Much more than Rioja – the inspiration behind this month’s wine club.

In response to vociferous customer demand for more Rioja (we listen), September’s wine club will be taking you on a regular Camino de Santaigo (pilgrims trail) across northern Spain. There’s far more to Spanish reds, and, indeed, the Tempranillo grape, than Rioja but for reasons of familiarity, that’s our starting point. Then we’ll be heading south west to join the Duero at Ribera and west along the river of wine, through Cigales and Toro, to the border with Portugal. That’s pretty much all Tempranillo, in its various guises (tinto fino, tinto del pais and tinto da toro) so, just to show that it’s not a one grape nation, we’ll be throwing in a few curve balls from uber trendy Sierra de Gredos (Garnacha), Arribes (Juan Garcia) and Bierzo (Mencia) to show there’s more to Spanish reds than Tempranillo based Rioja.

For aspirational winemakers the great thing about Spain is it’s cheap. Elsewhere they say that to make a fortune out of wine, you have to start with a bigger one, but in much of rural Spain as old vineyards slowly revert to the wild, all you need is a shed and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. A growing band of Spanish, Brits, Australians and even Bulgarians are living their dreams, restoring old vineyards and making great wines in a minimal intervention – for financial, as well as ethical, reasons. The three we’re focusing on are stacked in a north south line along, and above the Portuguese border in the largely mountainous, and lost to us, western interior. The vineyard we visited in Fermoselle, Arribes overlooking the Duero, was not only a mix of old, extremely, gnarly, vines of unpronounceable name,  but olives, almonds, plums, sloes and damsons as well. Gone native farmer and winemaker, Charlotte Allen, was worried about finding the time to pick everything.  I would invite you all around for a holiday snap slideshow but instead here’s a gnarly bush vine, close up of an ancient vineyard and the same vineyard and river Duero/Douro before you get to Portugal, in the distance. Life is not easy.