Spain: Land of the vine
Spain offers much to discover along its wine routes, beyond the familiar and much-loved Cava, Rioja, and Sherry—from fiestas and fine dining, to fine art and modern architecture.
No country in the world has more land under vine than Spain, and only two (France and the USA) attract more tourists each year. No surprise, then, that—in its range of hotels and restaurants, as well as its mix of historic and contemporary vinous attractions—few countries have as much to offer the enophile visitor.
Of course, in a country composed of distinctive autonomous regions, it makes no more sense to talk of a single Spain, in the wine context, than it does to define a monolithic vinous France or Italy. The wines and wine culture of Galicia in the Atlantic far northwest have more in common with those of northern Portugal across the border to the south than they do with Mediterranean Catalonia and Valencia or the Sherry country around Jerez in Andalusia. Even in neighboring regions, an evening spent sampling pintxos and the febrile dry white wines of Txacoli in the bars and restaurants around the Basque Country’s bay of San Sebastian offers very different pleasures from that of a day touring the historic bodegas of Haro in La Rioja or La Ruta del Vino of Ribera del Duero.
Still, there are common themes that cut across the regional differences and can form the basis of a series of fascinating potential itineraries for a journey through Spanish wine country.
Spain boasts an unusually high concentration of flamboyant, dramatic, historic, and idiosyncratic winery buildings. Many are the work of the world’s most famous architects and engineers—from Gustave Eiffel, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, and Antoni Gaudí, to Santiago Calatrava, Frank Gehry, and Zaha Hadid.
As with so much else in Spanish wine, Rioja has many of the most striking creations. In the small town of Elciego, the headquarters of Marqués de Riscal (a winery dating back to the 1850s) was entirely transformed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry, who brought his trademark conjuring of titanium sheets into impossible Cubist shapes (as seen in Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum) to a vineyard setting in the mid-2000s. Featuring a hotel, a spa, and two restaurants under the guidance of local Michelin-starred chef Francis Paniego, “La Ciudad del Vino” (The City of Wine) makes a spectacular base for a tour of the Rioja region (www.marquesderiscal.com).
Gehry’s home-grown Spanish equivalent Santiago Calatrava has also left his mark on the Rioja landscape, with rippling wood and aluminum creating a trompe l’oeil effect against the backdrop of the Sierra de Cantabria at Bodegas Ysios in Guardia (www.visitas.pernodricardbodegas.com). At the architecturally more restrained Bodegas Vivanco Museum of Wine Culture in the attractive wine village of Briones, it’s the internal spaces that are the draw. This award-winning museum houses a permanent collection devoted to the history and culture of wine, as well as a space for temporary exhibitions, while The Garden of Bacchus outside houses some 220 varieties of Vitis vinefera grape vines (www.vivancoculturadevino.es).
A sense of history is palpable, too, in the center of the Rioja wine industry in the town of Haro, specifically in the cluster of wineries in El Barrio de la Estación (“Station District”). Among the area's most striking architectural landmarks is the famous 19th-century wood-and-brick watchtower of the great Rioja classicists Lopéz de Heredia, its warren of barrel cellars now strikingly juxtaposed with a modern tasting room designed by the late Zaha Hadid. Perhaps the best time to visit Haro’s winery barrio is in September, when Lopéz de Heredia joins with its neighbors Muga, CVNE, La Rioja Alta, Goméz Cruzado, Roda, and Bilbainas in throwing open its doors and offering wine tastings to the public, as well as providing alfresco food and music, for the annual La Cata del Barrio de la Estación festival (www.lacatadelbarriodelaestacion.com).
West of Rioja, Ribera del Duero is home to creations by two of Britain’s most celebrated architects. The concrete, steel, and glass futuristic flower-shaped Bodegas Portia by Norman Foster & Partners in Guimel de Izán in Burgos houses an art museum and the Triennia Gastrobar alongside its winemaking facilities (www.bodegasportia.com), while the main feature of Richard Rogers’s collaboration with Spanish firm Alonso y Belaguer for Bodegas Protos in Peñafiel is the striking five-arched roof topped with local terra-cotta tiling. The building makes a dramatic contrast to the medieval castle that overlooks the winery and the town, as well as housing the intriguing local wine museum.
The closest rival to Rioja for its sheer range of architectural splendor is the Sherry triangle around Jerez. Among the most famous cellars—and certainly a must-visit on any trip to the region—is the Gustave Eiffel-designed La Concha, with its graceful, shell-shaped vaulted steel roof. That is but one of many fascinating constructions on show in a visit to the labyrinthine González Byass cellars, where tours range from a simple winery and Sherry tasting visit, to a deluxe option with a Sherry-matching lunch. Just as impressive, both in the cathedral-like scale of their 19th-century construction and the quality of their wines, and also offering a range of tours, are the Lustau’s Los Arcos winery (www.lustau.es) and, in the town of Sanlúcar de Barremeda, Bodega Barbadillo (www.barbadillo.com), while a newcomer (and specialist in very old Sherries), Bodegas Tradicíon, offers both a fine cellar and an impressive art museum, with works by Goya, El Greco, Picasso, and Velázquez.
At the opposite end of the country, in the far northeast, Catalonia’s equivalent of Haro or Jerez—or Reims and Epernay in France’s Champagne region—is the town of Sant’ Surdaní d’Anoia in Penedès. A pleasant hour’s journey east of Barcelona by train, it is home to many of the biggest names in Cava. A fine example of Catalan Art Nouveau from the late 19th century, designed by Antoni Gaudí’s contemporary, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, is the highlight of a trip to Codorníu, though tours also take in the vast underground aging cellars and offer various combinations of tastings, food pairings, and other activities. Other wineries in the town well set up for receiving visitors include Codorníu’s great rival Freixenet (www.freixenet.es) and Gramona (www.gramona.com), while an advance booking is required for the boutique biodynamic, terroir-oriented producer Recaredo (www.recaredo.com).
It’s also worth taking a detour outside the main Cava production zone and heading a couple of hours farther north to the Empordà region, for two contrasting wine and architecture experiences. Cava- and wine-producer Castillo Perelada (www.perelada.es) features a 14th-century castle, a Carmelite monastery, and a Gothic church on its site and offers a range of tastings, dining options, and tours, as well as a luxury hotel, a spa, and a museum. Hidden in pine forests near the Costa Brava town of Palamós is Brugarol Winery, a dramatic, signature work by architects RCR, Spain’s recently anointed winners of the “architectural Nobel,” the Pritsker Prize. It has been sculpted with the firm’s trademark sensitivity into the hills as part of the Bell Lloc farmstead complex that also houses a range of rooms, a restaurant, and self-catering accommodation among the vines (www.brugarol.com).
Another very fruitful and fascinating way of organizing a trip to visit the Spanish wine country is to time your stay to coincide with one—or more—of the country’s many hundreds of local wine-themed festivals and fairs. These celebratory occasions, often marking the harvest or a new vintage, also provide a real sense of the spirit of a place and its community.
Naturally, many of these festivals take place in late summer and fall, with Rioja’s harvest festival in Logroño perhaps the biggest of them all. The event, which is held over several days centered around the feast day of San Mateo (St Matthew) on September 21, has as its focal point a mass grape-treading (open to all), as well as fireworks, processions, bull-running, music concerts, and of course many opportunities for wine tasting. For a more raucous affair in the same region, Haro hosts La Battalla del Vino around the feast of St Peter between June 28 and 30. The “battle” itself (fought with wine-loaded water pistols and buckets) takes place up a hill a short distance from the town; the remainder of the festival includes dancing, eating, and music until the early hours in Haro itself.
In Jerez, the Fiesta de la Vendimia (grape harvest festival) takes place over a few days in the first two weeks of September, with a procession and ceremony to bless the grapes taking place on the city’s cathedral steps before mass on the Sunday. But an even bigger festive draw to the region occurs in May, when the Feria del Caballo brings a week of equestrian displays, flamenco, and of course Sherry in all its forms.
Galicia’s most renowned grape variety has its own celebration in La Fiesta del Albariño in the town of Cambados in early August. (The dates in 2017 are August 3–7.) Featuring a tasting of more than 50 of the leading producers of Albariño in Rías Baixas, the event also doubles up as a music festival, with four nights of performances from local and international rock, pop, and jazz groups.
In southern Catalonia’s Priorat and Montsant districts, meanwhile, the main event is the Fira del Vi (Wine Fair) in Falset, in the first week of April. A three-day stroll-around tasting, featuring hundreds of wines from most of the two DOs’ producers, the Fira also has evening events, a program for children, and visits to cellars and vineyards.
Wine routes, wine tours, and wine guides
Most of the major DOs have well-signposted Rutas del Vino (wine routes), each with a website providing information on participating wineries, opening hours, itineraries, places to stay, and how to book appointments for visits where necessary. A complete list—from Bierzo, Navarra, and Somontano in the north, to Alicante, Yecla, and Uttiel-Requena in the Levant and the Balearic and Canary Islands—can be found at www.en.wineroutesofspain.com. Another invaluable online resource for wine lovers seeking travel tips for vineyard visits to both Spain and Portugal is www.catavino.net.
As well as leading multicountry operators such as Arblaster & Clarke, Spain is served by a number of specialist wine-tour operators. Wine Tourism Spain (www.winetourismspain.com) offers trips lasting from a single day to a full week, ranging from a one-day visit to Rioja from Bilbao, to a luxury road trip through the Basque Country, Pamplona, and Rioja, including all accommodation, meals in Michelin-starred restaurants, and guided winery tours. Slow Wines (www.slowwines.net) also offers tours throughout Spanish wine country, with seven-day packages including Sherry Wines of the Mediterranean, eight-day tours such as Ribera del Duero Wines & Castles, and a self-drive tour of Rioja. Packages offered by Iberian Wine Tours (www.iberianwinetours.com) include a luxury late-spring tour of Castille, covering wineries in Toro, Sierra de Gredos, and Rueda; Michelin-starred restaurants in Madrid and a suckling- pig lunch at Alejandro Fernandez’s Dehesa de Granja estate; and an April Gourmet Tour from San Sebastian to Barcelona, taking in a selection of Michelin-starred restaurants, as well as top wine producers in Somontano, Penedès, and Txacoli.
Frank Gehry’s typically remarkable building offers a luxury hotel and restaurant amid the vines at the Marqués de Riscal winery in Laguardia, Rioja.
Calle Torrea 1, 01340 Elciego | +34 9 45 18 08 80 | www.hotel-marquesderiscal.com
This buzzy new-wave wine bar and “market kitchen” in the center of Logroño has one of the best wine lists in the region. Open noon to 1am daily.
C/ Vara de Rey 5, 26003 Logroño, La Rioja | +34 9 41 24 39 10 firstname.lastname@example.org | www.winefandango.com
Three highly regarded restaurants—including the two- Michelin-starred El Portel—and comfortable rooms in a quiet village setting in a restored coaching house.
C/ Padre José García 19, Ezcaray, La Rioja | + 34 9 41 35 40 47 | email@example.com | www.echaurren.com
This lovingly restored 18th-century country house combines an award-winning winery, comfortable rural hotel, and acclaimed restaurant in a tranquil setting amid the vines.
O Cotiño, San Andrés, Ribadavia, Ourense | +34 6 99 06 04 64 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.casaldearman.net
A five-star hotel, spa, and Michelin-starred restaurant (Refectorio) set in a 12th-century Romanesque monastery in the heart of Ribera wine country.
47340 Sardon de Duero, Valladolid | +34 9 83 68 03 68 | email@example.com | www.ledomaine.es
Angel León’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant is widely regarded as the best in the Sherry-producing zone, with a ceaselessly creative take on local ingredients.
C/ Francisco Cossi Ochoa s/n, 11500 El Puerto de Sta María, Cádiz | +34 9 56 85 18 70 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.aponiente.com
A five-star hotel and spa set in a 14th-century Dominican monastery amid vineyards along the Duero River near the UNESCO World Heritage City of Salamanca. Stunning food and wine list.
Carretera Salamanca a Ledesma, SA-300, km 8.7, 37115 Valverdón (Salamanca) | +34 9 23 12 94 00 email@example.com | www.the-haciendas.com
A rare holder of three stars from both Michelin and the WFW World’s Best Wine Lists awards, the wine at Eneko Aska’s inspired restaurant near Bilbao is as good as the food.
Barrio Legina s/n (Exit 25, Corredor del Txorierri, N-637), Larrabetzu, PC 48195 | +34 9 44 55 88 66 | www.azurmendi.biz/en
This beautiful five-star hotel in the historic western Spanish city also plays host to a two-Michelin-star restaurant with a wine list that is consistently rated one of the best in Spain by judges of the WFW World’s Best Wine Lists awards.
Plaza de San Mateo, 110003 Cáceres | +34 9 27 24 29 28 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.restauranteatrio.com
A charmingly restored stone building in the village of Gratallops, within walking distance of several of the most celebrated wineries in Priorat and with a fine restaurant.
C/ Dalt 21, 43737 Gratallops, Priorat, Tarragona | +34 9 77 83 95 02 | email@example.com | www.cal-llop.com
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The great Rioja classicist is based in an atmospheric cluster of 19th-century buildings in Haro’s famed Barrio del Estación, with a tasting room designed by Zaha Hadid. Book in advance.
Avda de Vizcaya 3, 26200 Haro, La Rioja | +34 9 41 31 02 44 firstname.lastname@example.org | www.lopezdeheredia.com
Just a short walk from Lopéz de Heredia in Haro’s Barrio del Estación, Roda’s modernist winery is a fine setting for tasting its masterful wines.
Avda Vizcaya 5, Barrio de la Estación, 26200 Haro, La Rioja | +34 9 41 31 21 87 | email@example.com | www.roda.es
One of Jerez de la Frontera’s numerous great cathedrals of wine, the González Byass cellars host a range of different tours, tastings, and wine-matching occasions.
Calle de Manuel María González 12, 11403 Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz | +34 9 56 35 70 16 firstname.lastname@example.org | www.bodegastiopepe.com
Set in a 16th-century pago (or estate) in the heart of the Salnes Valley that was completely restored in the 18th century, Zarate is a charming venue in which to taste some of Rías Baixas’ finest Albariño.
Bouza 23, Padrenda, 36638 Meaño (Pontevedra) | +34 9 86 71 85 03 | email@example.com | www.bodegas-zarate.com
Pioneers in wine tourism as they have been in wine, Spain’s best-known producer has a range of options in its Penedès home—from restaurants, to wine workshops and stargazing.
Finca el Maset s/n, 08796 Pacs del Penedès (Barcelona) | www.clubtorres.com
Josep Puig i Cadafalch’s classic Catalan modernist complex provides the backdrop for the leading Cava producer’s tours and tastings.
Avda Jaume de Codorníu s/n, 08770 Sant Sadurní d’Anoia (Barcelona) | +34 9 38 91 33 42 firstname.lastname@example.org | www.visitascodorniu.com
The bodega that helped put Ribera del Duero on the map has made a specialty of wine tourism, with restaurants, a hotel in Peñafiel, and a variety of tours and tastings. Visits can be made to any of their four bodegas.
+34 9 83 87 00 37 | email@example.com | www.grupopesquera.com
Based in an 18th-century manor house including a barrel cellar and winery, Bodegas Ribas is Mallorca’s oldest producer, offering tours, tastings, and dinners.
Carrer de Muntanya 2, 07330 Consell (Mallorca), Balearic Islands | +34 9 71 62 26 73 | www.bodegaribas.com
A short drive from the city of Valencia, the much-acclaimed wines of Celler del Roure are produced on a 17th-century estate in picturesque countryside. Weekends only.
Carretera de les Alcuses, km 11.1, 46640 Moixent (Valencia) | +34 9 62 29 50 20 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.cellerdelroure.es
Just an hour to the west of Madrid, this bodega has a beautiful setting in the shadow of the Sierra de Gredos mountains and makes some of Spain’s finest new-wave Garnacha. Viewings by appointment.
Av La Solana 39, 45930 Méntrida (Toledo) | email@example.com