Land of a Thousand Wines: A Pocket Guide to Rioja, Spain

Join us a for a wine-fuelled adventure to discover Rioja’s ancient heritage, storied vines and world-class gastronomy.

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This article first appears in Vol. 34: Revival.

along the banks of the River Ebro, past sun-baked
villages and vineyards that lace themselves gently through the
surrounding hillsides, we journey through the Rioja
wine region, sitting just an hour south of Bilbao. Sheltered from
harsh Atlantic winds by the Sierra Cantabria mountain range to the
north and warmed by Mediterranean currents from its east, the
wine-soaked region’s autumnal landscape is glazed with an earthy,
ochre hue.

The first Spanish wine region to obtain DO status in 1925, Rioja
was promoted to DOCa (Qualified Designation of Origin) in 1991, a
higher category reserved for Spanish wines that epitomise quality
and consistency. The DOCa, which includes 65,326ha of vines, is
famed for its classic Reserva and Gran Reserva reds, which are
regularly ranked among the world’s finest, yet, as we make tracks
through the region’s wineries, I come to learn of its rich legacy
in white and rosé winemaking, too. As if this wasn’t enough, the
province also fizzes with wine-fuelled festivities, mind-blowing
medieval monuments and the kind of locavore restaurants that have
helped to earn Rioja its reputation as Spain’s gastronomic

Compelled to delve deeper into Rioja’s roots, we take a slow
road through the region’s sleepy villages. An antidote to the often
frenetic, glass-spilling speed of pre-pandemic travel, this easy
pace feels blissful, allowing us time to bask in the history and
beauty of the legendary vineyards. Graced with a magical mix of
traditional know-how and forward-facing insight, Rioja’s wineries
have cultivated an ethos that blends their precious heritage with a
contemporary vision for the region.

We start our journey in Rioja Alta, the largest of three zones
in the region, all of which have different climates and soils.
Beginning at Entrena, an 11th-century fortress town, we savour its
herbaceous wild gardens that fill the air with heady aromas of
rosemary and thyme. Next, we step into family-run Finca de los Arandinos, a stylish winery and
hotel. All vineyards here are cultivated and harvested by hand, and
with vines ranging in age from four to 80 years, the finca is a
perfect encapsulation of Rioja’s vintage-come-contemporary spirit.
Influenced by the cooler Atlantic climate, the Rioja Alta zone
tends to produce moderate wines, with a bright, fruity character,
making them an ideal pairing for the grilled beef chops we delight
in over lunch.

Our next stop is Bodegas Tierra, found in the
Jewish quarter of the village of Labastida in Rioja Alavesa. A
warren of sand-coloured wine houses and deep underground cellars
that date back to the 13th and 14th centuries, this family-run
vineyard exclusively produces native grape varieties from Rioja
Alavesa, including Tempranillo, Graciano and Viura. The pioneering
winery is also known for processing and producing wines in
225-litre vertical oak casks and blazing its own trail as one of
the boldest small vineyards in the region.

We then make our way to Rioja Oriental, the lowest and warmest
of Rioja’s three zones, calling in at Viña
on our way. Named after Herminia Casas, the
philanthropist and fiercely nonconformist wife of founder Joaquin,
the winery is now run by fourth-generation winemaker José Luis. It
is spread across the slopes of the Sierra de Yerga, a mountain
range that provides the perfect ecological climate and altitude for
its indigenous red and white grapes.

As we journey towards Logroño, Rioja’s tapas-fuelled provincial
capital and our final stop, we begin ruminating on the diversity
and sheer quality of the wines we’ve tasted and enjoyed paired, as
well as the region’s enviable position on the global winemaking
map. Spirited and pioneering, the wineries we’ve visited suddenly
strike us as an analogy for Rioja as a whole – it’s the
trailblazing powerhouse of the wine world.



Hotel Marqués de Riscal

Elciego Álava

Frank Gehry’s only venture into hotel design, this striking
property is instantly recognisable thanks to the rosé- and
gold-coloured metal ribbons that ripple across the roof like a vast
titanium wave. Guest rooms reflect the colours of the vineyards
that crisscross the area, parquet floors line airy, muted-white
corridors and most furnishings have a designer label tucked away
somewhere. Alternatively, seek out Palacio Tondon in Briñas for
its lesson in eco-conscious design.


Calle Torrea 1



Mesón Chuchi


This is the sort of place where you’ll end up chummily exchanging phone numbers with the chef by the end of your meal. A traditional local spot nestled between the towering vaulted arches of a former church, Mesón Chuchi is best known for its roast meats prepared to traditional recipes, with suckling pig and sarmiento chops – cooked over a fire made of post-harvest vine cuttings – being menu highlights. The wine list wouldn’t look out of place in any of the restaurant’s Michelin-starred neighbours, with plenty of local varieties to sample.


Carretera de Vitoria 2, 26360 Fuenmayor, La Rioja


A Wine and Pintxos Pilgrimage in Calle Del Laurel

Calle Del Laurel

If pinxtos are Rioja’s religion, then El Soriano is its church. Kick off here for champi (a
traditional mushroom dish topped with a garlic-spiked prawn), then
move to Bar Sebas, where the humble tortillas are elevated to star
status, before heading to La Taberna del Tio Blas for innovative small
bites. Next up are Torrecilla for its superb duck and Ribera for
its grilled meats and succulent Iberian pork skewers, then round
things off at slick wine bar-come-shop La Tavina.


Calle Del Laurel



Globos La Rioja

La Rioja

The only better way to visit a winery than through its cellar doors is from 150m in the air. Floating high above vines as old as time in one of Globos La Rioja’s hot-air balloons, you’ll catch epic aerial views of the region’s verdant vineyards and snow-dusted mountains. Options include a tethered flight, parachute jump or an air tour over the dramatic Sierra de la Demanda mountains.


Avenida de La Rioja 41, 26230 Casalarreina, La Rioja

The Lowdown

To start planning your wine-fuelled Rioja adventure, visit