Vol. 2 No. 10 Ribero del Duero to Rías Baixis

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Spanish love ‘x’s. In  the Basque country ‘x’ is pronounced ‘ch’. Okay why don’t they just call their delicious white wine Chocoli instead of Txocoli? …and why isn’t Rías Baixis spelled like it is pronounced? Ree-us Bay-shus? Again, dunno. What TB does know is he has had some wonderful wines on the trip so far and the trip isn’t even one-third over!

Every wine we have had has been at the least very nice. We have had Ribero del Duero Tinto (red), and a fine white from Pesqúera, some fine Toro Tinta’s (red), lovely Rueda’s (don’t buy unless it says Verdejo on the label). Lastly, a great white, Albariño, that is one of favorite whites and propels seafood to another level.

If you go into a restaurant you will not see the name wineries on the list (except perhaps their cheapest red). But all are priced in the range of 12-18 Euro’s, and worth it and more. You have to go to a bodega or wine shop for the best names yet most can be found in the 20-25 Euro range (currently about $1.15).

We drove in fog and rain mostly, from Valbuena in Ribero to a small fishing village called Camariñas on one of the many small peninsula’s on Spain’s ‘death coast’, so named for the many shipwrecks caused by rounding the corner too soon. The inn was called Rustica and was built in 1713. The owner has restored the inn beautifully and it has just seven gorgeous rooms. It took three years and I have no idea how many Euros to rebuild it from near rubble. We used this as a base to explore and despite the light rain (heavier at night,thankfully), we drove down to Finisterra (Lands End), and saw the end of ‘camino’ at what was then thought to be the end of the earth. While it is the westernmost point in Spain it is beaten as the westernmost in Europe by the southwestern corner of Portugal, which we visited years ago.

On Sunday (appropriately) we drove to Santiago de Compostella and arrived just before the mass began in the beautiful cathedral. It is mobbed, unlike any other I have been in in Europe. After walking among the pilgrims who just completed walking ‘the Camino’ from St. Jean-Pied-a-Port, we drove to Pontevedre and had a great lunch outside a little restaurant on one of the little squares that dot the city. It was fun  and being a Sunday, families were everywhere and the little kids held sway. From there we drove to our 1729 inn in de Cobres, near Villaboa. It is charming and is our second day here. We visited several Pazo’s (a Galician term for a large farm house where wine is made).

Tomorrow we will drive to Portugal to visit the beautiful and grand, Douro River valley, much more impressive than the tiny Duero that meanders through Spain before carving a huge swath across Portugal and the source of Port, Dâo, and  Vino Verde (which is made from the same Albariño grape  here it is called Albarinho or Vino Verde, but not the same quality.

If you think you know Spanish, it is probably Mexican Spanish and while helpful, won’t get you much farther than English will.But fret not, the Galicians, like the rest of Spain will make you feel comfortable.and make you feel good about yourself.

Next post will be from Portugal!

TB

©Copyright 2016 TBOW, all rights reserved.

Vol. 2 No. 9 Lisbon to Penafiel

The trip is on! Left Monday and arrived Tuesday morning in Lisbon (Lisboa). Picked up our car and drove to Salamanca, a beautiful old city with a famous university and history. We stayed in a small hotel in part of the buildings surrounding the huge Plaza Mayor, The Petit Palace Las Torres. Highly recommended for location, location, location and uber modern. Being a university city the Plaza is constantly alive…and can be noisy at night. We tried to find a restaurant but it was almost 5pm so they were all closed…except we found a bar that served tapas (pintxo’s in the Basque country and sometimes called pinchos – phonetic for the Basque spelling). the bar was at the opposite end of the plaza from us and  called Tapas de Gonsalas. The tapas were excellent and the server friendly, but what was really impressive was the wine (none price over €3.50 a glass!). We started with a Rueda which is made from Verdejo grapes in a region along the Duero River but not quite in the Ribero del Duero region. This is my favorite Spanish white wine..if you find one make sure it says Verdejo on the label as some in the region are made with inferior grapes. It is a beautiful wine with some minerality and a slight lemony finish. Talking with the barkeep, I was going to order a glass of La Rioja but noticed two wines on the board I had not had before. They were Toro’s. I have never seen one in the U.S. They are produced in an area just to the west of Valledolid (from Salamanca head north to Zamorra, then east to Toro). It is a quaint old town. We walked into a bodega (wine shop), and found there were dozens of the these wines which are produced in small quantities and mostly drunk in the region. It turned out the two we had at the bar (Romanica and Primo, priced at about €12 a bottle!), weren’t the best and bought two others at about €20 each to bring back). After a nice lunch of tapas we drove to Vallabuena which is situated in the Ribero del Duero district. There we stayed in an incredibly hard to find old hotel (but worth it!), and the next day had an appointment at Pesquera, (the Duero’s Vega-Sicilia is the most expensive wine in Spain), then to drove to the town of Pesquera and on to Penafiel which is the heart of the Duero region. It is a beautiful town with a huge limestone castle at the top that can be seen for miles. After driving around for a while we got hungry but once again, everything was closed until at least 8pm. Frustrated, we asked everyone we saw for a restaurant and had several false leads, and finally after driving for a couple of hours found one that was open about 15 miles away! It was mainly a bar with a dining room but since we were the only customers the barman set up a table in a corner and we met a really nice Spaniard named Dino, who swapped stories on wine with us. The dinner was lamb chops and they were good but be advised that very few people speak English in this region, even fewer than in the Basque Country. We left Dino at the bar and drove back to our home base and went to bed exhausted at 11:30pm!

It was hard to get up the next morning but we did in time to make an 11:30 appointment at Pesquera, but when we arrived were told it would be at 12:30, so we went down the road to Emile Mora where I went in and had a short tour. It is one of the better Ribera’s.

Our tour consisted of eight people and our guide Alejandro (not the owner, just the same name), did an excellent job of explaining about the winery in English followed by Spanish. As we were about to start the walkaround, in came Alejandro Fernandez, the founder, in 1982, of the winery. I have only met a few other people with as much passion for winemaking as him. He greeted us and talked for awhile then we began our tour. First stop was the original wine press which dated back to the 1800’s and was used by Alejandro in making his first two vintages, before building to the  current winery which is adjacent. Then we toured the modern winery which has about 30 stainless steel fermentation tanks, a huge crusher and de-stemmer, and underground tanks that have small hatches on them to pump the hoses from them to the tanks after about a week of fermentation. From there the must (wine after being pressed and fermented) is put in oak barrels and depending on the wine aged for one to three years before being bottled. Note that every four months the wine is transferred to other barrels so the sediment can be removed and the barrels washed for reuse.

Alejandro’s (the owner not the guide) philosophy is pure and simple. First, he believes in using 100% tempranillo grapes (Vega-Sicilia uses 80-90% tempranillo and the rest either cabernet sauvignon and merlot – they are the only one who blends Bordeaux grapes with tempranillo while others here use garnacha and a few other grapes). He uses only natural yeasts and no pesticides or herbicides are sprayed. He also believes wine is best without filtration so decanting is required before serving. This man, like Robert Mondavi in California and Alfredo Currado in Piedmont, Italy, was responsible for a revolution in Ribero to make quality wines. I was fortunate enough to meet both men. Before him, there were few wineries here and quality was miserable due to unclean conditions and equipment. Now, Ribero’s are a recognized and respected name in the world of wine. Alejandro was born in 1932 and is still active and energetic in the winery’s operation. His career began as a carpenter and then he started a business making and repairing farm equipment until he saved enough to pursue his dream. He started making wine in 1982 with his first vintage in 1985.It and the second vintage were pressed in the old winery but then everything shifted to the modern facility. Consider the accomplishment when California’s span as a respected region along with La Rioja’s is just 50 years.

Following a tasting, we then had lunch in Penfiel at Meson de San Jose, a asiada, or restaurant the specializes in roast lamb, especially a dish called lechazo which is cooked until it is falling off the bone…amazing with a glass of Ribero, and a specialty of the region.

We are now back at our hotel relaxing before long drive tomorrow to León and Santiago del Campostella and A Coruña on the northwest coast of Spain.

Adios, amigos y amigas!

TB

©Copyright 2016 TBOW, all rights reserved.

Vol. 2 No. 8,Spain, Portugal and Madeira

Hello friends, TB has been busy preparing for a 3-1/2 week intense wine immersion trip. This is some of the last research for the forthcoming book. Oh, no, not another wine book, but this one is different: no ratings, no promotions, simply about people I have gotten to know…and some new ones who have shown incredible passion for making wine. Some of these people who are chemists who got bitten by the wine bug, some quit their day jobs to pursue excellence in winemaking. They are wonderful people in a business some think of as romantic, some as snobbery, but most I have met in the industry see is as farming – agriculture! The kind of venture where you can do everything right and still have a final product that fell short of a great wine.

Now about the trip. On Monday, we fly to Lisbon, and drive towards Madrid through Salamanca and Segovia to Penafiel near Valledolid, in Ribero del Duero. We have a private tour of Pesquera, a winery that changed the quality of Ribero wines. We will be visiting other wineries in the area for two more days before driving through Santiago de Compostella and after seeing the town and famous cathedral driving to the coast where we will stay at A Coruña for two days.

From there we drive to Vigo in the Rias Baixas region where Albariño is made to visit more wineries. Then across the border to Portugal where the Duero river becomes the Douro and is now making good red wine in addition to Port. We then visit Porto and Graham’s Port Lodge and the next day drive straight through country we have already visited to Lisboa. The next day we fly to Madeira where we will see the vineyards and wineries where that fine wine is made. Returning that night we will stay in Lisboa and re-visit the Port Wine Institute…the greatest place in the world to taste port. Every port is featured in a gentlemen’s club setting complete with leather lounge chairs and cigars.

The next day we board Windstar’s Wind Surf, the largest sailing ship in the world, yet it carries only 300 passengers. We leave for Morocco, then back up the east coast of Spain stopping in various wine regions until we reach Barcelona.

Having been there before, we will head south to Sitges, a resort town, and spend two days meeting with winemakers in Penedés and Priorat, areas where fine red wines are made from incredibly rocky soil.

Then it is back home. TB plans to write along the way so watch for them…not every day but perhaps 3-4 articles.

This should be an amazing trip featuring some amazing wines.

TB

©Copyright 2016 TBOW, all rights reserved.