By Regina Winkle-Bryan
Walls constructed in the 10th century loop Laguardia, one of La Rioja‘s prettiest, cobblestoned hill villages. I entered the town through one of its five gates and spent a unhurried afternoon wandering around the historic community and touring El Fabulista (The Storyteller), one of its two working wineries. The ancient cellar’s past is more interesting than the wine they continue to produce through old-school stomping and carbonic maceration, a process which yields tannin-rich reds said to be good for the heart but hard on the palate.
Our bilingual guide, Raquel, took our small group of five underground into the damp, creepy cellar where El Fabulista wines are processed and aged. The winery sits atop an immense maze of 800-year old tunnels connecting most homes in Laguardia. These tunnels have had many uses over the years, from escape route (some tunnels let out on the side of the mountain), to food pantry, to wine cellars. The underground tunnel temperature is a constant cool 13℃, ideal for the 32,000 liters of wine (mostly reds) blended at El Fabulista each year. After a tour we sampled El Fabulista’s wine and got a quick lesson on how to taste. ‘Don’t ever eat and taste at the same time,’ Raquel reminded us, ‘as this will hide any flaws in the wine.’ That makes sense, I thought. She also told us to always hold our wine to a white backdrop to see its ‘true colors’, not to the light as many recommend. Clearly, our group was one of novices. Wine, art, men, it’s all a matter of taste, and my taste-buds say that El Fabulista is too strong; I like something lighter. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating tour.
Emerging from the tunnels, I strolled past the romanesque portico and rose window of San Juan Church and then had a bite to eat at El Bodegón (Travesía Santa Engracia, 3 – Lunch 1pm-14pm/ Dinner 9pm-11pm), a unpretentious restaurant serving up tapas and traditional Spanish fare. Like most restaurants in Laguardia, El Bodegón has an extensive wine list featuring Riojas. Monday through Friday try their three-course set meal with wine, an exceptional deal for €15.00. Due to its hilltop location, Laguardia has some impressive views of the Sierra Cantabria, vineyards, and open sky where birds of prey circle. Meander the Paseo El Callado which rings the village to admire different vistas while walking off lunch.
At the foot of Laguardia outside its walls sits the Thematic Wine Center Villa Lucía, a sort of wine museum dedicated to La Rioja’s vino-making history. It’s interesting and there are guided tours available. Skip the 4-D movie staring an animated grape-nymph which is meant to entertain, but personally made me lose the will to live after about five minutes.
More & Guided Tours:
El Fabulista: http://www.bodegaelfabulista.com/
Thematic Wine Center Villa Lucía : http://villa-lucia.com/