If we had to choose a city in Spain that is intrinsically linked to wine, we would pick Logroño, the capital of La Rioja province. As such, the number of bars, taverns and restaurants where visitors can try wines is enormous. However, quantity does not equate to quality and finding interesting selections for wine nerds beyond the top sellers and run-of-the-mill brands is no easy task.
Luckily, there are a bunch of people who are set on enriching the wine scene in town and dream of turning Logroño into the great wine capital it should be, not only showcasing the region’s excellent wines but also opening up to other Spanish and worldwide selections.
NO LONGER IN BUSINESS That is what Guardaviñas Wine Bistro (Marqués de San Nicolás, 47) is set on doing since it opened its doors in the city’s old quarter. Dishes mix classic recipes with creative touches and a nod to English traditional cuisine which its owner, Alberto Ruiz, pairs with a refreshingly original wine list dotted with small producers from the region such as Abel Mendoza, Sierra del Toloño, Juan Carlos Sancha or Benjamín Romeo and quirky selections like Ojuel Supurao, made with dried grapes following an ancestral method in the region.
You can tell Ruiz, who lived in London for five years, has a passion for wine. He holds tastings and does custom pairings, a rather unusual service outside Michelin-starred restaurants. Among the 150 brands stored in his pretty underground cellar there is an interesting selection of organic and natural wines as well as artisan champagnes and bottles from a diversity of wine regions and countries such as Burgundy, Jura, Chile, Italy or even Georgia and Oregon.
Not far from Guardaviñas is Taberna Herrerías (Herrerías, 24), set in a restored 16th century palace opposite the church of San Bartolomé. It is a family business, run by Asunción Duarte in the kitchen and her sons Carlos and Eduardo Sáenz in the front of house. The ground floor has a traditional tapas and wine counter, but the décor is modern. Further up is the dining room, with traditional dishes and seasonal products such as roasted artichokes and green beans from the Rioja village of Anguiano.
On the wine front, they have some 200 selections, mostly classic Riojas, which are served in smart glassware and at reasonable prices. The service in Taberna Herrerías is impeccable and is a popular hang-out for the region’s producers.
On the edge of the city centre, close to the train station, is El Lagar (Huesca, 13), a well-known classic in the city which shut its doors for a few years but is back in business thanks to Carlos Martínez Bujanda. After 17 years working in the family’s winery, he was brave enough to embark on this new adventure where he combines two of his passions: wines and gastronomy. His wine list includes 250 selections with a wide choice of Rioja wines —both from classic, well-established producers and from new and small winegrowers— as well as whites and reds from other parts of Spain and abroad.
Dishes are made with good quality products and combines traditional recipes with a modern twist. On Thursdays during the winter, the lunchtime offer includes cocido madrileño, hearty stew with beans and meat, and a homemade dessert paired with a bottle of Rayos Uva (Olivier Rivière) for €26.
Distances are not big in Logroño so in a pleasant 10-minute stroll you can get from El Lagar to Parque del Espolón, the city’s main square with a famous equestrian statue of Espartero, a famous 19th century general who lived in the city. Close by, in a stylish palace on Vara del Rey street, is Wine Fandango a restaurant and wine bar whose philosophy revolves around three elements: wine, gastronomy and fun. Behind Wine Fandango are the Arambarri brothers, owners of Vintae wine group. Wine is treated in a relaxed, uncomplicated manner and served in quality glassware at the correct temperature.
The wine-by-the-glass board includes around 20 rotating selections, whereas the full list reaches 100, with many brands from Rioja, both modern and classic. The welcome novelty in Wine Fandango are the wine flights, vermú torero (it loosely translates as a long and leisurely aperitif) and wines served in the popular porrón (pitcher). The food side, managed by Aitor Esnal, features seasonal produce, great presentations and reasonable prices.
On the other side of Parque del Espolón, down Capitán Galarza street, is Calle Laurel, the heart of Logroño’s bar scene. There are over 60 places to indulge with a glass of vino de año (young wines) and crianza and some legendary pinchos such as the grilled mushrooms at Bar Ángel or Bar Soriano, the garlic bulbs with vinegar and embuchados in Bar Achuri or the tomato salad and fried eggs served on the no-frills counter of El Soldado de Tudelilla in nearby San Agustín street.
These informal, friendly bars cater for a young crowd so on spring and summer weekends they brim with stag and hen nights and can get very rowdy. It is no surprise that Laurel Street is also known as La Senda de los Elefantes (The Elephants’ trail) —chances of leaving drunk (in Spanish, salir trompa, which literally means having an elephant’s trunk) and on four legs multiply for a few visitors.
At the entrance of Calle Laurel, in La Tavina pinchos are secondary to wine, with three floors to drink, buy, enjoy and pair it with something to eat. La Tavina has a street counter and a second one on the inside to eat tapas and drink some of the 25 different wines by the glass that are renewed every season.
Being in the capital of La Rioja, the region’s brands take centre stage but there are always alternative options from other Spanish regions and from abroad. The first floor is occupied by the shop, with 600 selections ready to be sampled on the spot (corkage fee is €2) on the long tables here or upstairs on the restaurant, which serves day menus and à la carte dishes. Monday evenings usually feature tastings led by local producers while on weekends Sonia, the sommelier, leads an express tasting course (€20) adapting the contents to the knowledge and interest of participants.
Calle San Juan is another street in the Old Quarter which caters for local, senior wine drinkers. The layout is similar to Calle Laurel, with twenty-odd bars and restaurants on both sides of the street where the crowds gather mostly on weekends for the traditional pincho and wine aperitif.
Most of the bars serve a dozen wines by the glass from well known, run-of-the-mill brands with little interest for wine buffs, but there are a couple which try a little harder, like Tastavin, with 50 selections by the glass —the most expensive of them served with the Coravin. At the back of Tastavin there are a few tables and stalls to enjoy a leisurely round of pinchos and dishes, prepared mostly with local and seasonal products.
On the other side of calle San Juan is Torres Gastrobar, which follows a similar style to Tastavin. Their choice of wines by the glass is smaller but includes some interesting wines to pair with excellent pinchos such as the Kobe beef burger.
Our last recommendation for wine aficionados —and anyone with good taste, really— is on calle Portales, close to calle San Juan. DellaSera is not a trendy wine bar but one of the best ice-cream shops in the country selling deliciously original flavors. Fernando Sáenz doesn’t make wine ice-creams (“they are a disaster; they are watered down and lose their properties”) but wine is certainly present in his frozen creations.
Chocobarrica (literally, chocobarrel) takes its name from the macerated barrel pieces which are used to flavor the ice-cream; mosto de racima is made with the must extracted from late-ripening grapes and the lees ice-cream is made with the lees sourced from a barrel-fermented white wine from respected vigneron Abel Mendoza. Rioja terroir in a tub.