This week Roque and Luke set their sights, and their tastebuds, on another lesser known, hidden away corner of La Mancha: DO Ribera del Júcar, near the historic city of Cuenca. They guzzle down a bottle of La Duna from Vega Moragona. They get serious talking about cooperatives and get stupid talking about anthropomorphic wine!

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Now it’s all well and good banging on about this wine or that wine, and of course you can buy them in the shops, but there’s nothing quite like seeing the land where the grapes grow and, if possible, visiting wineries.

All these mini itinerary trips require hiring a car and please, if you do them, try, where possible, to have a designated driver. The SWE team doesn’t want a lawsuit against them for promoting the acquiring of DUIs.

Have a look at these 6 regional Spanish road trips, set your own timetables to fit in with the ideas, and enjoy d(r)iving in the heart of the wine-lands!

1. Navarra/Rioja – two/three days

Start of the route: Estella

End of the route: Logroño

Recommended steps:

  1. After enjoying the historic centre of pretty Estella head out southwest along the NA-1110 and visit the Santa María de Irache monastery, its bodega and the free Tempranillo wine tap there pouring out DO Navarra red.
  2. Follow the NA-1110 past vineyards and the remote villages of the Camino de Santiago such as Los Arcos, Torres del Río and Viana to arrive at Logroño.
  3. In Logroño, capital of DO La Rioja, go out for tapas in the famous bar-filled streets around Calle Laurel and Calle San Agustín.
  4. Take the N-232a to the gorgeous hilltop town of Laguardia. Eat in one of the old taverns: pochas (bean stew), steak and potatoes with red peppers.
  5. Afterwards take a trip to maybe visit the Ysios winery, designed by Santiago Calatrava, or head just south a little on the A-3210 to the village of Elciego to visit the famed Marqués de Riscal winery designed by the Guggenheim’s Frank Gehry.
  6. Drive into the wine lands again through villages like San Vicente de Sonsierra and Briones and make your way to the capital of the La Rioja wine region: Haro.
  7. A visit to one of the great bodegas is a must (CUNE, Muga etc). My favourite is Bodegas López de Heredia Viña Tondonia with its ancient and dusty subterranean wine cellars and antiquated methods of production. For a more upmarket lunch head to historic Hotel los Agustinos.

2. Manchuela/Utiel-Requena – one/two days

Start of the route: Alcalá del Júcar

End of the route: Requena

Recommended Steps:

  1. Enjoy the delirious beauty of Alcalá del Júcar: take a drink at the Cuevas de Masago cave bar and have lunch/dinner and wine at El Moli restaurant.
  2. Head west along the Júcar river on the B-5 to the Jorquera viewpoint on the AB-880.
  3. Head north in the direction of Fuentealbilla and visit the winery Finca El Molar: a biodynamic place run by a young and friendly lady called Rus.
  4. Take the CM-3207 road east driving through the wine-lands of DO Manchuela.
  5. Stop just before the fairytale village of Cofrentes on the CV-439 for one of the most startling views in the whole area.
  6. Head north along the N-330 and the high undulating vine-covered fields of DO Utiel-Requena.
  7. Visit the old centre of Requena, like an Andalusian white town lost in the Valencia region.
  8. Enjoy a cheap tasting at the wine shop on Plaza del Salvador and then have a nice traditional meal at the friendly Mesón de la Villa.

3. Ribeira Sacra – one day

Start of the route: Os Peares

End of the route: Monforte de Lemos

Recommended steps:

  1. Head to the village Os Peares and turn onto the dramatic Sil Canyon road, LU-P-4103.
  2. Rejoin at the OU-0508 and continue on to the postcard-perfect viewpoint: Mirador de Vilouxe.
  3. Take the LU-903, which heads through the verdant green depths of the DO Ribeira Sacra wine-lands. Keep your eyes peeled for the Monasterio de San Paio de Abeleda near the village of O Couto and grab a glass or a bottle of local Mencía red wine at the Adega Ponte de Boga or one of the many other bodegas that little the area.
  4. Cross the canyon at its bottom and come up the other side past high-flung Doade and the famously steep vine-covered valley walls.
  5. End your day at Monforte Lemos, a calm town famed for its giant 18th century seminary, and enjoy a well-earned meal.

4. Jerez – one day

Start of the route: Jerez

End of the route: Jerez

Recommended steps:

  1. Start off your trip by looking around the dreamy old town in Jerez and stopping in at old bars like Tabanco San Pablo, for a local tipple.
  2. Head to the town’s oldest sherry winery – Fundador, started in 1730 – and go for a tour and tasting around its fascinating complex.
  3. Head west along the pretty A-480 road. On either side, for as far as the eye can make out, you can notice the distinct dry, almost, white albariza soils: a mixture of chalk, sand and clay. Vineyards surround you as you drive to Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
  4. Enjoy the views across the sands and lazy Guadalquivir estuary to the UNESCO-protected Doñana national park on the other side of the water. Enjoy cheap drinks and some fresh fish and flamenquín at Don Viento.
  5. Stroll up to the centre of the old town, perhaps ‘forcing’ yourself to have another sherry at the adorable Plaza de Cabildo.
  6. Have a final mosey through more of those typically white and endearingly scruffy white streets – occasionally shocked with colour – to Taberna der Guerrita for a tapa and yet more sherry.
  7. Choose your designated driver and head back to Jerez past the final wine-town of El Puerto de Santa María before taking the CA-201 and visiting the beautiful Carthusian charterhouse, Cartuja de Santa María de la Defensión.

5. Cariñena/Campo de Borja – one day

Start of the route: Zaragoza

End of the route: Borja

Recommended steps:

  1. Head south from Zaragoza on the A-222 towards the eerie and Civil War-ruined ghost town of Belchite.
  2. Head west along the A-220 keeping your eyes peeled just after leaving Belchite for the odd-looking Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Pueyo up on its private hill.
  3. Drive through the rumbling plains and vineyards of DO Cariñena and make for the attractive town of Borja; home of Bodegas Borsao, which Robert Parker said in 2016 was ‘My favourite value winery not only in Spain, but in the world…’
  4. Have food at La Bóveda del Mercado and make sure to accompany it with red wine: the speciality being made from the Garnacha grape. You are now in DO Campo de Borja, the ‘Empire of Garnacha’.
  5. Follow the small road north, that rises out of the town past beautiful vineyards, to the Santuario de Misericordia. Here you can see the amusing repainting of Ecce Homo when local octogenarian Cecilia Giménez tried, and spectacularly failed, to restore the fresco.
  6. Return towards the N-122 and take the road west, coming off at the Z-372. You’re now heading into the lush and mountainous beauty of the Moncayo Natural Park.
  7. Visit the imposing and ancient-looking Monasterio de Veruela and its well-set up wine museum. Also, of course, grab a drink there!

6. Bierzo – one day

Start of the route: Ponferrada

End of the route: Villafranca del Bierzo

Recommended steps:

  1. First head east along the LE-142 and check out some of the outrageously cute slate-tiled mountain villages typical of the area: Molinaseca, El Acebo de San Miguel, Foncebadón and, slightly further off, Rabanal del Camino.
  2. Check out the Templar Castle in Ponferrada and grab tapas in the old town at El Bodegón: famed for their spicy mussels, fried calamari and patatas bravas.
  3. Head west along the LE-713 to the wine town of Cacabelos and then try to grab a tour of the Godelia winery. You’ll start to notice that you are following pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago.
  4. Past dinky Pieros, take the offshoot road CV-126-32 to the ramshackle and diminutive wine-village Valtuille de Arriba. This whole area is surrounded by smooth multicoloured hills dotted as far as the eye can see with Mencía grapevines; Spain’s answer to Pinot Noir.
  5. Follow the country roads west – best to use a GPS here – to one of Spain’s most attractive small towns: Villafranca del Bierzo. Eat at the Casa de Comidas La Pedrera, with its pretty decor and garden.

There are myriad routes through cute villages and outstanding countryside in all 70 of the country’s denominaciones. So, when you’ve finished these 6, hire a car and make your own adventure!

Salud y buen camino!


Happy 2017 from Roque and Luke. To toast this new year we tackle another Spanish classic. A bottle of Ribera del Duero, from Condado de Oriza Crianza. As well as the classic wine chat the two swap presents and chat festive nonsense.

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De Vinos

  • Calle de la Palma, 76
    28015 Madrid
  • Barrio: Universidad
  • Metro: Noviciado
  • +34 911 823 499

Strolling one day with Luke on the old Calle Palma, he took me to this little tavern. It is not unusual that is filled with people, and not just for their tastings, concerts or promotions of wine and vermouth, but because it is really a great place to discover and appreciate the world of wine. It’s easy to miss it, keep your eyes open when walking nearby. The interior has that stale air, with tradition, we call it in Spain with ‘solera’, part of our tradition, really welcoming. The tavern really smells history, did you know it is a former dairy?.

Do not worry if there are many people at the entrance, because there is more room at the back.

The best thing of the place is the owner Yolanda, a real winelover. Let her take you under her wing, her wine list is as wide as it is interesting, served “como Dios manda”. Succumb to the most extravagant denominations, leave the mainstream path of Rioja and Ribera: Mencia, Bierzo, Somontano … By glass or bottle, and do not worry if you don’t finish the bottle, you can bring it home, or better still, they can vacuum seal with a name tag. Cool, right?

It’s not all about wine, they also have some tapas that are a real pleasure to the senses. The menu is as good as the wine one. I especially remember the parmesan mousse with red wine jam … Oh. My. God. Or just go with a simple cheese. Simple tapas: a cheese and a wine. Pleasure of the gods

Posada del León de Oro

The old inns of old “Madrid de los Austrias”, near the Plaza Mayor, have been reconverted into sofisticated hotels that have not turned their backs on one of the most rooted traditions in this city: wine. La Posada del León de Oro is one of those hostels of the late nineteenth century, crossed by the Christian wall of the XII century, and which, after its lavish restoration, has not lost its noisy and daily hubbub, like all the best bars in Madrid. It is not overly expensive for such a luxurious looking place. They have done a very good job with the restoration of the old inn.

The wine list has more than 300 types. Ask for whichever bottle you want, and pay only the bottle plus the corkage. The floor in some parts is transparent glass and you can see the ancient cellar through it. Among all the wines they pay special attention to the Madrid ones, something I like. The tapas range goes from the simplest things like the typical pincho de tortilla to the most sophisticated ones.

Matritum

  • Calle Cava Alta, 17
    28005 Madrid
  • Barrio: La Latina
  • Metro: La Latina
  • +34 913 658 237
  • matritum.es

Matritum is the Latin name for Madrid, but do not look in the history books, this is not a Roman city. The city of Madrid is much more recent, and that’s the reason they can make tunnels and holes anywhere without fear of finding a Roman arena or some Arab baths.

This is definitely my favorite corner of La Latina, small and friendly. The food is exquisite, with a touch of innovation but respectful to the national gastronomic tradition. Pre-book your dinner at this pleasant and hidden restaurant of Cava Alta. Let yourself go by the advice of Alfonso, the sommelier, who is in charge of the place. Meatballs, croquettes, foie gras… see what the staff recommend. The journey of flavors is amazing.

The place is intimate with few tables, not quite cheap, but acceptable. The wine list is designed for each season and includes varieties ranging from the expected Riojas to the unexpected, large enough to have the sensation of traveling around world. It will not disappoint you. This place has also a wide variety of tapas and wines from all regions of Spain.

Casa Lucas

  • Calle de la Cava Baja, 30
    28005 Madrid
  • Barrio: La Latina
  • Metro: La Latina
  • +34 913 650 804
  • casalucas.es

Casa Lucas is one of those places to stop when you are in the area. It is located right next to the emblematic Casa Lucio and is one of the most popular places on the Cava Baja. You will be surprised how small it is, just 6 or 7 tables, so plan your visit well, it’s always full.

If you have to wait, that it is the perfect moment to take a wine at the bar. Here it works the rule of “eat well, drink well”. The menu is excellent, and the wine list is more than acceptable. Do not look for a sophisticated place, newly designed, loud music or dim lighting. This is a bar. Yes. The food is exquisite and worth paying that little more than the local bars. Excellent croquettes, chicken curry, tatakis …

The wine list runs all the Spanish geography with more than twenty references across the country

Taberna Tempranillo

  • Calle Cava Baja, 38
    28005 Madrid
  • La Latina
  • Metro: La Latina
  • +34 913 641 532

I love this wine and tapas bar in its simplicity: wine and tapas. You always find people packed into it, so the sooner you go the better. A wall full of bottles up to the ceiling decorates the bar. Wine, that is the word that defines this bar. After all, Tempranillo is the most famous grape of Spain. You will find excellent quality wines from all over the country at good price. With every wine you get a tapa: excellent embutidos as ham, chorizo, lomo…accompanied by bread of the highest quality. A real pleasure for the mouth.

The tapas menu exceeds the conventional: let yourself be taken away on a flavour zephyr with sophisticated Iberian ham, crab or foie gras, line-caught tuna with garden vegetables. Their open sandwiches, tostas, a real Madrid obsession, are to die for here. The price is incredibly reasonable, so the only thing you have to deal is with the lack of space.