One of the best things about Spain is its food and wine culture. It’s no secret that Spanish wines are some of the best in the world. Its famous grape varieties like the Tempranillo, Verdejo, and Albariño, for example, are cultivated among 8 different wine regions. Everyone knows Rioja, of course…but Rueda, in the region of Castilla y Leon, is also quite distinguished.
I was always curious about how wine is made. Do they still have people stomping around a mosh pit of grapes? How do they store them? What does a Spanish winery even look like? So, like many other things I do, I decided on a whim to go to Rueda with some friends from Spanish class to find out. (This was pre-Madrid lockdown, obvi!!)
Getting there from Madrid
We took the bus from Madrid to Medina del Campo- Plaza los Galgos. The buses depart regularly from Moncloa, Avenida de America, Principe Pio, and Puerta del Sol. You just need to check Avanza – Auto Res for the daily schedule. The trip takes about 3 hours and 15 minutes, so go early to maximize your day.
Pit Stop: Medina del Campo
While you’re in the town of Medina del Campo, take the opportunity to visit the Castillo de la Mota, a 12th century beauty that served as a fortress for the kingdom. It has a moat, complete with a massive drawbridge and arrow slits like the ones you see in medieval movies. It also has a dungeon, and walking around it will remind you of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo…ok, or maybe Game of Thrones.
And yes, the castle is replete with history and drama, like when the King of Aragon locked the King of Castille inside its walls, or when the Archbishop of Toledo betrayed the King and sided with his rival from Portugal, or when a prisoner escaped from the tower 40 meters high. Netflix worthy stuff, right?
On to Rueda
From Medina del Campo, take another bus to Rueda, this time only 15 minutes away. When you get there, you can hire a cab to take you to the winery.
The tour starts off in the winemaking cellar of Yllera wineries. There they take you through the whole wine-making process. Clue: there are no stomping women here, but you will see the giant metal barrels where fermentation and clarification occur, then the bottling and aging process. You’ll even get to see how they add bubbles for the Yllera 5.5 Verdejo Frizzante wine, which is now one of my favorites.
El Hilo de Ariadna
The next part of the tour is definitely the most interesting. They take you to a wine cellar called “El Hilo de Ariadna”, which means Ariadne’s Thread. This is a reference to the Greek myth of the weaver, Ariadne, who gave the warrior Theseus a ball of thread to get through a labyrinth and kill the minotaur that was terrorizing the land.
The cellar is an underground maze, and it is designed in such a way that every part tells you a different myth. Each of these myths corresponds with a different wine. The first station is about Crete, the birthplace of European civilization, and where wine originated. The next station is about the virgin tributes, their innocence symbolized by the purity of white wine, and so on.
The Minotaur’s Lair
The creativity in all this is amazing. Not only do you get a brush-up on Greek mythology, you also learn about the important characteristics of the wine itself. And… get this… there is an actual mechanized minotaur inside the cellar! It has the head of a bull and the body of a human, and it moves and makes strange monster noises. It was so trippy at this point that I couldn’t suppress my giggles.
The tenth and last stop of the labyrinth is named after Dionysus, the God of Wine, and it showcases the most prestigious and exclusive wine of the Yllera Group: the Yllera Dominus, a rich, full-bodied Tempranillo.
After touring the subterranean cellar, you are led to a large hall where the wine tasting begins. A standard visit (EUR 15) gets you two tastings, along with some tapas from the Rueda region, while a premium visit (EUR 18) gets you four tastings. These visits also come with free access to an online introductory course on wines that normally cost EUR 20. You can also arrange a customized visit. To make your booking and check out other details, click here: https://www.elhilodeariadna.es/.
You didn’t think we’d return to Madrid without a stash, right? The visit also entitles you to very good prices for the Yllera Group’s wines, like the Pepe Yllera Ribera del Duero, the Night Harvest Verdejo, the 12-month Tempranillo, and the 5.5 Frizzante, plus lots more. I came home with three bottles from my trip to Rueda!
By around 7pm, we were on the bus headed back to Madrid. As I looked out the window, a vibrant rainbow appeared in front of me. Oh, Spain. You’re always full of beautiful surprises.