One the first things that hits you when you visit the Rioja region is the sheer quantity of wines available. There are over 600 Bodegas in Rioja and more than 14,000 wine makers at those bodegas. You could spend a life time drinking just Riojan wine and still not manage to try them all. It’s certainly an impossible task when you are there for only a few days.
As you travel around the Riojan countryside you pass a bodega every few minutes and each town and village has several at least. They all look fantastic and the majority are geared up for tourists and wine enthusiasts with reasonably priced offers of vineyard tours lasting about an hour and a half. Most will also have a shop and bar area where you can just drop in without a reservation during open times and try a glass of their wines for a reasonable price.
There are many guided tours on offer in the region but to be honest it is just as easy to go by yourself.
So the question is: how on earth do you choose which bodegas to visit and which wines to try from such a plethora of choice?
We decided to stay in the town of Haro. Partly because it is reknown as the epicentre of La Rioja and some of the best known wineries are there, but mainly because it has several bodegas all clustered together in an area known as the Station District. This meant we were able to visit these bodegas on foot without the need to drive. This is an important consideration when drinking alcohol as the two do not mix.
However even though we narrowed our selection down to just the Bodegas in Haro that still left at least ten to choose from each with several wine choices. Now here at The Honest Wine Drinker we love our wines but there is a limit to how many we can try before it becomes a task rather than a pleasure, so some ruthless decisions were needed.
First we decided to focus on red wines only, that is after all what Rioja is famous for. I did sneak in one quick white but a proper assessment of Riojan whites will have to be left for another day.
Then we took recommendations from others wine enthusiasts who had visited the area.
Finally we did a bar crawl in the old town area of Harradura in Haro. This small section of narrow cobbled streets houses a number of bars all serving the most delicious tapas. Every Thursday evening the bars offer a glass of Crianza Red Wine plus the tapa of the day for 2,50€. Each bar has a different tapa of the day, so a pleasant evening can be spent meandering from one to another trying the local Riojan food. We would highly recommend this as the food is delicious especially the grilled mushrooms and the red peppers stuffed with spicy meat.
All the bars stock most of the local wines and they will grab whichever bottle comes to hand. So by the end of the evening you will have tried a Crianza from a number of different bodegas. We were a few nights in Haro as we were touring the area by day, so during the trip we must have tried most of the intro level Crianza Reds available from Haro Bodegas. Now for the most part they were all pretty good. I was certainly happy to drink all of them. However whenever I tried one that I loved I wrote down the name of the bodega for a visit.
As our regular readers may know my preference is for fruit led reds, so for the curious amongst you here are my three favourites from the bar crawls:
- Dominio de ARVS Reserva by Bodega Virgen De la Vega
- Viña Real Crianza 2015 by Bodega CVNE
- Ramon Bilbao Crianza 2015 by Bodega Ramon Bilbao
Unfortunately the first one in that list, which was my favourite, I tried on the last night so was unable to visit the bodega. The bodegas we did visit were: CVNE, Muga, Gómez Cruzado, Rioja Alta and Ramon Bilbao. Tune in tomorrow to see what we thought of the bodegas.
Once you’ve narrowed down which bodegas you are going to visit and the fact you are drinking red wine only you are still left with a choice of Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. Plus some of the bodegas have more than one range of wine. After a slightly unsteady start I made the decision to try the Gran Reservas and top range wines only. These are the most expensive wines retailing at 60€ to 100€ a bottle. I am unlikely to buy these unless I’m certain I love the wine. It is rare to be able to try these wines by the glass as most bars and restaurants sell them by the bottle only. So this was my one opportunity. At the bodegas a full glass of these wines would set you back 7€ to 10€. Some have taster glasses at about half that price.