Wine Touring in the Rioja Alta – Briones

After a visit to Haro, with a possible detour to a winery in Ollauri, my next suggested stop on the wine trail comes about 5 km down the N-124 / N-232.  You should exit at Briones for a visit of several hours and lunch.  Briones, coupled with neighboring San Vicente, are the two most interesting villages of the four belonging to the sub zone known as La Sonsierra Riojana, composed of Ábalos, Briñas, San Vicente de la Sonsierra and Briones.  A visit to Briones and San Vicente, plus a trip up to the Castle of Davalillo, and stop at the Romanesque church of Santa María de la Piscina, makes an easy all-morning excursion from your base, whether it be in Ábalos, Laguardia and even Logroño.  Your first stop on this excursion is found right off the highway-one of Europe’s finest wine museums, the Dinastía Vivanco.

This sleepy village’s most important monument faces the town square-its imposing parish church, the 16th-century Renaissance Iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción, whose sacristy houses a beautiful sculpture of the Assumption of the Virgin.  A new sightseeing addition to the village has been opened in the Palacio del Marqués de San Nicolás,  La Casa Encantada, an ethnographic museum, and an extension of the Museo de la Rioja en Logroño.  It consists of a reconstruction of a typical Riojan dwelling from the 18th-century spread over three floors.  Visitors can view the vestibule, go down to the subterranean wine cellar, to the stables, then up to the top three floors to visit the dining room, living room, kitchen, pantry, bedrooms and sewing room, all decorated with original period furnishings.  Open June 1-September 30 from Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00 am to 2:00 pm and 4:00 to 8:00 pm. From October 1-May 31 it’s open Tuesday-Saturday from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm and in the afternoon from 4:00 to 7:00 pm.  Open Sundays from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm year around. Admission is free.  If you find yourself in Briones in the middle of June, you may witness their Medieval Days Celebration when many of its inhabitants dress in medieval costumes, carrying out mock Inquisitions, jousting and  dancing, along with a sampling of the local cuisine and wines.

Looking north to San Vencente
Looking north to the Sierra Cantabria Mountains in early spring

Briones Winery Visits

Dinastía Vivanco-Museo de la Cultura del Vino

A must-see destination of any tour of the Rioja is this most impressive and very engaging museum of wine culture opened in April ’04 by King Juan Carlos.  If traveling on the N-232 highway from Haro to Logroño, you can’t miss noticing this spectacular complex, located at km 442.  It is the largest wine museum in the world, an ambitious project of the Vivanco family, displaying their amazing private collection of wine materials, including ancient drinking vessels, centuries old pruning shears, massive 300 year-old wooden grape presses and all types of wine paraphernalia, sculptures, even Roman mosaics of Bacchus from the 2nd century, paintings (two by Picasso) featuring wine as the key ingredient in feasts, plus a collection of over 3,000 corkscrews.  

The Vivanco family spent years researching all over the globe, collecting works of art all pertaining to the culture of wine.  All these treasures are housed in five immense rooms.   There are fascinating inter-active exhibits explaining the role of wine in religion, how wine spread from its origins in the Caucasus, the fermentation process, how wine was transported, how wine barrels and corks are made and a chance to sample various wine aromas.  And in the botanical garden devoted to wine, the Jardín de Baco, you’ll find 200 different grape varieties from all over the world.  The museum has a most attractive shop offering very tasteful souvenirs, wine guides and all types of wine paraphernalia including goblets, decanters, corkscrews, etc.  The museum, with more then 6000 pieces on display, is open Tuesday-Friday and Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, and on Saturday from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm.  For more information you can call them at (+34) 941 322 323.

Bodega Miguel Merino

We are always delighted when we visit this small, outstanding, father-son winery located below the hilltown of Briones.  Miguel spent his high school years in North Carolina (his son studied in New England) and loves talking to visiting Americans.  This is one of my favorite wineries to take guests since the visit is so personal.  Guided tours are now available Monday-Saturday, normally starting at 10:00 am and 12:00 pm, but other times can be scheduled.  There are two options for our visit.  The first is a tasting of three of the more significan wines in the tasting room for 15€.  The tour last about 45 minutes.  The second option is a tour and tasting which starts with a visit to the small expermintal vineyard, a visit to the processing area and aging rooms, and ends with a tasting two of their best wines for 20€, or you can have three wines, including a Gran Reserva for 25€.  This is a small family operation, so you must reserve in advance.  Email Erika at: visitas@miguelmerino.com, or call (+34) 689 384 566 to arrange a visit.

Dining in Briones

Hotel Restaurante Los Calaos

los-calaos-01On a recent visit Miguel Merino suggested that we lunch here, since we had dined several times at Dinastía Vivanco, so we made a reservation several days in advance, as it fills quickly on weekends.  Los Calaos, meaning “aging vaults”, is found on the main pedestrians only street in the upper village of Briones leading to the town square, on the right.  There are two dining rooms in this pretty stone 17th century residence, the more atmospheric one that seats only 35 is housed in the ancient cellar, and has a terrific ambience.  The Euro-Toque chef serves traditional Riojan asador fare:  roast lamb, roast suckling pig, baby lamb chops, chuletón (a hearty T-bone steak), local asparagus, menestra (the yummy stewed vegetable medley with ham), roasted piquillo peppers.  The wine list features Rioja Alta wines such as the excellent Puelles crianza from Abalos.  Standout desserts include their yogurt mousse with banana ice cream and mandarin ice cream with hot chocolate sauce. 

Upstairs you’ll find four cute guest rooms with sitting area and private bath, 25 square meters in size, prettily decorated in rustic style with TV but no a/c.  The price is very, very right, only 58€/night and 4€ additional for breakfast.  Vat tax is extra.

Tel: (+34) 941 322 131

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