The Perfect Day in the Rioja Wine Region
Over the past two years we’ve traveled a LOT. Despite exploring many unique “off-the-beaten-track” regions we were never “wowed” by anything. We loved a lot of places, but never visited a place that we were 100% certain we would be back. Enter Spain. I’m gutted that we waited until our last month in Europe to explore this beautiful country, but I’m now 110% sure that we will be back to Spain in the near future. We only visited the Basque region in northern Spain, but absolutely fell in LOVE. Luckily we prioritized the Rioja wine region on our visit and couldn’t be more pumped to share with you our amazing day hopping between wineries (bodegas) in this beautiful region. Get ready to explore one of the best wine regions in the world!
What’s in this post?
“My life is 50% wondering if it’s too late to drink coffee and 50% wondering if it’s too early to drink wine.”
Where to visit
The Rioja region is made up of four very different regions. This particular post focuses on the Rioja Alavesa region which is a short drive away from Bilbao or San Sebastian international airports. We stayed in the village of Elciego in an amazing bodega turned rural accommodation and highly recommend this option. There are a number of other options that we found on Agoda in the region as well if Agroturismo Valdelana happens to be booked.
When to visit
The weather is fairly mild in this region year-round with crisp, cool mornings and warmer days. In January (the coldest month) the average high is around 50 F and in August the highs range from the mid 80s to 90s. The wettest month is November and we were specifically told to avoid this month. Keep in mind that most hotels that we looked at have A/C, but its a unit, not central A/C. This means that if you aren’t near the unit it can take quite some time to cool down. To beat the high season (and the heat!) we went in late May and had perfect weather — shining sun and mid 70s with cooler nights so not having consistent A/C wasn’t a big deal.
How to get around
We drove everywhere, but if you are going to drink at every winery we talk about in this blog it’s probably better to hire a driver for the day (don’t drink and drive!). I was the designated driver during our trip and had a few sips at every winery and ate bread at every single one, but if you want to fully enjoy your day hiring someone is probably worthwhile. When we were looking at the region we found Wine Tourism Spain to have the best options for visiting Rioja.
Wineries to Visit
Now for the best part — the amazing wineries! I’m going to detail the three we visited during our day, tell you who will love each tour, give each of our ratings for the tours, AND give you two bonus wineries to round out the perfect day!
Pro Tip: Be sure to reach out to all of the wineries you want to visit before you book your trip to ensure that they have tastings on the days and times you want to visit.
Map of the wineries
Who will love this tour? — Winos into history
Danielle’s rating — 8/10
Drew’s rating — 9/10
Have you ever been to a winery museum? No? Until Bodegas Valdelana me either! We were in awe as we toured around this beautiful bodega complete not only with a tour of the history of wine in Rioja, but archaeological remains from the region! Learning about the history of the Valdelana family and the region was enough to make this tour more than worth it. Add in a few wine tastings where we were taught how to be proper winos — this tour was my version of perfection. Plus, you can stay in the little rural house attached to the bodega for the perfect place to base yourself during your visit. Who wouldn’t want a winery tour and tasting right after breakfast?
Who will love this tour? — Easy drinking wine lovers who enjoy a good dose of family ties
Danielle’s rating — 10/10
Drew’s rating — 11/10
Full disclosure — we love family-run businesses, hence our focus on “local” on the blog. Bodegas Ruiz de Viñaspre is a family-run winery through and through and we fell in LOVE with this gorgeous facility, family, and wines! Jaoine (the daughter of the owner) gave us a tour of the facility and as she spoke about the process of making the wines you could literally feel the passion come out in her voice. A few things that I loved about this family winery:
- The owner still goes out to the vineyards to inspect them and make sure everything is up to par for their high quality wines.
- The family sticks to their roots and is very focused on making high quality wines without selling out to the larger mass-producing wineries in the region.
- They care about their customers. Fun fact — Ruiz de Viñaspre is a hard name to pronounce for non-Basque-speaking people. To combat the difficult pronunciation and subsequent lower brand quality they redesigned their logo to make sure that people around the world would be able to pronounce their brand and purchase it!
After touring the facility we were brought to the gorgeous tasting room to taste a few of the wines and chat more with Jaoine. As we sat around the table with Jaoine we felt like we were chatting with an old friend about life. The connection that Jaoine quickly built with us (and I’m sure with all of her customers) was unlike any other we had ever experienced with any other tour. If it wasn’t for our next tour we could have sat all day and chatted with her. The pride she and her family have in the wine they are producing resonated throughout the entire winery (and wines!) and we couldn’t help but be inspired by this amazing family. If (and when!) we are back in this region you can bet we will pay Jaoine and the Ruiz de Viñaspre family a visit!
Who will love this tour? — The slow aged wine drinker with a photography-loving bone
Danielle’s rating — 7/10
Drew’s rating — 7/10
After seeing a picture of this beautiful winery on EuskoGuide, our main source of truth for planning our trip to the Basque region of Spain, I knew we had to go. Seeing it in person did not disappoint. I was in AWE. So, why didn’t it score over a 7/10? We loved this winery and the photogenic exterior and interior, but the tour itself was much less personal than the others (which we expected!). Because Ysios is not a family-run winery and produces a much larger volume of wine per year compared to the other two tours it lacked that sense of “family” compared to the other two bodegas. Despite the larger scale of the building and winery, it was well worth the time to visit and we would do it all over again! Seeing an architectural wonder like Ysios was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Plus, the wines themselves were amazing! We had a reserve wine and are now very tempted to sign up for their wine club because we loved it so much. If you’re in the region and like photography Ysios is a must-see.
Who will love this tour? — The wino who wants an all-encompassing experience with strong family ties
I found this winery a few days before our visit and was devastated when I learned that we wouldn’t have time to visit. The winery is not only family-run (four generations!), but also has a beautiful location complete with a museum, wine tastings, and a wine cellar. You could spend an entire day out here at this one winery if you wanted to (and we might next time!). Only 20 minutes away from the other wineries Dinastia Vivanco should be added to any wine-lovers must-do list.
Who will love this tour? — Cave loving wine drinkers
When we were deciding where to stay during our visit we went back and forth between Hotel Eguren Ugarte and Bodegas Valdelana and because we were on a budget chose the latter. Eguren Ugarte offers tours of their winery and bodega which has a 2km network of underground caverns! We ran out of time to visit during our trip, but when we’re back in the region we’ll be sure to stop by! We’ve heard nothing but good things about this beautiful family-run winery.
Boots not Roots Tried and True Tips
- Don’t try to plan too much — doing all 5 of these wineries in one day is probably too much. If you want to see all of these wineries leave yourself 1.5-2 days to truly enjoy the region.
- Bring snacks — lots of them! This is particularly true if you don’t eat sausage since most of the tours we went on had a platter of sausage and bread to go with the tastings. I don’t eat pork or beef and was STARVING by the time we got to our next destination at the end of the day. To top if off most restaurants in the region close from 4 p.m – 9 p.m. and reopen for dinner in between 9-10 p.m. meaning I did eat a five course meal at the end of the day without hesitation. Lesson learned — bring carb-heavy snacks to help absorb all of the wine.
- Eat in Laguardia and don’t miss exploring this walled in city — After reading through the EuskoGuide on Laguardia we decided to explore the night before our winery tours and fell in love with this tiny town! There are lots of nice restaurants so be sure to check out one or two while exploring (but remember they all will close after lunch for their siesta!).
- Enjoy yourself and the beautiful surroundings — The Rioja wine region wowed us. Out of all of the trips we did this year this was one of our favorite regions. The people are kind, the scenery is beautiful, and the food and wine are unbelievably tasty. Get comfortable, sip in the surroundings (and wine!), and enjoy yourself!