Living it up in La Rioja

posted on May 26, 2008 at 8:57 am
Scenery from La Rioja
After France, we took a short flight to Bilbao and immediately made our way to check out the Guggenheim before before driving a little over an hour to La Rioja, the wine region of Spain. The architecture of the building (designed by the fabulous, Frank Gehry) was unbelievable. The Spanish love (and respect) architecture and it is not uncommon to see the architect’s name on a plaque outside the buildings they have designed. I like that.
Guggenheim: Bilbao
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Upon arriving in Rioja, we drove up the winding streets to Laguardia, an enclosed village on a hill, for a quick bite and some exploring.
Laguardia, Rioja
The streets of Laguardia

Every “block” has a bunch of restaurants and bars, so we just popped into the first one we saw and grabbed a couple of tapas and a glass of wine.
Vinoteca in Laguardia, Rioja
Assortment of tapas
Vinoteca in Laguardia, Rioja
Hams and sausage

After checking into our hotel and grabbing a quick siesta, we made our way to Meson Chuchi in Fuenmayor for some dinner. Chuchi is a typical asador or restaurant where many items–like the baby goat my parents shared–are cooked in fire.
Meson Chuchi: Rioja
Fried chorizo
Meson Chuchi: Rioja
Mushrooms with parsley and garlic (OMG)
Meson Chuchi: Rioja
Shrimp cooked on the plancha (I can never resist whole shrimp)

I crashed hard that first night. I guess I did not realize how tired I was from all the traveling. After ordering a strong pot of coffee, I opened my curtains to this view:
A lovely start to a relaxing day centered around winery tours and serene scenery.

Winery#1: Viña Real
Vina Real: Rioja, Spain
The winery
Vina Real: Rioja, Spain
One of the caves built into the side of a mountain
Vina Real: Rioja, Spain
Some of the barrels located underneath this glass floor:
Vina Real: Rioja, Spain
Great winery and I was a fan of the Imperial Grand Reserva.
It was time for lunch, so we drove to Logroño for a little walk and some tapas.
One of the side streets
Random lunch in Rioja
Assortment of tapas
Random lunch in Rioja
Chorizo on toast

Winery#2: Viña Tondonia
Vina Tondonia: Rioja, Spain

Vina Tondonia: Rioja, Spain
This was my favorite winery because of the knowledgeable tour guide who guided us through the mold-lined walls of the old caves. It was kind of dark and creepy (I expected Bella Lugosi to emerge from the shadows at any time), but I learned so much.
Vina Tondonia: Rioja, Spain
Vina Tondonia: Rioja, Spain
Wine bottles covered in mold (they are only cleaned with a damp cloth before being sold)
Vina Tondonia: Rioja, Spain
Our guide serving us wine during the tasting portion
Vina Tondonia: Rioja, Spain
Manchego and Marcona almonds (I could live off both)

Winery #3: Marqués de Riscal
Marques de Riscal: Rioja, Spain
The hotel (designed by Gehry) located on the same land as the winery
Marques de Riscal: Rioja, Spain
Just a shot of this crazy pollen that was falling from the sky during our entire visit. It looked like it was snowing. So bizarre.
A view from the town of Laguardia where we went for dinner that night.
Jamón ibérico
Spinach and shrimp croquetas
Pochos: a mixture of white beans, chorizo and pork fat. Delicious!

Winery#4: Muga (the final tour)
Muga: Rioja
Muga: Rioja
Muga: Rioja

A little of this might have made its way back in my suitcase…
Jamon, my love

Our final meal for the trip was at another asador in Fuenmayor, Alameda. I had left my camera at home to give my family a break from all the picture taking and just let them enjoy. But (of course), my sister insisted I take pictures with my mother’s camera because the meal was so impressive. The executive chef was a seriously talented older lady accompanied by a grill master. This was my hands down favorite meal of 2008. Simple, clean and flavorful food in a modest setting. Here are some highlights:
Alameda: Fuenmayor (La Rioja), Spain
Smooth gazpacho with a crisp piece of chorizo
Alameda: Fuenmayor (La Rioja), Spain
Perfect croquetas

My parents and I chose a bone-in ribe eye which the chef told us was from a 10 year old cow. The steak was seriously the size of a something you’d see on the “Flintstones” and the best steak I have ever eaten in my life. The chef cut it from this large block of meat before slowly (and, I mean slowly) cooking it on a gentle fire so all the fat would melt off. No salt or seasoning was added until the very end.
Alameda: Fuenmayor (La Rioja), Spain
This was the end result:
Alameda: Fuenmayor (La Rioja), Spain
Like butter. I will dream of this steak for a very long time.

Well, I am home now and still catching up on the work I missed when I was gone. But, it was a great trip overall. I am just so thankful my family is able to take these trips together even though we are all grown up and have our separate lives. I don’t know what I would do without them or the memories. Until next time…


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  • Re: Living it up in La Rioja
    posted by: David · June 29, 2008  8:36 AM

    That crazy pollen looks like cottonwood. We get it here too, anyplace where there’s water nearby.

  • Re: Living it up in La Rioja
    posted by: Anonymous · July 21, 2008  6:24 AM

    i was there pretty much same time as you. different regions mostly. catalonia (barcelona, girona, roses, cadaques) and basque (axpes and bilbao) country. showed up too late at the guggenheim for lunch though (darn). skipped out on san sebastian scene and chose to go to etxebarri in axpes instead. meal of a lifetime.

    the seafood in spain is eye-opening, isn’t it? i miss it. 🙁

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