Rioja Alta, Alavesa & Baja
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. Stunningly beautiful year around, the Rioja is an ancient region dating from the Neolithic era, where you’ll find atmospheric fortress towns on a hill, some with their medieval wall still intact and filled with Noble homes displaying their heraldic shields. There are enormous Gothic churches, each with its own amazing, ornately gilded Baroque altarpiece, but seldom seen by the visitor as these churches are kept tightly shut other that for mass. Ancient burial markers (dólmenes) lie scattered about in the fields, intermixed with the wineries; boutique, large and industrial. You’ll also find a number of charming family run country inns and luxury hotels, and superb Riojan and Basque cuisine.
Spain’s oldest DO consists of three distinct sub-zones; the Rioja Alta, whose capital is Haro, the Rioja Baja, the majority of which lies in the very dry, and much hotter southeastern portion of the Rioja, and the Rioja Alavesa, that section of the Rioja the province of Álava, the Basque Country. The Rioja Alavesa, with 13,000 hectares of vineyards, and the Rioja Alta, hold the most interest for wine tourism, as they boast the most prestigious wineries, including the oldest, most aristocratic and traditional wineries; López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, Muga, Marqués de Riscal and Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta in the Rioja Alta, and the younger, family owned wineries of Bodegas Finca Valpedra, Roda and Gómez Cruzado. In the Rioja Alavesa you’ll find Bodegas Luis Cañas, Bodegas de la Marques-Valserrano, Ostatu, Remirez de Ganuza, Eguren Ugarte and Torre de Ońa. The DO also includes some of the best cutting edge and architecturally stunning wineries like Bodegas Viña Real, Marqués de Terán, Ysios and Baigorri. A tiny section of neighboring Navarra also belongs to the Rioja Denomination de Origen.
Wine making in the Rioja dates from the time of the Phoenicians, followed by the Romans, who are believed to have established most of the traditional vineyards in existence today. Wine making continued throughout the middle ages, pilgrims on the camino carrying back with them the reputation of the wines from the Rioja, with modern winemaking finally taken off in the late 1980s. There are currently more than 600 wineries making up the Rioja DOC, with 300 in the Rioja Alavesa, and more than 65,000 hectares of vineyards under production.
There are 144 villages in the Rioja D.O., which stretches from Miranda de Ebro southeast to Alfaro, in the Rioja Baja, and includes a small section of Castilla y León in the Rioja Alta, just west of Haro, where you will find Bodegas El Ternero.
There are three major wine routes to follow in the Rioja, the Rioja Alavesa, centered in Laguardia, the Rioja Alta, centered in San Asensio, and the Rioja Oriental (Baja), centered in Arnedo.
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