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Insider's Guide to Rioja

I’ve always felt the best wine writers are not those who give ratings or who get hung up in the pedigrees of classic vintages or who clog your brain with details as though they were studying for their sommelier exams.  The best wine writers are those who tell interesting stories, give great word pictures of places and people you may not have seen and who explain with some imagination how things works.

Ana Fabiano does all that.  Her new book is The Wine Region of Rioja (Sterling Epicure, $35).

Rioja is my favorite wine region of Spain, both for its wine and as a place to visit.  Although it’s less than 90 minutes south of Bilbao by super highway, Rioja still has the patina of a far-away time juxtaposed with wineries and hotels that are small masterpieces of modern architecture.

It is a large, expansive region, in many ways like the Ebro River that runs through it.  Its Tempranillo-based reds are the center core of what Rioja is about, but, like the tributaries of the Ebro, the variations are what intrigue us about the wines and about the region.

Fabiano, an expert in Spanish wines who did much original historical research in the region for the book, explains how Rioja and its wines evolved, tells you about the seven valleys and the variations they bring, explains about the grapes from Tempranillo to Graciano, let’s you meet the winemakers both traditional and modern and takes you on a table tour of Riojan food.  Yes, she explains the difference between cosecha and crianza, but in a simple manner.

Even if you’ve visited Rioja and know something about the wines, Fabiano’s book gives you an overview like you’ve never had and helps you patch the holes if your knowledge and your understanding of the region.  And, if you’re traveling to Rioja, you couldn’t ask for a better guide book.

Finally, there are the photos, which are both pertinent and beautifully done.

So pour yourself a glass of Rioja Reserva, take 30 minutes to leaf through the book, then put it on your nightstand to revisit from cover to cover

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