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Beronia at 40

Becky Sue Epstein

A Recent Tour by This Rioja Winery Showcases the Effects of Oak Aging

In summer there's a lot of touring—mainly rock bands. I'm still hoping to get to a great concert but I did get to Bodegas Beronia 40th anniversary tour. Beronia is not a band but a winery. It's located in Northern Spain, in the Rioja region.

Bodegas Beronia.

For a few weeks, Beronia winemaker Matias Calleja was on tour in the U.S. with samples of several decades of Rioja wines celebrating Beronia's 40 years of winemaking.

At a summer lunch at Boston's Taberna de Haro, the wines were wonderful with the authentic Spanish food. Which is the point of Bodegas Beronia: This winery was founded in 1973 by a group of Spaniards in a gastronomic society because they wanted to have their own great Rioja wines to drink at their fine dining occasions.

To fine-tune the flavors in their wines Beronia's winemakers began experimenting with oak-aging a few decades ago, in a manner that is rarely seen outside this region. In the early 1980s, the standard American oak barrels were popular in Rioja because they were considered better than previously-used French barrels to "tame" the Tempranillo.

As part of the winemaking crew, Calleja began making wines with a combination of the two oaks-in barrels made with heads of French oak and staves of American oak. Interesting link: This winery took its name from the ancient tribe of Gauls who settled in this part of northern Spain in the third century BC, and called their region Beronia. Remember, it was from the Gauls that the Romans learned to put their wines in barrels.
Matias is now Beronia's head winemaker, and he also uses temperature variation as a tool in toasting his barrels. (Barrel wood is actually "toasted" or baked to winemakers specifications by the coopers.) For example, toasting at a lower temperature for a longer time (180 degrees C for 26 minutes) means the toasted area goes deeper into the barrels, and the wine can extract more of a mocha character from the oak.

Most of Beronia's wines are Tempranillo-based, and Calleja says his intent for these wines is to take the red fruits and licorice notes from the grapes and combine it with the mocha from the toasted oak to produce complex flavors in the wine.

Mattias Calleja.

It is common to drink older vintage wines from Rioja, and you may find some in restaurants and wine shops. The wines are surprisingly affordable. When you find one, you will be able to taste how wine evolves over time-a rare treat for most of us, who are used to having access only to young wines if we want reasonable prices, too.

Beronia Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva.
Tasted in July, the 2006 Gran Reserva had a reserved French oak essence, while the 1994 (aged in American oak) was fabulously flavorful, its cherry fruit transitioning into secondary fruit characteristics (think fruit-leather tea), especially on the end-palate.

For a more recent vintage of Beronia Rioja, the 2009 Crianza—aged in mixed American and French oak barrels—is great with typical Spanish foods, melding beautifully with tapas of garlic-strewn jamón ibérico, for example. Best of all, the Beronia Crianza retails for around $14.  

Beronia is imported by San Francisco Wine Exchange.

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