Cellar Tours Blog

Wines of the Camino de Santiago- Wine Tasting along the Saint James Pilgrimage

Camino de Santiago

This has been a record year for number of pilgrims on the “Camino de Santiago” with visitors coming from all over the world, and travelling clear across the North of Spain to Santiago de Compostela on foot, cycling, horseback, and those with less time available, by car.  The experience is amazing and even life changing for some, and while in centuries and decades past the pilgrimage was purely religious, these days people from all walks of life and religions take part in the Camino for a number of reasons- spiritual, for their health, as a sabbatical or break between professions, and many, as a unique life affirming vacation. Some of Spain´s loveliest cathedrals and medieval towns are located along the camino. And the bonus for wine lovers is that many of Spain´s best wine regions also crisscross the north of the country.

There are  5 main pilgrim routes to Santiago in Spain, and others originating outside Spain in greater Europe but the most popular and traditional of the caminos is the “Camino Francés“, the French Way which starts in French Basque Country and stretches nearly 800 kilometers to Santiago de Compostela. Here are some notes on wine tasting and traveling along the Camino Francés, for food and wine lovers.

1. ST JEAN PIED DE PORT- IROULÉGUY WINE REGION

Wines of the Camino French Pays Basque

Sightseeing: If you have a few days before starting the Camino, explore the French Pays Basques-  Biarritz, the darling fishing village of St Jean de Luz, the picture postcard of Ainhoa, etc.  St Jean Pied de Port itself is a lovely small town as is Roncevalles and St Etienne de Baigorry is in  the heart of Irouleguy wine country.

What to drink: Domaine Arretxea, Domaine Brana, Domaine Ilarria, Domaine Etxegaraya

Where to stay: Stay in a simple room at the Hotel Pyrenee and dine at their Relais & Chateaux restaurant

Wines of the Camino

2. PAMPLONA- NAVARRA WINE REGION

wine tasting on the camino de santiago

Sightseeing: Puente la Reina with its medieval bridge, 18th century Santa Eulalia de Merida church in Etxauri (14 km from Pamplona), the Hemingway trail in Pamplona, the Ermita de Santa Maria de Eunate in Muruzabal, the monastery of Irache (also a winery) with its fuente de vino (a highlight for walkers on the camino with its free wine), the hamlet of Dicastillo, the magnificent fairy tale castle in Olite, the lovely Iglesia de Santa Maria in Tafalla, Ujue with its fortress and the medieval hamlet of Larraga.

What to drink: El Chaparral de Vega Sindoa (Nekeas), Esencia Monjardin, Alzania Seleccion, Ochoa Vino dulce de Moscatel, Calchatas, Guelbenzo Evo, Coleccion 125 Chardonnay fermentada en barrica (Chivite).

Local dishes to try: Bacalao ajoarriero, Esparragos de Navarra, Cordero al Chilindron

Local festivities: The truffle festival in Oloríz in December, The medieval festival of Olite in August and the international folkloric dance festival in Lodosa in July.

Visit wineries (always by appointment): Castillo de Monjardin, Palacio de Muruzabal, Principe de Viana

Where to stay: La Perla in Pamplona, the beautiful Parador in Olite and the Relais & Chateaux El Peregrino in Puente la Reina

Navarra wine map

3. LAGUARDIA- LA RIOJA WINE REGION

wine tasting camino santiago

Sightseeing: Medieval villages like Laguardia, Briones and Ábalos; Tapas (Calle Laurel) and some fine churches in Logroño; the hamlet of Navarrete; beautiful Torremontalbo; Nájera; the extremely important monasteries of San Millán de la Cogolla (birthplace of the Spanish language; and the  Santo Domingo la Calzada is a major stop on the Camino de Santiago.

What to drink:  Tempranillo is king here and Rioja has some amazing producers making both traditional and modern style wines. We love Benjamín Romeo´s Contador, Sierra Cantabria, Remirez de Ganuza, Roda, Hermanos Peciña, Muga, Artadi, Finca Valpiedra and Señorio de San Vicente.

Local dishes to try: menestra de verduras (fresh sauteed local veggies, Rioja is a big vegetable producing part of Spain), alcachofas frescas salteadas con jamón ibérico (sauteed artichokes with cured ham, Bacalao a la Riojana (cod, Rioja style), Chuletillas al sarmiento (baby lamb chops grilled over grape vines).

Where to stay: The Marqués de Riscal wine resort in El Ciego is the most luxurious property (with wine spa and Frank Gehry design) and the Villa de Laguardia is a solid four star outside medieval Laguardia, with a spa offering wine and olive oil treatments. Also recently opened in Laguardia´s main plaza is the Hospederia Los Parajes Inn.

Visit wineries (always by appointment): Darien, Baigorri, Muga, Lopez de Heredia, Juan Alcorta (Campo Viejo).  Luxury wine tours in Rioja, see sample program here.

Local festivities: the “wine battle” of Haro in June, the medieval festival of Briones also in June, another lesser known wine “battle” in San Asensio and an array of harvest festivals

rioja wine map

4. BURGOS- RIBERA DEL DUERO WINE REGION

wine tasting camino santiago

Sightseeing: The magnificent cathedral of Burgos, the pretty historic center of Lerma, Peñafiel with its castle housing a wine museum, the pharmacy of Peñaranda (dating to 1635!) and the medieval village of Covarrubias.

What to drink: Tinto del Pais, otherwise known as Tempranillo is the main grape in this red wine producing region. Top wines include Dominio de Pingus, Vega Sicilia, Pesquera, Mauro, Dominio de Atauta,  Alion, Emilio Moro, Arzuaga, Viña Mayor, Abadia Retuerta, Viña Pedrosa, Pago de los Capellanes and Pago de Carrovejas.

Local dishes to try: Lechazo asado!! This is the definitive local dish, baby lamb roasted in ancient clay or brick ovens. Also, Asparagus from Tudela, Cochinillo (suckling pig), Morcilla de Burgos (black pudding spiced with paprika) and Salchicha de Zaratán are local specialties.

Where to stay: Palacio de la Merced in Burgos, Convento las Claras hotel and spa in Peñafiel, and the gorgeous Parador in Lerma, a 17th century ducal palace.

Visit wineries (always by appointment): Legaris, Matarromera, Prado Rey, Protos, Abadia Retuerta (who just opened a new gastronomic  restaurant onsite). Luxury wine touring options in Ribera here.

wine tasting camino santiago

5. LEON- BIERZO WINE REGION

wine tasting camino santiago

Sightseeing: Leon´s outstanding cathedral, Astorga, Ponferrada with its fairy tale castle (featured in our most beautiful castles in Spain post), unique landscapes in Las Médulas, the abandoned castle of Corullón, the Cistercian monastery of Carracedo.

What to drink:  The land of Mencia! Amazing value red wines here and top bets include Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas, Paixar, Pétalos del Bierzo

Local dishes to try: “El Botillo” (dating to medieval times), Cecina (cured beef), Cordero asado (roast lamb), Empanada de “batallón”

Where to stay: The Prada a Tope wine estate in Canedo.

wine tasting camino santiago

6. GALICIA- VALDEORRAS

valdeorras

What to see/do: Dine and spa at Spa Pazo do Castro, visit the outrageously baroque retablo in the tiny church of Rubia, the Monastery of Xagoaza (headquarters to the Godeval winery) and check out the Ancient Roman Cigarrosa bridge near the wine producing village of Petín.

What to drink: Godello is the main grape here and our faves are  Valdesil and As Sortes. Other good ones include Joaquin Rebolledo, Godeval and Guitian Fermentado en barrica (Bodegas la Tapada).

7.  GALICIA- RIBEIRA SACRA

ribeira sacra

What to see/do: This is the prettiest of all Galician wine appellations and the riverside scenery is sublime (the Miño and Sil rivers converge here).  Here is a great website in English with a full list of sightseeing options.  Wonderful area.

What to drink: a host of white and red varietals are grown here including Albariño, Treixadura, Loureiro, Torrontés, etc. Uniquely a region known for reds and whites. We love love love Adega Alguiera, as well as Témera, and Dominio do Bibei.

Local Festivities: There are many wine festivals in the region including the charmingly named wine producing area of Sober.

Where to stay: Located in pristine forest and countryside in this beautiful wine region is the delicious Parador of San Estevo, featured in our post on the best wine hotels in Spain.

8.GALICIA- RIBEIRO

Ribeiro

What to see/do: The Monastery of San Salvador in Celanova (founded in 936, although much of what you see now is 16th and 18th century add ons), the curious spas in Cortegada (in a modernista palace) and the tiny but interesting Jewish quarter in the small medieval town of Ribadavia.

What to drink:  Ribeiro is known for its fresh whites and we quite enjoy Viña Mein, not to mention the fab estate of Pazo Casanova.

9.GALICIA- RIAS BAIXAS

rias_baixas

What to see/do:  Stay at the Parador of Baiona, one of the most scenically perched Parador hotels in Spain. Cambados is a quaint fishing village.  And the Cies islands are to die for, rent a private boat to explore.

What to drink: Albariño, but of course! Considered the most elegant white wine in Spain, the Albariño grape flourishes in the vineyards of this area (Rias Baixas translates as “low rivers”, referring to the estuaries in southern Galicia). Top producers include: Fefiñanes,  Pazo de Barrantes (owned by Rioja´s Marques de Murrieta), Pazo de Señoráns, Terras Gaudas, and Lagar de Fornelos. The Martin Codax brand is probably the most popular Albariño abroad, and one you are likely to find back home.

10. SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA!

santiago_compostela

Sightseeing: The cathedral is of course the first stop for pilgrims and the energy here at the end of the camino is amazing, with people from all over the world descending on the cathedral and then the bars and restaurants of the old town. The fun thing to do here is just get lost in the old town and taste food and wine along the way.

What to drink: The tapas bars in Santiago serve Albariño in pretty ceramic cups and it is hard to find a bad house Albarino! The zippy white wine pairs perfectly with specialties like Pulpo a la Gallega (octopus drizzled in olive oil and smoked Spanish paprika).

Where to stay: For us, there is only one place to stay in Santiago itself and that is is at the beautiful Parador, which breathes history and romance.

POST CAMINO WINE EXPLORING:

The Douro Valley is only a few hours south and Northern Portugal is a treat for those looking for fabulous food and wine and unspoiled wine country.

wine tasting on the camino de santiago

Galicia Wine Country Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Early this summer we did an extensive road trip to check out wineries, restaurants and hotels in Spain’s northwestern region of Galicia, nestled just above Portugal on the Atlantic. Galicia is really unique in Spain and about as “un-Spanish” as you could imagine. The climate resembles Ireland or Scotland, the bagpipes are the main instrument used in the regional music and Celtic dolmens can be found here! The atmosphere is misty and mystical, just wonderful. We highly encourage you to visit this special and fairly undiscovered Spanish region.

Galicia

Here are some of our notes from the trip, and some of our new suppliers…

We began our tour in gorgeous Santiago de Compostela (have always loved this charming medieval city with its ancient cathedral that attracts millions of pilgrims each year following the Saint James Way (called the Camino de Santiago). We revisited the striking Parador, located in a one of the oldest hotels in the world and where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel stayed in the 15th century (!!), to do a follow up inspection. The Hostal dos Reis Catolicos has been used as a Royal hospital (for pilgrims) and an inn since the late 1400′s and today is a 5 star hotel. There is a new manager and a fresh breath of new life flowing through this historic hotel and despite the fact that the rooms are a bit dated, there is simply no better place to stay in Santiago de Compostela.

We received the grand tour of the property and were entertained by legends and anecdotes. One of the main event halls, for example, is where the old maternity ward of the ancient hospital was; one of the bedrooms was used for plague victims; one staircase is called suicide stairwell…this place is just oozing with atmosphere and history. It is THE place to stay while in Santiago.  On the other hand, we didn’t like the location or decor at the other five star hotel in Santiago, AC Palacio del Carmen, and it lacked character. Another hotel we did love love love, however, was the Parador Monasterio de Santo Estevo, read a review here on our Ten Best Wine Hotels in Spain post. It can be used as a base, as we did, for Ribeira Sacra, the most stunning and pristine wine region in Galicia.

Santiago de Compostela Parador Hotel Santiago de Compostela Parador

STAR WINERIES: we visited many estates in Rias Baixas, Ribeira Sacra and Ribeiro and tasted an array of Albariño, Loureira, Godello, and Treixadura based zippy white wines and a few Mencia based reds (Mencia is the grape used in neighboring Bierzo, one of Spain’s most stylish red wine regions). The climate in Galicia´s wine country is starkly different to other regions in Spain. Here in Galicia, you are right on the Atlantic. The cool and wet misty climate directly affects the viticulture and most of the vines are on pergolas to avoid the moist earth. Wineries range in size, from large estates like the prestigious Martin Codax to ultra tiny cellars like the high-end Santiago Ruiz winery.

Here is a pick of some of our favorite estates, wines and personalities:

PAZO DE SEÑORÁNS, RIAS BAIXAS-

Pazo de Señoráns Wine estate Galicia SpainPazo de Señoráns Wine estate Galicia SpainPazo de Señoráns Wine estate Galicia Spain

This elegant wine estate known for their Albariños is GORGEOUS. While the winery itself is small, new and nothing interesting, the estate itself is stunning. Lush trellised vines pan out in all directions, punctuated by manicured flowerbeds flowing over with pink, purple and blue “Hortensias” (hydrangeas), a beautiful flower so commonly seen around Galicia. The property features a 17th century Pazo (manor house) and a spectacular Hórreo (a traditional granary you find in Green Spain) as well as a historic chapel (that up until this year has still been functioning and many couples have come to be married here at the winery). The owner, Señora Marisol Bueno is one of the most famous personalities in the Rias Baixas appellation and has long been a pioneering force for quality in the region. Their Selección de Añada (specially selected vintage wine), only made in superb years made with 100% old vine Albariño and uniquely aged on its lees for over 2 years before release, is the best wine we tasted on our research trip and one of the best great white wines of Spain at the moment. Marisol´s friendly and knowledgeable daughter gave us the tour, and this estate is absolutely equipped to welcome our VIP clients

Pazo Barrantes Wine Estate Rias Baixas Galicia Pazo Barrantes Wine Estate Rias Baixas Galicia

More info on Pazo de Señoráns

AGRO DE BAZÁN, RIAS BAIXAS-

Agro de Bazan Wine Estate Galicia Agro de Bazan Wine Estate Galicia

This dynamic and lovely winery (founded in the 80´s) are well known for their Granbazán Albariño and their rich dry red wines made in the sister estate Mas de Bazán in the Utiel-Requena appellation in the southeast of Spain. Located in Vilanova de Arousa, the area changes evrey few minutes from industrial parks to picture perfect forest, from pockets of both lovely and built up coastline. Once you arrive to the estate, however, you forget all about its surroundings. The vineyards are beautiful and the traditional manor style house seems somehow funkier with the motorbike parked right out front. Agro de Bazán boasts a young, international and enthusiastic team making excellent Albariño wines that respect tradition.  Fabulous place and fabulous people, completely professional and ready to welcome you to their estate.

Agro de Bazan wine estate Rias Baixas Galicia Agro de Bazan wine estate Rias Baixas Galicia

More info on Agro de Bazan

PALACIO DE FEFIŇANES, RIAS BAIXAS-

We didn´t actually have a good visit here as the woman who was supposed to receive us did not show up for our appointment, a bad start ! But we were soon won over by the wine itself and the beauty of their very own wine castle and tiny, historic cellar. It is located in the prettiest part of the historic town of Cambados (also referred to as the Albariño capital, and a great place to buy wine as there are various wine shops with an extensive selection of local wines you won´t be able to find at home). The square is named after the palace and stand gracefully across the street from the attractive stone church. Palacio de Fefiñanes is the oldest winery (callled “Adega” in the Galician language) in the Rias Baixas appellation, founded in 1904. The estate features a 17th century palace cum castle and a very small vineyard. They make one wine only, with its own grapes as well as other grapes bought in from small local viticultors. As the winery flaked on us for our inspection visit, we won´t be including them in our tours but we do believe it is worth a visit If you find yourself in the area, so if you will be near Cambados, just have your hotel call ahead of time to see if anyone will be able to receive you.

Palacio de Fefinanes wine estate Rias Baixas GaliciaPalacio de Fefinanes wine estate Rias Baixas GaliciaPalacio de Fefinanes wine estate Rias Baixas Galicia

More info on Palacio de Fefiñanes

PAZO CASANOVA, RIBEIRO-

Pazo Casanova wine estate GaliciaPazo Casanova wine estate GaliciaPazo Casanova wine estate Galicia

What a gem!!!!!!!!!!!! Loved the estate (actually there are two estates, both with ancient pazo houses and lush vineyards). We stomped in the vines with the charismatic owner, Carlos de la Peña. Read a full review of the estate here in our autumn newsletter as we selected their Casanova wine as our recommended wine of the season.

More info on Pazo Casanova

Pazo Casanova wine estate Galicia Pazo Casanova wine estate Galicia

ADEGA ALGUEIRA, RIBEIRA SACRA

Another darling little spec of a winery with a passionate and charming owner (Fernando González) is Adega Algueira, located in an ancient stone house near the majestic terraced wine valley of the Ribeira Sacra (translated as sacred hillside). While over 15 grape varietals are allowed in the appellation, the main red grape used is Mencia (and important to note that this region, along with Valdeorras, is where Galicia´s red wines are made).  Apart from wine grape production, Ribeira Sacra is also a natural park and home to much wildlife such as Peregrine Falcons, Golden Eagles, wild boar and badgers. So, how surprised were we to find out that this tiny winery, in a practically unknown hidden corner of Galicia, got 95 Parker points this year for their aged mencia?!! We tasted Fernando´s wines at lunch on his rustic terrace overlooking the grounds, sublime! Again- amazing people, amazing wines, true and bonified wine discovery gem. Fernando and his wife have lovely ideas for wine harvest experiences on the dizzyingly steep and beautiful vineyard terraces overlooking the Rio Miño and Rio Sil, and we will be creating some excellent trips here.

Adega Algueira Wine estate Galicia Spain Adega Algueira Wine estate Galicia Spain

More info on Adega Algueira

BEST OF WHAT WE SAW:  the Parador Santo Estevo;  Santiago de Compostela, with its romantic ambiance in the quaint old town at night and many excellent restaurants like the Michelin starred Toñi Vicente and the whimsical Casa Marcelo; the above mentioned wines and estates; the Northeastern Galician coast (unspoiled and dramatic).

WHAT TO AVOID: Virtually the entire coast south of Santiago de Compostela, barring some lovely coves and the picturesque town of Baiona, is given over to mass development and sloppy building. The cities of Pontevedra and Ourense were not nice, you can definitely skip them. Southern Galicia in general is quite densely populated. The regions of Ribeiro (especially Pazo Casanova!!) and Rias Baixas are definitely worth touring, but don’t expect pristine wine country as there is a bit of industry and half built houses (the building boom has gone bust). Ribeira Sacra on the other hand is in a protected park and is ABSOLUTELY breathtaking, resembling Portugal´s Douro Valley.

Galicia wine country Galicia wine country