Vino en Rioja
As our kilometreage on this trip clicks 7,000 KM we arrive at our final Spanish location, the wine region of La Rioja.
This region is protected from the cold of the north by the Sierra de Cantabria mountain range from which it receives humid winds, it also benefits from the dry Mediterranean climate which comes up the River Ebro. The day time temperatures during our visit averaged 32 degrees.
The area has many beautiful typical Spanish villages and towns with the ususal cathedrals, churches and large central squares.
Villalobar is not the busiest village in Spain with its population of 71 people. It's surrounded by farm land and vineyards. There's a small bar but no shop so a daily bread van drives through the village at about 11am. As the van arrives in the village it announces its arrival by hooting a horn. The locals meander out to the van to make their purchase, no one runs here. It's all very hasta manana.
Save water, drink wine
The name Rioja was protected in Spain in 1920 and in 1925 it was established as the first Designation of Origin in Spain. The wines of Rioja are classified into four categories:
- Reserva - best vintages
- Gran Reserva - exceptional vintages
The ageing process and the time the wine is aged is what categorises the wines. To be a Gran Reserva the wine has to from an exceptional vintage and then aged in a barrel for at least two years followed by at least three years in a bottle.
The hotel at he Marques de Riscol is housed in an amazing piece of architecture designed by Frank Gehry, he also designed the Guggenheim Museum in nearby Bilboa. The building has a multicoloured titanium facade, the pink represents the rioja, the silver being the foil on the bottles and the gold being the mesh that covers the bottles.
The mesh covering the bottles was introduced to prevent fraud in the early years of production, it was sealed with wax on the top and bottom of the bottle. It was later decided to keep the mesh as part of the wines identity.
There are 37,000 barrels in the winery and there is a private collection cellar which holds around 150.000 bottles of wine from every year since 1862. Drinking one bottle per day would take over 410 years to consume the collection!
Another beautiful piece of architecture is at the Bodegas Ysios, the building has a wave like roof helping it to blend into the mountains that surround the winery.
Our visit to Rioja includes the the rescue of some wine that has been trapped inside some bottles, to help in this process we are joined by our friends Jon and Penny and Kevin and Lisa.
The nearby town of Santo Domingo de la Cazalda is on the Camino route to Santiago de Compostella. It is famous for its cathedral that keeps chickens in its choir loft. This is after the story of a pilgrim who was wrongly accused of stealing.
What goes better with wine than a few tapas? Haro, the capital of Rioja, has a really good tapas bar scene.
While working our way around the local tapas bars we discovered a few delicacies that we hadn't seen before.
Needless to say, we decided not to give them a try and to stick with a few of our favourites.
Hasta luego Rioja and Espana
After three months it’s time to say adios to Spain, for now. There is so much variety in this country, no two regions are the same, it's been an absolute pleasure to experience the beauty, history, wine, cuisine, culture and people of this great country.
The Spanish embrace “Alegria de vie”- the joy of living. May it long continue.
Next stop Bordeaux, France, ooh la, la! Cést magnifique! It's right up our boulevard.