Me-Oh-My, Better Finish That Wine!

I spent most of the train ride looking out the window. I love train rides in Spain. The AVE is a wonderful fast train that feels like a plane on Earth. It is comfortable, clean, and with inevitable great views of the country side.  Bradley and I were on an anniversary trip to a region of Spain I had been dying to see: La Rioja. My girlfriends and I almost always drink Rioja at the bars in Madrid. During my second year living in Spain, I became determined to go to the source.

2 El Ciego mural
Street art in Elciego 

 

Bradley and I were aware that this region was best explored by car. But because that was not something that was easily within our reach, we decided to go the “adventure” way. We arrived in Logroño (capital of La Rioja) around 9:00pm, and our previously booked taxi was waiting for us. We realized that the best place to stay for this car-less adventure was a small town called Elciego. So we paid 30€ to the taxi driver for a 30 minute ride to this town outside the city of Logroño. Our pensión was a last minute booking, far from memorable, but walking distance from our target winery: Marqués de Riscal.

13 off to taste.JPG

Waking up in Elciego the following morning was a fairytale. First of all, this was a day I designated to completely unplug from social media. Second, there was the blue vintage dress I was wearing. The one that makes me feel like I could be Belle’s cousin from Beauty and the Beast. Then there was the rain. The street had that wet glow, the cool air was nice and crisp, and the gray sky only highlighted the green mountains. In full anniversary mode, we held hands all the way to Marqués de Riscal where we had my favorite Spanish breakfast: a really black coffee and tortilla.

 

3 wake up hour.JPG
The winery’s café is a little expensive, but quite good. Try the  “rabas” (fried calamari) if you can. 

 

We booked a 90 minute tour of the winery, which included a small tasting. Tickets are 12€ and you can book them in person or online: http://www.marquesderiscal.com/seccion_menueng.php?a=44&tipo=N&id=393  As you will notice on their website, tours are offered in four languages and on a regular basis, every day.

9 where they ferment that awesome thing called wine

This winery was born in 1858 (one of the oldest in La Rioja), and since then it has grown to fame and prestige. In 2006 a luxury hotel was added, designed by renowned architect, Frank O. Gehry (who also designed the Guggenheim in Bilbao). Refer to There’s almost too much oxygen in the Basque Country. for more. The hotel offers special wine treatments at their spa, and its restaurant earned a Michelin star in 2011.

7 Marques de Riscal
The design is symbolic of Marques de Riscal wine: the silver is for the paper wrapping the cork, the gold is for the golden net that wraps the bottle, and the pink is for the red wine.

During the tour, we learned every step of how Marqués de Riscal wine goes from the grapevine to our bellies, even learning the three basic steps of wine tasting: seeing (the color and texture), smelling, and tasting. The tour guide was a lovely French girl with impeccable Spanish, and a love for wine Bradley and I appreciated.

 

5 vineyards and rain.JPG
Vineyards and Rain

 

One of the most interesting things I learned during this tour was the difference between caps and corks on wine bottles. We tried a wine of each, and our tour guide explained that caps are used if the wine did not spend a long time fermenting in the barrel. It is favorable to use a cap on young wines to keep any oxygen from getting in, which would happen with a cork. However, with older wines corks are favorable because the oxygen will improve the taste. In countries with a strong wine culture like Spain, France, and Italy, caps have not been well received because people view the wine as “cheap” or of “low quality.” In cultures like the United States, Mexico, and Paraguay, the cap has been well received because it is easier and more comfortable. I used to be one to judge a wine by its cap, and used to prefer the cork for “quality.” Now I prefer to judge a wine by its taste.

10 barriles de vino rico

We saw so many “undressed” bottles, a term used for bottles that have not been labeled yet. Labeling of the wine changes according to the regulations of each country, so bottles cannot be labeled until they know exactly where they are going. In Marqués de Riscal, 65% of the wine is exported and 35% stays in Spain.

12 unlabeled bottles of bliss

 

16 when you're tipsy by lunchtime in La Rioja
Patatas a la Riojana

After the tour, we went out for lunch in the only open restaurant in Elciego. We enjoyed a regional soup and another black coffee to recharge batteries. We walked off the food baby, and had the whole main square to ourselves on that lazy, gray Saturday during the “siesta” hours when everything shuts down. Because our bus back to Logroño was not until the evening, we decided to return to Marqués de Riscal in order to taste a couple more wines. We chose to drink a young red wine, and the most expensive on their menu to see if we could taste a difference. We did like the expensive one better, but that’s not to say the young wine was not good! Both tasted delicious.

 

21 happiness

 

24 Bradley asked a local if this was a real bus stop because it looked like no one has been here in years, hahaha
Sketchy bus stops, sketchy pension. 

Once in Logroño, we had a little scare with the pensión we booked online. Let me warn you about the Pensión La Estación near the bus station in Logroño. Our experience was sketchy: it is located in a regular building, with no sign on the door, and the woman that welcomed us was in her pj’s. The whole place smelled strongly of food, and though we had made a reservation online, the woman insisted that was not possible because all the rooms were booked and occupied. While we waited for her to make a call to the owner, Bradley and I decided to bail. We politely expressed our discontent with the place and service, and headed out without hesitation. Even if they had had a room available, my gut feeling was to get out of there. Honestly, hotels were not that much more expensive so it is not worth the savings to stay in a pension. Especially on our anniversary getaway!

 

We ended up finding what seemed like the only room available in Logroño, but thankfully we absolutely loved our hotel: Marqués de Vallejo. Their service was fantastic, the location is central, and the room was pretty wonderful. Check them out at http://www.hotelmarquesdevallejo.com

 

15 partners in wine
cheers to quality customer service

 

The few hours we spent in Logroño, we decided to walk down the famous Calle del Laurel. Because all Bradley and I really care about is eating well, we selected Letras de Laurel for our lunch spot. This is where I had the best asparagus I have ever tasted, and the chuleta dish that is typical of La Rioja. Something I LOVED about La Rioja cuisine is the wine salt they use for seasoning. It is purple, and adds unforgettable flavor to everything…like the asparagus dripped in fresh olive oil, and sprinkled with wine salt.

La Rioja is a great romantic spot for wine and food lovers. I would highly recommend it for a couple looking to get away, or a small group of friends wanting to relax. The prices are also friendly for those traveling of a budget, so don’t be afraid to splurge a little. I, for example, regret not buying that expensive wine salt when I had the chance at Marqués de Riscal. But do I regret buying a glass of their 150th anniversary wine…I think not. La Rioja is not necessarily the place where you will want to lose control, but it can certainly be the spot to give in and pamper yourself. And if you are up for it…you can even dine at the Michelin star restaurant.

Cheers.


 

DISCLAIMER: letsgosomewhere was created for my personal enjoyment and passion for travel writing. There is no business relationship between the places I recommend on my posts and myself. I am just a traveler who expresses her opinion freely.

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Me-Oh-My, Better Finish That Wine!

  1. Wow! So interesting to learn about the caps vs. corks and the labeling processing for bottles depending on their destination! I have spent years associating “screw tops” with crappy wine. I’m pleased to see that’s not always the case! I look forward to visiting La Rioja some day. I will keep your suggestions in mind! 🙂

    P.S. I ADORE that photo of you on Bradley’s lap. The way you are both so sincerely and candidly smiling and laughing melts my heart.

    Like

    1. Yes!!! Definitely honeymoon material!!! I would love to return as well, but staying at the luxury hotel. With Spain prices, if we are making U.S. dollars, it should not be an impossible dream! ❤ And I was happy to learn about cap vs. cork too! That doesn't have to determine what wine you get; it's just what is best for that wine. And let's be honest, when we had those cap bottles by the river in Budapest, it was amazing and easy!
      P.S. thank you! I want to frame this one when we get our place, for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

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