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Catavino’s Favorite Trips of 2008 – It’s been a great Iberian Wine Year

grapesAt the end of the year, I can’t help but look back and ask myself, “Have I done enough in my life? Have I truly accomplished the goals I’ve set out for, or have I let them slip to the wayside getting snug and comfortable in my safe daily routine”? If I’ve fallen in the latter, I give myself a quick kick the keister and start taking more risks. This precious gift called “life” isn’t something to be messed with, and for me, one of the best ways to celebrate it, is by getting uncomfortable through travel. By stripping away normalcy and accepting the odd and unpredictable, I change, grow, evolve and see both life and myself differently. And as I take inventory of 2008, it is without a doubt, that we wholeheartedly launched ourselves into the strange, the wonderful and the utterly unpredictable.

This year, Ryan and I have jotted down our top 4 trips that we’ve taken together. We hope you have fun reading our fond memories, and if you feel so inclined, please don’t hesitate to add your favorite trip of 2008 in the comments below.

The Rioja Report: A Breathless Jam-Packed Week Long Tour

Although our original intention with our sponsored Regional Reports was to dedicate every month of the year to a region, we soon realized that our idealism was beyond the realm of practicality. But before we came to this realization, we dove into this report with every ounce of curiosity, passion and gusto we had available to us. Prior to our trip, we asked Dave Worthington from Tinto y Blanco to let us know his perspective of Rioja wines from an Aussie standpoint. We gleaned from Blame it on Rioja’s author,  Adrian Murcia, as to his perspective as to how American’s are viewing the region and wines of Rioja. Not to mention, the series of articles we wrote prior to our trip tackling our assumptions before we left, as well as the general consensus of Rioja wines in Spain. Therefore, by the time we finally got to Rioja, we were not only primed with information, but we were excited to see whether or assumptions of the region and style were true to form, for which they were not! The flavors, blends, and concept of “Rioja” was nothing as we had anticipated.

What did we learn? Well, after a week long trip to La Rioja, interviewing people such as Rafael Vivanco from Dinastia Vivanco and Maria Jose Lopez from Lopez de Heredia, we saw a region with diversity, complexity and vision. To say that Rioja can be defined by only one style, is like saying Spain is one cohesive cultural entity. Rioja has both modern and traditonal, with several variations in between, and depending on which winemaker you speak with, “traditional” can mean a variety of things. And between the incredible culinary experiences, hidden restaurant gems, fun tapas tours, walks through gorgeous vineyards,  great chats with winemakers, conversations with new friends, and an overall lovely experience, you can easily see why the Rioja Report easily found its way to list.

Essencia do Vinho – Oporto, Portugal

Essencia do Vinho is the annual Portuguese wine fair hosted in Oporto by Blue Wine Magazine. What made this particular trip so enjoyable was the fact that we thought we were asked  to be part of a press junket not a month before the event; however, upon arrival, we soon discovered that we were more than just press, we were judges for the wine tasting. Having been our very first experience as judges, it is fair to say that we were a bit (very) intimated at first, but as the first round of wines led to the second and third and so on and so forth, we soon relaxed. Granted, having José Peñin and Charles Metcalf, two internationally renowned wine critics, sit infront of us didn’t necessarily wrap us in a sense of belonging, but we took the most from the experience, enjoying each and every opportunity to learn from the best. From brief walks along the quay on the Douro River to an entertaining dinner with the Douro Boys, it was a trip to remember.

European Wine Bloggers Conference

Despite the initial setback of getting to the rental car agency in Terrassa, a day before we were scheduled to kickoff the first European Wine Blogger Conference in Logroño, and finding out that our car may not be available to us (insert heart-stopping panic here), the event was an incredible success. Having brought together 50 wine bloggers from around the world who exuded an intense curiosity, passion and love of wine blogging within the first 10 minutes of the event, we couldn’t have been more pleased. It was an experience of a lifetime, and one we can only hope to repeat in 2009 with the II Annual EWBC event. And if we can be so lucky to have our roundtable sessions, meals and bodega tours run with the same level of ease as we did in Rioja, you’ll find Robert McIntosh, Ryan and I on bare knees thanking the omnipotent wine gods that be. Photo by Winzerblog)

New Delhi, India

Albeit not wine related, this trip was by far the most interesting and awe inspiring vacation we’ve ever taken in our lives. Arriving in New Delhi to the welcome arms of Ryan’s parents, the four of us, plus our driver, exited the airport into a hoard of men who encircled us on all sides asking to take our bags. Immediately, as most travelers are prone to do, we kindly refused their requests thinking that they were going to take our bags and run, but in reality, they waited to carry the bags to the car in order to get tipped. This experience in conjunction with our trip to the hotel where taxis, buses, motorbikes, cars, horse drawn carts, bikes, pedestrians, cows and dogs all fought for equal space on the road, gave us a raw and viscerous understanding of what the following 8 days would consist of: beautiful chaos. From bustling and insanely intense market squares filled with vendors eager to sell you their wares to long and lingering dinners under brightly colored tents with musicians filling the air with sultry tones, it was an experience we will never forget. It is also one we hope to repeat in the future, but the next time, with more local wine!

If you have some favorite trips of the year that you would like to share with us, please do so! We’d love to hear where our readers find themselves bounding around the planet drinking wine.


Gabriella and Ryan Opaz

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  • Keep up the travels and the good work Opai!! I think my favorite trip of 2008 would have to be my month long journey in Spain starting in Barcelona and getting to know you both! I had an mazing time exploring the streets of Barcelona and Terrassa with you, as well as the train ride down to Valencia and the wonderful dinner we shared together with other wine bloggers. From there I was fortunate enough to enjoy the sun and surf down near Alicante (Benissa to be exact) with some fellow wine importers based in Poland who have since become great friends. One thing that I can say for certain is that Spain has a curious way of making you smile and make friends at every turn!! Meeting back up with Ryan in Rioja was fantastic, as we had the opportunity to mix a little business with some great pintxos and wine, and then I was off to see the harvest in Bordeaux, and then more driving as I headed over to Galicia for an amazing few days filled with new wines, food and more friends. Finishing my trip in Madrid enjoying the beautiful fall weather sipping on sherry couldn't have been a better end! I hope 2009 has some more fascinating wines and people in store for me, and more importantly, everyone else!

  • You trip to New Delhi was my number one. The colors, images, and foods. The mixings of culture and inclusion of meat dishes. Thanks for sharing these stories with us, I hope you plan to travel more in the coming year–I know I look forward to what you both will recount.

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