An hour’s drive south of Bilbao, La Rioja is Spain’s most renowned wine region. Boasting over 500 wineries, you’re seriously spoilt for choice for wine tours – especially if red is your tipple. In this post, we pick five La Rioja wineries worth a visit.
In northern Spain, La Rioja lies in a green valley with the Ebro River running east to west in its north. Meanwhile, its south is marked by a jagged mountain range, which is topped with snow in the winter. However, it’s in the green valley either side of the river that you’ll find the vineyards that has put this region on the map for wine lovers. The mountains do make for a picturesque backdrop though!
Rioja grapes and sub-regions
La Rioja’s red wines are largely made with tempranillo grapes, which the region is famous for growing. Other grapes grown here include Garnacha, graciano and mazuelo grapes. And whilst the region does produce white wines, it’s really all about the reds!
Vineyards are located in three sub-regions. Rioja Alta (High Rioja) is the westernmost sub-region and Rioja Baja (Low Rioja) is the easternmost sub-region. Located between these two and mainly north of the Ebro River, Rioja Alavesa is the smallest sub-region. Both Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa are at a higher elevation than Rioja Baja, which experiences a warmer and drier climate. Higher quality riojas tend to come from Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. Rioja Baja wines tend to have a higher alcoholic content and are lower in acidity.
Rioja wines: Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva
There are three main types of rioja: Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. Classification depends on how long the wine has been aged for. Generally speaking, rioja wines aged for longer in an oak barrel will be softer, rounder, more structured and complex. The longer the ageing, the more expensive the bottle is likely to be too…
Crianza is the rioja you’re most likely to see available. These wines are aged for two years with at least one year in oak. Reserva wines are a little older as they’ve been aged for three years with at least one year in oak. And Gran Reserva wines are the oldest. They’ve been aged for five years with at least two years in oak.
There is another younger type of rioja called Joven (which means young in Spanish). But you’re unlikely to see them outside of Spain. As the name suggests, it’s a young wine that doesn’t see much ageing and sees little to no time in an oak barrel. Joven wines tend to use lower-quality grapes and are seen as a lighter wine that’s generally drunk at lunch.
When looking at wines in Spain, bottles simply labeled as ‘Rioja’ is likely to be a joven. So if you want a more complex rioja, do make sure you look for one of the other classifications on the label!
5 Rioja wineries worth a visit
Ysios (pictured at the top of this post) is located in the medieval town of Laguardia in Rioja Alavesa. The only winery designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the undulating roof seems to echo the mountainous backdrop. They do tours in English and Spanish with two wine tastings for €15 per person. Tours are at select times during the day, which you need to book in advance.
For more information, visit: visitas.pernodricardbodegas.com.
Marques de Riscal
Also located in Rioja Alavesa, Marques de Riscal is a hotel and winery designed by American architect Frank Gehry. He also designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the two certainly share the use of titanium in common. Tours including two wine tastings are €16 and last up to an hour and a half. They’re available in a number of languages including English, Spanish, French and German.
Another Rioja Alavesa winery, gravity is key to their wine-making process. Much of the winery is actually underground but there is a glass box above it where you can enjoy 360 degree views of the vineyards around. Standard tours are available in several languages including English, Spanish, French and German from Tuesday to Saturday at 11am and 3pm. The tour includes two wine tastings.
For more information, visit: bodegasbaigorri.com.
In addition to housing a winery, Vivanco is also home to a wine museum (the Museo de la Cultura del Vino). To learn about the history and culture of wine, a visit to Vivanco is a must. Here, they offer guided tours of the winery in combination with an unguided visit to the museum. The winery tour lasts about 75 minutes and include two wine tastings. Tickets for a winery tour plus museum visit are €21. Vivanco is located in Briones, a small medieval town in Rioja Alta.
For more information, visit: vivancowines.com.
Muga is located in Haro, the wine capital of La Rioja. There are actually several wineries in the town so it’s definitely worth a visit! At Muga, as well as standard wine tours, they also offer hot-air balloon rides, segway tours and wine classes. Guided tours of the winery are available in English and Spanish and include two wine tastings. They cost €15 per person and need to be booked in advance.
For more information, visit: bodegasmuga.com.
Search for a winery & plan a tour
La Rioja Turismo is a great resource for wineries in the region. You can filter the listings by town, sub-region as well as facilities and language that tours are available in. You can also download a map of wineries on their website too.
For a little bit of La Rioja’s wine history, look out for these…
If you make it to the Rioja Alta sub-region, look out for dome-like shelters called guardaviñas amidst the bodegas and vineyards. These late-19th century structures were used by wine-growers to watch over the vines as well as a shelter for when the weather turned bad. You can find them in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Ábalos and Briones.