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If you’re like me, you like to drink wine. And if you like to drink wine, chances are you enjoy visiting wineries and enjoying wine straight from the winery itself! The La Rioja region is home to both the big, international, and the small, family-run wineries of the north of Spain. But, what’s the best way to take it all in? What’s the best way to do it? How can you make sure you drink the most wine possible? Here are some tips and tricks for the La Rioja wine region.
Reserve a spot
All wine regions are different. In the Okanagan in British Columbia, Canada, you can just show up to the winery, pay $5 to taste the wines, and if you buy a bottle, you get your $5 back! In Tuscany, Italy, you have to book wine tours ahead of time and must plan your route according to when they are open and available. In La Rioja, it’s a mix of both. To go to the bodega (wine shop) and taste a few wines to buy a bottle, you can just show up (this will not be a full tasting one would get at the end of a tour, but would be a more casual tasting of wines you are interested in buying). If you want a winery tour and an official tasting of the wine, you must reserve ahead. Most winery websites have a “contact us” section where you can book online. It’s way easier to make a reservation over the phone! Just call and ask “habla englais?”
Sure, you can go winery hopping by car, but what fun could that be for your sad friend who has to drive? In my mind, biking is the only way to get around wineries. Logroño has a city bicycle system and the tourist office allows tourists to take a bicycle for free for a day! Great deal, right? Except that the bicycle system hasn’t been upgraded probably since its inception, and the bicycles are not AT ALL maintained. No pedals, no brakes, no seat, no tire. No. Just no.
Instead of wasting time with a free death trap, head to Navarent (access their website here). The man who helped us speaks great English, was so accommodating, incredibly helpful, and gave us a few pointers about our route. The cost for a full day was a bit out of our budget, but a half day was €15. For a bicycle that worked, I felt like it was great value.
***Disclaimer: some of the wineries are on the top of hills, some wineries are far away from each other, we planned our route accordingly — knowing that we would have a few glasses of wine at each place, and add weight to our backpacks with the bottles purchased.
My absolute favourite tour was to Campo Viejo (this is the aforementioned winery on top of a hill). This winery is built inside the hill for engineering and sustainability reasons, and has won awards for design and architecture. It really is something spectacular. The tour of Campo Viejo costs €10, and you get to see the building, how the wine is made, and enjoy five (!) tastings of wine (their website here).
The must-see in Rioja is the Marques de Riscal. Next to this winery is the hotel Marques de Riscal, an absolutely stunning building designed by Frank Gehry. This alone is worth the trip to the winery. It is really a beautiful piece of art, and, if you have €300+ sitting around, you could spend a night here! The tour was great, super in-depth about the winery and the winemaking process, and of course, ended with tastings of two full glasses of wine. This tour is €12 (their website here)
I hope this article has put a few ideas into your head. Have a fun time in Rioja, Spain! And as always, comment below with questions or your favourite wineries to visit!