The Rioja, Where Each Wine Has a Story to Tell

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Rioja Alavesa

If you hear about Rioja, you immediately think about wine.  This is nothing new; already in ancient times (20 AD) Romans indulged themselves, having wine shipped from Rioja to Rome!

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The premium quality of the Rioja red wine is acknowledged worldwide.  It is not surprising with its over 60,000 ha of vineyards (among the largest in the world), 400 million bottles p.a., and more than five hundred DOC wineries, some traditional, others avant-garde.

Here is an interesting article by P. Gorospe (in Spanish) related to the wine appellations (DOs) in the Rioja that appeared in El País on 06.Jan.2016: ‘La guerra del vino de Rioja’

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Day 1 – The ride from Hondarribia on the Basque Coast to Bodegas Ysios in Laguardia (Rioja Alavesa) took us 2 h (165 km).  This time the GPS was not useful as I could not enter the winery address as given. We had to rely – the good old way — on a printed map, which was not helping much either.

 

We were running late for our first tasting appointment!  All of a sudden, we spotted Calatrava’s imposing masterwork:  Ysios with its undulating aluminum roof, backdropped by the Sierra de Cantabria … Stunning!

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Our wine hostess, Susana, was waiting for us at the magnificent main entrance of the winery.

She talked to us about Ysios, the architecture, the vineyards, the favorable geographical conditions in Rioja for winemaking, and showed us around the modern boutique winery, including the area where the wine ages for, at least, 14 months.

Their two wines are Ysios Reserva and Ysios Edición Limitada Reserva, produced from 100 percent Tempranillo grapes.  Approx. number of bottles: 200,000 p.a.

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Love the logo engraved on their glasses.

 

 

We were lucky to taste both in the extraordinary tasting area, that really resembled a place for worship, with amazing views of the vineyards and Laguardia.

 

IMG_0512I would have liked to stay longer, enjoying the special wine perfectly paired with a Spanish sausage, the good company, and the gorgeous location.

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Just 15 min away (9 km), also in the Rioja Alavesa, in Elciego, we had our next appointment:   Marqués de Riscal, the oldest in Rioja (1862) and the largest of the six wineries we visited, producing approx. five million bottles p.a.

 

Here is an article where you will find interesting facts about Marqués de Riscal:  10 Things Every Wine Lover Should Know about Marqués de Riscal

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The guided tour through this historic winery was interesting but also in a much larger group.

 

The tasting included their Rueda Verdejo 2015 and their Reserva 2012 — yes, that Rioja with the wire-mesh net!

Certainly I could not leave Marqués de Riscal without catching images of their iconic Frank Gehry-designed spa-hotel, located atop the winery. The colors of its unique roof in steel and titanium were inspired by the silver caps, gold wire mesh and purple contents of their well-known Reserva bottle.

 

IMG_6701It took us 25 min (22.5 km) to be in Hotel Calle Mayor in Logroño, capital of the Rioja.  This charming hotel with only twelve rooms is set in a totally refurbished 16th century palace.  It is conveniently located in the historic center.  The rooms are spacious and spotless, offering all the comfort.  Private parking is available on site (charges apply).  The perfect place to stay if touring La Rioja.

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The hotel staff was really friendly and helpful.  At the reception, besides the city map, we got a flyer showing all the bars and restaurants on Calle Laurel (or just ‘La Laurel’) and Calle San Agustín, both streets are extremely known and popular to go de potes (bar hopping) in LogroñoIMG_6702Each bar has its specialty, i.e. Soriano (mushrooms), Jubera (patatas bravas = fried potatoes with aioli and tomato sauces), Juana La Loca (seafood), Bar Sebas (tortilla de patata = Potato Omelet) …

If you prefer to avoid all the bustling, you have an excellent option, i.e. Calle San Juan, just a few steps from the hotel; it offers a good choice of bars.  We walked directly to Torres, and we did not continue our proposed bar hopping, because we enjoyed so much the food and the drinks that we just stayed!

Esther, the friendly and efficient bartender, was prompt in taking our orders.  First we had a zurito (a small beer in northern Spain) and a Caraballas Verdejo, together with one of the house’s specialties.

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Kobe Miniburgers with Potatoes and Padron Green Peppers.  Now we understand why they are so in demand.  Then we had

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Croquetas (Croquettes)

 

 

 

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Solomillo de Cerdo Marinado con Salsa Thai con Boletus y Brotes de Rábano (Thai Marinated Pork Tenderloin with Boletus and Radish Sprouts)

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Patorrillo de Buey Wagyu (Wagyu Beef Stew)

 

 

 

Great tastes! Everything cooked to perfection and nicely plated.

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They used a special bottle opener that allows you to pour the wine without removing the cork.  Cool!

Cándido, one of the bar owners, gave us great wine recommendations. This was for me the best tasting in the Rioja, and I really enjoyed every sip:

Valenciso Reserva 2009

LAN A Mano 2011, Edición Limitada

La Rioja Alta, Rioja Gran Reserva 904 2005

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Before going to bed, something for the sweet tooth:  a delicious brownie!

Torres defined themselves as a ‘gastrobar’:  They keep the popular bar concept but raise the quality of the food into a higher level, first-class cuisine.  They have succeeded.  The experience in Torres was all what a foodie expects.

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Day 2 – What a nice thing to wake up and have this heavenly breakfast waiting for you! This is how Hotel Calle Mayor spoils their guests every morning …

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Including freshly-squeezed orange juice, of course!

 

 

 

Time to stroll around the historic old town.  Beautiful balconies and bay windows.  Taking the chance to pop in the local market – a must for every foodie.

Resuming our wine route, we headed to Bodegas Baigorri in Samaniego, a 30 min (27 km).

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PanoBaigorri1.JPGThis beautiful, avant-garde winery by Iñaqui Aspiazu shows up like a glass box in the rural landscape.  This 500-m2 glass area serves as a viewing platform to contemplate the stunning surroundings.

All the winemaking happens in the seven underground levels.  Gravity plays a major role in Bodegas Baigorri’s philosophy.

They use new French oak barrels to age all their wine, this is considered as a modern method in the Rioja; traditional wineries use American barrels.   Bodegas Baigorri produces approx. 500,000 bottles p.a.

Crossing an internal bridge, with the oak barrels below, we reached the restaurant.  The tasting took place there.

Isabel completed the tour, explaining us the three wines chosen for the tasting:

Baigorri Blanco Fermentado en Barrica 2013 – I really liked this one

Baigorri Crianza 2012

Baigorri Belus 2010

Back in the car we drove 15 min (12 km) to Briones and found this two bridges on the Ebro: one Roman, one new

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We had time for a quick lunch.  We decided to try Los 4 Arcos, a restaurant set in a manor house of 1781, inside the town walls.  They offer typical Riojan dishes and specializes in roasts cooked in a vinewood fire.

We did not have a reservation, and there was a long waiting queue.   As soon as we got our table, we chose:  Grilled beef steak with French fries, mixed salad, and arroz con leche (rice pudding).   All so fresh and delicious!  When the waitress brought the bill, we were surprised to see the total amount.  The bill was only EUR 24 for two complete daily menus (incl. drinks)!

I really do not like to mention about prices in the blog, but I found this really exceptional.

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In 5 min (1.2 km) we were in Bodegas Vivanco, our first winery in the Rioja Alta.

 

 

 

 

The whole winemaking facility was built underground.  They combine traditional techniques with innovative ones.  They produce approx. 800,000 bottles p.a.

The tasting

The highlight of Bodegas Vivanco was their wine museum (4000 m2).  It is certainly a great place to visit if you are interested in wine (no pictures allowed).  It also includes a garden collecting over 220 grape varieties!

IMG_6766Like Tempranillo (Aug 2016)

IMG_6788… and Verdejo (Aug 2016) – finally, I got to see the grapes of my favorite Spanish white!

It took us 25 min (22 km) to reach Laguardia, back in the Rioja Alavesa.  This medieval village is among ‘The most beautiful villages in Spain’, and it is charming, indeed.

A beautiful park around the town wall with stunning views.

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Day 3 – The last part of our Rioja discovery took place in Haro (Rioja Alta).  Although Logroño is the official capital of the region, Haro markets itself better as wine center, e.g. every roundabout has something allusive to wine, like a sculpture or vines.

 

 

 

Haro is also home of many of the great Rioja wineries.  We visited two of them.  The first IMG_6818one was Bodegas Muga.  A family that respects tradition when making their wines and produces approx. two million bottles p.a.

 

The complete winery is in wood; therefore, you will not find any stainless steel as in other wineries.

 

Pretty bridge railings in the fermentation roomsIMG_6840

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Before the wine is bottled it has to go through a clarification (fining) process.  Muga opts for the traditional method, which consists of using egg whites to filter the wine.

Good videos on their website describe their winemaking process, including the fining.

 

 

Another very interesting part of the visit was the cooperage, the making and repairing of wine barrels and tubs.  We were lucky to meet Jesús Azcárate, the last cubero (a cooper specialized in the big casks) in Spain.

 

The tasting

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For lunch we drove 10 min (7 km) to La Vieja Bodega in Casalarreina.  This nice restaurant is set in a rebuilt cellar of the 17th century and serves typical but also creative cuisine. According to the season, they also offer daily specials.

 

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While enjoying our drinks with a delicious gazpacho (cold vegetable soup), a surprise from the kitchen, Angel (the owner) came to take our order.

 

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Arroz Meloso de Pulpo y Calamar con Velo de Azafrán (Octopus and Squid Creamy Rice with Saffron Veil)

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Ensalada de Centollo y Tartar de Aguacate (Crab Salad and Avocado Tartare)

 

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Rabo Estofado y Desmigado con Crema de Foie y Hongos (Oxtail Stew with Foie Cream and Mushrooms)IMG_6888

 

 

Raviolis Rellenos de Mollejas y Setas (Raviolis Filled with Sweetbread and Mushrooms)

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Tartita de Manzana Caliente con Helado de Vainilla (Hot Apple Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream)

 

 

We were really happy with the delights of our lunch and the friendliness found at La Vieja Bodega.

Ready for the last winery we would visit on this first but, certainly, not last wine route in the Rioja.  A 10-min drive took us to Bodegas López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, one of the oldest in the Rioja (1877).

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Although it is a family-owned winery that respect the ancestors’ traditional winemaking practices, it can also be innovative, adapting to modern times.  An example of this is Zaha Hadid’s pavilion, that serves today as showroom/shop, but essentially as shelter of the beautiful old store used by the winery in the 1910 World Fair.

Elena showed us around the facilities, where wine is still made as it was 100 years ago.  They produce approx. 460,000 bottles p.a.  Walking in those underground cellars was like traveling back in time:  the old barrels, the old lamps, the half darkness …

Then, the exit door to the Ebro.

The corks of great wines get a wax seal before they are aged in the old cellars for many years.  This protects the cork and, more importantly, the wine.  Below the cellar walls and aging bottles covered with mold; nothing to be afraid of!

The tasting

Viña Cubillo Crianza 2008

Viña Bosconia Reserva 2004

Viña Tondonia Reserva 2004

Although the visit was shared with another family, who, unfortunately, could not keep the children quiet, Elena made her best to conduct the tour as smoothly and uninterruptedly as possible.  Besides the bottle each visitor gets upon departure, she gave us two nice books as a present, apologizing for the inconvenience.

I was impressed by the tradition authenticity of Viña Tondonia.

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This route took us to six fantastic wineries in three days.  We were glad to find that each of them was unique and had something special.  They turned out to be the right choice to get a feel for the riojas and their fascinating stories.

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