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June 23, 2017

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'In wine there is truth': Confessions of a skeptic of reds from Rioja in Spain

Special to The China Post--The English language has many fine phrases associated with wine. One of my favorites is "in vino veritas," which translates as "in wine (there is) truth."

The link between wine and religion also connects with the notion that confession is good for the soul. So we begin with a confession: I have never really enjoyed red wines from the Rioja region of Spain.

As a child I used to assemble model aircraft, cutting outlines with a razor blade from pieces of balsa wood. I can remember chewing a piece of balsa. That is the sensation I have most often experienced when tasting riojas. Drinking these wines is too much like chewing pieces of wood.

But an encounter with Bodega Ijalba changed my perception. They make riojas that show the lovely and lively fruit in the region's tradition grapes of tempranillo and graciano. Bright black fruits instead of wood.

In 1975 Dionisio Ruiz Ijalba, an industrialist from La Rioja, converted land previously used for open-cast mining into vineyards. The soil is poor and vines grow on a mere 80 centimeters of topsoil. Because the soil cannot retain much water the vines yield little fruit, concentrating flavors.

The bodega's 80 hectares of vineyards are on the outskirts of Logrono and in the towns of San Vicente de la Sonsierra and Valle de Najerilla.

Ijalba has focused on organic viticulture methods, eliminating the use of herbicides and chemical fertilizers.

Bodega Ijalba was built in 1991. It makes about 2 million bottles a year. I had the chance to taste four reds supplied by the Wine Culture company in Hong Kong: the 2010 Dionisio Ruiz Ijalba red, the 2008 Ijalba crianza, the 2007 Ijalba reserve and the 2001 Ijalba special reserve.

Wines at Ijalba tend to be made from classic riojas grapes like tempranillo and graciano. The Dionisio was the exception, made entirely from maturana tinta (tinta is Spanish for red).

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