La Rioja: the quintessential wineries of Spain
La Rioja is synonymous with the wine tradition of Spain. This northern Spanish region lies in the upper Ebro valley, and is named for the Rio (river) Oja, a tributary joining the Ebro at Haro. The climate and particular soil composition create a privileged setting for the vines of this region. The Romans understood this very well and gave a new impulse to existing vine-growing activities. Years later, monasteries and religious communities of the Middle-Ages cultivated the vineyards, initiating a spectacular revival of vine production. Pilgrims and merchants would then carry the wines to Santiago de Compostela or other places.
In the 19th Europe, paradoxically led to the success of Rioja wines. When Phylloxera ravaged the Bordeaux vineyards in the 1870s, the French wine-makers crossed the border down to Rioja to buy grapes and wines in bulk containers.
Rioja wines are now covered by the oldest Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or Denominación de Orígen (DO) in Spain. The move towards a DO status was driven by the creation of the modern Rioja wine in the late 19thcentury after concerns over the growing number of origin name usurpers, partly as a result of the French influence. The Rioja could finally claim a quality recognition of DO in 1925.
La Rioja can be divided into three sub-regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa (in Basque Country) and Rioja Baja. The continental climate has a maritime influence, which means short and moderated summers and rather mild winters. Four important wine centers, Haro, Fuenmayor, Logroño, Lardero, lay along the Ebro’s South bank. Laguardia, the other important center in the Rioja Alavesa, lies on the North bank of the river, next to Elciego and Labastida.
The grape varieties are those that are best suited for the climate and soil, which is basically clay with plenty of gravel and limestone. The Regulations of the DO Rioja are: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo and Maturana tinta and Parda or Monastrell for red wines.
For white wines: Viura, Malvasía, Garnacha blanca, Tempranillo blanco, Maturana blanca, Turruntés, Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and Verdejo.
The Rioja wine cellars are places where grapes and tradition intersect. The Rioja wines started 3,000 years ago and have acquired character and strength; they have the right balance to appeal to the international market.
Why we like this wine region
The Rioja region is home to many of the greatest names of Spanish classic red wines. La Rioja is probably the finest international ambassador of Spanish wines. The hilly district of la Rioja shelters beautiful old villages at the foothill of the Sierra Cantabria, in the Alavesa district of la Rioja. Laguardia, Labastida, Briones, Haro: these are some of the most magnificent perched villages overlooking a timeless landscape of vineyards. The district invites visitors to pursue their quest for the best grapes. All routes and paths lead to wines, with their concomitant culture and history. Spain is noted for its social life and la Rioja is no exception. Life is abuzz outdoors with children playing loudly while parents are served a “crianza” on the terrace.
The most noticeable example of cultural influence is the annual Wine Festival in the town of Haro, where participants engage in the Batalla de Vino and drench each other from head to toe with wine. Rioja is also known for the ancient pilgrimage route the Way of Saint James as well as for the monasteries and remnants of ancient Roman architecture found along the path. La Rioja is endowed with modern wineries designed by renowned authors. Visitors are always stunned with beautiful vanguard architecture like that of Marques de Riscal or Ysios. The traditional bodegas can be even more surprising. Cellars can unfold amazingly old underground galleries where Reserva wines are aging in perfectly humid conditions. There is a feeling of touching hallowed ground at the sight of mysterious centenarian vintages in dusty bottles carefully stored from immemorial times. The question on all wine lovers’ lips: “are they still fit to drink?”. The place evokes a sense of old of medieval times, a testimony of the intergenerational wisdom of winegrowers.
Travelling with Slow Wines is the beginning of an exceptional journey through the vineyards of northern Spain. We want to share these experiences with you, conveying the best product of this land as you make yourself a part of it.
Thank you for your service and attention! Your recommendations were great and we discovered unexpected cellars and places in the Rioja. Everybody was extremely friendly and welcomed us in a familiar way. We never felt as tourists, but part of the wine houses. It truly was an amazing wine tour!
Just a little word of thanks for your Slowwines people! I thought our trip got off to a bad start, as upon arrival at the airport in Madrid, the rental car agency never seem to have heard of us! We called the Spanish office straight away and in less than half an hour, we had a nice car to start our self-drive tour to Ribera del Duero. Instructions were clear, this wasn't just a map an a few directions. The tour itself was perfectly timed and measured! We never drove long distances and arrived at the scheduled visits without hurrying! That was pure pleasure.
My sister and I are from the United States and were in Salamanca for a week visiting my niece. We noticed a pamphlet advertising a one day Sierra de Salamanca tour and thought we would give it a try....I am so glad we did! We had an absolutely picture perfect day visiting several quaint villages and touring an organic winery.
Helena and Pierre were fantastic hosts. I hope to return one day to experience a longer tour. If you love wine, do yourself a favor and contact Slowwines.
- Picturesque medieval towns of Sepúlveda
- World Heritage Sites and Medieval monasteries of Yuso, Suso, San Millán de la Cogolla
- Monasteries of Cañas and Santo Domingo de la Calzada
- La Rioja alavesa, the postcard -perfect ancient secluded villages: Laguardia and Elciego
- Rioja towns: Haro, Briones, Rodezno, San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Fuenmayor, Badarán,Logroño
- The Jacobean Route passing through Nájera and Santo Domingo de la Calzada
- The most comprehensive Wine Museum: Dinastía Vivanco
- Burgos center and its Gothic cathedral
- San Vicente de la Sonsierra and the surrounding area
- The reservoir of González Lacasa, the crags of Ortigosa
- Typical Rioja wine cellars and vineyards