beautiful balance displaying tropical fruit notes. 91\100.

Voir la photo agrandie du produit. Cette photo s'ouvre dans une visionneuse et peut comporter des obstacles à l'accessibilité.

Bo Bobal Unico. $16.75. SAQ Code:  11676680Utiel-Requena

Bobal  is the second most widely planted vine in Spain, after Tempranillo, and it gives its best expression in the D.O. Utiel-Requena (high elevation, short and dry summers). Actually, the variety is native to Utiel-Requena region. On the nose, this wine presents intense aromas of dark cherry with notes of toasty oak and licorice. In the mouth, full body with a medium to high acidity and fleshy tannins. Smooth with a balanced with a flavorful finish. 92\100.

Voir la photo agrandie du produit. Cette photo s'ouvre dans une visionneuse et peut comporter des obstacles à l'accessibilité.

Marques De Grinon Caliza Syrah / Petit Verdot 2011. SAQ Code: 11194980. $21.45 Pago Dominio de Valdepusa.

Dominio de Valdepusa is a Denominación de Origen (DO) de Pago in the comunity of Castilla-La Mancha. Dominio de Valdepusa has been in the family of the Marqués de Griñón Carlos Falcó since 1292. The family has played an integral part in Spanish wine culture for centuries. Dominio de Valdepusa produces red wines only, whose primary grape varieties are Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Graciano, and Merlot.

On the nose, this wine shows intense and complex fruit aromas that bring to mind fieldberries and ripe black cherry. In addition, subtle notes of minerality and spearmint.  On the mouth, this is an ample wine with silky tannins and great structure. Fleshy and balanced with a persistent aftertaste. 92\100

Voir la photo agrandie du produit. Cette photo s'ouvre dans une visionneuse et peut comporter des obstacles à l'accessibilité.

Alejandro Fernàndez El Vinculo Crianza 2009. SAQ Code: 11896691. $26.30. D.O La Mancha.

Like all proyects that Alejandro Fernández embarkes on, his enthusiasm  elevated this Tempranillo from the hot plains of central Spain into a classy wine that goes byeond its rustic origins. In 1999 the discovery in La Mancha of oldTempranillo vineyards convinced Fernández, of t Tinto Pesquera and Condado de Haza in Ribera del Duero, to undertake one last wine proyect. A deep  black cherry color in the glass, El Vínculo Crianza explodes with deep, brooding aromas of plums, cherries, blood oranges, vanilla and tobacco. Velvety and supple on the palate, the wine adds layers of blackberries, dried herbs, dusty soil and dark leather. Fine, silky tannins emerge on the back-palate that leads i to a long, powerful finish and a long aftertaste of vanilla, tobacco and tar. 94\100

Graciano, giving good grace to the wines of Rioja


In my mind, Rioja is to Spain as Chianti is to Italy. If you asked most people to quickly name one wine from Spain and one from Italy, I would bet that a large majority would instantly name those iconic regions, and for good reason. Both areas have a well established wine making history and are not very available in almost every worldwide shop that sells wine, but good bottles can be had for reasonable prices as well. They both also feature what might be considered each country’s “signature grape:” Tempranillo in Spain and Sangiovese in Italy.

Of course, the analogy isn’t perfect. Chianti has much stricter regulations regarding what grapes in what proportions can go into its wines and still be eligible for the Chianti classification (there is also no white Chianti while Rioja allows for white wine production). There are regulations in Rioja also, but only for the allowed grape varieties, not the proportions (and even then I believe that wineries can apply for special permission to include grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon). What this means is that it is possible to end up with a 100% varietal bottling from any of the approved red wine grapes within Rioja: Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache in France), Mazuelo and Graciano. Those first two grapes are familiar enough, and Mazeulo is the local term for Carignan, a grape grown in many regions all over the world, which brings us to Graciano.

Graciano is a late budding grape variety with natural low yields and ripens much later than Tempranillo. It is very rare to see it bottled as a 100% varietal. It is originary from Rioja and Navarra. In Rioja, there are 395 ha which constitutes 0.7% of the vineyard planted in Rioja.

Although a minor player in Rioja blends, Graciano is used to provide colour and aroma to blended Rioja red wines. Graciano was once very widely grown in the Languedoc-Rousillon region of France, where it was known as Monastel ( which can lead to confusion since it is a spanish synonym for Mourvedre).

Perhaps why this grape is not planted more widely, it is because it is so so economically viable. Graciano is famous for low-yielding and susceptible to downy mildew, which means it needs more attention in the vineyards. It’s a very sound economic decision with on a large-scale. If two vines take up the same amount of space in the vineyard but one produces considerably more fruit and doesn’t require as much maintenance, then why would you bother with the one you have to spend more money maintaining and get fewer bottles of wine from?

Fortunately, the fine wine boom of the past twenty years has encouraged more producers to devote more time and resources to cultivating Graciano. Many producers are letting Graciano be the sole star of their wines, producing 100% varietal Graciano wines. Recently, I was able to review the  Graciano from Ijalba.

Ijalba is one of the most important producers in Rioja. They are one of the few producers that I know that specialize in the bottling of 100% Graciano varietal. They have also have been pioneers in  the standard for environmental awareness in and around Rioja, from its organic production to its extensive re-cycling and philosophy for the winery. Ijalba has also been actively engaged in the resurrection of minor grape varieties indigenous to Rioja in conjuction with other organisms such as the University of Rioja and  C.I.D.A. Rioja.

Ijalba’s entire vineyards are planted on abandoned opencast mines, which have been restored from an environmental point of view, having received several national and European prizes for the restoration undergone. As a consequence of the location of the vineyard, the soils are poor and limy, with little depth. The vineyards are planted on the sites of these former quarries, which have poor rocky soils. In consequence, the vine’s roots have to grow very deep to find water and nourishment.

Viña Ijalba owns around 70 Hectares (175 acres) of vineyards which are in a number of parcels surrounding Logroño, in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, and Valle del Najerilla. These vineyards supply 100 % of the production of the bodega. The grapes planted have been matched according to the soil type and micro-climate of each vineyard site.



Ijalba Graciano 2012. Code SAQ :  10360261. $21.55

Dark purple colour. Complex aromas of red currants with iron and earthy nuances such as tamari soya, wasabi, dry blood oranges and hummus. Full body, with a good acidity. Structured and long in the palate with retronasal flavors reminding me of black currants and violets. Chewy fruit profile with beefy but mouth-watering tannins. Long aftertaste that remind of leather and other barnyard nuances. Drinking beautifully know but can be aged for 10 years. 95\100

Ijalba is represented in Quebec by Charton Hobbs. The sample reviewed was given by Hobbs for review.