La Rioja is a breathtaking wine region situated in the Cantabria Mountains of northern Spain. It's best known for spectacular red wines, though amazing white wines are also produced there. La Rioja has a unique mix of history and modernity. You can visit a family winery that has been producing wine for hundreds of years in the caves of the walled city of Laguardia, or visit modern wineries with extraordinary displays of architecture and state-of-the-art wine-making processes.
With an abundance of great choices, it can be overwhelming to decide which wineries to visit. In order to have an authentic and unforgettable experience in the region, here is a quick guide to my top winery picks in La Rioja.
Bodegas Miguel Merino
Bodegas Miguel Merino is a very small winery that is only about 20 years old, located in the picturesque hilltop town of Briones. It’s worth visiting Briones just for the views of the vineyards and mountains. We were lucky to visit the winery when Mr. Merino himself was running the tasting. As such, we learned more about his personal history. Mr. Merino’s interest in wine began when he was a wine exporter. As his interest in wine grew, he decided he wanted to open a very small winery.
He had some friends visiting, so we tasted with them and tried some special wines not on the tasting menu. It was so fun tasting with him and a much different experience than some of the big bodegas. My favorite wine there was a Reserva made in the traditional style of Miguel the owner. It was aged in American oak, full of vanilla flavors. The Grand Riserva was also wonderful.
One fun fact we learned at Bodegas Miguel Merino was how they categorize grapes: as heaven, purgatory, or hell. Only heaven grapes are used to make the wines that they sell, and hell grapes are used only to make cheap wine for their own consumption. I thought that was such a fun way to explain their winemaking process!
Remelluri is another small family winery. They have an amazing tour that explains the rich history of the vineyards and the property. You can visit a tiny chapel on the vineyard's property that was restored by the owners when they bought the property in the 1960s.
The tasting follows the tour in a very pretty house with floor to ceiling windows to view the vineyard. Along with the tasting, you are served bread, olive oil, cheese, and olives – a very nice spread! We tasted two wines, a Crianza and a Reserva. Both were good, but I preferred the Reserva. As they leave the bottles on the table for you, the tastings are very generous and you can go back and taste the wines a second time.
Remelluri has gorgeous views and many trails you could hike on. There was 1.5-hour hike up to ancient ruins of a church. We would have loved to spend all afternoon there hiking. Unfortunately, we were on a schedule for a lunch reservation. If you go, plan to spend an entire afternoon visiting.
Marques de Murrietta
Marques de Murrietta is a family-run winery that has been around since the 1850s. It was one of our favorite wineries based solely off of the quality of the wine. We had not scheduled a tour in advance (which is necessary), but they were very accommodating in creating a tasting for us. The tasting had various options, but we elected to try all of the wines. I liked them all, but the Reserva was my favorite, followed by the Grand Reserva and the Rose. If you go, make sure to schedule a tour in advance as you can explore vineyards and the historical castle.
Eguren Ugarte is a sixth generation family-run winery with a hotel on the property (where my husband and I stayed during our trip to La Rioja). The winery tour was the most interesting of all the tours we took. The tour takes you through over 2000 meters of hand dug wine caves. They show you many little “closets” carved into the stone where they store clients’ wine. If you store your wine there and have purchased enough, they also have rooms in the caves where you can come and drink with friends. It’s certainly the coolest wine club I’ve ever heard of!
We tasted three wines, a Moscato, a Crianza and a Reserva and were also given a tasty pintxo to enjoy alongside. I was surprised by the Moscato and enjoyed it despite the sweetness. Of all three wines, I preferred the Reserva.
Bodegas Baigorri is a very modern vineyard that is impossible to miss when you are driving through La Rioja due to the astounding architecture. The winery is built into the side of a hill, so though it looks small from the entrance, it has many floors. They use an gravitational technique in their winemaking which is fascinating to learn about.
We decided to forego a tour at Baigorri in favor of a five-course lunch with wine pairings (for only 45 euros!). The food was exceptional and we were given a glass of rose wine, followed by full bottles of one white wine and two red wines. The floor to ceiling windows in the restaurant allowed us to have a beautiful view of the vineyards as we enjoyed our lunch and tasted all the wines. My favorite wines were the Rose and Reserva.
I would highly recommend making a lunch reservation to experience Baigorri, and if time permits, schedule a tour before your lunch.
There are many other fabulous wineries in La Rioja. If you want to stay in one place and not drive, check out the town of Haro where there are 17 wineries, many within walking distance of the center of town. We visited a few wineries there (our favorite was Bodegas Roda) but wished we had more time to explore. Overall, we loved every minute we spent in Rioja and would go back in a heartbeat! I would recommend a trip of at least three days to get a good taste of the region.