Rioja, like the rest of Spain, is a contrast in traditional and cutting-edge. It’s reflected in the historic bodegas of Haro to the modern architectural wonders along the Ruta del Vino. The greatest contrast remains in the wines, with traditional, long-aged blends of Lopez de Heredia, Faustino and Marques de Murrieta to the fruit-driven, often single-varietal “alta expressions” or “high expression” wines of Seniorio de San Vicente, Valpiedra and Finca Allende. It makes a visit to Rioja a great adventure in wine discovery.
There are really two Rioja’s: the wine region (“Rioja”) and the province of “La Rioja”, of which Rioja is a part. Rioja is located primarily in the province of La Rioja, but also in the Basque province of Alava and a little bit in Navarra. I mention this fine nuance since La Rioja and Alava operate rather independently and you may be confused by local maps of wineries which include one province but not the other. Rioja extends along both sides of the Ebro River going West. From the major town of Haro to the West to Alfaro to the East, it’s only about 75 miles (125 km) or 1-1.5 hours on the AP-68 highway which basically follows the river. Rioja is divided into three defined areas, cool Rioja Alavesa to the North, Rioja Alta mostly South of the Ebro, and Rioja Baja to the West which is much warmer and drier in climate.
I like to stay in Haro because it’s the historic center of Rioja with many of the great old bodegas such as Muga, La Rioja Alta and Cune located there. It is also easy to take the backway to the Ruta del Vino (the wine route, 124) from here, which takes one through an easy and beautiful drive to some of the great bodegas in Riojas Alavesa and Alta. The best place to stay in Haro is Los Agustinos. Beautiful rooms if you’re lucky to get one of the larger ones, and a fine restaurant.