Guess what? You’ll wander back and forth between Basque and La Rioja as you visit the best wine region in Spain. Technically, two of the wineries I’m suggesting are in the Basque region, but it’s all Rioja wine.
My first tip would be to take a lot more time in Rioja than you may be planning — at least three to four days. But if you are driving west to Bilbao or San Sebastian, and an overnight stop is all you can do–then do this.
Ysios. Drive and arrive in Rioja in time to reach Ysios for an afternoon visit. With its excellent tour, exquisite Santiago Calatrava designed building, and proximity to LaGuardia, it’s a fantastic introduction to Rioja. However there is excellent wine the next day, so personally I wouldn’t buy a bottle at this winery. Tip: You must absolutely email and pre-arrange your tour here.
Laguardia. Atop a hillside surrounded by a valley filled with vines with views toward the Cantabrian Mountains is the beautiful medieval walled city of Laguardia. Take in the feel of the city as you make your way from the car park outside the city walls to the town’s Mayor Plaza. Near the plaza and its pendulum figured clock, is the terrace restaurant of the Hotel Los Parajes. Make it a quick stop so you’ll have plenty of time to wander the town. Be sure to climb the stairs at La Torre Abacial (the Abbey Tower) for terrific views. Tip: Be at the tower top at sunset for great photos.
Hotel Viura in Villabuena de Álava. Splurge and stay overnight in this modernistic colorful building cloaked under the towers of the Church of Santa Maria de Villanueva and neighboring renaissance houses. Just a short drive from Laguardia, find yourself ensconced in your room enjoy a welcoming bottle of Rioja wine. Be sure to secure your dinner reservations at the Viura’s excellent restaurant. Big Tip: Don’t use your navigation system to guide you within the village to the hotel. Only use it to arrive at the town limits.
Bodegas Luis Cańas. After breakfast at the hotel, and a few minutes away, is the family owned Luis Cańas winery. Beautifully set in a vineyard, you can either reserve a tour spot, or stop at the wine bar where no reservations are needed. Personally I’d stop at the wine bar and take time to enjoy the various wines from Crianza to Reserva to Gran Reserva. The Crianza is the perfect table wine while the Reserva is where the serious wine mastery starts. The tempranillo is the trademark wine grape of Rioja and the base for its wines. Tip: This has become my favorite Rioja wine. I suspect once home, you’ll want more — which you can order from wine.com in the USA or decántalo.com in the EU. The Cańas online web store ships only to Spain & the Balearic Islands.
Bridge over the Ebro River. After indulging the morning and early afternoon away in Villabuena de Álava and Bodegas Luis Cańas, take the leisurely backroad half hour drive to San Vicente de la Sonsierra via Samaniego. Walk around the Castillo Fortaleza and find a west looking spot over the River Ebro. Looking down the hill to the river is the medieval Romanesque bridge. Dating to the 13th century, it once served as a defensive border point between Navarre and Castile. Tip: Leaving town, stop at the grassy riverside near the bridge for a closer view.
Bodegas Beronia. Drive to the other side of the River Ebro to Ollauri for lunch at La Taberna de Ollauri that has friendly charm and traditional meals with a modern hint. With food in your stomach, head over to Bodegas Beronia where the lovely staff can guide your way in a wine tasting course, and 3 other interesting tours. Pre-arrange your tour choice before you arrive for the best experience. Tip: The ‘premium visit’ gives you a tasting of three wines and a traditional aperitif.
The biggest tip: If you can rearrange your itinerary to stay an extra day or two in this wonderful region–definitely do so. If you want a taste of Spain in your home, and you are in the USA, you can order online at https://www.ataste.net/
Bodegas Ysios at http://www.pernodricardbodegas.com/bodegas/ysios/la-bodega/
Hotel Viura at http://www.hotelviura.com/en/home
Bodegas Luis Cańas at http://www.luiscanas.com/
Bodegas Beronia at http://www.beronia.com/