From winery to winery in gourmet Spain
Wine, gastronomy and heritage make up the unbeatable triad that is successfully taking on sun and beach tourism in Spain. There are 96 designations of origin and more than 4,300 wineries here, and Spain also has the largest offering of hotel and restaurant services per capita in the world. Its 81,000 restaurants share 249 Michelin stars and a way of cooking that has been delighting the world for decades. Spain also boasts the third-largest number of Unesco-protected World Heritage Sites in the world. All together, these elements offer a virtually infinite number of first-class combinations for tourists. We’ve create six unforgettable travel experiences related to the most outstanding designations of origin.
1 Rioja Alavesa
Within the DO Rioja, the Rioja Alavesa sub-area boasts some of the best Tempranillo grape-growing land in the world. In little more than two decades, its wine-making potential – along with its unique heritage and gastronomy linked to viniculture – has garnered it worldwide attention. This revolution took place in villages with very specific characteristics: few inhabitants, many ancient vineyards and a church in the centre with a very high tower paid for with the tithes from grapes. A case in point is Labastida (1,500 residents and a Baroque church), the cradle of modern wine-making technology thanks to a local cleric who brought the secrets of barrel-ageing wines from Bordeaux in the early 19th century. The former Bodegas Labastida cooperative has taken his name – Manuel Quintano – and his innovative spirit for its finest estate wines. The same village is home to Rolland & Galarreta, the wine crafted by French oenologist Michel Rolland and successful businessman Javier Ruiz de Galarreta, who have allowed themselves to be seduced by the area’s Tempranillo to create hand-harvested precision wines in which the most crucial thing is the painstaking selection of grapes.
Elvillar is even prettier and smaller, and its tower is even more remarkable: the village’s 350 inhabitants live on a hill around a church rising from the walls of a castle. Here, the Meruelo family founded the Lar de Paula winery when they left Aranda de Duero in search of higher and colder lands. Their aim was to produce elegant wines with acidity and a light and fresh touch of fruit. The Altos de Rioja winery also sought out high-growing grapes; its relatively small and carefully chosen production comes from 50 hectares of vineyard. Elvillar is a good starting point for exploring the area’s particularly rich prehistoric legacy. From the village, you can start with the Neolithic chabola de la Hechicera dolmen on its outskirts. Then you can follow a route that includes the La Cascada dolmen, the Alto de la Huesera dolmen, the Montecillo dolmen, the Encinal dolmen and the San Martín dolmen.
Between the neighbouring village of Villabuena de Álava, located in a lovely ,protected mountain valley, and Samaniego, a fantasy mediaeval royal burgh, Luis Cañas installed its most modern and boutique-type line, Amaren. From the beginning, its neighbour Baigorri drew attention by locating the winery inside a mountain excavated for the sole purpose of ensuring that the entire wine-making process was done by gravity and that the grapes and musts would fall from one area to another. Its mineral-rich garage wines and its powerful reds can be tasted at its restaurant, headed with a mould-breaking spirit by Uruguayan chef Maite Barruti. From the tables, guests can observe the barrel area, and its picture windows offer a spectacular panorama of the Ebro Valley and the Sierra de la Demanda.
The white and – above all – fruity, spicy and mineral Rueda Verdejo wines have experienced a meteoric rise in just over a decade. What was an almost local designation of origin became Spain’s number two (after Rioja) wine in sales volume, and brought a new image to Spanish whites. It was in this context that the Val de Vid project was created by the El Bierzo native José Antonio Merayo. In Serrada – although the vineyards are in La Seca, the best wine-growing area of the denomination of origin – he has created two brands. The first, Val de Vid, is creamy, mature and full-bodied, while the second, Eylo, is fresh and youthful. Complement your visit to the winery with a wonderful meal at La Botica de Matapozuelos, the Michelin-starred restaurant of Miguel Ángel de la Cruz located in a late-19th-century farmhouse. The chef, who carried on his father’s work running a grill restaurant, was the first in the area to base his inspiration and even his ingredients on the nearby pine trees, giving his cuisine a marked local flavour. Your visit to the area can be topped off by trips to Mota Castle in Medina del Campo and a stop in the town of Olmedo to see its Arab wall and several Mudejar churches.
3 Bizkaiko Txakolina
Chacolí of Vizcaya (Txakoli de Bizkaia) – which boasts a long and splendid history on the Cantabrian Sea that ended in decline – has been reborn in recent years since the creation of a designation of origin in 1994. The layout itself of the province’s rural areas, with traditional farmhouse-based villages stretched across hillsides, has heavily influenced the way Chacolí is made at the Gorka Izagirre winery, which has 29 vineyards spread across nine different locations. The wine rests on lees for three months and is a clear exponent of modern Vizcaya whites, which bring body and unctuousness to the traditional fresh and sharp Chacolís. The winery – on highlands in Larrabetzu, 20km from Bilbao – offers panoramic views of the Txorierri valley below. The top of the hill is home to Azurmendi, the restaurant headed by Eneko Atxa, Gorka’s nephew. In 2012, Eneko was the youngest chef to receive three Michelin stars. Today, he continues to investigate an intensity of flavours, while his philosophy of peacefully coexisting with nature, leveraging local resources and working together with artisan producers, has earned him the Repsol Guide’s Sustainable Sun. Your trip can continue right here in Larrabetzu, whose condensed historical centre is dotted with traditional mansions, some of which are Neoclassical, and other residences dating back to the 15th century. The Northern Way of the Way of St James (Camino de Santiago) passes through the village. It’s a good way to explore the local coast, parts of which have monuments and landscapes that heave earned recognition as World Heritage Sites, such as the one that runs between Markina and Gernika and ends in the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, opposite Ízaro Island.
4 Ribera del Duero
The Dominio de Cair winery has made a place for itself in this small and powerful Castilian designation of origin – whose fruity and aromatic wines have conquered the world – in the tiny village of La Aguilera (Burgos), among a landscape filled with pine trees and vineyards. Juan Luis Cañas’ project in the area is based on old (sometimes centuries-old) strains that produce few grapes but a lot of flavour. The winery offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the world of wine with experiences such as Living Wine in Its Origin, #Cairenlatentación and Tierras de Cair. In addition to a winery tour and an on-site tasting, it offers a tour of the forests and small vineyard plots of the La Aguilera landscape. To finish off this visit, you would do well to travel to the Baluarte de Soria restaurant, built by local chef Óscar García in what was an enormous barn two centuries ago. It offers a return to origins very much tied to the earth. Its cuisine – which has earned him a Michelin star – shines especially in the mycology section. This authentic festival of mushrooms in season is always dominated by Soria black truffle.
5 La Mancha
La Mancha wines, infamously known for being sold in bulk for decades, have shown again and again that the region can produce great wines. Proof of this is Bodegas Artero, with an oak-aged Macabeo-Verdejo that was recognised as the area’s best white, and a fruity and spicy red crianza with a bold coupage of 50-50 Merlot and Tempranillo. These elegant wines have an extraordinary quality/price ratio. Created by the Muñoz family in Noblejas (Toledo), they are protected under the label of DO La Mancha. Noblejas, with its sombre Castilian – almost Cubist – chapels, springs and caves, is a great place to take a stroll before reaching the nearby Ontígola (15 minutes away) to explore Oreja Castle. This historical tenth-century Muslim fortress atop a lonely hillock has a desolate and romantic air. If you want to continue the excursion north, monument-filled Chinchón and Aranjuez are must-sees. The latter is surrounded by vineyards and has a population of butterflies in its surroundings that amazes entomologists. Toledo’s most interesting restaurant, Iván Cerdeño’s El Cigarral del Ángel, is on the outskirts of the capital in a unique setting on the banks of the River Tagus, and with views of many of the city’s monuments. Cerdeño displays imagination in every dish, from his visual presentation to the creative way he reinterprets the classic cuisine of Toledo.
If Navarre’s wines date back to before it was a kingdom, Bodegas Irache can boast of having accompanied them along a big part of that path. Officially founded in 1891, its history begins back in the tenth century with the Benedictine monks who inhabited the monastery of the same name. They made wines to offer to pilgrims on the Way of St James. The fountain of wine that flows from its walls to be enjoyed by those on the Way has survived to this day. Every morning, it is filled with the fresh, young reds made by the winery, which also makes crianzas, rosés and whites with Chardonnay. As well as being one of the most important stages along the French Way, visitors can also take in various examples of beautiful Navarrese primitive Romanesque buildings, along with the Palacio de los Reyes de Navarra, the Iglesia de Santa María de Eunate and the monumental Puente la Reina historical centre, with its famous Romanesque bridge over the River Arga built by an anonymous queen of Navarre. In Pamplona, the Europa restaurant – headed by Pilar Idoate, who belongs to a long line of chefs and hoteliers – offers cuisine with Basque roots, seasonal Navarrese products and strong flavours in delicate textures. Enjoy her Michelin-starred restaurant just steps from Castillo Square and Estafeta Street, the heart of Pamplona.
Ablitas, in southern Navarre and just an hour from Irache or Pamplona, is home to the Pago de Cirsus winery. Alongside the winery, its spectacular Finca Bolandín offers a five-star hotel and its own restaurant set among vineyards and olive trees just 395m away.