Head two hours north of Madrid and you'll find one of Spain's newest wine routes in Rueda, established a little over a year ago with 14 wineries winding through 13 towns. Taste your way around wine cellars dating back to the Middle Ages, surrounded by Rueda's signature pine forests and castles, through an area known for its indigenous white grape variety Verdejo, dating back to the 11th century. After you've made it through a round of white wines, take your tour to the next-door region of Ribera del Duero, known for its red Tempranillo grapes, with 53 wineries and vineyards lining the Duero river. Now Ribera y Rueda have joined forces to create a new Spanish wine route through the red and white regions that's not only heavy on vino, but also on tapas bars, Michelin-starred cuisine and five-star hotels tucked under castles. While you could spend weeks sipping your way through wine country, we've made the process easier for you, narrowing down the list of wineries to 10 of our top favorite.
Ribera del Duero
Taking its name from the Greek word for "first," Bodegas Protos was exactly that–the first winemaker to set up shop in the Ribera del Duero region in 1927. While the winery is steeped in history, it blends the past with the present, so not only can you tour mazes of old caves and cellars dating back to the 1500s–which still store some 14,000 barrels of wine–you can also explore the super modern addition to the winery on an old Roman road, set just below the Peñafiel Castle.
The Pérez Pascuas brothers are seen as pioneers in Ribera del Duero, one of four wineries that created the appellation back in the 1980s. The number of wineries in the area has now expanded to over 300, and the Pascuas brothers are the owners of one of the oldest cellars in the region. They took their father's grape growing business and transformed the vineyard into a winery producing 500,000 bottles a year from vines up to 80 years old. Now known around the globe, the winery is one of the few in the region that relies entirely on its own grapes when crafting wine, playing with the balance of alcohol and ripeness for a house style with finesse, elegance and structure–and a price tag that sometimes matches.
Jaime Comenge started his sustainably farmed vineyards from scratch in the Valle del Cuco in 1999 as a tribute to his father, D. Miguel Comenge, who wrote a textbook on Spanish vines and wines back in 1942 that's still used at universities today. Planting 89 acres of vineyard (with mostly Tempranillo grapes) between rivers and castles, the winery is on track to become organic, with its own equestrian center onsite providing nutrient-rich fertilizer for the soil. While the winemakers don't mind sharing secrets behind their specially designed fermentation process, they also want to show visitors the reason why this region is so special, offering carriage rides through the vineyards.
In the tiny hilltop village of La Aguilera, husband and wife duo Jorge and Isabel are going back to winemaking roots in an ambitious project using vines and varieties so old, they've been abandoned by other producers. "There's a lot of opportunity because this kind of vineyard is not profitable," Jorge explains. "It's more labor-intensive, has a lower production, but in the end it's more authentic and distinct." The wines sway from the traditional style in Ribera del Duero, with a lighter color and lower alcohol content than the region's heavier reds, processed in a winery that dates back to the 17th century. The couple even goes back in time when it comes to grape crushing, using one of the oldest tools of the trade–their feet.
Now in its tenth harvest, Bodegas y Viñedos Neo began in 2006 with three friends who wanted to break the age-old rule of friends and family not working together. As one of the founders, Javier, explains, "We grow slowly, but create what we need. We can't control nature outside, so we try and produce the best wine we can with what nature gives us." The result is a winery that operates more like a trendy design studio, crafting products that are seen as works of art–not only wine, but labels and posters, too. Sure you'll see vats and barrels, but take a look around and you'll see the barrels have been signed by famous musicians who've stopped by the winery to say hi to their friends, or record an album at the onsite recording studio, designed one of the top studio designers in the world–Philip Newell of Virgin Records.
Camino Pardo and her husband have been in the winemaking business for almost 20 years on both the grape and wine production side, but it wasn't until more recently the duo decided to try their hand at developing their own brand. With a vineyard in Ribera del Duero's "golden mile" and one of the newest wineries in the region complete with state-of-the-art software to track weather and temperature, they're already a hit in the wine world, winning international awards for innovative uses of their Tempranillo, even crafting a Kosher wine.
The newest of the five wineries in the Familia Martinez Bujanda group, Finca Montepedroso was designed by an architect from Madrid in a modern style that's meant to look like it's part of the landscape. Set on one of the highest altitudes in Rueda, 2,460 feet above sea level, the single vineyard produces 100 percent Verdejo grapes, producing one vintage each year making it the only single vineyard estate wine in the region.
Now in its fifth generation, the family-owned winery has a history dating back 350 years. Set in Serrada in the middle of Rueda, this spot is the perfect launch point for the wine route through white wine territory, exploring grapes that date generations back, processed in an old Spanish farmhouse built by the order of the Dominicans in the 17th century. Half the fun here (besides the tasting) is exploring the kilometer of labyrinth and barrel vaults tucked away in the underground cellars.
The wine cellars here in the town of Nava del Rey go quite a ways back, earning their name "The Inquisition" 500 years ago when grapes that were used to pay taxes were deposited here. The underground cellars are slowly being restored but just a short drive away, the 247-acre vineyard produces two million bottles per year using three white grape varieties–Verdejo, Sauvignon Blanc and Viura–and much more modern winemaking measures, while still paying tribute the image and name of the founders who started the winery in 1941.
The Sanz family has been crafting wine in Rueda since the start of the 19th century, but 10 years ago, the sixth generation of children decided to step out of their family's shadows and start something fresh. The result is Menade, a return to nature and tradition when it comes to winemaking, with a mentality towards organic farming and sustainability that starts in the fields and ends at the ecofriendly bottle, crafted with thinner glass and topped with natural beeswax, stored in a 200-year-old wine cellar under the town of La Seca.