I’ll be the first to admit that I can only take so much wine while on a business trip. After awhile, my eyes glaze over and I feel an intense craving to either down a gin and tonic, or at the very least, stay as far as humanly possible from a fermentation tank. And god forbid if I actually start dreaming about wine, like having the winemaker lecturing me on whether one should place a single row of grapes in a bin during harvest or two. Then, there is that one nightmare where I’m chained to a long wooden table adhering labels to each bottle as a raspy female voice sounds over a speaker, “You now have 981,872 labels remaining…you now have 981,871 labels remaining… Yeah, that’s when you know that you’ve visited one too many wineries in a day!
However, over the years, I have realized that it is not so much wine that I tire of, but it’s the way in which I am enjoying it. Sitting in a tasting room with a notebook in hand and my glasses propped low on my nose, a potentially remarkable wine loses its magic. It becomes something sterile and empty, one of the millions. Something I analyze and critique with the winemaker anxiously sitting in front of me wondering if I am giving his liquid child an “A” for stellar quality or an “F” for pure plonk. And when scheduling three wineries a day, this process can get tedious rather quickly.
Hence, on our last trip to Rioja, we decided to start incorporating new ways in which we could enjoy Spanish wine, rather than solely in restaurants, cafes or wineries. However, because our time was rather limited, we couldn’t explore the numerous opportunities we discovered in our research; however, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t benefit from some of our great finds! Here are the top six ways we suggest you break out of your traditional wine consumption habits to partake in a little adventure:
Imagine a stable overlooking a rushing river in the middle of the mountains. Beautiful horses neighing in the distance, the smell of fresh green grass and crisp mountain air, life just doesn’t get better. Having built both the stable and his house from the ground up, Oscar Ferrer Garcia is what you might refer to as the “Spanish Horse Whisperer“. Wearing jeans, boots and a floppy wide-rimmed leather hat, Oscar looks as if he belongs more in the mountains of Montana than La Rioja, but brilliant eyes and big smile immediately put even the most horse weary at ease. Without a lesson or a word of advice, Oscar put on our respective horses and began our journey. We spend the better half of a day basking in the sun, feeling our horses sway back and forth like a boat slowly rocking in the waves, and savoring the beautiful vistas. The sensation of the horses gate, that gentle back and forth, is mesmerizing and intoxicating. And despite the fact that my horse was keen on throwing his head back every two minutes, aiming his plentiful spit in my face – whereby having us exchange some rather choice words – I absolutely loved it. My only wish is that we had packed a lunch to enjoy on the mountain tops, sipping our wine against the brilliant blue backdrop. Well, there’s always a next time! For more information, call Oscar at +34 941 41 80 07.
Dinastia Vivanco Wine Museum
Although I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here, I do have to throw this option in for good measure, because I promise, having toured the museum, I know that you won’t be disappointed. Whether you’re an avid fan of poster girl corkscrews, a small part of their 10,000+ collection, or appreciate the intricacies of how an oak barrel is crafted starting with a mere oak sapling, the museum is literally an homage to wine. There is something for just about anyone, and for a small fee, you can spend the better half of day exploring everything and anything related to wine. And when you’ve finally had enough, take a moment to put your feet up and savor one my favorite dishes from their restaurant, a delicious molten chocolate dessert that will make your knees buckle.
Hot Air Balloon Rides
First off, we didn’t do this, but I really, really wanted to. Sadly, our time was limited, as were our resources; hence, spending 180 euros for a leisurely balloon right soaring over the Rioja vineyards just wasn’t an option. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give it a whirl if you get a thrill from drinking a gorgeous Rioja barrel fermented rosado at 2,000 feet in air excites you. Mind you, this is not for the weak stomached, but if you’ve been dying to see rolling vineyards, peaked mountains and the occasional lost seagull, contact the website for more information.
Although we’ve already chatted about our adventures searching for these elusive tracks in a previous article, allow me to reiterate how incredible this was. Located in the towns of Munilla, Enciso, Igea, Grávalos and Cornago lie dinosaur tracks dating back to the Jurassic Period. Well organized and filled with life size displays of Ornithopods, Sauropods and Theropods, this is a fabulous off road stop for both children and adults alike. And if you need yet another place to experience Rioja wine, again, feel free to pack a lunch, while the kids play on the dinosaur slide and Jurassic sandbox. In a gorgeous setting like Rioja, there is no reason why you can’t make a day of it. For more information, visit the La Rioja Turismo website.
If I had my druthers, I’d love to be the Iberian version of Winehiker - troopsing through rugged Rioja vineyards, while bounding from wine winery to the next. The truth is, however, that I’m not, and so I’ll have to share some interesting looking trails I hope to explore this coming August. The Sonsierra district, situated in northwest La Rioja, between the river Ebro and the Sierra de Toloño mountains, includes trails, marked with yellow and white stripes, through the villages of ÃƒÂbalos, Briñas and San Vicente de La Sonsierra, and the hamlets of Ribas de Tereso and Peciña. Every one of these towns, are quaint, filled with history and loaded with terrace restaurants providing local Rioja wine and cuisine. Or, if your more of a history buff, you might enjoy the old roman road in the Iregua valley. In the near future, the restoration of this road will also include an alternative 10 kilometer path through Pradillo where you can enjoy a view overlooking the River Iregua. And if wine is a must have on your trek, which I assume it is, than why not fill your boda bag with your favorite La Rioja hiking wine to sip and savor on your journey?!
Day at the Spa
Having spent almost four hours at Marques de Riscal’s City of Wine, I had hoped to experience their vinotherapy spa, managed by Claudalie, but unfortunately, our elaborate meal took precedent, cutting out time short. However, if you enjoy a little pampering, and are curious about having grapes essential oils worked into your aching muscles, why not give it a try? Claudalie was originally founded in Bordeaux in 1999 by Matilde and Bertrand Thomas, seeing the polyphenols in grape seeds as the ideal nutrient for skin. Now, Claudalie has set up shop around the world, including France, Italy, the United States, Taiwan and now, Spain.
All said and done, of the few experiences we had enjoying wine outside of the typical venue, I must say, we had a fantastic time! I need ample time away from sterile tasting rooms and fermentation tanks, or else I find myself overly analyzing wine, rather than simply enjoying it. Whether it’s massaged into my back or appreciated alongside a bubbling creek, new experiences will always bring new appreciation for wine – more specifically, wine from La Rioja!