At the beginning of September, I travelled to Rioja in Northern Spain to visit Beronia‘s Winery, taste the barrel-aged red wines made from Tempranillo grapes and learn more about the tradition of gastronomic societies, known locally as txokos.
The press trip was organised by Gonzalez Byass UK, the company behind my sherry adventure in Jerez. I travelled with wine journalists, sommeliers and mixologists from all around England so I was probably the least experienced person in the group. However, you don’t need to be a sommelier to love wine or to know what you like and what you don’t.
Visiting a winery to learn how wines are produced is an experience I would recommend to anyone who enjoys wine tasting.
Although it was not my first time in Rioja, on this trip I learnt many things I didn’t know about this wine and region.
Unlike the neighbouring Basque Country, which has become a major tourist hot spot in recent years, Rioja remains fairly unspoilt by tourism. You can still experience the authentic culinary traditions of this region and drink the best wine in the country. We stayed at Hotel Marqués de Vallejo which is perfectly located in the old town.
Beronia Txoko Tour
Rioja is situated in the valley of Ebro, surrounded by the Cantabria mountain range on the north and the Demanda range on the south. Thanks to the limestone soil and the different microclimates, such high quality and delicious wines are produced here.
Our Beronia Txoko Tour began at Bodegas Beronia in Ollauri, a small town located about 15 minutes by car from Logroño, the capital city of Rioja.
The story of how the winery came about is fascinating: Beronia was founded by a group of friends from the Basque Country, businessmen with a love for food and wine. They would come to Rioja on holiday and gather in a shared home to cook and eat meals together. In 1973, these men decided to start producing their own wine and that’s how Beronia was born.
A few years later, the group decided to acquire more land and expand the business. In 1982, they integrated the winery into the González Byass Family of Wine group. Part of the original 30-35 founders still control 10% of the company today.
Beronia is one of the most renowned Rioja wineries both in Spain and abroad.
I visited Bodegas Beronia in early September. Harvest season usually starts at the end of September and continues into mid-October, but the vines were already filled with plump and juicy grapes. Picking would begin soon.
To know when it’s the right time to pick grapes, how long to age the wine and how to blend different varieties to achieve the same flavours and style each year, you need a very experienced wine maker like Matias Calleja.
“Don’t be in a hurry. Listen to the wine and what it needs and when it’s time to move it in the bottle” Matias Calleja
To make great wine, you also need a good cellar. Nearly 30.000 barrels are housed in an underground cellar at Bodegas Beronia. Their are kept at a natural temperature and humidity to create the ideal conditions for the ageing of wine.
Wood in a very important factor when making a good wine, because the fermented grape juice reacts differently to varying types of oak and levels of toasting of it. They affect the flavours and tannin profile of the resulting wine, but also its colour and texture.
At Beronia, only French oak, American oak and a mix of the two are used. American oak gives a sweet character of vanilla and coconut, while the French oak gives spice notes, making for the perfect balance. The French oak respects the fruit better, so it’s used for long ageing wines.
The wines are temporarily moved from one barrel to another every four months, so that the used barrels can get a good wash with hot water, cold water, and steam. It sounds like an enormous task to undertake: 80-85.000 barrels in the Beronia wine cellar are cleaned every year.
Washing barrels is normal in Rioja and it is essential too: as the wine ages in the barrel, it becomes cleaner and its impurities naturally set at the bottom of it. The “dirty” part of the wine (about 8-10 litres per barrel) is removed when the wine is decanted into a new barrel.
After our tour of the cellar, we moved into the tasting room to learn more about the Beronia wine rage.
Beronia has a portfolio of 15 wines, some of which are made from a single grape variety (Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano), while others are blend. The Rioja Reserva and Gran Reserva wines are made from the best grapes from each harvest.
If I had to pick one Rioja red wine to bring to a dinner party, it would be Beronia Crianza. This wine makes up to 70% of total production at Bodegas Beronia. It’s an intensely fruity wine aged in mixed French and American oak barrels for 12 months and it pairs well with cheese and charcuterie, as well as tapas such as croquetas, patatas and garlic mushrooms.
However my favourite discovery at Beronia was actually not a wine from Rioja. The Beronia Rueda is a white wine from the Verdejo grape variety from the Rueda region. It’s fruity and aromatic, not too acidic nor sweet, perfect for an aperitif or paired with fish. What I also love is that I can buy it at the supermarket in London for less than £10.
After a morning spent visiting the winery and tasting the best Beronia wines, we gathered in the dining room where the original founders still get together to cook, eat and socialise – just like they used to in the Seventies when Beronia was founded.
We sat down around a long table and shared delicious home-cooked food: a Riojan stew with cauliflowers, egg and potatoes and roasted lamb.
Before parting, our hosts offered us a glass of Beronia Gran Reserva 1973, the first wine they ever made, labeled as Cosecha Fundacional. We raised our glasses and toasted to a memorable day spent at Bodegas Beronia.
My Beronia Txoko Tour was not over yet. We continued towards Basque Country to drink txacolí wine in Getaria, eat pintxos in San Sebastián and cook lunch in a real txoko. I will tell you more about that experience soon.
To book a guided visit of the Beronia Winery in Ollauri, click here.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Gonzalez Byass UK. All opinions are my own.