The Rioja region (in the north central part of the country) is Spain’s most famous wine-producing area. While there are over 500 wineries in the area, many are no-nonsense operations that haven’t yet caught on to the idea of wine tourism. Few have websites or offer tours and the majority that do require advance reservations, especially for a tour in English. For this reason, wine touring in Rioja takes some careful advance planning, but visitors to the region will be rewarded with informative tours, excellent wines, and lovely scenery.
Most visitors to Rioja come by car; spending a few days of touring while relying on buses or trains is still possible, but a bit more coordination will be necessary. The rail company Renfe services Logrono and Haro, and Alsa runs regional buses between most of the smaller towns.
Where to Stay
Visitors who do have a car will have the most options when it comes to choosing a home base. There are plenty of agritourismos and small country inns, like the romantic Hotel Villa de Abalos, scattered in the countryside. Those without their own wheels should stay in Logrono, a bustling town with a charming Old Quarter and many pedestrian-only streets. It offers a range of options for accommodations, plenty of restaurants, and easy connections to Haro, Laguardia and Elciego. The modern 3-star Hotel Marqués de Vallejo offers all the amenities you need and is conveniently located in the center of town.
Arranging a Day of Wine-Tasting
Wineries in the Rioja region offer wine tasting as a part of the winery tour. Most tours last about an hour and most wineries don’t open much before 11 a.m. and many close for siesta so it’s best to plan on no more than 3 wineries per day. Tours are generally given at set times each day; most wineries are closed on Monday and only offer one or two tours on Sunday. Tours need to be pre-arranged, which can usually be done by email on the winery’s website, and cost a few euros per person. The best plan of attack, especially for those visiting without a car, is to focus on wineries in one or two nearby towns per day. Haro and Laguardia are two of the most popular towns for wine-tasting but there are many other small towns throughout the area that contain wineries open to visitors.
Haro is the capital of the Rioja Alta section of the region. It is generally not recommended as a lodging base in Rioja because it lacks the charm of other towns, but it is home to several notable wineries. Muga is a favorite.
López de Heredia is Haro’s oldest winery, though you might not guess based on the stunning newly-constructed tasting pavilion. Muga offers visitors the opportunity to learn about ancient wine-making methods and taste some fantastic vintages. And Bodegas Bilbainas, founded in 1859, is known for its massive underground cellars. Tours at all three are by appointment only.
Located halfway between Haro and Logrono, Laguardia is a small medieval walled town, perched on a hilltop. There are no cars in Laguardia, adding to its picturesque old-world feel. Underneath the village are over 300 wine cellars; the area underground is actually large in size than the town above. There are several wineries within the city’s walls and many more within a short drive.
El Fabulista takes its appointment-only tour underground, giving visitors a unique chance to see the cellars under the city. Ysios, in a state-of-the-art building designed by Santiago Calatrava, offers tours of the stunning facility and tastings of two excellent wines. And Heredad Ugarte, just outside of the city, offers one of the most comprehensive tours in the area. They only offer one per day, but it includes a tour of the underground wine caves and a 25 minute in-depth wine tasting.
Logrono only has one winery in town, but the town is still the best base for those without a car – it’s easy to hop a train or bus to a nearby town, and there are multiple options for food and drink.
Bodegas Ontañon, an award-winning winery, is a short taxi ride from the city center. While it lacks the beauty of being set among vineyards, the quality of wine more than makes up for it. Appointment-only tours include a tasting of two wines.
Other Small Towns
Briones, Briñas, Abalos, Elciego and San Vicente de la Sonsierra are all located on the route from Haro to Logrono in Rioja. Each has its own charms and offers more opportunities for wine tasting.
Dining in Rioja
There are dining options in every town, and for every taste and budget in Rioja. One of the best towns for dining is Logrono. Head to Calle Laurel for tapas hopping at over 50 bars. Residents from all over the region come on weekends, so be prepared for crowds. But you’ll be sure to enjoy some tasty treats and rub elbows with the locals. On the opposite end of the spectrum is El Portal del Echaurren, a Michelin 2-starred restaurant whose chef trained with Ferran Adria of El Bulli. The ever-changing 10-course degustation menu takes about 2 hours and reservations are a must.
With all there is to see, do, and of course, taste in Rioja, one could easily spend a week or more sipping wine and dining on culinary wonders. Visitors on a quick tour of Spain can get a taste of the region in 2-3 days, while serious wine-lovers should allow 5 days for a comprehensive visit.