Chapter Thirty Eight - La Rioja

Trip Start Jun 18, 2013
Trip End Aug 20, 2013

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Where I stayed
AIRBNB Apartment
What I did
La Rioja

Flag of Spain  , Basque Country,
Saturday, August 10, 2013

We are staying in the Rioja wine region, so it would behove us to visit the vineyards and wineries of the area. We check out some possibilities. You can't just walk up to a winery for a visit, you have to phone ahead and reserve space on a guided tour. Two famous wineries with stunning architecture attract our attention, Bodegas Ysios and Marqués de Riscal.

The first bodega, spectacularly located in the shadow of the Cantabrian Mountains, was designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the second, in the village of Elciego, was designed by none other than Frank Gehry, architect of the Guggenheim Museum we had just seen at Bilbao.
We consult guidebooks and Trip Advisor, and finally decide to view the architectural wonders from the outside, and reserve space at two other recommended wineries, Bodega Muga in Haro, just ten minutes from Labastida, and Bodega La Fabulista, a funky underground winery in the beautiful medieval hill town of Laguardia.  

Both Ysios and Marqués de Riscal are architecturally stunning and beautifully located, but we are really looking forward to our tastings. 

Bodega Muga is in Haro, considered the Capital of La Rioja. The bodega is very sophisticated and the visit is well organized and efficient. Not much character other than all the wines are fermented in oak barrels and stored underground in cool caves and not in huge stainless steel vats that we have seen elsewhere. They actually build their own barrels at the bodega. We get two tastings included in the tour, which are quite generous and ultimately we are presented with the tasting glass and a jute bottle bag (empty, unfortunately) to take with us, which is a
nice touch.

Bodega El Fabulista is totally different. The little town of Laguardia is built on the top of a hill surrounded by a wall and the beautiful Rioja countryside. This is one of the prettiest little towns we have seen on our long two-months of wanderings.

We are also impressed by the tourist office, located in an old mansion at the entrance to the town, wonderfully laid out, friendly and efficient. Every city, town and village has its tourist office here in Spain and they are always the first place we visit to get an excellent orientation and advice on current events. How sad that Miami and Miami Beach do not seem to be overly interested in services to tourists. There is no tourist office at the airport, and the information offices in Miami and Miami Beach are not only hard to find, but are only open during office hours. If you do eventually locate them, and you have arrived on a weekend or holiday, you are just out of luck!   

Narrow pedestrian streets lead us past pavement cafes and the Plaza Mayor.  Under the streets of the town lies an extraordinary secret: the entire subsoil is riddled with ancient wineries or "caves", excavated underneath the houses and streets, at a depth of 6 m. We will be entering one section in our visit to La Fabulista.

Even the name is unusual. The cellars are located under the home of Félix María de Samaniego, a Spanish author (1745 – 1801), whose book "Fabulas" was a bestseller in its day, hence the name of this tiny winery and the labels of the bottles. We are shown where the grapes arrive by tractor, are tipped into a concrete vat and then actually trodden by foot, a
very rare occurrence these days. We then descend the steep, narrow stairs to the cellars below the town. Here in dank, cool tunnels, the wine is fermented and aged. Finally we come to a nicely decorated tunnel where we enjoy the tasting.

This is a small operation, but the guide is outstanding and the explanation of the whole process, including a fascinating discussion on how to taste and appreciate wine, is much esteemed.  We are even persuaded to purchase a selection of their wines, which are in fact,
rather good.  


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derrick241 on

This is how I have always imagined a winery to be, in deep cellars, I have never actually been to one like that though (they all seem to be a modern warehouse)

I guess all the sunflowers are for oil then, they always make a great photo

Cesar Barroso on

Excellent post and photos, Martin,
Congratulations to you, Miryam and Bryan for a wonderful vacation and to share it with us.

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