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Come Along for a Tour of Spain’s La Rioja Wine Region

Red wine lovers are familiar with Spain’s world-famous Rioja red wines, but there’s plenty of culture and gastronomy awaiting visitors.

With two weeks to go before the joyful, annual Feria de Abril in Seville, I flew to Spain to discover its rich culinary history through the eyes of Osborne, an international company owning artisanal foods, wines and restaurants. One of the wineries that they own is Bodegas Montecillo in the world renowned La Rioja region, the heart of the wine country in Spain. La Rioja is a world-renowned wine growing region that produces silky red wines with long finishes meant for leisurely lunches and dinners. Montecillo, founded in 1870, is also the third oldest winery in that region. 

Bodegas Montecillo vineyards
One of Bodegas Montecillo's partnered vineyards.  

Before taking on the Rioja region, which is considered one of the seminal wine regions among wine drinkers, I arrived in Madrid in time for my Osborne tour guide to pick me up and take me to lunch at Restaurant Cinco Jotas for a tasting and introduction to the exquisite Cinco Jotas artisanal cured ham (called jamon in Spanish), also owned by Osborne, and paired with a couple of Bodega Montecillo’s Rioja wines. What a mood booster to chase away jet lag! 

Afterwards, we drove along the country roads to Logroño, the capital city of La Rioja, which is a region bordered by mountains. Logroño, located in northern Spain, south of Bilbao, is a stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. With old streets full of interesting tapas and pinchos bars, the city is also home to several Michelin-star restaurants.

Bodegas Montecillo
Arriving conveniently at cocktail hour, we dropped our suitcases and set out to see the old section of the city, and visit the Rioja museum in a gorgeous city villa which stays open until 8PM. It’s filled with wine related items as well as an extensive collection of local historical art. Dinnertime in Spain starts late and the same goes for cocktail hour. Pre-dinner snacks range from light to hearty and tapas bars are plentiful in this city, perfect for sampling local cuisine re-arranged into bite-sized snacks and served with wines made in the region – red and sparkling. Then comes dinner!

Bodegas Montecillo tasting room

Bodegas Montecillo's cheerful tasting room and retail shop.

Our tasting included the Montecillo Edicion Limitada 2015, a modern style red wine that’s very food friendly. Next, we tried Montecillo Reserva 2015, an opulent red wine that’s made with older grapes and is aged longer than the standard aging time for DOC Rioja wines, a characteristic of all Bodegas Montecillo wines, in fact, to amplify the flavors and bouquets of its wines. The Montecillo Gran Reserva 2015 is a more traditional red wine, but elegant and with a long finish, made with grapes from four grape varieties: Tempranillo, Graciano, Garnacia, Mazuelo. 

Now to the vineyards! After a dusty, uphill drive, we arrived for a tour of the fields focusing on plots that have the oldest vines and which were just starting to bud. We learned that bud trimming is important for forcing the vines to compact their strength for the grape clusters. Mercedes Garcia, the winemaker, personally visits the plots and works with each farmer to monitor and consult on the growing process. 

Bodegas Montecillo old cellars
The old cellars of Bodegas Montecillo.  

The next morning, we drove to Bodegas Montecillo which has the distinction of being a Rioja designated wine producer. Visitors can stop into the new tasting center or discover the winery’s original stone building with old cellars and enjoy wine tastings at either location. We had a fantastic lunch at Jose Carlos Ferrando, sampling a variety of Bodega Montecillo’s Viña Monty wines with a special menu created by the chef, after an extensive tour of the winery back in Logroño. 

Bodegas Montecillo vineyards
Bodegas Montecillo's winemaker – Mercedes Garcia.  

Bodegas Montecillo doesn’t own any vineyards but has exclusive contracts with farmers whose 800 affiliated plots are located in the best growing areas of La Rioja to ensure highest quality grapes. Technology, machinery—when needed–and hundred-year-old techniques enable Ms. Garcia and her team to produce award winning wines. The cavernous underground cellars feature not only barrels and casks, but also thousands of bottles which are piled up by hand to continue to mature until Mercedes decides to release them for sale. There is no rushing the aging process for these wines and if you’re fortunate to drink a glass or two, you’ll understand why these wines are so special and coveted by wine connoisseurs, and amateurs, looking to experience wines from this famous region.  

Isabelle kelloggIn addition to a career in communications and marketing focused on the luxury lifestyle sector, including co-authoring and lecturing a case study on French heritage jeweler Mauboussin with Harvard Business School, Isabelle continues to share her experiences about fine art, wine, travel, jewelry and culture as a freelance writer for internationally based digital publications.