Showstopping Wine Design to Blow Your Mind
Life’s greatest pleasures include consuming wine, evocatively described by Galileo, as ‘sunlight, held together by water’.
Leave Work to Travel’s eclectic motorhome adventures have taken us to Spain, which, unsurprisingly, is among the world's leading wine producers. In 2020 it ranked third on the list of wine-producing countries with a phenomenal output of four billion litres.
Our route took us through the La Rioja region which has 500 wineries including the famous Marqués de Riscal and its jaw-dropping design masterpiece.
The WOW Factor
Fascinating facts revealed.
The wine tasting lived up to expectations at the Marqués de Riscal vineyard and hotel where Frank Gehry’s futuristic grand design of shimmering titanium dominates the landscape.
Founded in 1858, the vineyard in Elciego is the region’s oldest bodega of the rioja label.
It produces traditional-style Rioja wines, mainly made from the black tempranillo grape along with a white wine from Rueda – both are delicious.
If you are not staying at the hotel - or booked on a wine tour - you will miss out on experiencing Gehry’s amazing artistry.
To avoid this, ask in the visitor’s shop if you can have a drink in the hotel wine bar and they will guide you to the hotel entrance which is away from the shop which was noisy and crowded.
We rocked up in our motorhome, quickly changing from our campaign gear, and scrubbing up to look the part and lingering over a glass of rioja at the wine bar (three euros a glass) of this stunning hotel.
Afterwards we splashed out on lunch at the hotel’s 1860 Tradicion restaurant where the views of the vineyard were as sensational as the cuisine. Highlights included Red Prawn Carpaccio, pimientos cristalizados and solomillo.
Enjoying a prestigious sixth position in the World’s Best Vineyards 2020 ranking, Marqués de Riscal makes around five and a half million bottles of wine every year. The first ever Rioja wine to be bottled, 60 per cent produced is exported to over 110 countries and all vineyards are organically farmed.
The vineyard is in the picturesque town of Elciego whose prominence has risen since Gehry’s showstopper, and which offers locals wines in bars and restaurants. Nearby vineyards, which we sadly did not have time to indulge in, include Finca Valpiedra, Berarte Vinedos y Bodegas and Bodegas Fos SL.
Bodega Adventure in Haro
Our next wine stop was Haro, the capital of the La Rioja region where, every year on St Peter’s day, the most quirky, madcap festival takes place.
It sees locals and visitors engage wholeheartedly in the spectacular Batalla del Vino (Battle of the Wine) wine fight, soaking each other from to toe in rioja wine.
The visual feast starts after participants, dressed in red, and white follow a local priest to cliffs out of town, listen to a short mass and then let rip with anything at their disposal to ensure a thorough drenching.
This festival roots, pardoning the pun, are said to date back to the 13thcentury over a local boundary dispute with a neighbouring village. Fast forward 800 plus years and hostilities set aside, the tradition remains a key calendar date.
Visiting Haro was thoroughly enjoyable, especially wandering around the main square - the heartbeat of the town - where locals and visitors mingle amicably to sample delicious wines and mouth-watering tapas in the local bars.
Fortuitously our campsite was within staggering distance of a group of bodegas, including Bodegas Muga, found in the station quarter where we decadently partook in wine tasting at 11.30am.
Our knowledge of wine is far from extensive, and we loved learning about the back stories of the production and the evolution of the businesses, which are steeped in tradition and predominantly family-owned.
Bodegas Muga’s stylish ambience makes it a pleasure to linger over a flight of different wines. Established in 1932, it jointly owns and controls almost 1,000 acres of vineyards, producing eleven wines with red grape varieties including Tempranillo and Grenache and Viura and Malvasia for the white.
We spotted family members in the bar which spiced up the visit as we agonised over what to take home on our imminent ferry trip from Bilbao to Portsmouth.
Steve was delighted with his trio of bottles of Rioja Muga Reserva with its swish branding. They surprisingly remained unopened for at least a month after we landed back home before going down a treat with friends who came for dinner.
Bilbao Bar Hopping
Our last destination, Bellissimo Bilbao, was even more amazing than our earlier visit when the spectacular Guggenheim, Frank Gehry’s most famous work, was our primary focus.
After sampling a taste of the Rioja region, meandering in our motorhome through central to Northern Spain, our focus was to immerse ourselves in the buzz of the Basque country’s biggest city.
Friday night was party night as the weekend took off with a bang. Without any destination in mind, we joined the throng of tapas and bar hoppers, a favourite pastime of the ebullient Bilbainos and their compelling culture.
Going native, we demolished pinxtos, the Basque country’s version of tapas which go down a treat with a cold white wine or Moorish cava. They make up small plates of mouth-watering dishes including salted cod (bacalhau), croquetas and chorizo y Manchego.
Somewhat jaded but elated with our latest adventures, we reluctantly boarded the ferry home the next day.
We’d had such a grape time that we’re already researching a new motorhome trip through parts of France including the Loire and Bordeaux. It would be rude not to do justice to the cava in Spain’s magnificent regions including Catalonia and Valencia. We may be away for a while – Salud!
Leave Work to Travel travelled from Bilbao to Portsmouth with Brittany Ferries