The windswept hills of La Rioja, in northern Spain, have been home to grape cultivation for over 1,000 years. While historic bodegas abound, the 21st century has seen a new generation of vintners recruiting top designers to build their wineries, and now the architecture may be stealing the show, with tour operators like Butterfield & Robinson, The Unique Traveller, and Rioja Wine Trips basing whole itineraries around it. Read on for four of the most spectacular examples of La Rioja’s new wave of design—delivered with appropriate pairings.
With its slatted, seemingly pixelated roof, Ysios looks like a building out of Minecraft, but world-famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava had something more organic in mind for the undulating structure of his first and only winery: an abstract representation of the vineyard’s backdrop, the Sierra de Cantabria mountains. The cedar-clad building, completed in 2001, also mimics the patina of wine casks, and an external water feature mirrors its curves, creating the illusion of a row of barrels. Inside, the vaulted ceilings (with windows to match) read more like a temple than a tasting room.
Pairing: The Ysios Chillida, a tempranillo that’s dedicated to another of Spain’s Modernists, the Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida.
Marqués de Riscal
The owners of this 150-plus-year-old producer took the Bilbao approach, commissioning starchitect Frank Gehry to design their winery hotel, which was completed in 2006. The roof cascades like ribbon in shades of iridescent and silver titanium, and there’s no denying the wow factor at the first sight of it skimming the vine-swathed hills. Take in the views while enjoying a multicourse tasting menu on the shaded terrace of the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, then indulge in a Caudalie Vinothérapie spa treatment like Pulp Friction, a sculpting massage that uses fresh grapes.
Pairing: Double down on the experience with the Frank Gehry Selection 2012. The tempranillo’s velvety mouthfeel sweeps the palate like one of its namesake’s designs.
The glass-and-steel reception hall of this winery, designed by Basque architect Iñaki Aspiazu and completed in 2003, resembles a futuristic Japanese teahouse—in sharp contrast with the neighboring medieval stone hamlet of Samaniego. But the visible structure is just the tip of this oenological iceberg: The winery descends seven stories below ground, allowing for an ultra-efficient, gravity-fed processing line. Reach the winery restaurant, which has a dramatic arched-concrete ceiling, by crossing a wooden footbridge over the barrel cellar.
Pairing: The B70 2011 shows the depth of Baigorri’s technical artistry: Each grape is hand-selected from single-source tempranillo vines planted in 1942.
Finca de los Arandinos
This winery hotel, which opened in 2011, enlisted Spain’s late enfant terrible of fashion, David Delfín, to imagine its common areas and guest rooms. Delfín fulfilled the auteur-designer mandate by hand-lettering each room number, placing tile welcome mats in front of every door, and papering the hallway in a bold floral print, but that’s where normalcy ends: Inside the rooms, mobile panels conceal the minibar, desk, and bathroom. (Staffers often have to point these out to baffled guests.) Delfín also refused to cover over the spackling. Even now, the restaurant’s ceiling looks defiantly like a construction site.
Pairing: The + Mejor 2015 is a rosé that’s as bright and challenging as Delfín’s designs.