Totally Spain's La Rioja Winery Guide

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This post, submitted by Ken Baldwin of Totally Spain, is a participant in the 2014 Guest Bloggers Program sponsored by the Great Wine Capitals Global Network.

Rather like its wine, the region of La Rioja in Northern Spain is an elegant and very traditional region – nothing too brash or overly showy here.

All Shapes and Sizes

Just like music, architecture and literature, it’s hard to characterise wines and wineries. You have the modern and traditional, the family-run and larger companies. And the wineries that experiment with signature wines and invest in modern wineries. But what do they all have in common? Location and grape would be the best answer. Riojan wines are usually made from the tempranillo grape.

The location of the vineyard  –Rioja Alta or Baja – adds another dimension to the wines; the higher elevation gives rise to higher acidity and tannins. Haro, in Rioja Alta has many wineries close to the train station. Rioja’s wine producers benefited from Bordeaux’s vine diseases (mildew in 1852 and phylloxera in 1867) and being beside the tracks facilitated trade to France.

Which Wineries to Visit?

We recommend one winery visit in the morning and one in the evening. If you are on a tight timetable, select either Haro or Logroño. Book visits in advance checking whether thy are offered in English. These ones in Haro are:

Roda is one of the big players but it only dates back to 1987. Grapes come from its 17 different vineyards to HQ in Haro for French oak ageing. Each is kept separate until the blending stage – one year after being barrelled. The exception is its Cirsion wine – a separate blend. You can visit the winery, visit a vineyard, have a wine in the wine bar and more. Did you know the Roda family also make olive oil in Girona? All available from the winery.

Roda's grapes maturing nicely... (Photo

CVNE is composed of three wineries: Cvne, Vina Real and Contino. It was founded in 1879 by Raimundo and Eusebio Real de Asua and the company is still run by the same family. You can visit the winery and the Chillida sculpture exhibit is also great. The winery also runs workshops for children – which must be reserved in advance.

Tondonia winery is a must for fans of architecture who will enjoy Zaha Hadid’s wine shop and love the Txori Toki (the bird house) residence and tower - designed so the name of the firm would be visible from a distance. And to offer a great vantage point to study the vineyards and the weather. The gallery or Swiss cottage from 1887 is another beautiful space – initially a residence, it will be used as a reception area. The winery visits offers a great insight on the wine-making business and the role of the winery in the community.

Tondonia's winery including the elegant tower and sleek Zaha Hadid-designed shop

(Photo credit


Briones Village in Rioja Alta

If you are interested in the history of wine-making, you should visit Vivanco in Briones (just 9km from Haro) for its award-winning museum of wine culture (including a Picasso or two). You’ll also find a winery, gastrobar, restaurant and wine-tasting courses offered.

Try to visit/taste at one of the smaller wineries here such as Finca Allende’s Miguel Angel de Gregorio. Miguel is considered to apply a modern approach to its wine-making and is one of the most respected figures in the industry.

If you enjoy re-enactments, don’t miss the medieval festival held in Briones on the second weekend of June.

Rioja Baja – Great Too!

We recommend visits to Bodegas Ontañón for its art and wine combination, Campo Viejo for sheer scale and modernity and Marques de Murrieta for a mix of the old with the new – all near Logroño.

Monasteries, Hot Springs & Dinosaur Trails

And when you need a break from the wineries:

The Suso and Yuso monasteries in San Millan de la Cogolla were declared a world heritage site in 1997. Suso is the older of the two monasteries built by the 6th century Saint Millan. He is credited with the first literature produced in Castilian. In 1053, his remains were transferred downhill to the monastery in nearby Yuso. An interesting visit for anybody interested in architecture, history and the Spanish language.

Yuso Monastery in San Millan de la Cogolla.  (Photo credit:

Travelling with children? Don’t miss the dinosaur trails in La Rioja. There are many sites to see but Arnedo and Enciso are probably the best known. The paleontological museum in Enciso and the activity park nearby is a great way for the kids to unwind and explore while having fun.

Closeby the trails and park at Enciso is the wonderful spa town of Arnedillo, much loved for its hot springs. You can use the public baths or the privately run spa which offers mud baths as well as the springs– either option is great for the body and soul. By the way, if you like Spanish shoes, the nearby town of Arnedo is famous for shoe production and there are a number of factory outlets located here.

What to Eat?

The question should be what not to eat. Try the ‘patatas a la riojana’ stew made with potatoes, chorizo and red pepper. Rioja’s peppers are pretty delicious. Try to sample the white asparagus and the fish dishes such as salt cod (bacalao) and hake (merluza) cooked ‘a la riojana’. The region is well known for its lamb (cordero) and  - not surprising for a region that’s good with slow-cooked dishes – if you see oxtail (rabo de buey/toro), make sure to try it.

One of the key ingredients in La Rioja - the red pepper.  (Photo credit:

Tapas are the perfect way to spend an evening and a great way to sample wines by the glass too. Enjoy bar hopping in Logroño on Calle Laurel and Calle San Juan. For tapas in Haro, head for the Herradura area.

Further reading

If you like to learn about the people behind the wineries, we recommend John Radford’s The Wines of Rioja from 2004. You only have to read a few lines to sense the love he had for this region and his ability to capture the characters behind the wineries makes it worthwhile. The writer passed away in 2012 giving these pages on Rioja even more importance than ever before.

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