A riot of taste in La Rioja

A riot of taste in La Rioja

If you love Spanish cuisine, you’ll know that San Sebastian rightly garners much attention among foodies. And if culture’s your thing, nearby Bilbao is an up and coming city with much to offer, including its spectacular Guggenheim Museum. But, if it’s wine you’re after, head for La Rioja and the area around Logroño.

Less than two hours south of San Sebastian and four hours from Madrid, the capital of La Rioja region is charming, historic and lively. It’s also twinned with several places around the world, including Dunfermline. When it comes to a glass of something delicious, Logroño and the surrounding towns offer a host of wine bars and some interesting places to visit.

Haro, less than an hour along the road, is the venue for a wine fight – the Batalla del Vino – each June. This is a weekend-long event that largely consists of soaking other revellers with red wine using all manner of weapons from water pistols and buckets to sprayers. Haro also boasts numerous wineries. The town of Elciego is home to the Marques de Riscal winery. Opened to the public in 2006, it was designed by the renowned architect Frank Gehry. He created the building in colours that reflect the colours of wine – pink panels to resemble red, silver that is reminiscent of foil, and gold which is similar to the mesh on bottles from the winery. The complex includes a spa hotel and, of course, an impressive wine cellar. While that’s worth a visit, our tastes are a little more modest. Less frantic than the battle in Haro is the September wine festival in Logroño that celebrates the harvest. Nearby are many vineyards which produce high quality wines, mainly reds using the Tempranillo or Crianza grape, with Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano also featuring. Whites and rosés are less common but are gaining in popularity.

One of our favourite producers is Bodegas Altanza which is less than 10 miles outside Logroño. The architecture may be less ostentatious than Gehry’s construction, but it is nonetheless impressive and is well worth a visit if you’re in the area (advance booking required). This vineyard became a key player in 1998 when a group of businessmen decided to give La Rioja’s wines a boost. Their initial investment has allowed Altanza to claim an important place in the Spanish wine market and become a favourite in many other countries.

The head winemaker, Carlos Ferreiro, is a veteran whose eye for quality means he now focuses on producing top notch wines at various price points. The medium-bodied Crianza delivers a smooth, well-balanced wine that is strong in cherry and blackcurrant flavours, while the 2010 Tempranillo is a serious wine, matured in French oak and with flavours tobacco, toast, olives, and blackberries. The use of French oak barrels enhances the quality, and the determination to succeed by combining modern techniques and traditional values has delivered a series of great wines over the past decade or so. The vineyard also produces a light white made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes that is good value for money and showcases the quality of alternatives to the region’s red output.

Spanish wine is great with tapas or more hearty dishes. Señor Ferreiro’s skills mean there’s something at Altanza for most tastes.