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The northern Spanish region of La Rioja is still largely undiscovered by travelers and has a reputation for producing some of the best wines in the country. The area is criss-crossed by glittering rivers, the rugged Cantabrian mountains and walled medieval villages whose preserved castles and cobbled streets have left time standing still. Just a multitude of bodegas (or wineries) – some traditional, some modern – interrupt the breathtaking landscape of hills, valleys and vines.
Almost 90% of the wine produced here is red and comes from the Tempranillo grape, and it is often blended with small amounts of Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano. Beautiful white grape varieties such as Viura and Tempranillo Blanco as well as Rosados (Rosés) are excellent and should not be underestimated.
La Rioja is also a gastronomic destination where food follows wine. Rustic staples like white beans steamed with chorizo, roasted piquillo peppers and grilled lamb chops grace countless restaurant menus. But you’ll also discover more inventive cuisine prepared by emerging and established chefs who have been awarded Michelin stars.
In the small village of Briñas, just 10 minutes from Haro town, Palacio Tondon hugs the banks of the Ebro and overlooks the vineyards. Housed in a newly remodeled palace from the 16th century, this chic hotel is a wonderful mix of old and new. The 33-room property has three wings: the old castle with original stone walls, servants’ quarters and an elegant addition to the original structure. In addition to a restaurant and a wine bar, a terrace invites you to relax and listen to the gentle sounds of the Ebro.
The celebrated architect Frank Gehry designed the steel and titanium cladding Hotel Marqués de Riscal, an avant-garde property in Elciego, Álava. This Marriott Luxury Collection hotel features the Michelin-starred Marqués de Riscal restaurant, a Caudalie spa that focuses on wine-inspired wellness, and the oldest winery in Rioja from 1858 its own where luxury accommodations focus on art, Architecture and gastronomy meet.
Rioja is home to over 500 wineries so you will likely be overwhelmed with the choice. Some wineries accept walk-ins and others only by appointment. Call ahead or visit the websites for details.
In the capital, Logroño, You have a bevy of bodegas to choose from. Worth seeing is the legendary Marques de Murrieta, a beautiful winery where tradition meets modernity in Ygay Castle from the 19th century. The museum-like space hosts tastings, food and wine pairings, and guided tours.
The town of Haro is also home to several wineries, and one of the main players is Bodegas Muga, located in the station district. Friendly and knowledgeable staff pour the latest vintage, but the place fills up quickly so get there early. Vineyard tours are also offered, accompanied by a tasting of two wines.
A maze of stone streets with restored medieval buildings, some of which are wineries, winds through the fortified village of LaGuardia. Take a look at the city’s ancient cave system – once designated as a safety tunnel and excavated 900 years ago – at Casa Primicia, where a renovated interior introduces contemporary elements to LaGuardia’s oldest civil building. Take a tour and sip wine while taking in the views of the vineyards from the upper level. A tasting of the award-winning Julian Madrid Reserva, named after the founder of the cellar, is available on the “5 Star Tour”.
In nearby Samaniego,
Bodegas Baigorri and its minimalist design cannot be overlooked when driving on the Ctra.Vitoria-Logroño. This glittering glass facade reveals a modernist “lookout point” that reflects the clean viticulture style of this winery. The seven-story masterpiece offers unobstructed views of the surrounding grounds and is ideal for tastings and small gatherings. Visitors can book a guided tour followed by a multi-course lunch with four accompanying wines.
Lose yourself in the fascination of the old world at the award-winning Bodegas Luis Cañas,
a family-run winery with a focus on organic and biodynamic production. The excellent Gran Reserva is a classic Rioja wine. The smooth and silky Rioja Reserva with its rich tannins and oaky vanilla notes is also outstanding. Try these and others at the property in the small town of Villabuena de Álava, just 10 minutes from Baigorri.
In LaGuardia, the Posada Mayor de Migueloa is located in a hotel of the same name from the 17th century. The cozy restaurant mainly serves meat dishes such as Iberian acorn ham and Rioja-style sausage with potato stew and also has an excellent wine list, including some bottles from the in-house winery Bodegas Mayor 1619.
Logroño is a town of pintxos (tapas) bars – there are more than 50 within a four block radius – so be ready to browse. One to try is Chef Francis Paniego’s Tondeluna, where 90% of the menu is celiac friendly. On the finer side of Logroño, there is a lot of hustle and bustle around the Ikaro Restaurante, where you can rightly expect a Michelin-starred experience. The restaurant received one star in the Guide 2020. The chefs Carolina Sánchez and Iñaki Murua offer la la carte and tasting menus and blend Ecuadorian and Basque cuisine in the stylish rooms.
The chefs at Tondón at Palacio Tondón work with local producers to prepare seasonal, contemporary dishes like red tuna loin with white garlic and black angus rib with grilled potatoes, which guests serve in an elegantly designed dining room. But the culinary sensation could be El Portal de Echaurren, located in his hotel of the same name in Ezcaray. With the kitchen under the direction of chef Francis Paniego and the wines curated by his brother José Félix Paniego, the two Michelin-starred restaurant reflects an upbringing rooted in gastronomy alongside her parents and her deceased brother, as well as the generous region La Rioja reflected.
The author was a guest of the Ruta del Vino de Rioja Alavesa.