It must be 30 years ago that we first tasted Rioja wine, on a windsurfing holiday on Lanzarote. We made a note of the brands, Faustino IV and Faustino I, and discovered that we could find them in England at reasonable prices, so they became our favourite tipple.
We had been wanting to visit the area where they are produced, and now that the Rioja wine-producing area is within a day's drive of our home, we have finally gotten around to visiting it. We also stopped off in Bilbao on the way down to visit the Guggenheim museum, and went on to Madrid after, so that Anita could visit a miniatures show being held there.
I was surprised to find that a bottle of Faustino I would now cost me nearly 25 euros in a paper shop in Bilbao. You don't find Spanish wines in French shops, so I have been out of touch with the prices, but in France, where 3-5 euros gets you a good everyday wine, and 5-10 gets you a wine to serve with dinner and friends, this seemed a bit steep to me. Perhaps they have become fashionable.
It is seven years since we went to Bordeaux to explore, and I came away with the impression that the area is not rich. I didn't get that impression with Rioja. The towns look spruced up, and there are impressive architectural projects by the big wine-producers; wineries that you can visit, tour and have lunch in. As our guide told us, wine tourism didn't exist in Rioja 15 years ago, but now it is a big business. They are also expanding into gourmet restaurants, serving the best Spanish cuisine to go with their wines. They are catching on.
La Rioja is a Region in Spain, deriving its name from a river, the Rio Oja. The Rioja wine-producing area straddles this and the Basque country. Distinctions are carefully drawn. The wine itself is a D.O., that is Denomination de Origin, a trade mark if you like, that guarantees the provenance of the wine, and the minimum times the wine has to mature to be classed as Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva.
November isn't the best time to visit; the weather was either rainy or cold, and windy, but this year, the vines, that had matured later than usual, still had their leaves and were painting the countryside in rust, gold and ochre.