There are plenty of books for wine novices and plenty for wine aficionados. Much more rare is the book that satisfies both camps.
The Wine Region of Rioja, by Ana Fabiano, is one of those books. It’s a straightforward, clear introduction to one of the world’s most breathtaking wine regions, and the author’s ability to distill centuries of history into a tabletop book packed with photos and informative sidebars is commendable.
Equally noteworthy is the book’s well-planned and executed organization. It opens with a short overview of Rioja’s geography, which encompasses one of the most varied and diverse natural ecosystems in Spain. Then, one learns just enough of the region’s storied history, from its time as a Roman outpost, to its days as a key passage on medieval pilgrimage routes, to its present recognition as one the country’s premier wine-producing territories.
Best of all, this introductory section moves quickly and does not discourage the reader; it would have been easy for someone with Fabiano’s vast knowledge to spend a ponderous time plowing through years of minutiae, but she thoughtfully leaves such a tediously academic take for other writers.
Instead, we move quickly to the heart of the book, which breaks down in simple terms the differences between the region’s primary wine styles. This is accompanied by inset overviews of various vineyard owners, chosen for the quality of their personal stories as well as their historical place in the narrative that is Rioja’s past 400 years.
For those interested in actually tasting the wines of Rioja (and who isn’t?!), whether in the U.S. or at one of the actual bodegas overseas, the book’s final two sections offer pithy but thorough summaries of major producers with international distribution. These summaries serve as a guide both to well-known bodegas such as Campo Viejo as well as less readily available ones like Bodegas Tobia.
If there is a flaw to Fabiano’s book, it is almost a byproduct of the book’s very nature. As a high-level overview of a wine region, there is little Fabiano can do to capture what’s missing: Conversations about extremely small, artisanal producers; tensions or new developments in the winemaking scene; vintage-by-vintage analysis; and more qualitative evaluations of the wines in question. So, one cannot really fault the book or its writer for glossing over these points, as it would otherwise lose some of the brevity and concision that makes it so successful. If the “worst” thing that can be said about The Wine Region of Rioja is that it made one want to learn more about the region’s intricacies, certainly Fabiano has done her job.
The Wine Region of Rioja is available now for $35.00 from Sterling Epicure