There are striking wines, and then there are striking vineyards which have become landmarks in their own right thanks to their innovative design.
For those avid wine travellers who are planning to taste their way through the vineyards of Europe this year, here are a few Lazenne favourites which have to be seen to be believed. Can you squeeze them into your itinerary?
Bodegas Ysios, Spain
A sea of wine waves in the heart of Spain, this dramatic and dominating construction in the Rioja wine region is an impressive 200m in length and 8,000m² in total area! The brief, asking for an iconic design which was well integrated into the surrounding landscape, was well and truly answered by architect Santiago Calatrava and contains state of the art winemaking facilities. Bodega Ysios, named for the Egyptian deities Isis and Osiris, craft fruit-forward Rioja’s and are part of the Pernod Ricard family.
Marqués de Riscal, Spain
It’s only fitting that one of Spain’s most iconic names in wine has an iconic winery to match! Frank O. Gehry, the man you may recognise as being behind New York’s Guggenheim Museum, was commissioned to create a masterpiece which reflected the innovative spirit of Marqués de Riscal. It’s a fairly avant-garde design, wouldn’t you agree? If you look closely enough, the top of the winery, built using titanium, boasts many references to what is crafted inside it. Pink for the wine, gold for the mesh used around the bottles, and silver for the foil bottle top. Also a hotel, restaurant and wine spa, this Rioja winery is one destination we can see ourselves calling home for a little while!
Château Cheval Blanc, France
We’d expect nothing less than the best from one of the most illustrious, and expensive, names in wine. It’s a modern, minimalist feel from the exterior through to the interior of the winery at Château Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux’s Merlot-dominated right bank commune of Saint-Emilion. This design, conceived by renowned architect Christian de Portzamparc, resembles something of a flying saucer on the outside and this space-age theme is continued Inside to the egg-like concrete vats (pictured above), such an essential ingredient in the winemaking process. There are 52 in total!
Marchese Antinori, Italy
We know, we don’t really need an excuse to visit the amazing Italian producer Marchese Antinori, responsible for such vinous pleasures as the Super Tuscan Tignanello, yet the opportunity to mosey around this stunning building wouldn’t go amiss either. From a distance, the structure is seemingly camouflaged into the rolling Chianti hills, yet, once a little closer, the cutting-edge design by Archea Associati takes on so much more detail, befitting of the complex and ever evolving wines which are born here.
Those Tuscans know a thing or two about unique and original vineyard design, that’s for sure! Designed by celebrated Swiss architect Mario Botta (who counts the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art amongst his portfolio), the winery at Petra Wines features his hallmark cylindrical element, almost an altar to the sun! When we consider how essential an ingredient the sun is in the vineyard cycle, we can completely understand why the building sits perfectly in its surrounds.
If you look around the world of wine today, you'll notice that most wine is made with the same grape varieties. Pretty much every 'New World' country produces wines made from grapes native to France; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot... the list goes on. This is no bad thing as stylistically, all the above varieties can be drastically different depending upon climate, soil, viticulture and vinification. The vast majority of glossy, bold Shiraz from Australia is, literally and figuratively, a world away from the savoury, peppery wines of the Northern Rhone, for example. However, in the last 10 years the fashion has been to move away from seeking out the 'best' examples of these well known varieties and instead to look for unique expressions, typically from grapes native to specific countries and regions. This has seen the emergence of some new stars in the world of wine, from the austere, mineral wines of Mount Etna in Sicily to the powerful, racy Assyrtiko of Santorini in Greece. Austria has re-modelled its vinous reputation with the versatile Grüner Veltliner and even as afar as South America, Bonarda and Pais are resurging on both sides of the Andes, in Argentina and Chile respectively.
However, no country has been rediscovered in quite the same way as Spain. There are somewhere in the region of 600 grape varieties on the Iberian Peninsula, the vast majority of them indigenous and regionally specific in production. Despite this, Spain was for decades synonymous with oaky, extracted wines from Rioja, and to a lesser extent Ribera del Duero, with Tempranillo the only celebrated indigenous grape hailing from the country. Short-sighted producers ripped up their old, unfashionable vineyards and replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and anything that was currently selling, not realising that in doing so they were giving up their major point of difference on the international market-place. However, this wasn't true for all producers and quietly, many went about their business as they had done for centuries; cultivating their families vineyards and producing wines of distinction and style, as their vines slowly became older, sturdier and produced better quality fruit. To look at the market now compared to 20 years ago is staggering. Shops in Barcelona are awash with local Catalan wines, Galician field-blends are appearing in top restaurants across the world and even Sherry is making a come-back! To cover the entirety of this resurgence would take a strong liver and a lot of time, but I'd like to share a few exciting varieties from my own little corner of Spain, the fiercely independent Catalunya:
Wine is a fussy product. Starting from its very beginnings as embryonic genetic material located on the buds of vines, to its moment of glory in your glass, there are countless chemical reactions, pitfalls and opportunities to be navigated and controlled in order to create a good bottle of wine. The vast majority of these is, fortunately, taken care of by the time we actually buy a bottle of wine, as the vigneron has spent the entire year wrestling against nature, ensuring the right balance of sugars, acids and flavour compounds, before handing over the baton to the wine-maker. This is where the grapes will be converted into wine through the magical process of fermentation, possibly aged and then bottled with care being taken to ensure biological stability. Then depending on where the wine is to be sold, it will go through a long or short supply route, potentially crossing oceans, continents and all sorts of checks before it finally appears on a shop shelf or restaurant list somewhere in the world.
Enter us; the consumer. We purchase the wine with the intention of one day drinking it, whether that be within minutes of the purchase, or 20 years down the line, after extended storage to allow for it to evolve within the bottle. Assuming the bottle has been purchased close to home and you intend to drink it in the near future, this is all well and good as any issues of storage are very much the responsibility of the retailer/restaurant and bottles can be returned for a refund. However, if you're buying the wine far from home, possibly, abroad, we run into some potential issues quite quickly.
Having just come back from a two week trip to the Mount Etna region of eastern Sicily we thought we'd share some of the best wine stores we came across travelling in the region. I must say I love the "enoteca" concept in Italy, where you can come for an aperitivo, taste local wines by the glass with some food, and then purchase bottles that you've tasted and liked. We loved visiting and tasting wines directly at the wineries of course, but the experience of tasting different producers side by side, and the ability to try older vintages can only be done at an enoteca.