Just back from a week in Spain. Figure I’d lay out the cliff notes here for posterity so it lives forever in the search function. My wife and I flew into Madrid and out of Barcelona. We rented a car with the hotel nights of Pedraza>Laguardia x2 >Zaragoza>Saint Llorenc d’Hortons x2.
The headline is that Spain was beautiful, friendly, delicious, easy and affordable.
The slightly deeper dive is that we arrived into Madrid at about 7 a.m. from Dulles on no sleep. We got our car and drove to El Escorial, an incredible 16th century monastery/church/palace that was mind-boggling to walk around. Then, a short drive to the well-touristed Segovia to peep the Roman aqueduct and then, finally, our hotel room in Pedraza, an unbelievably charming hilltop village. We stayed at the Hospederia de Santo Domingo and ate at La Olma. Both very nice and seemed like steals for the price. The restaurant was out of my preferred wine so I drank the alternate verdejo they suggested with no complaint. I hadn’t slept in 24 hours and it was very good.
Next day we made it to Haro by noon for a tasting at Gomez Cruzado. Haro is a bumping little wine town, and you might expect some tour busses, girls/bros days out and all manner of wine tourists (like me). Had excellent and interesting wine at Gomez Cruzado, a couple of glasses at Rioja Alta, and some worthwhile if “big” wines at Roda. Asked for a spit bucket everywhere, which they everyone was happy to oblige.
Move up the hill from the station area for a quick bite to eat at one of the tapas places. Haro is worth a stop but probably not the most romantic place to linger for more than a few hours. We then went on to a newish winery a few miles up the road called Bideona.
Extremely warm welcome from the host, Fabiola, who tasted us through some really nice and fresh wines. A nice stop.
Then, on to the hilltop walled village of Laguardia, where we stayed two nights at Hospederia De Los Parajes. Incredibly charming town. Great hotel. For our first dinner in Rioja, we drove to Logrono to do the famous tapas crawl on Calle Laurel. Really fun–small bites at every place washed down with wine or a small beer. A “nice” glass of wine is typically 2-3 Euro. At one place, I got a glass of LdH Tondonia that was the most expensive glass on the chalkboard at 7 Euros. Ridiculous.
The next day we had an amazing e-bike tour with Izadi, a very good tour and tasting at Valserrano, and yet another great tour and tasting at Abeica. Highly recommend the experiences at all of these places. At Izadi, we road all around the pretty village of villabeuna, then into the nearby countryside and through the small vineyard where they make their top-end red from gnarled old tempranillo. Hard not to love it.
All of these hosts were so friendly and I felt like I got way more than my money’s worth at each place. Dinner at Tondeluna in Logrono. Quite good. My wife and I the only people doing the Spanish early bird special at 830 p.m. for dinner.
Rioja is gorgeous, with so many great views of uninterrupted vines.
Then on to a night in Zaragoza, the fifth biggest city in Spain. This was a nice way to see a “big” city and enjoy a bunch of cool historical sites without the madness of a metropolis. Dinner was a tapas ramble through the Tubo area. Very good. We stayed at the very nice hotel in downtown called Innside–a small chain.
Finally, the Penedes area outside of Barcelona. I thought about trying to cram Priorat in, but glad I didn’t, as we had plenty on our plate and a finite amount of time. As you get closer to the coast, Spain gets much greener, and more populated. Our first stop was Sabate i Coca, a Corpinnat member producer in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia. Our host sat us on the deck and poured us maybe 6 different wines, a mix of sparkling and still.
These wines were great. The sparklers had soul and oomph and the still wines were really interesting. This was maybe 20 euros a person, and a nearly 2 hour experience and well worth it. We then had a two hour tour and tasting at another good organic/bio producer Peres Balta, where, after a tour our host, who recognized us as wine geeks, opened up all manner of weird fun stuff (grand reserva garnacha cava, orange macabeu etc etc), even started to blind taste us on stuff.
Great wines and incredibly fun.
Dinner was at the Mastinell Cava Hotel, which is shaped like a bunch of cava bottles, but has exceptional food for a great price.
The next day we did a 4 hour e-bike tour through Penedes Eco Tours, which entailed stops at Suriol and Descregut, two natural/low intervention producers making really good sparklers and interesting still wines. Another great experience. We stayed at a really charming farmhouse B&B nearby called Can Canyes. Had a five course lunch with a very good bottle of AT Roca rose cava at El Cigro d’Or in Vilafranca and for two people it was … 61 Euros.
Overall, an incredible trip. Spanish people were very friendly and welcoming. Rioja was fun and so pretty, but I’d encourage any wine geek to not sleep on Penedes, where there is clearly a lot of youthful enthusiasm and new blood making cool stuff and serious sparkling wines.
I brought home 15 bottles between the wine check and luggage. Will enjoy drinking them even if they aren’t my favorite wines.
I booked what to me are very nice hotels, and they averaged about $180 a night. Very nice dinners with wines averaged $100 for two all-in. You could find the Michelin places and spend a hell of a lot more, but I never would.
I remain amazed with the ability to have an incredible high-end European experience for a modest sum.