La Rioja

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For my 30th birthday, we planned to rent a car and explore the La Rioja wine region of Spain.  On our way there, we made a stop at a restaurant that I had been at the top of my “someday-if-I’m-lucky” list for years.  Asador Etxebarri, a small country house that is in the middle of nowhere, and is known for having absolutely the best grilled food in the world.  Chef Victor Arguinzoniz makes all of his own charcoal, using woods that are appropriate for different foods.  He also invented most of the tools that he uses in his kitchen.  The result is a variety of foods, most of which I never knew could be grilled (watermelon juice, goat’s milk butter, cherry tomatoes, sea cucumber, even ice cream and cake!) and several classics like oysters, prawns, and of course steak.  Everything was insanely good, but the best part was that somehow Amanda had arranged for me to take a tour of the kitchen and meet the man himself!  Victor showed us where and how he made all the charcoal and cooked the food, then he even bought us a round of Cava (Spanish Champagne).  All in all, we spent about 4 hours there, and after leaving, extremely full,  from one of the best meals of our lives,  we made our way down to a little pueblo (village) called Zaraton in the middle wine country.

One of the cool things about La Rioja, (and Spain in general) is that you can stay in some amazing historic buildings for really cheap.  We picked a place in Zaraton called Palacio  de Casafuerta that was formerly a 16th century Palace.  It was run by a really nice older couple that still spent their days in the fields picking grapes to make their own private wine (of which we bought some bottles for a few euros).  They spoke zero English but we were able to get by with my limited Spanish and Google Translate.  They gave us a tour of the property including the 500 year-old wine cellar beneath the property.

We spent our first full day in La Rioja driving around the stunningly beautiful countryside, visiting bodegas (wineries) and eating tapas made from all of the fresh local produce and meat.  An interesting thing about the bodegas that you might not expect if you are coming from California, is that they all require advance reservation.  As long as you email ahead though (most speak enough English to understand and offer English language tours/tastings), you shouldn’t have any trouble.  We visited Ysios (beautiful modern architecture, wine was so-so), Vina Real (makers of Cune which we like in the US), and  Marques de Riscal (beautiful modern architecture by Frank Gehry, the architect of the Guggenheim.  Decent wine).

That night, we went to a restaurant called Escaray in Echaurren.  This was a Michelin starred restaurant and the owner, Felix,  was still serving us!  We struck up a conversation and learned that his brother was the chef and it was still a family run business.  I had ordered a random bottle of Ihlaba wine because it looked affordable, and Felix came over, complemented the choice, and bought us special nearly unobtainable glasses of a Muga wine because the owner of the bodega happened to be dining there that night with several other famous chefs and bodega owners!  He drew us a map with all of his favorite places in northern Spain on it, and then gave me his personal booklet annotated booklet of regional wines.  Gotta live that hospitality!

On our last day in the region we went be La Rioja Alta which ended up being our favorite wine.  They are one of the few that still uses their own cooper to make barrels.  We really enjoyed the Gran Reserva 904 and it only cost about $20.  Our last stop on the way out of town was Bodegas Baigorri.  It was built mostly underground and the super modern industrial design made it look kind of like a super villain’s secret lair.  The wine was pretty good, but it was another one of the bodegas where the architecture was really the star, though the lunch was quite memorable with a view over the vineyard.  We were sad to leave La Rioja, but it was without a doubt one of favorite wine tasting experiences, and it helped create an absolutely incredible 30th birthday weekend.

  • Village near Etxebarri
  • Etxebarri menu
  • Etxebarri steak
  • Palacio de Casafuertes
  • Ysios
  • Ysios
  • Ysios
  • Shooting Ysios
  • Ysios Winery
  • In Wine There is Truth
  • Bar Angels
  • So Many Barrels
  • LaRioja-13
  • LaRioja-14
  • The Decapitator
  • Marques De Riscal
  • Chillin in Rioja
  • Cellar of Our Hotel
  • Dioni and Yolanda
  • Infinite Wine
  • Gran Reserva 904: Our Favorite
  • LaRioja-22
  • LaRioja-23
  • Shooting Infinite Wine
  • Infinite Wine
  • Infinite Wine
  • Hand Selecting the Grapes
  • Bodegas Baigorri
  • Wine!
  • Bodegas Baigorri
  • Bodegas Baigorri
  • Hanging out after tasting at Bodegas Baigorri
  • Hanging out after tasting at Bodegas Baigorri
  • Hanging out after tasting at Bodegas Baigorri

Posted: January 22, 2013

Author: Adam and Amanda

Category: Blog, Continents, Europe, Spain

+1 Comment
  1. Santiago says:

    First time I come here and you are in my favourite Bodega! 904 is probably my favourite wine! Enjoy it!

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