The dramatic landscape of this area provides an awe inspiring backdrop to any visits to the wineries of the area. It just cannot fail to impress, even if you are already familiar with it. What is more, it defines the place and explains the wines and their style.
The fact that Rioja Alavesa is a wine region that specializes in red wine at all is made possible by the mountains to the north, which protect the place from the extremes of the Basque weather. The whole area is a south facing apron clinging to the Cantabrian Mountains. This gives them excellent sun exposure – which can show up in pretty high alcohol levels, I tried one with 16.3%! The proximity of the mountains also ensures that they have lower rainfall than the other sub-regions of Rioja.
Rioja Alavesa map - click for a larger view
What is astonishing is quite how small this place is, half an hour will see you drive from one end of Rioja Alavesa to the other – provided that you don’t get lost on the windy roads, or stuck in the narrow streets of one of the pueblos.
The capital of Rioja Alavesa is Laguardia, but this town is only home to 2000 people and many of the other pueblos have populations measured in the low hundreds, apart from grape harvesting activity this is not a bustling place.
The two major towns are Laguardia and Labastida and their history is clear from their names. These are fortress towns built in the Middle Ages to protect the southern border of the Kingdom of Navarre from the Moors and Castille. Their history shows, they still look exactly like castles from a distance. All the pueblos have this fortified look to them and it is easy to imagine that time has stood still here.
The views looking south are really splendid and give a real feel of the landscape, the way the land falls away from the mountains to the Ebro river.
While the views to the north show the rugged inhospitable terrain that lies in wait for anyone going off to the rest of the Pais Vasco.
That is all I have time for today, so keep coming back for more.
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