A true vinous experience
With a variety of activities on offer, the gr...
Spain: el mundo del vino
From world-class architecture to harvest fiestas and art galleries, there is much to explore among the vines and bodegas in Spanish wine country.
Spain is one of the world’s most important wine producers. It has more vineyards than anywhere else, and is not far behind France and Italy when it comes to total production each year. As it is in those other two great Old World wine nations, wine is also very much a part of everyday life in Spain. From Catalonia in the northeast to Andalucía in the southwest, this is a country where wine is inescapable: no wonder, then, that a land that is justly admired for its superb tourist infrastructure is also among the best places in the world for wine tourism.
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 Andalucía. Even in neighboring regions, an evening spent sampling pintxos and the febrile dry white wines of Txakoli in the bars and restaurants around the bay of San Sebastian in the Basque Country offers very different pleasures to a day touring the historic bodegas of Haro in La Rioja or La Ruta del Vino of Ribera del Duero.
There are nonetheless common themes that cut across the regional differences and that could form the base of a series of novel potential itineraries for a journey through Spanish wine country.
One such theme is architecture. Spain boasts an unusually high concentration of flamboyant, dramatic, historic, and idiosyncratic winery buildings, many of them the work of some of the world’s most famous architects and engineers: from Eiffel, Puig i Cadafalch and 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” (City of Wine) makes a spectacular base for a tour of the Rioja region. Tickets for single-day visits can be booked online (www.marquesderiscal.com).
Gehry’s star architect rival, 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 in the much-visited Bodegas Ysios in Guardia (www.visitas.pernodricardbodegas.com to arrange a visit and tasting). 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: covering some 4,000m2 over six rooms, the award-winning museum houses a permanent collection devoted to the history and culture of wine, as well as a space for temporary exhibitions, while outside The Garden of Bacchus houses some 220 varieties of Vitis vinifera grape vines (www.vivancoculturadevino.es).
A sense of history is palpable too in the historic center of the Rioja wine industry in the town of Haro, specifically in the cluster of wineries in El Barrio de la Estación (or station district). Among the most striking landmarks architecturally are the famous wood and brick watchtower and warren of barrel cellars of the fine late-19th-century construction of the great Rioja classicists of López de Heredia, now juxtaposed with a modern tasting room designed by the late Zaha Hadid (visits by appointment only; www.lopezdeheredia.com). But perhaps the best time to visit is when López de Heredia joins neighbors Muga, CVNE, La Rioja Alta, Gómez Cruzado, Roda, and Bilbainas in throwing open its doors and offering tastings to the public, as well as providing al-fresco food and music, for the annual La Cata del Barrio de la Estación event on a Saturday in September.
To the west of Rioja, Ribera del Duero is the home of creations by two of Britain’s most celebrated architects. The concrete, steel, and glass, space-age, flower-shaped Bodegas Portia by Norman Foster & Partners in Guimel de Izán in Burgos houses an art museum and restaurant alongside the winemaking facilities (www.bodegasportia.com), while the main feature of Richard Rogers’ collaboration with Spanish firm Alonso y Belaguer for Bodegas Protos in Peñafiel is the striking five-arched roof topped with the local terracotta tiling. The building makes for a dramatic contrast to the old medieval castle that overlooks both the winery and the town, and which houses the intriguing local wine museum.
But the closest rival to Rioja for sheer range of architectural splendor is the sherry triangle around Jerez. Among the most famous—and certainly a must-visit on any trip to the region—is the Gustav Eiffel-designed La Concha, with its graceful shell-shaped, vaulted-steel roof. But that is just one of many intriguing constructions in a tour of the labyrinthine Gonzalez Byass cellars, with prices ranging from €14 to €125 for a deluxe tour with sherry-matching lunch (www.bodegastiopepe.com). Just as impressive in both cathedral-like scale of 19th-century construction and quality of wine—and also offering a range of tours—are Lustau’s Los Arcos winery (www.lustau.es) and, in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Bodega Barbadillo (www. barbadillo.com), while newcomer and specialist in very old sherries, Bodegas Tradición, 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 Champagne—is the town of Sant Surdaní d’Anoia in Penedès. A pleasant hour’s journey east of Barcelona by train, it’s home to many of the biggest names in Cava. A fine example of Catalan art nouveau from the late 19th-century, designed by Antonin Gaudí’s contemporary, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, is the highlight of a trip to Codorníu (www.visitascodorniu.com), although tours also take in the vast underground ageing cellars and offer various combinations of tastings, food-matching and other activities. Other wineries in the town well set-up for receiving visitors include Codorníu’s great rivals Freixenet (www. freixenet.es) and Gramona (www.gramona.com), while an advanced booking is required for the boutique biodynamic producer, Recaredo (www.recaredo.com).
It’s also worth taking a detour outside the main Cava production zone, and heading a couple of hours further north to the Empordà region, for two contrasting wine-and-architecture experiences. Cava and wine producer Castillo Perelada (www. castilloperelada.es) has a range of tastings, dining options, and tours, as well as a luxury hotel and spa and a museum at a site featuring a 14th-century castle, a Carmelite monastery, and a Gothic church. And hidden in the pine forests near the Costa Brava town of Palamós, Brugarol Winery, a dramatic key work by RCR architects, Spain’s recently anointed winners of the “architectural Nobel”, the Pritsker Prize, has been sculpted with the firm’s trademark sensitivity into the hills as part of the Belloc farmstead complex that also houses a range of rooms, a restaurant, and self-catering accommodation among the vines (www.brugarol.com).
Another fruitful way of organizing a trip to Spanish wine country is to time it to coincide with one or more of the country’s many hundreds of wine-themed festivals and fairs— celebratory occasions that also provide a real sense of the spirit of a place and its community.
Many of these festivals take place around harvest time in late summer and autumn, with Rioja’s Harvest Festival in Logroño perhaps the biggest of them all. The event, which takes place over several days around the feast day of San Mateo (or Saint Matthew) on September 21, has as its centerpiece 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 rather more raucous affair in the same region, Haro hosts La Battalla del Vino (or wine fight) around the feast of Saint Peter between June 28 and 39. The fight (with wine-loaded water pistols and buckets) takes place up a hill some 5km away from the town; the remainder of the festival includes dancing, eating, and music until late 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 falls 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, Albariño, has its own celebration in La Fiesta del Albariño in the town of Cambados in early August (the dates this year are July 31 to August 4, 2019). 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 May. A three-day walk-around tasting featuring hundreds of wines from most of the two DO’s 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 one with a website providing a wealth of information on participating wineries, opening hours, itineraries, places to stay, and how to book appointments for producer 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. Catavino (www.catavino.net) is also an invaluable online resource for wine travel tips in both Spain and Portugal.
As well as leading multi-country 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 day to a week, with a one-day visit to Rioja from Bilbao from €51, and a six-day “Luxury Road Trip” through the Basque Country, Pamplona, and Rioja, including accommodation, meals in Michelin-starred restaurants, and guided winery tours from €960. Slow Wines (slowwines.net) offers a variety of guided tours throughout Spanish wine country, with seven-day packages including “Sherry Wines of The Mediterranean” (from €1,745), a self-drive tour of Rioja (from €565), and eight days' touring Ribera del Duero Wines & Castles (from €1,780). And packages at Iberian Wine Tours (www. iberianwinetours.com) include a luxury late-summer tour of Castile (including wineries in La Seca, Araba, and Curiel de Duero; a Michelin-starred restaurant in Rioja, and a family suckling pig lunch in Segovia; from €3,900) and an April "Culinary Costa Dorada" tour around Catalunya taking in a Michelin-starred restaurant as well as top wine producers in El Priorat (from €3,650).
A true vinous experience
With a variety of activities on offer, the gr...
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, Álava | +34 945 180 880 | www.hotel-marquesderiscal.com
This remarkable modernist hotel is a major new wine tourism project in Rioja, combining a winery, a top-class restaurant, accommodation, and a spa all among the vines.
Ctra LR-137, Km 4.6, 26375 Entrena, La Rioja | +34 941 446 126 | www.fincadelosarandinos.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.
Calle Padre José García, 19, 26280 Ezcaray, La Rioja | +34 941 354 047 | www.echaurren.com
A five-star hotel, spar, and Michelin-starred restaurant (Refectorio) set in a 12th-century Romanesque monastery in the heart of Ribera wine country.
47340 Sardón de Duero, Valladolid | +34 983 680 368 | www.abadia-retuerta.com
Two rows of cava bottles stacked on top of each other may seem like an unlikely concept for a hotel, and yet, it works. The flat bottom of the bottle makes a decorative window for each room so that guests can sit back, relax, and enjoy the spectacular view of the vines.
Ctra Vilafranca a Sant Martí Sarroca, Km 0.5, 08720 Vilafranca del Penedés, Barcelona | +34 931 156 132 | www.hotelmastinell.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.
Carrer de Dalt, 21, 43737 Gratallops, Tarragona | +34 977 839 502 | www.cal-llop.com
This lovingly restored 18th-century country house combines award-winning winery, comfortable rural hotel, and acclaimed restaurant in a tranquil setting amid the vines.
O Cotiño, San Andrés, 32415 Ribadavia, Ourense | +34 699 060 464 | www.bodegascasaldearman.net
A rare holder of three stars from both Michelin and The World of Fine Wine 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, 48195 Larrabetzu, Bizkaia | +34 944 558 866 | www.azurmendi.restaurant
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.
Ctra Ledesma, Km 8,700, 37115 Valverdón, Salamanca | +34 923 129 400 | www.the-haciendas.com
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.
Calle Francisco Cossi Ochoa s/n, 11500 El Puerto de Sta María, Cádiz | +34 956 851 870 | www.aponiente.com
For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.
Inspired by the idea of the French château, Don Luciano Murrieta created the Ygay castle and was among the first producers of wine with the Rioja name back in 1852. In a place that is steeped in history, visitors can also explore the 120ha (300 acres) of vineyards.
N-232a Km 402, 26006 Logroño | +34 941 271 380 | www.marquesdemurrieta.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 tour and tasting options. Bookings to any of the group’s four bodega can be made.
Calle Real, 2, 47315 Pesquera de Duero, Valladolid | + 34 983 870 037 | www.grupopesquera.com
One of Jerez de la Frontera’s many great cathedrals of wine, the Gonzalez Byass cellars host a range of different tours, tastings, and wine-matching occasions.
Calle de Manuel María González, 12, 11403 Cádi | +34 956 357 016 | www.gonzalezbyass.com
Set in a 16th-century pago (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.
Aldea Padrenda de Abaixo, 24, 36638 Meaño, Pontevedra | +34 986 718 503 | www.zarate.es
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 star-gazing.
Finca el Maset s/n, 08796 Pacs del Penedès, Barcelona | +34 938 177 400 | www.torres.es
One of the biggest names in Cava has fully embraced wine tourism, with visitors able to explore the winery and extensive vineyards on a train, and numerous opportunities for tasting, eating, drinking, and education.
Plaça Joan Sala, 2, 08770 Sant Sadurní d'Anoia, Barcelona | +34 938 917 000 | www.freixenet.es
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 modernist wines.
Avda Vizcaya, 5 Barrio de la Estación, 26200 Haro, La Rioja | +34 941 303 001 | www.roda.es
Based in an 18th-century manor house including a barrel cellar and winery from the same vintage, Bodegues Ribas is Mallorca’s oldest producer, offering tours, tastings, and dinners.
Carrer de Muntanya, 2, 07330 Consell, Mallorca, Illes Balears | +34 971 622 673 | www.bodegaribas.com
A short drive from the city of Valencia, the much-acclaimed wines of Celler del Roure are produced in a 17th-century estate in picturesque countryside. Weekends only.
Alcusses, Km 11.1, 46640 Moxient, Valencia | +34 962 295 020 | 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 Solana, 39, 45930 Méntrida, Toledo | +34 918 178 213 | www.jimenezlandi.com