The Finest Wines of Rioja and Northwest Spain, by Jesus Barquin Luis Gutierrez and Victor De La Serna.

While vines have been grown in the north west of Spain since Roman times, the wines only came to international prominence after the French were hit by phylloxera in the middle of the 19th century and the Bordeaux negociants crossed the border in search of replacement wines.

The new trade led to surge of prosperity in the area and the town of Haro, the centre of the Rioja trade though not the region, was one of the first areas in Spain to get electricity.

But the good times didn't last and decline had set in even before the devastating double whammy of the Civil War and World War 2. Then, a few wrong turns (including the use of “international” grape varieties) wasted further decades and it is only in relatively recent times that Rioja has regained its leading status while neighbouring Navarra is still trying to shed its mistakes.

The details of all these developments are listed and discussed in this fascinating new book (2011) by a trio of well qualified authors. “Lavishly illustrated with photographs of the people and of the landscape and with detailed maps, this guide ranges over a diverse area, including not only Rioja but Navarra, Bierzo, Galicia and the Basque Country as it explores winemaking from the ancient to the traditional and modern.”

“.. It provides insider information on a region that is home to Spain’s finest Tempranillo, its exciting Albarino, and many other indigenous grape varieties, such as Garnacha, Mazuelo and Viura.”

“The authors look in depth at topics including climate and soil, grape varieties and viticulture, and they profile more than 85 individual wineries. They also include information not available elsewhere, several top ten lists plus secret addresses for the best restaurants and shops in which to find aged and historic vintages of Rioja.”

Indeed, they do and then they also provide quite a lot of detail about the individual wineries and of the people that run them. The likes of CVNE, Lopez de Heredia/Tondonia, Bodegas Faustino, and Telmo Rodriguez (Spain’s “most famous itinerant vigneron”) are among those profiled.

Each winery’s best wines are listed. There is a year by year account of the vintages from 1990 to 2010, a chapter on the magic of aged Rioja and one on the best restaurants in the area. I just can't wait to visit Haro and its vineyards and this 320 page book will be coming south with me in 2012.