Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Wine of the Week - Rioja Style!

We just got back from a fantastic trip to northern Spain! We started out in the tiny town of Haro, which is considered the capital of Rioja and houses the region's oldest wineries. From there we headed to Laguardia and toured an incredible winery, explored the medieval town, and had a memorable lunch at Hotel Marques de Riscal. We rounded out our trip with stops in Logrono, San Sebastian and Bilbao, but we'll talk about those adventures later...
The tiny town of Haro is situated about an hour and fifteen minutes outside of Bilbao. Kinda like San Francisco and Napa, but Rioja is like Napa on steroids. Haro is beautiful, charming and extremely delicious. We only checked out a couple wineries because we were only there for a couple days and had some lunch reservations that were a serious priority.

I'm not gonna go on and on about all the wines we tried because we tasted a lot and everything was really delicious. They are obviously very tempranillo heavy and they were certainly the best I've ever had. The one interesting thing we learned is that they age their wines a little longer than we do before releasing them. In Rioja they are just now pouring their 2006's and over here in Napa we are releasing our 09's. If you find yourself in this part of the world, I'd highly recommend checking out these spots. If you can't make the trip, I'd definitely suggest trying any of these wines if you find them closer to home.

Bodegas Muga
Muga is such a great stop in Haro. The winery is housed in a beautiful building made of wood and stone that is 200 years old. They own about 1,000 acres of grapes and focus on tempranillo, grenache, carignan for reds, and viura and malvasia for whites. They are an ultra-traditional winery and use strictly oak barrels for everything - no stainless steel. We skipped the tour and just hit the tasting bar and loved the 2 white and 4 reds we tasted.

Lopez de Heredia

Lopez de Heredia was founded in 1877 making it one of the oldest bodegas in the entire region of Rioja. They only produce 25,000 cases a year (not considered a lot for the area) and 100% of their wines are estate grown (meaning they grow/own the fruit). They are known for their traditional winemaking style and believe in the benefits of long bottle aging.

The town of Laguardia perched on the hill.
Well, we no longer think of an airport when we mention the name Laguardia. Laguardia is a very small town perched on a hill, surrounded by protective stone walls that, at one point in time, kept out the bad guys. It is a great stop if you are making your way around Basque country because there are amazing wineries nearby and one outrageous hotel to check out.
Streets of Laguardia
Gates of Laguardia. 
Ysios is hands down one of the most impressive wineries I've ever visited. It is so visually stunning that it's just unbelievable. We did the tour and it was really cool and educational, but you find yourself just spacing out the entire time just walking around with your jaw on the floor. Believe it or not, they make some killer wines too. We tasted two tempranillos and they knocked our socks off - so much so that we schlepped them in our suitcases back to California. This place is seriously a destination.

Hotel Marques de Riscal
Hotel Marques de Riscal was designed by Frank Gehry and is one of the coolest hotels I've ever seen. It's located in El Ciego, which is 5-10 minutes outside Laguardia. Other than being amazing to look at, the hotel's restaurant is Michelin starred and home of the best dessert of our entire trip.
Crispy tart filled with local Rioja cheese, topped with caramelized apples and local honey ice cream.
Nice view from our table!