Spain is famous for its wine and deservedly so. It has a huge number of vineyards many of which welcome people to come and find out about the grapes that are grown there and the wines that result. The bodega is officially the warehouse where the wine is stored but it has come to mean a lot more than this in the wine world of Spain.
Visiting a bodega means that you can not only see where the wine is stored, but often means a tour of the vineyards, chance to sample and buy the wines and find out more about the history and traditions that surround this particular winemaking business.
Wine is a very serious subject here. Joven, crianza, reserva or gran reserva indicate the length of time that the wine has been aged. The top white grape variety is Airén and the top red grape is Tempranillo. Catalonia is particularly well known for its Cava, La Rioja for its red wines and Rias Baixas or Rueda for white wine.
Visiting bodegas or wineries can become an addiction. You can soon be drawn into the world of cellars, vineyards and tradition that surrounds the Spanish winemaking industry. Although wine production is common across much of Spain, some regions are better known for it than others. Castilla-la-Mancha, la Rioja, Extramadura, Catalonia and Valencia, for example, are all well-known for their vineyards. It is estimated that there could be as many as 4,000 wineries in Spain. So where do you begin?
Planning your visit
The style and content of the trip will vary greatly according to the size and character of the bodega you’re visiting. A large winery can be good for your first experience or for someone with a limited amount of time. At a small Spanish winery you can expect a more personalised tour but it may not always run to schedule.
Don’t be too optimistic about the number of bodegas you can visit in one day. It is probably advisable to stick to a maximum of two. The timing for visits usually needs to fit around normal Spanish opening hours and you can expect your bodega to be closed from 1.30pm to 3.30pm. They don’t usually open on Sunday or during harvest time.
You would be wise to book your visit in advance if it is not an advertised trip. This is particularly important if you need a guide in your own language. If you do not speak Spanish it may be easier to organise a guided tour in your own language with one of the larger bodegas. Alternatively you might take your own translator with you if you are wanting to visit a smaller vineyard. It is always best, however, to let them know.
Many bodegas will have a shop where you can buy the wine. If they do, take advantage of this as it is usually available at a cheaper price than you would pay normally.
Deciding where to go
Tourist information offices can be a useful source of advice about bodegas to visit locally. They may also have information about a local ruta del vino. There are lots of websites and articles that offer to guide you to the best venues and some tour operators offer wine tasting trips to different local and distant regions. These can be worth checking out if you prefer to have someone organise things for you.
A google search of ‘wine tour Spain’ will soon reveal a number of operators who provide anything from one day wine tours to week long road trips. Some of these offer additional opportunities such as VIP treatment with access to different parts of the bodega or people not usually included in the general tours.
One popular destination is Pinoso. This is a well-known area for wine-production in the Alicante and Murcia province. La Bodega de Pinoso grows the Monastrell grape which is indigenous to the South-East of Spain. You can visit the bodega during a two-hour tour during which you can learn about the wine production process, taste four wines and visit the shop. You do need to be part of a group of more than ten people, however.
You might like to look out for a ruta del vino, Many wine-producing areas have their own recommended routes for you to follow and provide information not only of the bodegas in the area but also its history, cuisine and what else you might do there. For example, in Alicante the ‘ruta del vino alicante’. This is aimed at wine tourists and the website introduces you to different towns in the province which have bodegas where visits can be organised.
Some bodegas will not only offer some interesting insight into their wines and their production, they are also of architectural interest.
Some famous bodegas
Bodegas Ysios in la Sierra de Cantabria describes itself as a ‘work of art’ with some fascinating architecture. You can book your visit online, including the language you would like to take your tour in. It is part of the Pernod Ricard Bodegas which includes Campo Viejo, Tarsus and Auru.
More imposing architecture can be found at Marqués de Riscal in Rioja Alavesa. This building includes a structure that looks more like a fascinator than a building. Marqués de Riscal also boasts its own Michelin-starred restaurant and luxury hotel. Dinastia Vivanco, also in La Rioja, has a wine museum which is considered to be one of the best in the world. If you happen to be a corkscrew collector than this is a must for a visit with a collection of 3,000 corkscrews on view.
Bodegas don’t come much older than that of Bodegas Codorniu in Catalunya. This dates back to 1551 and is renowned for its sparkling wines. Another very old bodega is that of Bodegas Torre del Veguer which originated in a 14th century fortified house. It is believed that it is the monks who began cultivating wine there. Bodegas Muga is in the Barrio de la Estación in Haro and dates back two centuries. Not only do they offer tours of the bodegas but you can also do a wine tasting course or even take a hot-air balloon trip.
It’s not only wine you can taste in a bodega tour. There are also sherry and brandy tours available. Jerez is renowned for its sherry and you can take part in a sherry wine and brandy tour that includes a visit to the Tio Pepe winery. Here tours are conducted in different languages including English and German.
With such variety, so many interesting places to visit and wines to sample, once you begin on the bodega trail you just might find that you’re hooked.