Recently (during a wine-fuelled girls’ night in) my mum, sister, friend and I decided to make it a yearly ritual to visit a wine-producing region of the world. Given that these visits generally take the form of a weekend mini-break, so far we’ve only committed to Europe so last year we flew to Chianti and this year, much to my excitement, we went on a little jaunt to Rioja.
It’s no secret that I regularly enjoy a glass of Rioja and, having worked for Wines from Rioja for the last two and a half years, I often get to try some incredible wines. For a lot of people Rioja is synonymous with red wine when in fact, it is a wine-producing region in the north east corner of Spain and produces everything from fresh, light whites to rich, complex Gran Reserva reds. With a unique classification system which categorises wines as Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva, depending on the time they’ve spent ageing in barrel and bottle, Rioja wines are versatile, food-friendly and well worth discovering! With that in mind, we decided to visit the region and put a face to the name. Here are my recommendations if you want to do the same…
If you’re only going for a short time, the best thing to do is fly. You can get cheap flights from London Heathrow to Bilbao with Vueling or from London Stansted to Bilbao with Easyjet. Once there, hire a car and drive the 70 minute route (150 minutes in our case as we got lost trying to get out of Bilbao!) south to either Logroño if you fancy a city break in a hotel or, as we did, to Haro which is known as the capital of Rioja, where you can find some incredible apartments to share with friends such as Los Zapatos Morados.
The region is absolutely stunning, particularly at this time of year when the vineyards turn an autumnal shade of orange and it really is a pleasure to drive around, taking photos of the beautiful landscape set against the River Ebro and the Sierra Cantabria mountains, and exploring the gorgeous Spanish villages.
It would be rude not to! With well over 60 thousand hectares of vineyards and three sub-areas with distinct vitivinicultural characteristics – Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja – Rioja produces some of the finest wines in the world and you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to wineries to visit. During our time there we managed to fit in three winery tours – through Muga, Remelluri and Miguel Merino – one museum tour at Dinastía Vivanco, and two sight-seeing drive pasts to the architecturally stunning Ysios and Marqués de Riscal, sampling some delicious wines and learning about the wine-making process along the way. For less than €10 each, I highly recommend squeezing in a few winery visits!
Tapas bars are everywhere in Rioja and the local dishes go incredibly well with the local wines so make sure you leave plenty of time to go bar hopping on Calle Laurel in Logroño! Our favourites included mushrooms in Bar Soriano, seafood tapa in Bar A Tu Gusto and pimientos rellenos (peppers stuffed with ground beef) in La Taberna de Baco.
I honestly can’t recommend a visit to Rioja enough – I can’t do it justice in one blog post but if, like me, you like your food and wine, you’ll be in good company!