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Spanish Wine Country Travel Guide

A grape-growing center since ancient Roman times, Spain is a gorgeous spot for a wine-and-food-fueled trip, with futuristic new hotels, avant-garde restaurants and medieval monasteries transformed into world-class wineries. Here's why you need to go now.

Spanish Wine Country: Rioja

For many people, Rioja conjures an image of old Spain—a sepia-tinted, dust-and-old-leather traditionalism. But Rioja these days has transcended that; it's a source for some of the world's top reds, many from wineries designed by architectural luminaries such as Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry. Located in north-central Spain, Rioja is bordered to the north and south by mountains, in essence making it a corridor where weather is defined by the push-pull of cool Atlantic and warm Mediterranean influences. That interplay gives Rioja's reds both grace and power. Of the three subregions—Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja—the best wines come from Alavesa and Alta, which is also one of the best areas to visit. The atmospheric Barrio de la Estación in Haro, in Rioja Alta, is home to some of Rioja's most historic wineries. And the old-town section of Logroño, also in Alta, is one of the best places in Spain for a late-night tapas crawl.

Hotel Viura in Rioja, Spain
Photo courtesy of Hotel Viura

Where to Stay in Rioja

Hotel Viura Next door to a 17th-century church, this design-forward hotel is one of the most striking new structures in Rioja: a stack of glass-fronted cubes set at rakish angles. Last year, the hotel added a wine shop and vinoteca, where winemakers from the region lead monthly tastings. Doubles from $150; hotelviura.com

Where to Eat in Rioja

Tondeluna Chef Francis Paniego earned Rioja's first Michelin star at his molecular-leaning El Portal de Echaurren. In 2011, he and his wife, Luisa Barrachina, opened this minimalist tapas bar in Logroño. Guests sit at communal blond-wood tables to sample his takes on northern Spanish classics. tondeluna.com

Wineries in Rioja

Cune This 134-year-old winery is one of Rioja's biggest and most famous, combining the old-school and the avant-garde in both its wines and architecture. It incorporates three wineries: one, built in Rioja Alta in 1879, produces the famed Imperial; a second, in Rioja Alavesa, launched in 1973; and the latest, which opened in Alavesa in 2004, is the new home of CUNE's elegant Viña Real wines. The Viña Real building is worth visiting for the architecture alone: It looks as though a giant wooden barrel landed right on the Cerro de la Mesa hillside. cvne.com

Roda Launched in 1987, Roda is a newcomer by Rioja standards. Built over 19th-century cellars, it's demure-looking and recalls an old-fashioned farmhouse. Inside, though, it's a high-tech facility producing polished reds made with grapes from 17 different vineyards. Guests can tour nearly every part of the winery, including a circa-1890 portion built by the Duke of Moctezuma. roda.es

R. López de Heredia The most visually arresting element of this 136-year-old Rioja Alta winery is its latest addition: a metallic decanter-shaped structure built by futuristic architect Zaha Hadid to house the wine shop and tasting room. But virtually everything else about R. López de Heredia is historic, and defiantly so. Its main winery headquarters is a clutch of 19th-century buildings with cobwebby cellars, and its winemakers age their classic, much-coveted wines for years, the whites taking on a dark-gold hue and a nutty aroma, and the reds acquiring complex aromas and layers of flavor. lopezdeheredia.com

Spanish Wine Country: Penedès

Spain’s Penedès region spreads inland from the Mediterranean coast less than an hour south of Barcelona, its rolling vineyards eventually bumping up against the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range and the saw-toothed peak of Montserrat. While Penedès produces a wide variety of wines, it is primarily known for cava, Spain’s signature sparkling wine. Whether from a producer as vast as Freixenet, which produces 140 million bottles each year (and has over seven miles of underground tunnels in which to store them), or from a boutique producer one one-hundreth that size, cava always offers distinctive lemon-lime flavors with a subtle earthy note—and a price that’s less than half that of comparable Champagnes.

Where to Stay in Penedès

Hotel MasTinell From above, the undulating blue and green tiles on the roof of this new winery hotel evoke a Gaudí sculpture; from the side, stacked wine bottles. Inside, guests can try seasonal Catalan cuisine from esteemed chef Jaume Balada of Mallorca's Plat d'Or. Another attraction: proximity to the artsy coastal town of Sitges. Doubles from $340; hotelmastinell.com

Where to Eat in Penedès

Roca Bar at Hotel Omm One of the not-to-miss new restaurants in Barcelona, about 45 minutes from Penedès, Roca Bar is run by the Roca brothers (Joan, Jordi and Josep) of the famed El Celler de Can Roca in Girona. Chef Felip Llufriu serves imaginative dishes—like artichokes with bergamot, and Spanish squash soup with pepitas—alongside classic tapas. hotelomm.es

Freixenet in Penedès, Spain
Photo courtesy of Freixenet

Wineries in Penedès

Freixenet Known for its black-bottled Cordon Negro brut, Freixenet is Spain's biggest cava producer. (It also owns the equally acclaimed cava house Segura Viudas and the California sparkling wine label Gloria Ferrer.) Its top wines, like the 2008 Brut Reserva, are some of the best cavas in Spain. Visitors who book in advance can take an intensive hour-and-a-half-long tour through the winery's 93-year-old cellars that ends, naturally, with samples of Freixenet in the tasting room. freixenet.es


Raventós i Blanc The Raventós family has been growing grapes since the 15th century; they founded the famed Codorníu winery in the 1800s, credited with making Spain's first cava. Flash forward to 1982, when the family sold that winery but continued making cava under the label Raventós i Blanc. Last year, the 21st-generation winemaker Pepe Raventós decided to stop calling his wines cava. Instead, he's trying to create a separate, more specific Denominación de Origen (DO)—a designation that imposes strict controls on wines from a specific area—named after the local Anoia River. Meanwhile, he's continuing to make refined sparkling wines that are surprisingly affordable, at under $25. Visitors who book in advance can visit the gorgeous Raventós i Blanc estate, full of oak trees overlooking the Garraf Massif mountains. raventos.com

Juvé y Camps From the vineyards at Juvé y Camps, it's easy to spot Santa María de Montserrat, the mountaintop Benedictine abbey often reputed to be the site of the Holy Grail. But the winery's grounds are a spectacular sight in their own right: The 1,250-acre property sits on green hills planted with olive groves and vineyards that have been growing cava varietals since 1796. The Juvé y Camps family founded the winery in 1921, and they still make all their wines—including their famed Reserva de la Familia cava and newer Brut Rosé—in a fairly traditional style, using estate-grown grapes. By the end of this year, they expect to have organic certification. The winery complex, redone in 1991, blends in with the area's red-roofed buildings and is open to guests who book in advance; the tours give a fascinating overview of winemaking history in this part of Spain. juveycamps.com

Spanish Wine Country: Ribera del Duero

Though it's in sunny Spain, Ribera del Duero is one of Europe's highest altitude wine regions, meaning that even in the height of summer, the nights are chilly. That translates to red wines with vivid acidity and powerful flavors—more muscular than the wines of Rioja, but no less balanced. And the region's austere beauty—the white-walled castle above Peñafiel, the dark medieval cellars, the rows of vines spread across the dry landscape—makes it a hauntingly memorable place to visit.

Where to Stay in Ribera del Duero

Hotel af Pesquera Winemaker Alejandro Fernández owns the Tinto Pesquera winery, whose intense, dark-fruited reds helped bring Ribera international acclaim in the 1980s. He transformed an early-1900s flour factory into this mod new hotel full of industrial references, like wood-beamed ceilings and stainless steel railings. Doubles from $190, hotelpesquera.com

Refectorio at Le Domaine in Ribera del Duero, Spain
Photo courtesy of The Refectorio at Le Domaine

Wineries in Ribera del Duero

Abadía Retuerta and Refectorio at Le Domaine Built in 1996 on the site of a medieval monastery where monks once planted grapevines, Abadía Retuerta has grown into one of the Ribera region's most prestigious wineries, producing a number of single-vineyard wines from its own estate. Among its best bottlings are the Pago Negralada and Pago Valdebellón cuvées, both aged for two years; also look for the lower-priced Selección Especial. The winery has expanded over the past year with its new Refectorio at Le Domaine restaurant, in Abadía's plush Le Domaine hotel. Superstar chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, who runs the astonishing Mugaritz, oversees the menu, working with Refectorio's head chef Pablo Montero to create spectacular dishes like guinea fowl with lobster oil. Guests sit in a former monks' commissary with a 1670 fresco of The Last Supper. abadia-retuerta.com

Pago de los Capellanes Known for its impressively complex but very fairly priced Crianza bottling (under $30), as well as its super-expensive top wine, El Picón, this 17-year-old winery is a study in geometry. Its main building is rectangular, with concrete arches and a trapezoidal wing that echoes the shape of the Cuesta Manvirgo mountain nearby. Everything is surrounded by 800-year-old walnut trees, a key reason the owners built on this site. pagodeloscapellanes.com

Protos When Protos launched in 1927, it was one of the first wineries in Ribera (its name means "first"). Since then, the winery has been making the austere style of Tempranillo that is the region's signature. But the building that star architect Richard Rogers built five years ago is anything but austere. Rogers designed its massive roof, made of long terra-cotta pieces, to attract visitors looking down from the Peñafiel Castle on the hill. bodegasprotos.com

Published October 2013
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