Rioja is one of those wines many people seem to have a soft spot in their hearts for, knowing it as a warming, soft oaky red wine, ideal to drink in winter a cosy wine bar with a plate of stew. But there’s much more to La Rioja in Spain than that and Tom Perry, an American who has lived in the region for 25 years, is just the person to show you what makes this region special. When he was head of the Rioja Wine Exporters Association, a post he left last year, I was part of a group of UK wine educators visiting Rioja for a few days and he created an insightful and educational programme for us.
On our visit to Rioja, just over four years ago, the fascinating Dinastiá Vivanco wine museum had only just opened, and the new Frank Gehry-designed hotel at the old Marqués de Riscal winery was simply an architect’s model. Much is happening in the region as it realizes the potential of wine tourism.
I was delighted when Tom agreed to write the two wine travel guides to Rioja and he’s done a great job in his recommendations, focusing on wineries that welcome visitors, the most central and interesting places to stay for a wine tour in the region, and restaurants and shops with a real local wine focus. Here’s an excerpt from the ‘Around Haro’ guide about taking a ‘tapas crawl’:
La Herradura is the area of Haro where the town’s tapas bars are located in the old town around Calle Santo Tomás. The street is called ‘la senda de los elefantes’, or the elephants’ path, because the Spanish word for an elephant’s trunks is trompa, which also means ‘tipsy’. Tapas-hopping is a way of life in northern Spain, when friends meet to go from bar to bar ordering a glass of wine or beer along with a bit of food. Each person in the party is supposed to pay for a round. With large groups, everyone puts a few Euros into the kitty and the fun lasts until the money runs out! Recommended places to visit are Mesón los Berones, Bremen and Bar Los Caños, on a small square off Calle Santo Tomás. There are also several bars on the Plaza de la Paz, notably the Café Suizo.
Our two Rioja guides bring to 50 the number of travel guides to wine regions, all of which go through a regular updating process. These 50 guides each cover a bite-sized chunk of larger wine regions. When looked at in PDF form, the 50 guides cover more than 600 pages and have around 1250 recommendations of wine producers to visit, places to stay, eat and shop, and attractions, all selected by writers with insider knowledge about their regions. Do take a look at the website and if you are planning a private wine tour this year, subscribe – the guides will save you a lot of research time and will be a great companion on your wine travels.