Near the end of last year, I attended an event where Kevin Zraly, the famed wine director from Windows on the World, was leading a panel discussion on wines from Spain. When the subject turned to an aging issue on Gran Reservas from Rioja, Kevin searched the audience to find his personal Rioja emissary, and perform a quick fact check. Ana Fabiano, Kevin's wife, verified Kevin's answer, and added the parameters a Rioja winemaker is allowed to age wines in both the barrel and in the bottle.
Ana studied in Spain, in the midst of what she describes as, "the unleashing of a country." This unleashing, she went on to describe, has historical context of the 20th century of Franco's rise to power, and the end in 1975 upon his death. "Art, film, wine, fashion, gastronomy, and wine all seemed to be freed." She is currently the United States brand ambassador to the region of Rioja in Spain, and certainly a proper choice as Rioja's U.S. emissary. Her background with Spain is intertwined with the end of the Franco regime and the beginning of post-Franco new democracy.
Previous to the death of Franco, and the rise of a new democracy, there were three wine regions of note; Cava from Penedes, Jerez from Andalucia, and Rioja; that carried any type of international recognition. Ana points out that all of this changed when wine critic Robert Parker declared the 1982 vintage of Alejandro Fernandez's Tinto Pesquera from Ribera del Duero (approximately $12 retail at the time) to be the equivalent stature to one of Bordeaux's most exclusive and expensive bottlings, Chateau Petrus 1982. (Today that bottle of Petrus can be found at retail for just under $10,000.) A comparison of that stature had seismic repercussions in the wine world, the U.S. and the rest of the Parker reading wine world were taking notice of all of Spain's regions; hoping for the next great discovery.
Rioja, as a region, enjoys the advantage of an ancient culture, a classic culture, and a modern culture; which has kept it at the forefront of Spain's wine identity. Ana speaks of the ingrained culture of Rioja being built around a sense of community and family.
"There are 15,000 deeds for vineyards or pieces of vineyards in Rioja, much like Burgundy, and everyone in the region is involved."
The Rioja Advantage
The history attributed to Rioja has a lot to do with its extremely unique in that it is this one parcel in the northwest of the country that is extremely fertile; while most of the country is either extremely arid, or desert-like; or is coastal. Rioja, in its three sub-regions of Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja, Rioja Alavesa; shows the ultimate diversity of expression of Tempranillo; as within the region there are pockets of micro and mezzo-climates that show the land, and ultimately the grapes, to have a dizzying amount of styles from ultra-modern to ultra-traditional; and many combinations.
Ana speaks of the pride in quality Riojans carry in accomplishing work in all aspects, not just wine. She notes that Rioja manufactures shoes, firemen's boots, that are exported the US. She feels the superior craftsmanship is indicative of a pride ingrained in the character of the people.
Of all the Wines in the Store Why Do You Choose Rioja?
Rioja, as a region, has very stringent regulations that make for a very assuring stamp of quality for any wine carrying their DOC. Therefore, as opposed to many other regions in the world, the quality of Rioja remains very high at multiple prices levels and expressions of wine. For restaurants, Rioja is great value, and more important, for Reserva and Gran Reserva wines, they hit the market ready to drink, and with some age on them. For a purchase from the wine retailer, the wines are ready to consume.
As the brand director and ambassador for the region of Rioja, Ana also spearheads the highly effective Vibrant Rioja marketing campaign that has exponentially raised the awareness of the region, their food, and, of course their wine.
Ana will be releasing a book titled, The Wine Region of Rioja; a comprehensive book on the region that will feature research Ana did, that included archives interpreted from Catalan dialect where necessary, that tells the story of Spain's most famous and historical wine region. Included in this book is a regional picture that details, through interviews with locals, grape growers, and winemakers, the history; ancient, classic, and modern that weave together Rioja.
Ana stated, "It is an honor to be a voice for the region."
Her book can be pre-ordered on either Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
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