THE LAND BECOMES FLAT AGAIN as we head to the wine-growing
region around Haro. The wine museum in the town is a bit of a bore, but
on the way there, Javier asked us if we'd prefer to skip the quick tour
of Logroño and, instead, visit a nice bodega in the country. The
group happily agrees.
Casalarreina is a tiny town, little more than an intersection
of country roads, but it has La Vieja Bodega, a lovely, low stone building
built over two ancient, deep wine cellars. Apparently the property of some
local noble, the cellars were used to store his wine, while the main floor
had a variety of uses over the centuries, finally ending up as a garage
for farm equipement until it was rented by the current proprietors and
turned into a restaurant and bar.
We're given a tour of the cellars, and their lovely, dusty
bottles, and end up in the lounge next to the bar, where we're given several
bottles of local aguardiente -- a kind of grappa. I love a good, rough
drink like grappa, raki or schnapps, and we sit around tasting different
bottles while Javier lights up a cigar. It's a nice moment, and I make
a mental note to come back here one day.
Outside Haro, the bus stops in a bleak industrial suburb
and we wait while Javier leans over the intercom next to the single door
at the corner of a huge, high wall. We're buzzed in, and begin a tour of
the Carlos Serres S.A. winery.
A century-old company, it was probably once housed in
much more picturesque surroundings, but this 1960s industrial park, with
its access to the highway and featureless warehouse spaces, is more in
line with the export-ready, EU-friendly new Spain. A massive, dark room
holds the maceration vats and fermentation tanks, while next door is the
bottling and packing machinery, next to huge flats stacked with cases of
wine, bound in plastic wrap, ready for the market. A further room holds
hundred of barrels in new, clean oak, stacked high under dim fluorescent
It's only when we go to the basement that we feel like
we're in a real winery -- or at least the winery of our imaginations. It's
a dark, musty room, thick with the pleasant reek of grapes and damp and
mould. Picking our way between the racks of bottles, we hear the scurrying
of rats; it's all very Poe-like. The tour over, we're brought into a dining
room set with glasses and bottles and plates and plates of tapas -- cheese
and chorizo and greasy tortilla.
The ensuing "tasting", so soon after the splendid lunch
at Yuso and the aguardiente at Casalarreina, puts us over the edge; except
for Michael and Fernando, we're all a bit drunk when we get up to leave.
On the way out they hand us each a bottle of their hundredth anniversary
vintage. Two days into the trip, we've reached the definite high point
as a group.