Wine Touring in northern Spain
The Rioja, Ribera de Duero, Navarra, Priorat, El Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra and the Rías Baixas wine regions
Spain has evolved into one of the premier wine and gastronomy destinations in the world over the last 30 years after undergoing a remarkable explosion in quality and diversity, unprecedented in the history of wine. Its world renowned chefs, Michelin-starred restaurants with outstanding regional cuisine, exceptional vintages, spectacular scenery and welcoming nature, make it the perfect destination for gourmands and wine lovers, especially in the north, from Catalunya to Galicia.
No adventure in Spain would be complete without a visit to Spain’s oldest and best known wine region, considered the “benchmark” of Spanish winemaking. There have been many changes in the Rioja over the last several years as the area has felt the impact of the “Gehry effect”, with the profusion of innovative avant-garde wineries built by prize-winning architects. Bodegas Baigorri by local architect Inaki Aspiazu, Bodegas Viña Real by French architect Philippe Mazières and Santiago Calatrava’s Bodegas Ysios, have helped create great excitement along with Frank Gehry’s stunning Bodegas Marqués de Riscal, the titanium-clad building emerging from the earth like a vine, and have changed forever the concept of bodegas in the region and elsewhere in Spain.
Cellars in the Rioja require advanced reservations, sometimes as little as a day or two ahead of time, but visitors should plan well in advance for a tour in English, as most bodegas offer only one tour in English per day, and some only offer a tour in English one or two days of the week. A few have opened tasting rooms, but often still require reservations. And many now offer gourmet dining for small groups as well.
Ribera de Duero
Considered one of the most legendary winemaking regions in Spain, the Ribera del Duero, a short drive northwest of Madrid on the northern plateau, is home to some of the most elegant red wines in the world. The Ribera del Duero appellation, or D.O., straddles four provinces in Castilla y León: Valladolid, Burgos, Soria and Segovia.
The fabled Milla de Oro, or Golden Mile, lies along both sides of the Duero River in the Valladolid province and is often referred to as the heart of the region. Here you’ll find the renowned vineyards of Vega Sicilia, Pingus, Hacienda Monasterio, Aalto, Arzuaga Navarro, Abadía Retuerta and Mauro (the latter two sit just west of the appellation’s official limits). As fabled as these wineries are, the region is filled with outstanding boutique wineries, including López Cristóbal in Roa, Hermanos Pérez Pascuas in Pedrosa, Ismael Arroyo-Valsotillo in Sotillo de la Ribera, Comenge in Curiel de Duero, and the quite small, but award-winning wineries of Bodegas Veganzones and Briego in Fompedraza.
The extremes of weather, from scorchingly hot summers with moderate to low rainfall and harsh, cold winters, combined with the unique soil conditions and higher elevation, create the ideal growing conditions for the Tempranillo (early-ripening) grape, known locally as Tinto Fino, or Tinta del País, but it is its great passion for producing great wines that make the Ribera del Duero so notable.
One of the original kingdoms of Spain, Navarra boasts several exceptional wineries including Bodegas Otazu, located on a 15th-century noble estate along the Arga river in the foothills of the Pyrenees, 8 km west of Pamplona. Otazu is the northernmost producer of red wines in Spain. Within the Valdizarbe wine growing sub-zone you’ll find Bodegas y Viñedos Nekeas, producer of Vega Sindoa, which led in the resurgence of Spanish wines under the direction of Concha Vecino, one of Spain’s leading women winemakers. Other outstanding wine makers in the region include Bodegas Señorío de Arinzano, Bodegas Chivite, Pago de Larrainzar, Bodegas Irache, and Navarra’s southeast corner, Bodegas Pago de Cirsus.
With three Michelin starred restaurants; Rodero, Europa and El Molino de Urdániz, Navarra is also well known for its outstanding regional cuisine, including its world famous pintxos. One of our favorite stops is the classic Bar Gaucho in Pamplona’s Casco Viejo, the old quarter.
Although not as well known within Spain as the Rioja and Ribera del Duero wine regions, the Priorat, located in the Tarragona province, was first introduced to the United States only some 15 years ago. It offers some of the most powerful and expensive wines available on the market, including those from Cellers Capafons-Ossó, Vall Llach, Cims de Porrera, Clos Berenguer and Mas Sinén, along with traditional, family owned wineries such as Celler del Pont (Lo Givot). The productions are small, but the robust reds and succulent whites are well worth their lofty price.
Try a two, three and four-day exclusive guided tour of the Priorat and Montsant regions from Barcelona, or stay in Falset, the capital of the Priorato. In vibrant, cosmopolitan Barcelona, you can enjoy its impressive Modernist architecture and the world class cuisine of its many celebrated chefs, such as Carlos Gaig and the Roca brothers.
Autumn in northwestern Spain is a vibrant splash of color as you travel through Castile and León’s stunning El Bierzo wine region to Ponferrada and Villafranca del Bierzo from the provincial capital of León. Bordering on the provinces of Orense, Lugo, and Asturias, wine production flourished here during the Roman occupation. In the 9th-century it regained prominence with the discovery of the remains of St. James in Galicia and the building of monasteries and pilgrims hospices along the pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James.
Monks kept winemaking alive and well throughout the Middle Ages, but production died off at the end of the 19th-century with the arrival of phylloxera, only to be resurrected once again in the mid-80s with the arrival of young, energetic winemakers like Alvaro Palacios, who, after bringing fame to the Priorat, has helped make El Bierzo one of the most exciting winemaking regions in Spain. Other notable producers in the area include Bodega Luzdivina Amigo, Palacio de Canedo, Bodegas Estefanía, Bodegas Godelia, Encima, and Bodegas Emilio Moro.
Smaller than the Rioja, but slightly larger and with an even more dramatic and visually stunning landscape than the Priorat, the Ribeira Sacra (“Sacred Hillside”) has been growing wine for over 2,000 years. Its highly steeped terraces (bancales) on the banks of the Miño and Sil rivers date back to the Roman occupation and produce lighter, lively, fruity, mineral-rich wines, primarily mencía-based reds and godello-based whites, along with fine liqueurs, or orujos. Adegas Vía Romana and Adegas Regina Viarum enjoy two of the most spectacularly beautiful and panoramic locations of any winery we’ve visited and are truly “must sees” for wine lovers.
The Ribeira Sacra wines continue to attract world-wide attention, and we promise that once you try them, you will definitely be hooked! Be among the first to enjoy a customized, guided tour of this idyllic “hidden jewel”. You’ll be amazed by its incredibly lush, scenic beauty.
A mosaic of blue and green combining the Atlantic with the rich Galician lands, following the route of the wines of the Rías Baixas will take you from Santiago de Compostela in the north to O Rosal on the Portuguese border, covering the four zones; Condado do Tea, O Rosal, Ribeira do Ulla and Salnés, and embracing a beautiful landscape of vineyards, coastal cliffs, calm rivers and fertile valleys waiting to be discovered. In the Rías Baixas you’ll discover the outstanding Albariños of Pazo Casanova, Pazo Señoráns, Bodega Granbazán. and Lagar de Costa,