Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Great Chirito Fire of 2010

(I recently went on a trip to Rioja, Spain. And like politics, all wine is local. Here's the first of a few posts on my trip.)

Jorge Muga is a fourth generation grape grower and winemaker. He has grown up among the vines his entire life, and their cycles of dormancy and rebirth are the markers of his life.

Senor Muga Sr. and Ana Fabiano of Vibrant Rioja

When you ask senor Muga where he’d like to go on vacation he answers, “Why would I go anywhere else?” An admitted habitual traveler in his youth, Muga prefers to spend time at the family winery or on his small private farm where he grows his own fruits and vegetables. He is an inveterate canner, and grower. Among his other hobbies is making small distinctive homemade spicy regional-styled sausages known as chirito is Rioja. He likes his own personal sausages very spicy, but makes a more mild brand for visiting friends and guests.

I was very excited when our car pulled up tot the Muga estate. It was a bricked in courtyard guarded by a large black wrought iron gate.

He was tall with long, black wavy boyish hair, dotted with flecks of gray. He greeted us with his long, open arms. He then ushered us quickly into a large, white van, emblazoned with the Muga brand. I had the good fortune to sit in the front seat, along side a large wicker basket, which held loafs of fresh baked bread, several empty glass decanters with spouts, and a bag of red small sausages. He drove us to several large vineyards filled with Tempranillo, Manzuela, and Granacha.

It was at a second stop out in the vineyards, on a hill over looking the Elba River, that Jorge threw down two large bundles of dried out grapevine cuttings. Underneath these bundles he threw scraps of corrugated cardboard. He then lit the cardboard on fire, and the bundles immediately began to smoke and then blaze, even in the stiff breeze that was consistent while the sun went in and out.

Jorge then opened up a bottle of austere and elegant dry rose’, and poured it into the decanter with a spout. We all then took turns trying to drink this fabulous wine, drinking from the spout, and laughing at one another, when we missed, which was quite often. By the time the decanter had passed around and we had all laughed well, the fire had turned to embers. Then Jorge placed a small two-sided camper’s grill upon the embers, and then flipped it over so as to burn off any unwanted particles. He then cut the sausages into three link lengths. He laid them down between the two sides and then set the grill onto the embers.

We took turns drinking more wine while the sausages sizzled, and endured more laughter. The baguette styled bread was broken into chunks and the sausages were placed one into each piece. The final product was incredible. With the breeze blowing, and the smell of the embers, and the wine and the sausage and the vineyards, it was an incredible experience.