Rioja Roundup

The Past and Future of Spanish Wine

Tour Overview:

  • Visit two wine zones: Rioja, Spain’s most historic wine region, and Ribera del Duero, Wine Enthusiast’s 2010 Wine Region of the Year
  • Private sit-down tastings at Faustino, Contino, Roda, Emilio Moro, Contado de Haza & more
  • The Guggenheim Bilbao, the architectural wonder designed by Frank Gehry
  • The Marques di Riscal, a historic Riojan winery, with hotel & spa also designed by Gehry
  • Burgos Cathedral, Spain’s third-largest cathedral and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • For centuries, Rioja has represented the pinnacle of Spanish wine. Even in medieval times, the region’s earthy, luscious reds enjoyed great word of mouth, spread by the pilgrims who trekked along the Camino del Santiago--the Middle Age’s information highway. Pilgrims who stopped for sustenance at the monastery on the banks of the Rio Oja came away singing the praises of the wine savored there.

    Taking its name from this diminutive river, La Rioja has since come a long way, but you’ll surely be singing its praises just like the well-traveled pilgrims of yore. Located in northern Spain, Rioja lies at the foot of the Sierra Cantabria mountain range, a visually dramatic backdrop, and spills into Basque country. RIOJA ROUNDUP focuses on the Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa subregions, whose proximity to Bordeaux has led to a fertile exchange of winemaking ideas, expertise, and individuals over the centuries. Here Spain’s tempranillo grape is king, with garnacha, manzuela, and graciano its most important allies. Today in Rioja, one finds a wide range of styles peacefully coexisting—historic, modern, and alta espressión—and this tour sorts through the characteristics and lead players as it covers a range of big and small wineries.

    It begins, however, in a newer region. Ribera del Duero, located midway between Madrid and Rioja, was a land of simple rosés until the 1970s, when Alejandro Fernandez, owner of an agricultural machinery firm, founded a new winery: Pesquera. His serious tempranillo-based wines launched a wave of quality-minded bodegas in the region lining the Duero River, earning it Denominación de Origen (DO) status in 1982.

    The tour starts in the regional capital, Valladolid, and spends the first two days in Ribera del Duero. We’ll visit one of Alejandro Fernandez’s two estates, as well as the like-minded pioneers Emilio Moro, Hacienda Monasterio, and Abadia Retuera.

    Then it’s off to Rioja. En route, we’ll drive along roads that parallel the Camino del Santiago de Campostela, where we’ll see modern-day pilgrims with backpacks and hiking boots following the 900-mile path to Santiago.

    Once in Rioja, we settle into our hotel, a former monastery in the wine capital of Haro. The next three days are devoted to Rioja in all its forms, from sherry-like oxidative styles to modern, fruit-driven, polished creations. Our wineries range from the smallest in Rioja—Miguel Merino—to some of its largest brands, like Marques de Riscal and Faustino.

    In addition to wine, Rioja offers some of Spain’s most cutting-edge architecture, with Frank Gehry, Santiago Calatrava, and Zaha Hadid turning wineries into undulating sheets of titanium, pixilated waves, and flask-shaped rooms. We’ll see these landmark wineries (the Marques de Riscal, Ysios, and Lopez Heredia respectively) and also devote part of one day to Bilboa, where Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum turned the sleepy port town into a must-see destination. Finally, en route back to Madrid, we’ll give the Gothic era its turn, stopping in Burgos to see the magnificent pilgrimage cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    On top of all this, there’s northern Spain’s wonderful cuisine, ranging from rustic tapas to the most elegant caprices with traditional ingredients like white asparagus, roasted red peppers, Iberian ham, and roasted suckling pig. Great ready to lift a glass of tempranillo and say ¡Salud y buen apetito!

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