Updated: Sep 21
Rioja Alavesa, in the Northern part of Rioja wine country, is the only Rioja subregion that’s also in Spain’s Basque Country. The Basque region is an autonomous community, sort of like a country within a country. It has its own language, flag, unique cuisine, and cultural traditions. Unlike soccer teams elsewhere in Europe, one must be Basque to play on the local soccer team.
While Rioja Alavesa is the smallest of the three wine regions in Rioja, it is celebrated for its wine. Many of the wineries are charming, boutique family-run places.
We had a fantastic private tour of Rioja Alavesa with Jon of Northern Spain Gastronomy, who also guided us through Rioja Alta. Here are three terrific wine experiences in Rioja Alavesa we recommend. They were all very different, which made it a great combination.
Our first visit was to Bodegas Amaren, which is “of the mother” in Basque. The winery, in the village of Samaniego, is named after the owner’s mother. The underground cellar is from the 16th century, but the winery building is a more modern style. The winery also takes part in a grape variety recovery project through which more than 40 forgotten varietals that used to be grown in this area centuries ago have been recovered.
This was a memorable tour! We started with a welcome wine of Amaren barrel fermented 2020 😊😊.
We then toured the winery with wine in hand (we were also given around-the-neck wine holders), and stopped in the cellar to taste two 2022 wines right out of the barrel, still aging.
After that, we were escorted to a private tasting room overlooking the vineyards. We sampled, along with local cheese, bread, and charcuterie:
Angeles de Amaren 2016 😊😊
El Cristo de Samaniego de Amaren 2018 😊😊
Amaren Reserva 60 2011 😊😊+
The second winery we visited in Rioja Alavesa was Bodegas Murua, in the village of Elciego. The winery dates to the Middle Ages. Its tasting room is in a stately mansion, and is filled with beautiful artwork, old manuscripts, and wine literature.
After a tour of the vineyards, we enjoyed a private guided tasting of two of its signature
wines, accompanied by cheese and charcuterie. We sampled:
Blanco Fermentado en Barrica 2021 😊😊
Murua Reserva 2015, the winery’s crown jewel 😊😊
We then strolled through the beautiful Medieval village of Laguardia, the capital of Rioja Alavesa.
Bodegas Bai Gorri
The third winery we visited was Bodegas Bai Gorri. The winery, also in Samaniego, is situated at the top of a hill and is unusually designed to take advantage of its perch. Gravity plays a key role in the winery’s winemaking process. It looks like a great glass box. To get into the winery one enters on the ground floor and then takes an elevator down. We enjoyed a tour of the six underground floors of the winery.
We then sat down for a typical local Rioja lunch in the winery’s restaurant. The menu changes monthly; we savored cold cream of asparagus, tuna tataki in a creamy avocado and lemon sauce, moussaka roll with eggplant, Rioja style potato stew, lamb shank with roasted peppers, and goxua, a local dessert (goxua means “sweet” in Basque).
All of this fine food was paired with the winery’s premium wines. We sampled:
Rosé 2022 😊😊
Barrel-fermented white blend, 90% Viura 😊😊
Belus, 85% Mazuelo 2017 😊😊
Garnacha 2017 60-year-old vines 😊😊
De Garage 2017, 100% Tempranillo, 60-year-old vines 😊😊
We hope our three terrific wine experiences in Rioja Alavesa help you plan your trip to this wonderful wine region. Topa! ("cheers" in Basque: literally the glasses “find each other”)
Do you have any additional wineries in Rioja you recommend we visit? Let us know! We’re at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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