Since the girl (Perri) had been banished to Madrid for a week with her Spanish class, we were off to wine country. This time visiting the Spanish contender for the ‘best wine in the world’: Rioja. I had spent the whole previous week drying out, so as to cleanse my bloodstream of any French wine contaminants which might taint my ability to be objective.
After picking Ann up at her office in Parentis-en-Born, we cruised down the autocade for 3 ½ hours with only one photo-radar ticket (gosh, I hope I was smiling). We arrived in Haro, a little town on the edge of Rioja wine country where I had booked a room in a former 13th century monastery. Fortunately, some renos had been done since the original build and it was a pleasant mix of the old and the new. Since it was after 9 p.m., Ann and I felt comfortable not looking too touristy in our efforts to find dinner. A previous visit to Spain almost 20 years ago helped us understand Spanish eating schedules and the futility of looking for an evening meal before 8 p.m.. Needless to say we were the first to arrive and we may have actually woken up the waitress.
A good night’s sleep was followed by an excellent non-Turkish breakfast. At 11 a.m. we found ourselves in the nearest bodega (fancy Spanish word for winery) whose doors were open. We discovered most of the wineries require reservations for a tour (weeks ahead of time) but thankfully tastings are based on an open-door policy.
Having experienced a wine tour biking expedition (or a bike tour wining expedition) a few years back in the Czech Republic, I’ve discovered that wine-making facilities are …well, kinda the same, which shouldn’t be a surprise since they all produce wine. Ann and I fall far from the category of ‘wine expert’, and subtleties of the fermentation process are lost on us. So, we have no problem fast-forwarding to the happy conclusion of any tour: tasting. Honestly, if you’ve seen and smelled one giant wine cellar, you’ve seen and smelled them all.
|It's five o'clock somewhere.|
In the afternoon, we spent some time at the museum of wine culture in Briones, just a few minutes up the road. Normally, nothing short of a debate on economics puts me to sleep faster than a museum. However, this museum covered wine (history, production from cultivation to consumption, art, etc.) without anaesthetic, although a glass of the local product was presented to all guests. The penultimate piece of the museum tour was a collection of over three thousand corkscrews and, of course, there was a whole section devoted to this sort of thing:
The museum building lies right in the middle of an active vineyard, although at this time of the year not much is happening. The leaves on this grape variety tell the story about what season it is:
|What's this museum about again?|
On our way to Laguardia, which is not the airport but instead a medieval town about 5 more minutes down the road, we saw an interesting hotel designed by a Canadian (Ghery), a detail well-known by the locals. It’s a funky building although I’m not sure it works in a typical Spanish town.
After a fabulous meal (we were the first guests for dinner, again) of fine Spanish beef tenderloin, we called it a night in a relatively new hotel (250 years) just outside the old city walls. In the morning, we visited one of the more modern bodegas, which I dubbed the ‘church of wine’…
The drive home was uneventful, especially since we accidentally took the 15 kilometre tunnel road rather than the hill road, with all the great views of the Pyrenees mountain tops. Oops. Still, we had a nice lunch stop.
Before you start to feel sorry for me and my lost weekend, a couple of dozen bottles of fine Spanish wine was legally smuggled into French wine country, for consumption at a later date. I'll be ok.