Nowness: La Batalla del Vino
Northern Spain’s Wine-Soaked Region Paints the Town Purple
Every year on June 29, legions of locals and exuberant tourists congregate in the Spanish town of Haro, the wine capital of La Rioja, for the La Batalla del Vino festival. Celebrating el Día de San Pedro [the Day of St. Peter], the crowds douse each other in local red wine. Catalan photographer Coke Bartrina captures this euphoric tradition that was born in the 18th century, when the usual celebratory procession broke into a light-hearted and very wet tinto fight. NOWNESS asked Tarajia Morrell, writer and founder of food blog The Lovage, whose family wine store Morrell & Company has been a New York City institution since 1947, to share her love of Rioja.
Dedicating a day to joyful soaking in wine is no surprise in a country that approaches life’s simple pleasures of eating, drinking and celebrating each festividad with the utmost reverence, and this wine festival is the calendar highlight of Spain’s most treasured wine making region. In Rioja, a love of the land and its produce dominates the culture, Tempranillo and Garnacha commands the grape varietals and conviviality. Deliciously spicy and earthy, Tempranillo is the principal grape used in Rioja, often blended with Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano for balance—for Riserva and Gran Riserva, they are aged in oak barrels, which lends toasty vanilla flavors. Characteristic notes of berries, leather, and tobacco with spices such as nutmeg, clove and cardamon are also prevalent.
Discovering Tempranillo was a revelation. The thick-skinned, garnet-purple grape exquisitely counterbalances the strong flavor profiles that excite me in terms of eating, and my affinity for La Rioja’s wines grew the more I paired them with my favorite foods. Charred meats and vegetables, strong cheeses and powerful flavors like anchovy highlight the unique balance of acidity, fruit and spices in Rioja wines. My wine philosophy echoes that of my father, Peter Morrell: “Wine brings out the best flavors that food has to offer and compliments and reflects it,” he says, “just as food livens one’s palate to better appreciate wine.” Wines from the Rioja elevate my experience of food as much as food teases out the greatest impact from Rioja wines, and for me, there’s no relationship like one that is better than the sum of its parts.