Mention Rioja at bars and restaurants around the world and you’ll be presented with this Spanish region’s most famous export: rich, structured, red wine. No surprise then, that La Rioja is teeming with ambient bars in which to sip on what might just be the best wine in all of Spain.
Nestled in the northeast of the country, between Zaragoza to the south and Bilbao to the north, La Rioja is one of the premier wine-making regions in Spain. The dominant red grape is tempranillo, resulting in a rich, full-bodied wine. Fruity, acidic whites, meanwhile, are mainly produced with the viura grape. To help you sample the full variety, we’ve selected the region’s best wine bars, from tapas joints in the centre of Logroño, the capital of La Rioja, to a bodega in the village where a “Wine Fight” is held every summer.
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A generous selection of local crianzas and reservas are on offer at Bodeguilla Los Rotos, a scrambled-egg specialist in Logroño, La Rioja’s capital city. Available by the glass or bottle, they can be sipped solo or accompanied by a plate of “broken” eggs, mixed with extras that range from chorizo and sweet peppers to mushrooms and mussels. Stand around the barrels or high tables outside, or take a seat in a cheerful interior decorated with huge photos of, you guessed it, scrambled eggs.
Housed in a restored 19th-century mansion in the centre of Logroño, Wine Fandango is the perfect place to get acquainted with La Rioja’s wine culture. There are usually around 20 whites and reds served by the glass and close to 100 by the bottle, several of which can be combined into a flight. The menu holds its own too, featuring dishes by Aitor Esnal, one of La Rioja’s leading chefs, made with ingredients from the restaurant’s own orchard in Calahorra.
At the start of Calle del Laurel, the central thoroughfare of Logroño’s bar district, La Tavina, offers three sharp, modern spaces in which to eat and drink. Start off in the ground-floor bar, where you can pair by-the-glass vinos with tapas such as ham croquetas and tuna tataki. Then, move up to the first-floor cellar and tasting room – where 500 varieties are ready for sipping – and order a bottle of your favourite to enjoy with lunch or dinner in the dining room above.
A popular wine-and-tapas bar on Logroños Calle del Laurel, Pata Negra takes its name from one of the gourmet brands of Iberian-cured jamon. Hand-cut strips of this salty, tender meat feature alongside tomato and various types of cheese in the bar’s signature snack: toasted bocatitas (mini-sandwiches). Choose from about 70 wines by the glass and over 200 by the bottle and relax in a traditional dining room decorated with murals of grazing Pata Negra pigs.
Logroño’s Tastavin hits the spot for both food and wine lovers, offering artfully presented pintxos (morsels served atop sliced bread), main courses and desserts alongside a huge variety of national and international vinos. Light bites, such as toasted bread topped with jamon and tomato or truffled cream cheese and smoked anchovies, make for perfect appetizers, especially when paired with a crisp white or sweet rose. It’s basically standing room only, save for a few high tables at the back.
One of the Riojan capital’s most casual hangouts, Bar Soriano serves up amazingly cheap glasses of house crianza wine and just one kind of tapas: mushrooms fried in butter and garlic, stuffed with a prawn and served on crispy bread. Snack and sip your vino standing up, whether propping up the bar that’s big enough for about 15 people, or around the high tables on the pavement. The staff happily make recommendations, so just ask if you seek the perfect mushroom-wine marriage.
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