I used to work in the wine industry and through that I sampled loads of nice wine, however it was not until I tasted a bottle of Marques de Riscal 1996 Grand Reserva that things really changed for me.
This was not nice wine, this was an extraordinary creation, made with only love, smelling of one thing and tasting of another, with a smoothness that I have only experienced a few times since. This was the start of my love affair with Rioja, one which was to culminate in visiting the region and getting to understand it a bit better.
We took the Macs Adventure La Rioja Vineyards and Villages trip, combining a love for cycling with a love for wine. The route led us through the white paths that wind between the vineyards, dotted with wineries all ripe for visiting. We regularly passed through tiny, beautiful villages following our trusty GPS that was provided and the attention to detail on the route became startlingly apparent. Taking a brief look at the screen you think, ‘why is it taking me this way?’ but the route is designed so that each village reveals it’s secrets, seeing their breathtaking church or town square, adding to your appreciation of the side of La Rioja that is not about wine.
The route is not too difficult or long, so we had plenty of time to take these stops and lunch at our leisure. As well as the wine region, this trip explores the other side of Rioja, the more agricultural side, which is similarly beautiful and exposes a whole different side to the area.
The main towns are also amazing and as we wandered around them at night we become enchanted. That faded charm that some present, the crumbling but loved architecture of the backstreets of Haro or the sheer beauty of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. You immediately felt comfortable, welcomed and entranced. But what these towns also present is food. Oh, the food!
The pintxo culture of the north of Spain is better known in the Basque Country, but it is thriving, though more traditional in La Rioja. The bars have such an array of enticing and delicious little snacks that actually having a sit-down meal is something that we only managed once in the whole trip. Stuffed peppers, squid tempura, pigs ears, they just kept tempting us in night after night, standing by a bar for dinner rather than sitting on a seat. Even the average food was lovely and the fact that on the chalkboards above you are 30 different Riojas for you to sample wasn’t bad either.
It goes without saying that we tasted some outstanding wines, but the trip was not about the wine, more the culture and passion that surround it and how the wine is integrated in everyday life. It was the deep love that the people in the wineries showed for what they did, it was the way that the grape skins and seeds were reused in the land and even the dry vines that filter the large vats of wine are used for cooking. La Rioja absorbed us. Its relaxed and joyful way of life was inspiring and we were welcomed into it wholeheartedly.
To cycle through Rioja was a dream come true and I couldn’t urge you enough to give it a try for yourself. For more information on the Vineyards and Villages of Rioja, don’t hesitate to visit our website or pop an email to one of our specialists.