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Wine-tasting in Spain's Rioja Region

riojaSpain’s Rioja region, in the north central part of the country, is about six hours from Barcelona by bus and 2 hours from San Sebastian. There are over 500 wineries in this area, many of which welcome tourists for tours and tastings. However, almost all require advance reservations, and some only offer tours in Spanish.
The area isn’t as well-connected by bus and rail as other areas in Spain. It is possible to get around without a car, but having one will allow you a bit more freedom and flexibility. If you will be relying on public transportation, be sure to check the Renfe (train) and Alsa (bus) schedules in advance so that you don’t get stuck in a small town once the last bus has left for the night.
Many wineries are closed on Monday and offer limited hours on Sunday. Most don’t open before 11am, so figure on doing no more than three visits per day. Most tours and tastings cost a few euros per person.
Logrono is the largest of the Rioja towns, and makes the best base for those traveling without a car. It’s small enough to be easily walkable and the Old Town’s narrow cobbled streets teem with tapas bars and restaurants. Calle Laurel itself is home to over 50 tapas bars, many of which have only one dish, which they do better than anyone else. Belly up to the bar and order a few glasses of Rioja and a plate of the house specialty – like calamari, patatas bravas or grilled shrimp. Move to the next place and repeat until full.
There’s only one winery in Logrono – Bodegas Ontañon, an award-winner that is just a short taxi ride from the city center. Tours include a tasting of two wines and are by appointment only.
Haro is the capital of the Rioja Alta section of the wine region. The town is quite small so those looking for more nightlife and dining options would be better off laying their heads elsewhere, but there are several wineries here, including Muga, a local favorite that produces quality wines.
López de Heredia is Haro’s oldest winery, though it looks like its newest, thanks to the beautiful newly-constructed tasting pavilion. Bodegas Bilbainas, founded in 1859, is also in Haro and is known for its massive underground cellars. Tours at all three are by appointment only.
Located halfway between Haro and Logrono, Laguardia is the Rioja region’s crown jewel when it comes to picturesque medieval villages. This small walled town, perched on a hilltop sits above over 300 wine cellars. Originally used to protect the residents in case of attack, the caves were later converted to private wine cellars and today, the area underneath the city is actually larger than that above.
El Fabulista offers appointment-only tours of its underground cellar, plus tastings of its delicious Rioja wines. Guests who visit during wine-making time can even lend a hand in the stomping of the grapes- just watch out for the stems! The wines here are made using all parts of the grape and stems.
Just outside of Laguardia, a stunning state-of-the-art building designed by Santiago Calatrava houses the Ysios, winery. And at Heredad Ugarte, visitors can enjoy one of the most comprehensive tours in the area. The tours here include a walk through the underground wine caves and a 25 minute in-depth wine tasting.
Photo by grazzc