Spain’s Rioja region is not only a place to enjoy the finest Spanish wines, but also its spectacular bodegas, designed by world-class architects
A feast of modern architecture
The vineyards stretch across the green, hilly landscape of the Rioja region of northern Spain as far as the eye can see. Glistening in the distance are the colourful, unique and vibrant ‘loops’ of the Los Herederos del Marqués de Riscal winery and hotel. Situated in the sleepy wine-growing village of Elciego, about 20km (12 miles) north west of Logroño, this gem of avant-garde architecture is where we will stay on the Porsche Travel Experience Northern Spain for the next two days.
Designed by the Canadian/American 'starchitect' Frank Gehry (whose other notable works include the nearby Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall), the metal loops of the hotel resemble an alien life form in the middle of this mediaeval village. They contrast beautifully with the village’s famed bodega – or winery – that was founded in 1862 by Count de Riscal. At a tasting experience, where the wines are accompanied by servings of manchego cheese, the sommelier tells us that Spain’s monarch, King Felipe, has a taste for the Gran Reserva made here, which matures in oak barrels that slumber in its ancient wine cellars.
Visiting a cathedral of wine on the Porsche Travel Experience
Eight kilometres further to the north-east, we visit another example of splendid architecture on the Porsche Travel Experience Northern Spain – the Ysios winery. Crafted from timber and metal, this futuristic, angular composition by the great Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, looks like a modern house of worship. A genuine cathedral to wine, it even includes organ pipes. In the distance, perched on a hill, you can see Laguardia, the wine capital of the Rioja Alavesa region. Behind the venerable ramparts of this village of 1500 people, everything revolves around wine.
In Rioja, it seems you also drink with your eyes. This is certainly the case at Lopez de Heredia in Haro. In the showroom here, an Art Nouveau bar from the 1910s has been incorporated into this ultra-modern, curved glass construction, designed by the late British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. The building's exterior is just as impressive, taking the form of an elegant wine decanter.
The cultural landscape of Rioja includes winding roads and picturesque views that set the hearts of sports car drivers racing on the Porsche Travel Experience Northern Spain. The local soil and the mild climate, meanwhile, provide the perfect conditions for Tempranillo, the most important grape variety in this world-famous wine region. Other red grape varieties – Garnacho, Mazuelo and Graciano – are also grown on old vines and harvested by hand. At least, that is the case in Lopez de Heredia. They show the world that old varieties can still prove exceptional. The classic white Rioja is also still made here. This takes courage. After all, it is not so easy to let it mature in the barrel for as long as the reds and yet still retain its youthful flavour, a feat spectacularly achieved in the famed 1970 and 1981 vintages.
Back on the road once again, we are reminded once again that we sit in a design icon ourselves. What could be more perfect than driving from one architectural masterpiece to another in a Porsche 911?
There is a long list of other great bodegas to visit on the Porsche Travel Experience Northern Spain. Viña Real is of interest because it is shaped like a gigantic wine barrel. The relatively new Bodega Baigorri in Rioja Alavesa, the Basque part of the Rioja wine-growing region, surprises with its refreshingly minimalist Bauhaus style. At the moment, however, all we want to do is celebrate the end of a perfect day’s driving on winding roads with a glass of Faustino or one of the other famous fine Reservas back at the hotel.
This story is part of the 25 Years of Porsche Travel Experience anniversary series. We take you on a virtual world tour around the globe – with a new, fascinating episode each week. Click here to read all stories.