La Rioja is one of Spain’s Autonomous communities (similar to a state or province elsewhere) but Rioja is a region that is primarily situated in this Autonomous Community but also spills over into the Basque country, and it is divided in 3 distinct subregions: Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja.
Across this whole wine making region there are hundreds of local winemakers and deciding which to visit can be overwhelming, and even if you narrow it down to the top wineries, you might not know which ones are a must for you.
Undoubtably one of the more emblematic wineries of the region. Situated at foot of the Cantabrian mountain range, their main building was designed by the acclaimed architect Santiago Calatrava, who is also known for his design of the “Cuidad de las Artes y Ciencias” in Valencia. It was designed to mimic the surrounding mountain range. The offer a superb selection of wines and it is definitely a must see. Visiting Rioja wine country is a magical experience. From the vineyards, to the wine, to the food, it is undeniably a unique experience.
Haro was once the wine capital of the world and Lopez Heredia is one of the oldest wine makers in town. There are two very different halves to this winery: the old cellar that has been making wine since 1877 and is the embodiment of tradition and craftmanship and the new wine bar designed by the late Zaha Hadid where you can go to taste their delicious wine and take in the best of both worlds.
Also, in Haro you will find Roda and similarly to Lopez Heredia, it is one of the older wineries in the area. Built into the hill side, their ancient cellars wind snake like underground. Their tour of the cellar illustrates the old ways and tradition in Rioja wine making.
Muga might be one of the more famous makers, and for good reason. Also located in Haro, they offer a wide variety of visiting experiences which, although entertaining, are not what made this “bodega” famous amongst wine lovers. They offer some of the more highly regarded and well-known wines in the region.
In Villabuena de Álava we find Luis Cañas. It is a family own “bodega”, and they are proud of it. They opened their doors in 1928 during a turbulent time in Spain, but they have survived until this day thanks to their excellent product. They own their own vineyards, which isn’t very common in the Rioja region, and they have a very strict selection process for their grapes to produce their top wines.
Outside the medieval town of Laguardia is Viña Real cellar. You may not have heard of this this before brand but Cvne is probably much more familiar. This winery belongs to the bigger brand Cvne (Compañia Vinícola del Norte de España) which has been in business since 1920. Their new modernized main building was designed by Phillipe Mazieras, and it stands out thanks to their gravity-based production method and it has a privileged view of the valley.
Another family owned winery and also outside of Laguardia is Eguren Ugarte. The Basque people are known to be a tough and hard-working bunch and this certainly true when talking about the Eguren Ugarte family. Their antique cellars spread out underground for over 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) and their family own vineyards (again a rarity) are over 100 years old. Truly a testament to resilience, dedication and tradition.
Perhaps the most well know winery in the region, Marués de Riscal is an astonishing blend of innovation and design and respect for the old ways. Located in Elciego, the hotel located on the property is the most iconic sight, perhaps, in all of rioja. Desinged by Frank Gehry, the mind behind the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, it is must see when in Rioja.But the winery isn’t just flare and design. Marqués de Riscal has been making wine since the eighteen hundreds and is widely considered one of the best wines in Rioja.
Bodegas Ostatu is yet another family operated winery that has been in operation since the nineteen sixties, located in the town of Samaniego. The actual cellar is attached to the old family mansion and it is another good example of the blend of the old and the new that is so prevalent in Rioja.
Also in Samaniego, and very close to Ostatu is Baigorri. Baigorri winery is another architectural masterpiece you can find in Rioja. Designed by Iñaki Aspiazu the cellar sits on top of a hill and travels deep underground. This distribution allows it to use gravity-based methods to produce their wine and it’s a meticulously designed piece of engineering.