Rioja wines are world renown, therefore it is quite surprising the region from where they originate is still often overlooked as a travel destination. Yet it is drop dead gorgeous with gently rolling hills full of vines, picturesque medieval towns and the majestic Cantabria mountain range backdrop.
The main reason the region is starting to emerge more forcefully on the wine travellers map – aside from offering outstanding wines and excellent food – perhaps has been its spectacular winery architecture, for which many of La Rioja’s wineries have won awards (and off course also for their outstanding wines).
La Rioja in the north-western part of Spain close to the Atlantic Ocean is one of the most historic wine-growing areas of the country. Overall, there are more than 500 wineries and some are looking back to a centuries-long history. Hence the region indeed offers much to explore by those that love wine.
Wineries are usually very accommodating to visitors. However, keep in mind that whilst cellar-tours and wine tastings are available at many wineries most still require appointments made in advance, especially if you are looking for an English-guided tour.
A guided cellar-tour and tasting will last about an hour and a half to two hours. Therefore, do not plan too many visits in a single day. Two are fine, three are already pushing it albeit still manageable. More than three will be almost impossible.
Thankfully, the number of wineries offering wine tastings without a full cellar tour is growing. Indeed, several wineries are now operating tasting rooms with regular opening hours.
Here are some of the most stunning architecture-driven wineries in La Rioja you should definitely put on your list.
Sitting directly at the foot of the Cantabria mountain range, the scenery when approaching Santiago Calatrava-designed Bodegas Ysios almost seems unreal, like the building was transported there right out of a futuristic sci-fi movie. Yet it completely blends into the surrounding landscape.
Walking around the building, it seems the structure is changing all the time, depending on the angle and distance you look at it!
Inside the building, the upstairs tasting room offers breathtaking views over the nearby town of Laguardia and the surrounding vineyards.
Ysios wines are 100% tempranillo and the winery only makes reserva wines.
Visits and wine tastings by prior appointment only.
Camino de la Hoya – Laguardia
Bodegas Marques de Riscal
The so called ‘city of wine’ located close to the small town of Elciego features a historic winery alongside the Frank Gehry-designed Hotel Marques de Riscal, which no doubt is the main architectural catch of the complex.
Bodegas Marques de Riscal is one of the oldest wineries of La Rioja (founded in 1858) and was the first in the region to implement Bordeaux-style winemaking, thus mashing and de-stemming grapes. The old winery itself is not too spectacular, composed of fairly plain but still beautiful stone buildings.
The wine cellar stores vintages from every harvest since 1862, which alone is a reason to do a cellar tour.
To visit the cellar, you need to make a prior appointment. However, there is also a wine shop and tasting room where you can learn more about Marques de Riscal wines and taste several of tis outstanding wines without a booking.
Calle Torrea 1 – Elciego
A spectacular glass pavilion designed by Inaki Aspiazu offers stunning views over the surrounding vineyards. But the real masterpiece is actually built into the underground: reaching 32 metres deep, the building uses gravity to make the wines. This means, the winery adopts a production method that allows grapes are fermented completely intact whilst all movements of grapes and wine are done by gravity. Thus avoiding the use of machinery.
You can get a glimpse of the underground facilities even without a tour from the wineries large wine shop located on the first underground level.
There is also a restaurant on-site offering excellent tasting menus.
Carretera Vitoria a Logrono km 53 – Samaniego
Open Mon to Sat 8am to 6pm – just ring the bell and ask to be let in
R. Lopes de Heredia
Founded in 1877 and owned by the same family ever since, the oldest winery in Haro mostly boasts elements of 19th century architecture, including classic brick buildings, a watch tower and a windmill.
However, to celebrate the winery’s 125th birthday, a stunning futuristic glass pavilion housing the winery’s new tasting room and wine shop was added to the complex. It was built by the late Zaha Hadid and comes in the form of a decanter.
Tours of the winery are by appointment only and it is advisable to book your tour with as much notice as possible as group numbers are limited. Otherwise you can taste and buy wines in the Hadid building from Mon to Sat, 10am to 7pm.
Avenida de Vizcaya, 3 – Haro
Haro Wine Quarter
While in Haro’s Barrio de la Estación, the city’s wine quarter housing seven well know La Rioja wineries, also pay a visit to Bodgas Muga and La Rioja Alta. Both are looking at a long history and are built in traditional style but operate regularly open wine shops on-site. Thus you can just drop in and have a tasting without needing an appointment.
Towering on top of Cerro de Mesa just outside of Laguardia, the giant cask-shaped, red-cedar wood-clad building by Philippe Mazieres is visible from afar. Approaching the building, it almost looks like a natural extension to the hillside behind while indeed part of the facility is carved into the underground.
Cellar tours are by appointment only, but there is a small wine shop and visitors will be given access when approaching the doormen at the entrance gate.
Another of the regions historic small family-led wineries (now in the sixth generation), Eguren Ugarte too has added interesting architecture to its traditional winery building.
The winery itself is already impressive. Its wine cellar is carved deep into the side of a large rock, with some two kilometres of underground caverns. Only the upper level of the winery building visible from the passing road.
Certainly the most noticeable part is the tower resembling an lighthouse built on top of the winery’s own hotel, the small Hotel Eguren Ugarte.
Cellar-tours are again by appointment only but on-site you will also find a tasting room and wine shop that is open to visitors from 10.30 am to 5pm daily.
Carretara A-124, km 61 – Paganos
Perhaps the main attraction of Bodegas Vivanco is the wine museum Dinastia Vivanco, one of the world’s most exciting museums of wine culture. It was opened in 2004 and features the art collection of the Vivanco family, including thousands of artefacts from 10,000 years of wine history. There are more than 5,000 corkscrews on display alone.
When there, end your visit in the museums own tasting room or restaurant.
Carreterra Nacional 232 – Briones
Have you been to La Rioja yet? What was your experience?