Grape Escape: Discovering the art of winemaking in the vineyards of La Rioja

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Grape Escape: Discovering the art of winemaking in the vineyards of La Rioja
There is even an art to tasting the grape itself. Photo: AFP

There's more to wine than tasting it as Sophia Smith Galer discovered on a trip to the rustic vineyards of the Rioja region.


Much like my attitude towards the culinary arts - ‘Am I a good cook? Well...I’m a good eater’ - I believe that you can’t have a solid appreciation of enology without having eyes bigger than your liver.  

So, on a holiday to the northern Spain, it was a must for my friend and I to see whether we could do some cultivated damage on some kind of wine-tasting sojourn.  

You hear about wine-tasting courses all of the time; in our hedonistic age the wine tourism industry is booming and it seems that nearly every region in Spain has something to offer, from cava in Cataluña to sherry in Jerez.

But it was a tiny little winery in Logroño that caught our eye offering the opportunity to not just quaff the stuff but to also learn a bit more about the wine-growing industry along the way.

Tantalisingly named "Be a Winemaker for a day!", I have to admit that my imagination began to ran away with me.

But no, we didn’t get to harvest the grapes ourselves from the vine and stomp them like the grand, rustic vision I had been concocting for myself on the journey there.  

Instead, the day began with a more laid-back wine lesson right where the wine has its origins - in the grapes themselves.

Science, history and finally a taste test for Sophia Smith Galer  

So before we had even a whiff of the wine itself, we were set to work on the grape. Did you know that there’s actually an art to tasting the grape? You find the hole where it was removed from the stem and suck the insides out, leaving the skin behind, to get the true flavour.

Our guide then tells us the history of the vineyards and its battle with phylloxera, essentially Europe’s wine plague, that threatened the existence of the wine industry.  It has been solved by breeding an American variety, already adapted to thwart phylloxera, with the European roots to provide the plants with immunity.  

After furtively eating as many grapes as possible, we are ushered back into the wine van and we are packed off to the modest and traditional family-owned winery itself and given a science lesson on knowing when wine has finished fermenting (it’s in its density).

And then finally… it is time to taste it for ourselves.  There are three techniques to tasting the wine and they all involve varying levels of ugliness as we contort our mouths to slurp, swish and ‘inhale’ (start choking) to release the wine’s different colours onto our palate.  

We are also taught how to hold the glass up against a white serviette to tell the wine’s age by examining the browner or bluer hues.  

Photo: Sophia Smith Galer

The day ended with a picnic of chorizo, freshly baked bread and pork pâté, served between the vines of course, and accompanied by rioja, which we attempted to artfully drink from a ‘bota’. What’s more we were invited to cork and take away our own bottle of the wine we favoured during the extensive tasting.

Experiencing a hands-on and thorough lesson in the charming Logroño countryside leaves a lasting appreciation of a Spanish wine growing region and a renewed admiration for wine itself, whatever the vintage.  

Here’s a toast to a wonderful day out.

Sophia Smith Galer booked the 'Be a winemaker for a day in Rioja' through Wine Tourism Spain for the price of €33.



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