In northeastern Spain, along the Ebro River, is one of the world’s greatest wine growing regions, Rioja. This region of Iberia is home to some of the greatest wines, winemakers, and wine houses in the world.
It offers outstanding wines, wonderful foods, and a culture deeply rooted in history.
Holiday in Rioja
The region has scores of wineries and nearly as many tour options. For those of us who prefer to go it alone, there are self-guided wine tours. You can travel by bus or car to the wineries, take a brief, English-language tour, then taste wines and foods.
Many of the wine tours of Rioja are designed to be one day tours. You can stay in wine country and travel to a different part of the region each day, getting a complete sense of the wine culture and tastes.
One tour starts at the bus station in Haro, the wine epicentre of Rioja. From there, you walk to two wineries where you are given a tour and taste of about half a dozen wines. There are plenty of restaurants for lunch and the streets are simply wonderful to walk around in.
Discover By Yourself
One of the more interesting ways to tour wine country is to simply take yourself around. The Asociación para la Promoción del Turismo y la Economía Ruta del Vino de Rioja Alavesa offers, on their website www.spain.info/en, an incredible list of vineyards and a map of the region so that you can plan your own holiday.
Some of the highlighted vineyards include:
There are dozens more wineries, vineyards, and wine cellars to be visited, each welcoming visitors to experience the wines and relax in the beautiful environment.
A Very Brief History of Wine in Rioja
The first wine production in Rioja began with the Phoenicians in the 11th century BC. As they traveled up the Ebro River, they left behind small settlements. Many of these settlements show evidence vineyards and winemaking.
Later, nearly 1,000 years, the Romans produced wine in the region. The Roman troops that remained in the region wanted wine and the climate and soils of Rioja were perfect for massive wine production. One cistern that was excavated in the region was capable of holding over 75,000 litres of wine. Roger Dion, a wine historian, believes that cuttings from Bordeaux were brought to the region and were cultivated in Rioja.
The Middle Ages
Throughout the Middle Ages, wine production continued. There is evidence of the commercial export of wines from the region as early as the 13th century. The pilgrimage route of el Camino de Santiago brought thousands to the region who tasted the wines and returned home to praise the quality.
In the mid-19th century, the phylloxera epidemic brought the French winemaking industry to its knees. French wine houses, hoping to hang onto some portion of their commercial markets, began production in Rioja. The boom in Rioja lasted until the 1890’s when a cure for the epidemic was discovered.
In the past century, Rioja has become the most recognisable name for Spanish wines that the quality has been acknowledged around the world. The affordability of travel in the Rioja region, the proliferation of wineries, and the ease of travel from much of Europe has made it a favourite place to journey to.
A wine holiday in Rioja is an experience the every wine aficionado should experience. The wonderful people in the region only make the wine better. The incredibly deep history that the region has that includes winemaking by invaders and locals alike are a testament to the quality of the soil and the climate to produce outstanding wines.