Rioja 2015, updated October 8th

Rioja, 20th – 25th September, 2015

Twenty-five of our members were joined by sixteen from neighbouring Aughton and Ormskirk for our trip to Logroño, the capital of the autonomous community known as La Rioja, for the festival of San Mateo (wine harvest). After an early start we arrived at our hotel at around 12:30, dumped our luggage, & embarked on a short orientation walk to the Information Centre and the ‘Route of the Elephant’ – a four block area of narrow streets and alleyways with over 50 tapas bars and restaurants. These were to be our haunts during our free time in the week.

Throughout our stay, there were organised events in the city; a barbecue in the Cathedral Square, marching bands, staged musical events, bullfights, processions of locals in traditional dress and late-night fireworks displays. However, the trip was organised around a suggestion from Rafa Perez, a local winery owner, that we might like to repeat a visit to his winery we first made in 2011, so inevitably, that, along with a second winery visit, became the main focus.

The first of these was to the village of Eltziego and the Marques de Riscal winery and adjacent Frank Lehry designed hotel. We stopped en-route for coffee at Laguardia, a hilltop village with sculptures of shoes and handbags, and an interesting clock. The tour of the hotel grounds and winery was a slick affair with video presentations hosted by a PR lady in a smart corporate uniform. We tasted two of their wines – an aromatic white, (sadly, not a white Rioja but a Verdejo from their winery in Rueda), and a red Crianza. After leaving the winery, we retired to a local restaurant appropriately named ’La Cueva’ (Cave), for a somewhat noisy lunch of local specialities.

The visit to Vallemayor in the village of FuenMayor could not have been more different. After calling at Haro for coffee, we were met by Rafa, taken through a large loading bay door into a large warehouse, and escorted round various parts of the plant. The all-pervading aroma of quietly fermenting grape juice, pools of cooling water from the fermentation tanks, and Rafa’s infectious delivery fired with his obvious passion for his wines reminded us that this was ‘the sharp end’. After the tour, Rafa joined us in a local restaurant and hosted a tutored tasting of two of his wines – a white Rioja made from the Viura grape (aka Macabeo), and a red Crianza made from Tempranillo, Mazuelo (aka Carignan) and Graciano. Unusually, Garnacha is not included in the blend but reserved instead for Rafa’s Rosé.

We left Logroño after breakfast on the Friday morning for our journey home. We had time for a three-hour break in Bilbao to ‘admire’ another Frank Gehry creation, the Guggenheim Museum, grab a bite to eat, and watch rehearsals for the Red Bull World Championship Diving Competition due to take place the following day.

After an otherwise uneventful journey, we arrived back in the Upholland area at around 7:30 pm.