Yesterday we went for a little daytrip to Laguardia and Elciego, part of Basque Country located in Rioja Alavesa. Both can easily reached by bus from Logroño, and Jay and I had been to Laguardia before. It is such a charming, little town with medieval walls, winding streets, and amazing mountain views. We walked around for awhile through the streets and around the park before starting our short trek to Bodegas Ysios where we would have our first winery tour in English since our arrival in Spain! We also walked to Ysios on our last visit, and the views were better so I will use those photos here. This time it was still a very nice day, but low-hanging clouds were blocking most of the mountains and the grape vines had long dried up.
In La Rioja, there are three types of wine produced. The first is vino del año, or wine of the year. This is the
It’s a small, young winery that makes about 80,000 bottles each year. I loved the smell of the barrel room. It’s a mixture of chopped wood and sweet berry smells. They use a mixture of French, American, and Hungarian oak wood for their barrels… I don’t really understand exactly what each of those brings to the table, but was amazed to find out that even flowers growing nearby a grape vine can influence its taste and aroma– they’re that sensitive! I though I’d like to be the winemaker who gets to pair each wine plot with each type of wood, etc. but then we discovered that it takes 5-7 years of schooling here in Spain.
When we made it to the tasting room we were able to sample a reserva 2007 and a “specialty” wine that was made as a collaboration between the Ysios winemaker and a perfume designer… interesting? I really liked both of them. The reserva was very smooth and easy to drink, while the “essence” smelled strongly of florals, vanilla, and had an aftertaste like caramel. I was especially intrigued by the differences in color, aroma, and notes after hearing about the process to make the wine. I’m far from a wine connoisseur, but this a subject I will gladly keep learning about!
After a random phone call in broken Spanish to a cab driver, we made our way to Elciego– the home of one of the Marqués de Riscal wineries, and infamous hotel designed by Frank Gehry. I think its very beautiful, but it looks very out of place in this tiny town. The same artist created the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Can you see the similarities? The hotel design is based off of the flow of Marqués de Riscal wine and its bottling. We heard it cost something like 82 million dollars to be built, and at first Gehry refused. Then he was offered a large amount of wine and collaboration… and.. well.. there it stands.
This winery is much larger than Bodegas Ysios. At this one location I think she said they make something like 4 million bottles each year?! A lot of their process is French influenced in the “Bordeaux” style. They make white and blush wines in addition their signature red reserva. We learned that their fermentation stages happen in wooden rather than steel vats. That is one factor that “specializes” the flavor. Actually, Marqués de Riscal violates a lot of the rules that are necessary for the “Rioja” label, but they are exempt because their winery was in operation before the rules were made.
Next we headed down to where the reservas were stored. Their oldest bottles of wine in Marqués de Riscal are from around 1826! I don’t know if I’d want to try that one… but the area where they are stored in the botelleria is pretty amazing. Thousands of bottles are stacked on the racks and covered with dust and cobwebs. We heard there were spiders common in these storage rooms, but that’s essential because they eat the bugs that destroy the wine corks.
There were only the four of us plus our guide on our tour, so when it came to tasting time we lucked out! Rather than getting one small glass of each wine, our guide let us have the whole bottle. Score! We tried the signature gran reserva and a vino blanco. The white tasted like water. Very easy to drink and our guide warned us that made it dangerous. The reserva was so good that Jay and I bought two bottles. We’ll have one to celebrate Christmas and we’re going to try to save the second for a special occasion. The bottles are decorated with a silver top and gold netting around the bottle, because back in the day some people decided to buy the wine, drink it themselves, fill the bottle with a cheaper wine, and sell it at the same price. So the netting is for authenticity. Not a bad ploy! I really enjoyed having a personalized tour and finally hearing more about the famous wine that La Rioja is known for. Having two tours in one day at such different wineries really allowed me to compare the two and decide what I most liked. Luckily there are hundreds more in La Rioja we could possibly visit!