Spain & Portugal

Rioja Valley

Rioja Valley

In our previous blog, we made our way from our home country down South, crossing Belgium and France and made it into Northern Spain. As we are both fond of wines and enjoyed our times in previous wine regions as the Barossa Valley (Australia) and Stellenbosch (South-Africa), we immediately drove to the area between Haro and Logroño, known as the capitals of the Rioja valley. Here we started our journey of exploring the pinchos and great wines of the Rioja Valley…

Rioja Valley river

As we were rather early in the season, the valley was a contrast of green grape vines and yellow blossoming flowers. The winding road between Haro and Logroño is worth the drive itself, showcasing the many wineries up against the side of the hills. We decided to go for a campground in the close vicinity of Logroño, as it would allow us to enter town by foot, leaving North on the campground and hence enjoy some good wines without needing to worry about who needs to drive. 
Logroño proved to be a very nice city. It is larger than Haro and boasts many small restaurants, bars and cafe’s, among which the Calle Laurel. This tiny street is filled with small pinchos bars, which are small (sometimes even one-bite) meals, which to us is somewhat comparable to tapas, more common in Southern Spain and Portugal. As I walked passed Calle Laurel the first time however, it was a bit of a bummer, since it was rather early morning and hence all pinchos bars were closed, meaning the street looked like it was completely deserted. We quickly learned the bars are generally open between 13:00-15:00 for lunch and after 19:00 for “dinner”. 

Rioja Valley Pinchos

In the meantime, I spend some time exploring the city a bit further. It isn’t major, but it has some characteristic little streets, a nice church and the Rioja Valley museum, which is a gorgeous building itself and definitely worth paying a visit. The museum takes you back through the history of the Rioja Valley, starting in the early ages with the first settlements and activity, all the way through the Roman Empire, into the modern ages, emphasising the independence of the people of the Rioja Valley. It is a great way to learn about the history of the valley, if you are interested.
But let’s be honest here, it wasn’t necessarily the museum we came for to Logroño, so let’s fast forward to the evening hours.
We made our way to town right around 19:30, which is still somewhat early, but we were simply hungry and keen to taste the great food this area has to offer. We closed up our van, leaving our furry friend Moose to guard our belongings, as the Calle Laurel isn’t exactly the place you would like to bring a corgi, given the infinite amount of sniffing opportunities as well as plenty “left-overs” that aren’t exactly made for dogs, although I’m sure Moose will think differently and give it a shot nevertheless.

Pinchos in Logroño

Rioja Valley Pincho

The walk to town from the Logroño campsite is only about 15 minutes and is a relaxed stroll along the river until you cross it over a nice bridge into town. The funny fact is you don’t immediately feel the buzz once you enter the town, as the crowds center themselves mostly around Calle Laurel and not so much throughout the rest of the city.
We made our way through town and upon approaching the pinchos street, we could hear the rumours and talking of the many people already present. We were up for a good tasting!

Rioja Valley Pintxo

The good about this street is there is no “one place you have to be” or “the one pincho you have to taste”, pretty much all the bars looked busy and all the pinchos we tasted were good – which may have something to do with accompanying every pincho with a glass of local Rioja wine, causing everything to taste better as the night progressed. There’s no set limit on pinchos one should have and we assume it really depends on taste and appetite, but for us 4-5 pinchos (and an equal amount of drinks) kind of covered us. With an average price between €1-€5 for a pincho (and accompanying wines for €2/glass), a night of pinchos set us back around €30, pretty good for what one can taste. Some of our favorites included the fried mushrooms on a slice of bread topped with a gamba, ham croquetes with a slide of serrano ham and the lovely patatas bravas with some spicy sauce; of course entirely subjective.

Rioja Valley wines
Rioja Valley patatas bravas

Winery visits in the Rioja

The next day we started a bit slow – probably still digesting our food from the previous night, although we did want to visit some of the Rioja wineries, so close after noon we manoeuvred North out of its small campsite spot and made our way to one of the most beautifully situated wineries around the Rioja, known as Bodegas Ysios. We intended to only taste some wine and move on to a next winery, but as we were both in awe by the splendid architecture of the building and its surroundings, we opted in for a tour through the winery – which in fact included the tasting anyway.

Rioja Valley Bodegas Ysios

We were guided around by a friendly lady together with some other guests and were explained about the history of the Rioja, the different types (and ages) of the rioja acreage and its vineyards (which can be over a 100 years old) as well as the entire process from intake of the grapes all the way to the storage and ageing of the wines. A very interesting journey to see the interior of the winery and the various stages of wine-making progression and what defines a good (or rare) wine. The tour took about 45 minutes, after which we were brought into the tasting room, giving a wonderful lookout of the vineyards. We were presented with 3 different wines (white – rose – red), aged for different times, accompanied by some tasty toasts and ham.
So we both had to admit the wines were amazing, each one of them. I guess one is probably biased when enjoying wine at a winery as the ambiance and environment is putting extra emphasis on the taste somehow, but still, it tasted fantastic – and in fact, we drank them all – luckily the glass weren’t too big.

Rioja Valley Bodegas Ysios
Rioja Valley Bodegas Ysios
Rioja Valley Marqués de Riscal

After a great first experience, we moved one to a quite famous winery, Marqués de Riscal, known for its incredible architecture, though it feels a bit futuristic to us and its very luxurious hotel. We decided one wine tour was enough for the day and as the place was quite crowded, we felt it would be better to enjoy their outdoor restaurant and (dog-friendly) terrace, to taste their wine and enjoy some lunch. As we settled in, the sun started to pop through the clouds and even though many locals stayed inside, we felt we could enjoy a good early april outdoor lunch, which we did. Our taste was probably not entirely unbiased anymore at the time of lunch, but both the food and their wines were complementing their tapas very well (and so did some sunshine).
Initially we intended to visit a third, more boutique winery in the neighbourhood of Haro as well, although we found it was unfortunately closed on a Sunday at the time of our visit and after taking a long lunch, we also felt we probably had our fair share of drinks for this afternoon and decided to return to the campsite.
As we would be moving on the next day, we spent the night quite similar to the previous, enjoying the delights of Logroño once more as it was so close by, before taking off to the Atlantic coast in Northern Spain the next day. For our journey along the coast and into the Picos de Europa, please read on in our next blog about Picos de Europa.

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