Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Sharon Cain
Time for Life Correspondent
1:00 AM 23rd December 2023

Wishing You A Festive 'Vine Time'

World renowned: La Rioja region. Images by Steve Hare
World renowned: La Rioja region. Images by Steve Hare
Once the frenetic dash to prepare everything for the festive season has calmed down, taking time to unwind and enjoy this magical period is among life’s many pleasures.

Among the delights to be relished is the anticipation of indulging in our favourite wines and sampling new ones.

In the countdown to 2024, our Time for Life Correspondent Sharon Cain and photographer Steve Hare have been exploring the famous La Rioja region whose wines are recognised and enjoyed the world over.

Spectacular Mountain Backdrop

The region of La Rioja in Northern Spain boasts over 600 wineries across over 140,000 acres and produces 250 million litres of wine a year – so deciding which ones to visit on our latest motorhome adventure was a tough call.

If you enjoy red wine, this is the area to head for as it makes up 85% of the rioja production and offers endless variety and diversity – a proverbial wine heaven!

The earliest written evidence of the existence of the grape in La Rioja dates to 873. It was in 1512 when the unification of Spain was complete that Benedictine monks revived the land and built numerous wineries throughout the area.

Our love of striking architecture (we also enjoy a few glasses of vino to be social!) drew us to Bodegas Ysios in the wine growing region of Rioja Alavesa.

With an aluminium roof shaped like a wave, its award-winning design is quite extraordinary and in perfect harmony with nature.

The bodega’s distinctive and breathtaking setting at the foot of the Cantabria Mountain Range has to be seen at first hand to be appreciated.

Temple Dedicated to Wine

Salut: wine tasting at Bodegas Ysios
Salut: wine tasting at Bodegas Ysios
The bodegas was created as a ‘Temple dedicated to wine’ by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Since opening in 2001, it is rated among the world’s best vineyards - all the grapes are tempranillo which have thick skins and are deeply coloured.

Some wines are over a century old. We played it very safe and shared a glass of the popular Ysios Selección 2016, a staple wine from vineyards at least 35 years old. For just six euros with cheese and biscuits, there could not have been a more uplifting and inspiring backdrop for sampling.

Bodegas Ysios also provides free coffee and even has a breathalyser so visitors can check if they are over the limit. Visiting out of season was also more relaxing with fewer crowds and coach tours.

Spoilt For Choice

Convivial ambiance at the Mugla bodega
Convivial ambiance at the Mugla bodega
A return visit to Haro, the wine capital of La Rioja, did not fail to disappoint, with the added bonus we could stay at the local campsite and weave our way back.

Constitution and stamina permitting, you can cover around seven bodegas in a day around the historic Barrio de La Estación. (Station Quarter) of the quaint and historic town.

We limited our consumption to three, including our favourite Bodegas Mugla, a warm and welcoming family business founded in 1932.

With vineyards across 25,000 square metres, it combines traditional wine making methods and the latest cutting-edge techniques. Here you can sample delicious and cost effective red, white, and rose riojas in genial surroundings.

Wine City: Haro, centre of the wine region
Wine City: Haro, centre of the wine region
Apart from the plentiful supply of bodegas and wine tasting, the buzz in the Haro bars at night is a great craic. The local’s love of life is infectious and you can buy tapas and a Rioja for a few euros or less. At one bar we demolished four tasty tapas, a glass of red and a cortado coffee for just €10.50.

Wine Throwing Festival

Soaking it up: Haro is steeped in tradition
Soaking it up: Haro is steeped in tradition
Among the colourful festivals Haro throws, ‘La ‘Batalla del Vino’ (wine battle) every summer on St Peter’s Day, is among the most popular.

The eccentric ritual starts early in the morning after hundreds of eager participants of all ages dressed in red and white follow a local priest to cliffs out of town, listen to a short mass - and then proceed to throw gallons of red wine over each other.

The festival’s roots, pardoning the pun, date back to the 13th century over Haro’s local boundary dispute with a neighbouring village. Fast forward eight hundred plus years and hostilities set aside, the madcap wine battle is a real corker – and definitely on our bucket list.

In the countdown to 2024, we wish you peace, joy, and happiness in sharing fabulous wines with your loved ones for a wine-derful Christmas and a grape New Year!