So generally, I’m a planner kind of person. Especially for holidays abroad. Yet somehow I overlooked how much a “daytrip” from the Ribera del Duero to Rioja was – how shall we say – ambitious. I mean, a simple google map search (now) reveals it’s a 227 km (140-mile) drive between Penafiel and Laguardia.
Apparently, neither Jon nor I (nor our friends) are ones to abandon a plan once it’s set, so to take a break from all the wine tasting we did in the Ribera del Duero, we set off one day for some wine tasting in the Rioja.
Three hours after leaving our rental house near Penafiel (note: if you get stuck on a local highway behind, say, a long flatbed truck carrying a giant windmill blade, you’re screwed), we pulled into Laguardia. And let me first say that the town of Laguardia, Spain shares nothing in common with the New York City airport of the same name. Laguardia, the town, is picture-perfect, with cobblestones, winding alleys, mysterious doorways, tunnels, and warm, ochre-hued stone.
The airport is, as you probably know, not picture perfect.
Because 99.9% of vineyards we contacted prior to arriving in Spain required us to make an appointment for a tour and tasting (and no, you apparently can’t just drop by for a tasting without the tour), we reached Laguardia with three hours to kill before our scheduled time at the Marques de Riscal (aka “the Frank Gehry place”).
So we walked a bit. And the town was lovely. But it was siesta time (i.e., between 2 and 4 pm), and we needed something to eat. We found a place, Biazteri (Calle de Mayor, near the TI office) that had a positive description in this April 2007 Guardian article on this part of Rioja, but it was a bust, offering just a Spanish soap blaring on the TV and a few sitting-there-too-long bocadillos. At least the glasses of house wine were hilariously cheap (1.50 euros each).
So we kept on walking until we saw Mayor de Migueloa, which was both open and had a wall lined with wine bottles.
So we walked in, and it was just what the doctor ordered. I liked the old wine press converted into a table – just enough yuppie decor to be appealing to me, while those fast-food-style napkin dispensers kept things down-to-earth.
First up – Iberico everything! Ham, cured pork loin, and chorizo with kick! Nobody wants for cured meats in Spain, and the platter served at Mayor de Migeloa was excellent. It seems that everywhere in you go in Spain, there exist melt-in-your-mouth pork goodies waiting to be eaten.
We felt obligated to order the Rioja-style potatoes by virtue of being in Rioja, but you know, they were potatoes. with some pepper. and not enough chorizo. A bit eh.
But luckily, every meal is a success when there are croquetas involved: crispy crust; creamy interior; and a little bit of ham inside if you’re lucky. I especially liked how, at Mayor de Migeloa, they didn’t come in that suspiciously pre-manufactured fish-stick shape you see in the more touristy bits of Spain.
All these snacks with glasses of house wine all around totaled 35 euros.
Fueled up for our 4 pm appointment at the Marques de Riscal, we spent 5 minutes driving over to neighboring Elciego, parked, paid our 10 euros each for the tour and tasting, and got on our way.
Despite having gone on many wine tours before and after our visit, I thought the Marques de Riscal tour was super-comprehensive and worth taking, and our guide, Patricia, was knowledgeable and funny, earning extra points for taking us into the vineyard’s “treasury,” where all the *really* old wines are kept.
Having walked the quiet, dusty depths of the Marques de Riscal treasury, we now have something in common with Gywneth. (Obviously this shared experience is bound to make us BFF before too long).
The 2004 Marques de Riscal reserva we tasted was fine for the money (12.50 euros a bottle), but it wasn’t super memorable.
By the end of our tour, it became clear to us that the Marques de Riscal owners are incredibly good at marketing and promotion (how else do you get Frank Gehry to design you a tiny 14-room hotel?), and while it’s a pleasant place to visit, I wouldn’t make it a destination for the wines.
Slightly annoying is that the relationship between the vineyard and hotel seems a bit strained, so our vineyard guide insisted she had to call for reservations at the hotel bar/lounge if we wanted to have drinks there.
Service at the hotel lounge, once we were allowed in, was friendly and helpful, and we downed lots more cheese, chorizo and wine there. Prices were what you’d expect at a Starwood-operated hotel, costing 65 euros before tip for four glasses of the vineyard’s wine, and a bit of chorizo and cheese.
I’d go back to Marques de Riscal if I were vacationing exclusively in the Rioja, but it’s not worth the drive as a daytrip from the Ribera del Duero. So skip the long drive and just enjoy the powerful reds and sleek tasting rooms that abound in the Ribera.
Mayor de Migueloa, Mayor de Migueloa Nº 20, 01300 Laguardia, Spain, +34 945 62 11 75 / 76.