A Spanish Birthday Celebration - A Whole Different Wine Country (Day 6)

September 4th, 2015

Waking up in a Five Star Hotel isn't any different than staying in a non-Five Star Hotel.  It just takes you a little longer to get going.  Because why leave a comfy bed when you can stay in one for just a little longer.

Truth be told, we didn't have to race in the morning.  Well...we had to rush a little bit.  We only had one night in the hotel.  And unfortunately, we couldn't have a late check out.  So we lingered a bit more than we probably should.  But we couldn't start the day without a good breakfast.

Breakfast was included with the stay.  I know it was part of the package, but honestly, it seemed like they weren't checking any rooms.  My guess is they knew who everyone was as we walked in the door.  So maybe you don't want to saunter in without knowing if breakfast is included in your stay.

Our breakfast began with a glorious buffet.  It wasn't until midway through the breakfast that they asked if we wanted any extras.  I had the poached eggs.  I will always have the poached eggs.

Marques de Riscal

Our group met in the storefront of the winery.  Overall, there may have been about 20 people in the tour.  The first stop was a screening room, where we saw a video that explained the history of the winery and how the hotel came to be.  And really, if you want to know that info...look it up.  I'm not going into all of that.  What I will say is as we got to the screening room, a group of people (who had annoyed me at the pool yesterday and annoyed us at breakfast this morning) came in late.  This group of six people continued to irritate us as the tour went on.  But we soldiered on.

Our tour took us through many locations at the winery.  We had just missed the harvest.  A few weeks earlier, grapes were picked from the vines.  Today, the grapes were being put on the conveyor belt to be de-stemmed and soon be thrown into barrels to begin the process of becoming wine.

All of the old wine.  All of it!!

I did not use all of the glasses.

After the tour was over, we raced back to the room to check out.  We had already been told we couldn't have a late check out, but we stretched the limits a bit more than we probably should have.  The bellman took our car keys, drove our car around to the front, and piled our luggage into both the trunk of the car and the back seat.  I'm going to miss this life when it was over.

As we drove away, I silently waved goodbye to the hotel.  Though we didn't stay in the car for long.  We went back down the street to where we had our tour.  We had wine to buy.  It was here that I realized that our downfall was going to be the bottles of wine.  I bought two bottles.  Adele...many, many others.  And so, our wine journey began.

Our time in Elciego was over.  The next location was Haro.  Haro is basically the Napa Valley of Spain.  Jane, the GPS was able to get us to Haro relatively easy.  Finding our hotel was a little more difficult.  Then again, Haro isn't that big. 

There aren't too many hotel choices in Haro.  We chose Los Agustinos.  A former convent turned jail turned hospital turned hotel, it was an interesting juxtaposition from the last hotel.  This felt much more like Grandma's House than the luxury hotel we had just visited.  We didn't linger long.  We had other things to accomplish.

A short-ish walk from our hotel was the block where all of the wineries seem to live.  What we needed to do more than anything was to grab a bite to eat.  We had a large breakfast, so it helped, but food was needed.  Unfortunately, food was not going to happen.  We looked for places on our walk, but it wasn't happening.  I mean, I saw a heladeria, but Adele wasn't entirely down with that.

A decision was made as we walked to the wineries.  One of our locations had a wine bar.  There had to be food there, right??  I mean, Adele was beginning to get hangry.  And no one wants Adele to get hangry.  Especially me.  Cause if she gets hangry, I'm the one who will feel the burn.  So did our winery have food??  Ummm...


A quick online search showed that Muga's wine bar closed within the next 30 minutes or so.  We stealthily made our way to the corner of the bar.  The first thing we realized, there was no food.  I glanced at Adele nervously.  But she didn't seem to mind.  There were crackers in front of us.  They'd have to do.  We ordered a taste of a handful of wines.  Honestly, do I remember them??  Nope.  Adele did leave the winery with three bottles of Rose.  One ended up coming home with me.

I do love an old-timey cash register.

The story of Muga wasn't the tasting (which was great).  While the wine was wonderful, we just bellied up to a bar and drank a few glasses of wine.  There isn't a story there.  The story we will remember was the couple sitting next to us.  Kids.  There were kids at the bar.  It seemed like the kids were owned by a worker at the winery.  Or maybe they were kids of a long time patron.  It didn't matter who they belonged to.  These kids were sitting at a bar.

You might be thinking, "Kids sitting at a bar.  So what??"  Valid point, you.  But what if I shared the headline??  When these kids sat down at the bar, the bartender grabbed two stemless glasses and poured each of the kids a glass of red.

This pic is courtesy of Adele.
Yep.  We were as stunned as two Americans could be.  Had it been later in the day, we might have toasted the kids.  Instead, we just took stealthy pictures.  It was pretty fantastic.

Lopez de Heredia

Almost a year ago, Adele and I had a dining experience at Alinea.  During the meal, we got to know our sommelier and knowing Grant Achatz had recently been to Spain, we asked for winery recommendations.  One of the recommendations was Lopez de Heredia.  So we knew this was a place we were going to visit.

As we planned our trip, we had to decide how many tours we wanted to take.  I mean, after a while, all of the wineries tend to look the same.  Ooh, there's a hallway with a ton of barrels.  Again.  Plus, we had to pay for all of the tours.  Money could be better spent on tastings or bottles to take home.  So we knew there would be the Marques de Riscal tour.  The other winery tour ended up being Lopez de Heredia.  And it ended up being a perfect match.

MINI Cooper time!!
Our tour guide came out and walked us through various stages of winemaking.  The first thing he did was to apologize for his appearance.  He had a black eye and a giant band aid over his eyebrow.  Apparently, he had a soccer incident a few days earlier.  It was an interesting start to the tour.

Where the Marques de Riscal was modern, Lopez de Heredia was not.  I mean, there are workers whose only job is to construct a barrel to store the wine.  Mold grows on the walls of the cave to help with...something.  It was either for spiders or to keep the room cool.  I don't entirely remember.  But it was fascinating to see how very little had changed from the time they started winemaking over one hundred years earlier.

All of the old bottles of wine.

This guy had the best mustache I've ever seen.

How a barrel is made.
This count is how many barrels were made in one year.  In 2014, 161 barrels were made.
The guys who make the barrel also sign their work.
The view from the winery.
As we emerged from the bowels of the winery, we made our way back to more modern trappings.  Our guide walked us into the room we were all waiting to visit.  It was wine tasting time.  And as we walked into the room, I noticed the perfect accompaniment to the tasting.  There were two plates of jamon waiting for us.  

Jamon stars in my eyes, I quietly shifted my body towards the lovely ham.  This put me a bit further away from the wine, but we really hadn't eaten since breakfast.  My priorities were sound.  Bottles of wine were opened and tasted.  Happy sounds came out of my mouth without me even realizing what was happening.  Other folks on the tour would come by occasionally to grab a slice of jamon, but it was less than I would have expected.  So I decided the plate was all mine.  Worked for me.

Leaving the tasting room, we went back to the main wine shop.  For taking the tour, we were handed a lovely bottle of wine.  Perfect for us!!

Look at us!!  We are in a winery!!
Happily, we had a place to drop our packages.  For a while.

Cvne (Cune...I will probably end up calling it Cune) wasn't necessarily on our list.  We didn't even know if we would be able to make it through the front door.  Not because we were hammered.  That wasn't going to happen for a while.  But while we were in Lopez de Heredia, the already quiet streets of Haro got even quieter.  We had actually tried to go to La Rioja Alta, but they were closed.  I didn't think Cune would be open either.  But the door opened and we walked into a dark room.

The room was modern.  Black and open.  A few people were seated on a couch or couches to the left of the entrance.  A woman came out and we ordered two different tastings.  Five glasses of the "regular" wines.  Four of the Grand Reserve.  And here's the deal, the pour on each of these glasses was a bit amazing.  So we worked our way down the glasses.  Adele and I ended up sharing all nine glasses.  By the end...let's just say we were feeling no pain.

All of the glasses for tasting.
During the tasting, one of the workers came to our table, taking the Cune Reserva from us.  Now, this was by far my favorite of the wines.  So I decided to give the worker a bit of crap about it.  He was a smiley sort of guy.  And he was a true Ginger.  With a full Ginger Beard.  I was a bit in love.  And I had plenty of wine in me to be slightly mouthy (though let's be honest, I don't really need the wine to help me in that regard).  We had some back and forth dialogue, joking the entire time.  At some point (and I really don't know how that happened), I called him a Magician.  His response was instant, "Ahhh, yes.  Just call me Harry Potter."  After a beat, I responded, "Come on.  We all know you're not Harry Potter.  You're Ron Weasley."  And we all laughed...

After we drank the wine and after we met the couple from England (the guy part of the couple who did not understand the concept of personal space), we made some choices on the wine we were going to bring home.  I ended up working with Ron Weasley.  I picked up a bottle of the wine he so disappointedly took from me a while earlier.  And I also asked for a bottle of white called White.  He went to grab both bottles and returned with the horrible news that White was no longer in stock.

I feigned outrage and he offered up another bottle of white wine that he said was his favorite.  I was pretty pliable at this point so I was down with the option.  After paying for my tasting and the two bottles, I grabbed the box and started to leave.  Ron Weasley stopped me and went further behind the counter.  He returned with a Magnum bottle of Rioja.  "Complements of the house," Ron Weasley said.  I'm not sure if I looked as stunned as I felt, but I was pretty stunned.  I gave multiple thank you's and we left completely content.

By this time, our arms were loaded up with wine.  The walk back to our hotel was a bit difficult.  And let's be honest...it was a good thing we weren't driving.  Dropping off our haul was the first step.  We wandered the streets of Haro for a while, but we didn't have it in us to wander for too long.  We returned back to our hotel for a meal.  And really, we didn't feel too bad about hotel dining.  It was probably the best restaurant in Haro.

We stumbled back to our room, exhaustion setting in.  Happily, we didn't have far to go.  We were leaving Haro in the morning, our stay in the city lasting only one night.  Realistically, you visit Haro when you want to go to wine country.  We did that.  And we were ready for the next leg of our journey.  Where we would really dig into Spain.  Well, the food of Spain.

Our haul from one day of shopping.


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