The Rioja Oriental, Spain’s largest sub-region is also its newest wine appellation and has been undergoing a winemaking transformation the past several years as a new generation of winemakers have reclaimed the long abandoned higher ground, bringing about a rebirth of the native Garnacha grape.
Known as the Rioja Baja until 2018, the Rioja Oriental begins just to the east of Logroño as you cross the Río Leza, continuing southeast following the Ebro River to Alfaro, a distance of some 70 kms. The region is strikingly different of what you find to the west of Logroño, with more of the Mediterranean influence than the Rioja Alavesa and Alta. It is the driest, warmest and windiest Rioja, tending to have hotter and drier summers which traditionally produce stronger reds. Largely flat and expansive, the sub-region includes a narrow strip of Navarra to the north, the Navarre Rioja Alta, and is the largest wine producing region of the Rioja, with over 24,000 hectares of vineyards, or 40% of the Rioja’s total production. But the region is also an area where vegetables reign supreme.
Wine Touring In Rioja Oriental
Murillo de Río Leza
A 20-minute drive from the center of Logroño will put you in the area where the slow moving Jubera and rushing waters of the Leza rivers meet, and where you will find signs of a Roman encampment. The village prospered during the time of the Muslims and their cultivation techniques, and when the continued after the Navarrans arrived in the 10th-century. The church of San Esteban Protomártir, built in the 16th-17th centuries, was declared Bien de Interés Cultural in 1979.
The village celebrates a number of religious and popular festivals during the year. “La procesión de los piojosos” is held in Las Candelas on the first Sunday in February. The festival of San Esteban Protomartir (the first martyr of Christianity), used to be celebrated in December is now held the first week of August with an encierro, a running of the vacas, parades, tastings. Market days are Tuesdays and Fridays. It was here that the first white Tempranillo grape was grown in 1988, a result of a natural mutation from the red grape.
Murillo de Río Leza Wineries Of Interest
Francisco García and Julia Pablo founded their family winery in Murillo de Río Leza in 2001 after years of growing grapes for the bulk market. La mano de Paco García, the hand of Paco García on the label represents the values of the winery. After more than 6 years working, the son and manager, Juan Bautista wanted to make wines for the new generation, a wine that pleases and attracts, wines that were more enjoyable to drink. One of their new projects is aging wine in terracotta containers.
This was the first cooperative in the DOCa Rioja (1953) and started with 16 founding members. Today there are 350 members with 500 hectares of vineyards located at an altitude of between 407-420 meters. In the 80s the winery was extended and modernized and in 2000 they expanded to accommodate the larger production. In 2010 their “Tierras de Murillo” brand was born.
You’ll find this winery, founded in 1999 by the brothers Paco and Eliseo Oliván, a few minutes south of Murillo de Río Leza on the LR-261 in the small hamlet of Lagunilla Jubera, in the Jubera Valley, near the Camero Viejo. The family’s 38 hectares of vineyards are at an average elevation of 650 meters, with 24 hectares devoted to Tempranillo. All of their wines are made from their own vineyards and harvested by hand. They also produce their own olive oil and conservas. German winemaker Alexandra Schmedes, co-owner of Bodegas Más Que Vinos (Toledo), has been involved in the creation of their successful line of wines, including the new barrel fermented Chardonnay 2017.
This village of less than 400 inhabitants, whose name is derived from the pilgrims who traveled to the Holy Land during the Crusades, sits on a hill in the lower Ocón valley, a short drive from Murillo de Río Leza on the LR-259. It’s location offers a panoramic view of the Sierra de Cantabria in the distance to the northeast and the beech and pine forests of Sierra Hez in the western Pyrenees. It’s one of 11 villages in what is called the Land of Ocón: Aldealobos, Los Molinos, Oteruelo, Pipaona, Las Ruedas, San Julián, Santa Lucía, Corera, El Redal, Galilea and Villa de Ocón, capital of this territory. The valley of Ocón is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
The parish church of San Vicente, dating from the 16th-century, is where Diego de Tejada y Laguardia, bishop of Ciudad Rodrigo and Pamplona, and archbishop of Burgos, is buried. His 17th-century house is nearby. The village is also the birthplace of Juan de Balmaseda, Governor of Chile (1768-70). They celebrate the parton saint of the village, San Vicente, on January 22 and San Roque and La Virgen on August 15 and 16. You can also visit the local olive oil producers, Aceite de Galilea and Aceites Hejul if you are in the area. Well worth a stop.
Galilea Wineries Of Interest
The winery estate is located a ten-minute drive down the road from Murillo de Río Leza in Galilea ad the Ocón Valley. After 15 years of working the vineyards, José Marí Nestares, a viticulturist from Fuenmayor, decided in 1998 to develop his own wines from the families 26 hectares of vineyards located on the plateau that separates the Ocón and Jubera valleys at an altitude up to 650 meters, and where you will also find almond and olive trees. In 1983 he began planting the vineyards exclusively with Tempranillo grapes and adapted to organic farming.
From Galilea, you can take a short 15-minute detour north on the LR-260 to this small village located along the Ebro River, whose name in Arabic means “the bridge. Here you will find the Santa María Church dating from the 16th-18th century. Outside of the village are the remains of the 1st-century Roman aqueduct called “Puente Moros”, 13 arches and more than 30 buttresses. It probably provided Calahorra with water for hundreds of years.
Alcanadre Wineries Of Interest
Opened in 1957, Vinícola Riojana de Alcanadre, a union of 240 local winegrowers, is now in the third generation who work the 510 hectares of vineyards planted on steep slopes from 350 to 600 meters altitude. Their signature Aradon Reserva, a blend of Tempranillo, Graciano and Garnacha, from highest vineyards, over 50 years of age, and spends 18 months in French oak and another 18 months resting in the bottle. The winemaker is Cristina Alesanco Benito (Logroño) who joined the project in 2009.
This small winery, founded in 1880 near the railroad tracks at Calle Carretera Estación, 31, is now in the hands of the fifth generation of the Alejandro Ochagavia Rodriguez family, with the young winemaker Jesús Ochagavía Saez, who joined the business in 2014. Bodaño, aged 12 months in oak, is a new creation, with a label designed by Jorge Ochagavía, Illustrator.
El Villar de Arnedo
Another 20 minutes down the road you’ll come to this village founded in the early Middle Ages by settlers from Arnedo, but with archaeological evidence dating back nearly 3000 years before Christ. The village is located 5 km west of the Ebro river. Primarily a farmland filled with vineyards, almond trees, olive trees and cereals, it was once part of the lordship of Fernández de Velasco. Pedro Fernández de Velasco, 2nd Count of Haro, died in Granada toward the end of the Reconquista, in 1492.
On March 25 the village celebrates Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (la Virgen de marzo) with bonfires, dancing, concerts, and encierros (running of the vacas). On September 14 they celebrate Cristo de los Buenos Temporales with bonfires, degustaciones (tastings), concerts, encierros and traditional pelota (handball) games. There is a procession on New Year’s Eve, followed by churros and another festive procession on New Year’s Day. Market day is Wednesday. The historic Castillo de Arnedo is located in Arnedo, a 15 minute drive south on the LR-123.
El Villar de Arnedo Wineries Of Interest
Not everyone in the Rioja managed to survive the crisis of 2008, and the family estate of Bodegas Alicia Rojas, one of the largest in the Rioja, was one, but luckily the chateau-style estate in the northern foothills of the the Iberian Massif, the Valle de Ocón, between Ausejo and El Villar de Arnedo, was resurrected from the ashes by a group of European investors including some from the Rioja, releasing their first vintage, a limited bottling of the 100% Tempranillo Solarce Crianza 2013, in late 2016. The estate encompasses 110 hectares of vineyards, 15 hectares of Arbequina olive trees, fields of cereals and almond trees, two man-made lakes, rich farmland and a private game reserve.
This small winery in the village received its first Gold Medal at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1878 and is now in the hands of the fourth generation of the Pedro María Espinosa family.
It was in the mid-1940s when Félix García Crespo began making artisanal wine for his own consumption from his own vineyards in his small family winery, while also making wineskins to transport wine. His son Faustino García Martínez opened the new winery in the 1960s, which today is managed by the 4th-generation of winegrowers, are the leader in bag-in-box wines.
Located 48 kms from Logroño, the third largest town in La Rioja is also one of the most prosperous. Better known for its shoe industry than its wine, it does produce its share of good wine. Along with its medieval castle, you find the palace of the Baroness of Benasque, Blanca de Olózaga, built 1901 by Minguillot in modernism-art nouveau style. Its restoration was completed in 2000. The place of Archbishop Argaiz (1678), the Vico Monastery, where it is said that the Virgin Mary appeared in 1045, and don’t forget the Shoe Museum or La Cueva de los Cien Pilares, the Cave of the Hundred Pillars.
The city has its own mineral hot springs, Las Pozas de Arnedillo, a set of three natural pools on the banks of the river that have been in use since the time of the Romans. The Castle of Arnedo overlooks the city and dates from the time of the Romans. Rebuilt by the Muslims in the 9th-century, it was the most important castle in the region during the Middle Ages. This year’s Carnaval, 12-16 February, was held online. The 7-day Fiestas of San Cosme and San Damián, a historic rivalry between the towns of Arnedo and Andosilla (Navarra), are celebrated beginning on 26 September each year. The 2-day Kan de Vico Medieval Market is held the 1st week of September. Arnedo is also on the Route of the Dinosaurs.
Arnedo Wineries Of Interest
The winery, with 350 hectares of vineyards under cultivation, was founded in 1956 and is currently made up of 300 families who live in villages in and around the High Cidacos Valley, a countryside filled with olive and almond trees, aromatic herbs and vineyards. The mostly 2-hectare size vineyards are located between 400 and 900 meters above sea level, on either the slopes or at the top of ravines. The area is known for its scarce annual rainfall, long hours of sunlight, hot summers and cold winters.
This is the original winery of Grupo Marqués del Atrio, which began its wine growing adventure in Arnedo in 1899 and now has wineries in five DOs; Rioja, Duero, Navarra, Utile-Requena (Valencia) and Rias Baixas. It was in the 1980s that the 4th generation of the family took over the business and built a new winery on the outskirts of the town, with a cellar large enough to hold 4000 barrels of American and French oak.
A short 15-minute drive down the road from El Villar de Arnedo on the LR-123 you’ll find the ruins of the Castillo de Quel (currently under reconstruction) sitting on the edge of a rocky crag, overlooking this historic village in the valley along the left bank of the Río Cidacos between Arnedo and Autol. The village’s name derives from the Arab word Qalāti, meaning ‘fortified place’. The village has been celebrating it’s famous week-long Bread and Cheese Festival since 6 August 1479, one of the oldest festivals on the Iberian Peninsula, when 2,500 loaves of bread and 50 kilos of cheese are thrown from the balcony of the chapel Santo Cristo. There are about 350 individual family cellars in the Barrio de Bodegas located in the hillside along the river, most dating from the 18th-century and still in use today. La Almazara, a modern oil mill with 235 hectares of olive trees located just north of the village is open daily for tours. The village is also the birthplace of Bretón de los Herreros, poet and prolific comic playwright of the 19th-century.
Quel Wineries Of Interest
The Pérez Cuevas family can trace it’s history in the area to the middle ages (1327) when they worked the slopes the Sierra de Yerga in the Cidacos river valley. Gabriel Pérez, a pioneering viticulturist and winemaker, founded Bodegas Ontañón in 1985 after producing wine for the families own consumption since 1980, when there were few commercial wineries in the Rioja Orientale. It was in 2010 that they opened the new winery in the Barrio de Bodegas de Quel in old factory that once made alcohol. At the west end of this beautiful winery you’ll find a small fountain with a sculpture by Miguel Ángel Sáinz from El Villar de Arnedo, who inspired the design of the new winery and who designed Bodegas Ontañón in Logroño. The winery is currently run by his children, Raquel, Leticia, Rubén (the winemaker) and María.
Another small hamlet with a long tradition of wine making is a 30-minute drive southeast of the regional capital of Logroño, and 15 kms west of Calahorra. Sitting at an altitude of 545 meters above sea level, it covers an area of about 700 hectares of scrubland of olive trees, almond fields and vineyards. Its rocky landscape produces unique characteristics in its wines, the ancient Garnachas and newer Tempranillos. The village celebrates San Roque on August 16, and San Bartolomé on the 24th. 4 December is the festival of, Santa Bárbara. Friday is market day.
Tudelilla Wineries Of Interest
The Ortega family’s first vines were planted in the year 1896 by Quintín Ortega, a cosechero, or harvester, and humble barrel-maker with ambitions. The current head of the family, Carmelo Ortega, runs the winery with the help of his team and winemaker David Bastida Caro.
Juan Escudero began making wine in a small cave carved out of a hillside in 1852, the family continued winemaking through the years, with Juan’s grandson, Benito, moving into producing Cava in the 1950s. Under the leadership of Bordeaux-trained brother Amador, the brothers, Jesus, Maria Angeles and Jose Maria, founded the French château-style winery Bodegas Vinsacro, and following the advice of their grandfather, decided to start a new project in Grávalos, in the foothills of the Sierra de la Demanda, where they planted 12 hectares of vines in 1996, but the key to the success of the modern winery was a small organic vineyard owned by the family for 120 years, the Cuesta la Reina, planted around 1945 on the stony southern slope of Mount Yerga between 450 and 800 meters elevation. The underground cellar, where the wines age for 12 to 36 months, holds 4,500 barrels of American (50%), French (40%) and Romanian (10%) oak.
The farm, with 400 hectares of land is mainly dedicated to the culture of wine but also grows cereals and legumes and tend to the pine and holm oak and the conservation of the land, is located about 3 km to the northwest of the village off the LR-381, in the foothills of the Sierra de la Hez. The farm started in 1973 with 87 hectares of vineyards, planting another 76 hectares between 2004 and 2014, Vistahermosa is the largest Grenache reserve of old vines in all of La Rioja.
Aldeanueva de Ebro
On the road from Logroño to Zaragoza, about half way between Calahorra and Alfaro, you’ll find find this small village known locally as el pueblo de las tres mentiras, the “town of the three lies”, as it is not a village, nor is it new, nor is it on the Ebro, but as it is on the Ruta del Vino Rioja Oriental, it is home to several premium bodegas.
The village celebrates several festivals during the year. The first weekend in May is the start of the Fiestas de la Juventud, that includes an encierro with wild vacas and other festival events for the children, plus the Jornadas del Vino u La Viña, wine tastings at the local wineries for the adults. The week-long Festival of San Bartolomé, the patron saint, begins 23 August. The two-day Fiestas de la Virgen de Los Remedios begins on 7 September and includes an encierro and procession in honor of the Virgin of Los Remedios. The 7-day winter celebrations begin 31 December, ending on Epiphany, 6 January. The winter festivities includes bull runs, gastronomy events, a handcraft fair and wine tastings. The villagers gather for the hogueras, the bonfires in the streets for San Antón on 16 January and again on 20 January for the Hogueras de San Sebastián.
Aldeanueva de Ebro Wineries Of Interest
The modern family winery, a unique eight-sided building like a bullring sitting in the middle of the vineyard below mount Yerga in Aldeanueva de Ebro, was opened in 2001, which was also the year of their first harvest. The families history dates back to 1888 when their grandfather Vicente was awarded the Medalla de Bronce at the Universal Exhibition in Barcelona. The vineyards with an average age of around 30 years, are at an elevation of 450 to 500 meters.
The winery, managed by Joseba Almaraz, was founded in 2002, and has 130 hectares of vineyards in the highest area of Aldeanueva de Ebro, in the foothills of the Sierra de Yerga, between 400 and 550 meters. The cellar contains 2,500 barrels of American and French oak. Medievo wines are the fruit of the work of generations of farmers who form this small group of artisans; Bobadilla, Sota and Moreno, and the winemaker Santiago Garde.
This family winery in Aldeanueva de Ebro is currently in the hands of the Ruiz brothers, Enrique, the oenologist and Francisco, viticulturist, overseeing the production of their new project, Laetus, 100% Graciano. The winery was expanded in 2004 to accommodate the increase in production.
After more than 15 years growing grapes on their 65 hectares vineyards located from 400 to 600 meters of altitude, they began making their own organic wines, and in 1998 founded the winery in Aldeanueva de Ebro. This was the first of only two wineries in La Rioja whose vineyards were certified by International Demeter, the biodynamic certification body, 61 have been certified as organic. Francisco Ruiz, director of the winery stated that “Today organic viticulture is the exception but tomorrow it will be the norm”.
Located next to Bodegas Álvarez Alfaro is another family of winemakers and breeders, and collector of classic cars. Belonging to the Gonzalo Ruiz Pastor family, the new winery was founded in 1998, and is surrounded by 5-hectares of vineyards with another 60 hectares, which have been in the family for generations, on the the slopes of Monte Yerga. The aging warehouse holds 600 barrels of American and French oak.
The association was founded in November 1956 by a group of local growers, the partners joining together to unite against the few buyers of bulk grapes who took advantage of the dispersed offering of the growers in the small town. The winery was expanded in 1995 and a new management team took over in 2001. The cooperative, the largest in the Rioja, with 850 members, has some 2850 hectares of vineyards that extend from the Ebro river to the high slopes of Mount Yerga, the largest plots being the Tempranillo vineyards, 228 hectares, and Garnacha, 152 hectares. There are three cellars holding 15,000 barrels, mostly American oak, for the aging of crianza, reserva and gran reserva wines.
Azabache now has its own beautiful modern winery with cutting-edge technology which only adds to the tradition that began in 1956 when a group of local wine growers opened their own bodega to market their top-range organic wines. The new aging cellar holds 12,000 barrels. The new winery also has its own restaurant and a professional tasting room.
The winery was orginally founded in 1949 by Joaquin Casas, who was from a long winemaking lineage, and named the bodega after his wife, Herminia. A joint venture between the Luis Caballero Group (owner of Emilio Lustau) and the major Rioja cooperative Viñedos de Aldeanueva, the winery lies between the River Ebro and the Sierra de Yerga mountain range in the village of Aldeanueva de Ebro, a few minutes drive northwest of Alfaro, just southeast of Calahorra, surrounded by vineyards, which spread up the slopes of Mount Yerga to an altitude of 700 meters, allowing the vines to embrace the sun. The director, José Luis, a 4th generation winemaker, joined Viña Herminia in 2007 and manages the cellar with its 3200 oak barrels.
Built in the style of a French “châteaux” by José Vicente Domeco de Jarauta in 1995, the new winery added to a tradition of wine making that dates back more than 100 years, when the family began in the wine business, it’s first award coming in Barcelona in 1888. The oldest vineyards surround the winery, which is located a few minutes northwest of Aldeanueva de Ebro. The rest of their 100 hectares of vineyards are in Alfaro, Autol and Rincón de Soto. The barrel room holds 700 casks of French and American oak, along with some Romanian and Russian barrel they are experimenting with. Barrels are racked four times/year, and after 24 to 36 months of aging, the wine rests in a bottle for at least 9 months before being released.
What began as a small vineyard on the slopes of Mount Yerga in 1886 evolved after seven generations of the cultivation of the vineyards with the research and development of new grape varieties like Tempranillo blanco. Their vineyards cover nearly 100 hectares with more than half of the vines goblet trained, the rest are trellis trained. The new winery was opened in 2000 and under the direction of Mateo Ruiz, offers great wines with their own distinctive personality and character.
Pablo Álvarez Alfaro opened his small family winery in 1890, establishing his first wine sales office in San Sebastián in 1895, selling only wines grown in his own vineyards. The new winery was opened in 1999 a few minutes north of Aldeanueva de Ebro by Pablo Bretón Ruiz and is still in the hands of the family, the 4th generation of artisan winemakers. The aging cellar holds 1300 225-liter barrels of American and French oak, where the wines are racked every four months instead of the usual twice a year. The winery, with 62 hectares of vineyards, is located a few minutes north of Aldeanueva de Ebro along the LR-384.
The family had been working the land from more than 100 years when Mariluz Ruiz and Javier Rubio founded their own cellar at the foot of Monte Yerga. The family’s modern wine-estate, with over 90 hectares of vineyards, many over 60 years of age, is located along the LR-384, to the south of their neighbor Bodegas Álvarez Alfaro. 26 hectares of their vineyards are set aside as organic for growing Verdejo, Graciano, Chardonnay, Tempranillo and Muscatel varieties.
The journey began for Viñedos de Alfaro in 1974 when 100 hectares of vineyards, between 300 and 650 meters above sea-level, were planted between Aldeanueva and Alfaro. In 2005 they began to build a new winery in the middle of the vineyards and started producing their own wines. In 2008 the winery opened and in 2018 they became part of the El Gaitero Family (Galicia).
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