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Experience Gerry Dawes's Spain: Customized, Specialized Food, Wine Cultural & Photographic Tours of Spain & Tour Advice

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Drinking Godello at Estado Puro in Madrid.
Photo by Harold Heckle, Associated Press, Madrid.

In October 2013, I led 28 people, including baseball great Keith Hernandez, on The  Commonwealth Club of California Taste of Spain Tour with Gerry Dawes 2013 to Madrid, Córdoba, Sevilla, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Ronda, Granada, Almagro, Toledo and Chinchón, highlighting gastronomy, culture and wine. 

In January 2014, I organized and led the Club Chefs of Connecticut and New York on a culinary educational tour through Barcelona, San Sadurni d'Anoia (Cava country), Valencia, Alicante and Madrid. 

The following week, I organized and led John Sconzo (Docsconz:  Musings on Food and Life and his son L. J. on a week-long trip through Segovia, Ávila, Segovia, Cáceres, Mérida, Jabugo, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, the Sierra Morenas north of Córdoba, Chinchón and Toledo.  With more posts to come on his blog, John Sconzo wrote this in one of his first entries about the trip:

"Nights like this are ones that just need to be appreciated for the something special that they are. It is no exaggeration that Gerry Dawes, my friend, traveling companion and guide “knows and appreciates Spain more than all but a few Spaniards” let alone people from other countries. That statement came from our host for the evening, Benjamin Rodriguez Rodriguez, the proprietor of the humble appearing, but fully sensational El Rincon de Jabugo situated in the equally humble, but comfortable Gran Hostal San Segundo located just outside the historic walls of Avila near the  San Vicente gate."

“I have said this before and I’ll say it again, nobody knows Spain like Gerry Dawes. I sincerely doubt that there is another American, and very few, if any, Spaniards can approach, let alone surpass his knowledge of the people, food, wine and culture of Spain. He has been frequenting the depths, breadths and heights of the country as a second home for nearly fifty years, leaving no stone, and especially no wine, unturned during that time.” -- Wining and Dining Around Spain with Gerry Dawes: Part 1 (of a 6-part series) by John Sconzo, Docsconz: Musings on Food & Life, March 10, 2015 (From a second trip Sconzo took with me, this one this year.)

“Gerry Dawes is a true gastronomad, walking the culinary and cultural by-ways of the Spanish soul and then sharing every bit of his passion and knowledge (both considerable) with the reader.  I once overheard someone say that James Michener said Gerry was the only one qualified to write the sequel to Iberia.  I have learned so much from his experiences -- he is the "go-to" guy for anything authentically Spanish and is unparalleled in his experience with Spanish wines.  Gerry has introduced the world to Spanish chefs (including Ferran Adria), Spanish food products, wines, history (I especially love his respect for Spain's Jewish culture -- and he's not Jewish), and travel.”  - - Rozanne Gold, Four-time James Beard Foundation award-winning chef and author.  

  Video on gastronomy and wine travel in Spain with Gerry Dawes.
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For customized trips, contact Gerry Dawes (based in New York) with desired dates, areas of interest in Spain (gastronomy, wine, art, history, culture, photography, etc.), specific sights you might like to see, number of possible travelers, and an estimated budget for your group. 

Phone: 914-414-6982 
Teléfono movíl (during stays in España): (011 34) 670 67 39 34


Navarra Revisited: A Pyreneen Odyssey

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Lacha sheep grazing in the Navarran Pyrenees.
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Text & Photographs copyright 2010 by Gerry Dawes
(Contact for publishing rights.)

(Author's version of an article (without the map) that originally appeared in
The Sunday New York Times - Travel Section, June 12, 1994.)

Navarra, the northern Spanish province that shares a wild stretch of the western Pyrenees with France, has long been one of my favorite places. This fascinating region has some of Spain's most beautiful scenery, important historical sights, excellent cuisine, good wine, and a recently developed network of private lodgings that makes travel there downright cheap.

Navarra's spectacular terrain runs the gamut from snowy Pyrenean peaks soaring above wild canyons and pristine green valleys to terraced vineyards and shimmering heat-baked southern hills that overlook farms growing superb white asparagus, red peppers, and artichokes. Picturesque villages, medieval castles, and major shrines on the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrim's road to Santiago de Compostela, grace this former kingdom (from 1234-1512, Navarra included part of southern France).

Castillo de Olite (Navarra).

On my fifty-odd visits to Navarra since 1970, I often attended Pamplona's Fiestas de San Fermín, made famous by Ernest Hemingway; stayed in storybook Olite; made pilgrimages to Camino de Santiago sights--Romanesque Sangüesa, monumental Estella, and Puente la Reina's lovely 12th-century bridge; malingered in Jewish-Moorish Tudela; and photographed the harvest that produces Navarra's lovely dry rosados (roses) and sturdy reds.

Because of what must be an atavistic attraction to Spain's mountain villages, it was inevitable that I would re-explore those of Navarra, so when I read about a local network of family homes offering bed and breakfast for under $15 a night (mid-1990s prices!!; now they cost from $40-$60), I made plans to return. Many of these lodgings, called casas rurales after the stone village houses and huge stone farmhouses typical of this region, are in the heart of the Pyrenees, where cold trout rivers rush through mystical stands of beech trees into deep-green valleys sheltering some of Spain's least-spoiled villages - - Burguete in the Irati river valley, Ochagavia in the Salazar valley, and Roncal and Isaba in Roncal Valley.

To stimulate this isolated region's economy, which once depended on timber sales, sheep, and handicrafts, the Navarrese government made low interest loans to villagers willing to renovate their homes to accommodate tourists, mostly Spaniards who come here for skiing, hiking, mountain climbing, cave exploring, cycling, fishing, and hunting (wild boar, deer, partridge). Now that Spain's famous paradores have become expensive, casas rurales are Spain's lodging bargains of the 1990s.

Some casas rurales offer home-cooked meals. The Navarrese are noteworthy cooks and many families grow their own vegetables and make ewe's milk cheeses and cuajada (a delicious yogurt-like dessert). Even if meals aren't offered, most Pyrenean towns have simple restaurants serving such typical dishes as espárragos blancos (white asparagus), alubias (bean stew),  pochas (delectable, fat, cranberry bean-like white beans cooked with chorizo and, sometimes quail), pimientos rellenos (stuffed peppers), huevos revueltos (eggs scrambled with mushrooms, green garlic shoots, shrimp, etc.), fresh trucha (trout) from Pyreneen rivers, costillas de cordero (lamb chops), and cuajada (northern Spain's wonderful, yogurt-like ewe's milk dessert, complete only when you add wild mountain honey)In spring and autumn, there are dishes with exceptional native hongos (mushrooms). This good country cuisine is usually accompanied by one of Navarra's first-rate rosados (rosés) or sturdy reds. And usually, for an after-dinner drink, homemade Navarrese Patxaran, a potent anís liqueur in which sloe berries are macerated for several months, sometimes with a few coffee beans. 

Navarra rosado.

I decided to begin my trip in the spring of 1994 with a nostalgic drive up to Burguete and on to Ochagavia for the night, explore the Salazar Valley the next day, and end up in Roncal the following night. I first stopped at the Tourist Office of Navarra in Pamplona (see box), where the multi-lingual staff found rooms at casas rurales in Ochagavia and Roncal.

On the road to Burguete, I saw emerald-green pastures and tawny, fresh cut wheat fields whose straw bales would provide comfort this winter to the stocky cattle the Basque farmers raise here. I passed pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago, cyclists on mountain bikes, and fishermen heading for trout streams. I was reminded of scenes in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises when Jake Barnes rode atop a bus up these mountain roads drinking from wine skins offered by friendly Basques. Re-reading Don Ernesto’s passages, I found his descriptions still good. In some places, little has changed.

In the 1970s my late former wife Diana and I used to go to Burguete in early July with Alice Hall, the late irrepressible doyen of Spain aficionados. We would spend a quiet time in the pastoral farming villages of these verdant mountains before surrendering to the cacophonous joys of Pamplona's wild fiesta. We would read, stroll along the road to Roncesvalles picking wild strawberries, and have long talks about Spain over dinners irrigated with plenty of vino tinto.

We stayed at Hostal Burguete, which was still much in style and comfort, or the lack of, as when Hemingway stayed there in the 1920s and made it the setting for several scenes in The Sun Also Rises– Jake Barnes and Bill Gorton came here to trout fish on the Irati, a good hike east. The hostal's owners claim the upright piano is the one mentioned in the novel. Under the lid is Don Ernesto's picture and "E. Heminway" (sic) scratched in the wood.

Trout fishing in a Pyreneen river.

The Camino de Santiago crosses the French border 15 miles north of Burguete and winds through the hills above Roncesvalles where Charlemagne's nephew Roland was immortalized in the epic French poem, Chanson de Roland. The Roncesvalles woods are a mystical place haunted by the spirit of Roland and by the millions of Santiago-bound pilgrims who have tread this ground. Seeking a respite from the fiesta in Pamplona, every year Diana and I used to bring a group of San Fermín celebrants up here. In the deep-green mossy forest's icy rivulets, we cooled our wine, melons, and other picnic items for glorious camaraderie-filled al fresco luncheons.

The much restored 12th-century monastery of Roncesvalles, was a proud hospital and hospice for pilgrims, renowned for its hospitality - - good food, real beds, and a cobbler. Of interest here is the 13th-century Virgin of Roncesvalles, a Gothic cloister, King Sancho VII of Navarra's pantheon, and a treasury with several venerated objects of colorful heritage.


On this trip I could spend only a few moments in Burguete - - stopping for coffee at a bar, gazing wistfully at our old Hostal Burguete haunt and paying homage to Alice Hall, who had died in February at age 90. I had to press on to Ochagavia before night-fall. Driving along curvy, well-paved roads through rocky green forests, I passed pretty, bucolic Garralda; Arrive with its fine medieval bridge over the Irati; and Garayoa with its 13th-century Gothic church.

Abaure de Abajo in the Spanish Navarran Pyrenees.

High escarpments towered over the twisting roads to Puerto de Abaurrea pass (3320 feet), where I got my first glimpse of the dramatic, snow-capped Pyrenean peaks, now suffused with a lovely peach glow in the late afternoon sun. Several miles of hairpin turns led me down a dramatic valley past Ezcároz, an attractive village on the swift Salazar river just below Ochagavia, the Salazar valley's main town.

Quintessentially Pyrenean, Ochagavia is charming mountain-bound village of just under 800 inhabitants that is laid out along two sizeable streams, the Zatoya and the Anduña, which form the Salazar just south of town. A passerby showed me to Casa Osaba, a big stone house on a cobblestoned street. Gabriela Moso, the owner, led me up two flights to a plank-floored bedroom with an armoire, a big bed with warm coverlets, and a night stand with the obligatory Spanish dim-bulbed lamp. Down the hall, Señora Moso showed me a new, spotless bathroom with plenty of hot water. The family's second floor dining room/living room had a big table, a fireplace also used for cooking, a pair of armchairs, a television, and a few decorations including a herrada, a gleaming brass-and-steel inverted-cone shaped utensil - - once used to carry water - - that has now become an object of folk art. Gabriela invited me to return for dinner at 10 p.m.

I took advantage of the remaining light to explore the picturesque village and look for some tapas (hors d'oeuvres). Most of the houses are two- and three-story stone homes with white facades, tiled roofs, shuttered windows, and geranium-filled wrought iron balconies. The dates (1768, 1908, 1926) on arched stone portals above the wooden doors, speak for the durability of these homes. The rough streets are hand-paved with river stones.

I crossed a quaint stone bridge over the swift Anduña and found the Pension Auñamendi, whose upstairs restaurant offers an inexpensive menu, but alas, there were no tapas at the ground floor bar, where some men were playing cards. As I returned to Casa Osaba, wood smoke curling from the village's chimneys laced the fresh mountain air with a homey smell that sharpened my hunger. I hoped Gabriela was a cook worthy of Navarra's culinary reputation.

In the dining room, I met Gabriela's family: Her husband, daughter, grandson, and her son-in-law, who spends his days near Tudela tending a large herd of sheep. In front of the crackling fire, Gabriela and her daughter served us a fine salad of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and white asparagus; garlicky green beans and potatoes; merluza rebozada (hake in batter); pork chops grilled in the fireplace; and fresh cherries. The wine was a decent rosado, purchased in bulk at Puente la Reina.  After dinner, there was coffee and homemade patxaran, Navarra's sloe berry-anise liqueur. After the pacharán and an amiable chat about life in America, I went to bed, quickly gave up reading in the dim light, burrowed under the covers, and slept soundly until morning light. I came down to toasted pan, butter, and homemade plum jam; galletas, the snap cookies ubiquitous to Spain's breakfast tables; and good coffee. Bed and breakfast was about $12).

Pacharan Navarro, homemade in most of the rural lodgings of the Navarran Pyrenees.

From Ochagavia I followed the Salazar down the valley through fresh forests punctuated by awesome cliffs, striking rock formations, and green hills with grazing sheep. The ancient stone houses, block-tower churches, cobbled streets, and rustic bridges give this valley's fifteen villages a medieval air. Below Ezparza, a pretty, photogenic village with a three-arched Romanesque bridge, an impressive 16th-century church, and a large pisifactoria (trout farm), the scenery gets very dramatic as the road goes through spectacular gorges with falcons soaring above them. Beyond the gorges, fields of flaming-red poppies lined the road to Navascués, where I stopped to admire the 12th-century Romanesque church of Santa María del Campo, which stands in ancient solitude alongside the village cemetery southwest of town.

North of Navascués, the road to Roncal becomes much rougher, curving up steep, craggy, pine-covered hills to the pass of Las Coronas (3120 feet), where a spectacular vista overlooks the vast Valle del Roncal and its awesome backdrop of snow-covered peaks.

After nine more miles of beautiful, but twisting, steep roads, I reached Burgui, where the excellent Roncal cheese, Larra, is made from the ewe's milk of the very photogenic Lacha breed of sheep.


Lacha breed of sheep, whose ewe's milk is used to make Roncal cheese.

Burgui is a dramatically picturesque river town with a Romanesque bridge and a breathtaking canyon to its south.

Along the river banks here, I saw log rafts used by modern-day daredevil almadieros (rafts are called almadías), who reenact the dangerous feat when, before trucking and a downriver dam was built, each spring daring loggers used to ride such log rafts down the swollen river to the sawmills.

At Burgui the Navacués road joins the smooth main road from Pamplona that runs up the Roncal valley, following the Esca river through picturesque gorges, where dramatic bluffs rise above the road, waterfalls gush from the rocks, and suspension bridges over the river link hiking trails.

The Roncal valley is famous for its cheeses, bucolic villages, splendid scenery, and colorful folklore. Every year on the first Sunday in July, the Roncalese dress in colorful regional costumes for a romería (pilgrimage cum picnic) at the mountain hermitage of Idoya near Isaba. On July 13, the mayors of Roncal valley's seven villages turn out in typical costumes to receive the Tribute of the Three Cows offered by their French neighbors from the Baretous (Bearn) valley. The event, dating to the Middle Ages, annually draws thousands to a site near the French border.

Roncalese houses, like those of Ochagavia, are of the same stout stone and timber construction, but richer Roncal has more distinctive architecture. Like most towns here, Roncal's interior streets are paved with river stones, which are like walking on a washboard and require sturdy footwear. At Roncal's northern edge, the Esca runs by a trout farm just across a small bridge from a park with picnic tables and fine views of Roncal's massive church.

Tenor Julián Gayarre (1844-1890), the greatest Spanish opera singer of his epoch, was from Roncal. Gayarre's funeral monument in the village cemetery is by Mariano Benlliure (1862-1947), the Valencian sculptor who did the equestrian statue of Alfonso XII in Madrid's Retiro Park and torero Joselito's funeral monument in Sevilla. Gayarre's home is now a museum displaying momentos from his illustrious career.

Roncal's excellent sheep's cheese, queso Roncal, somewhat reminiscent of Italian Parmesan, but milder and softer, was the first Spanish cheese to earn an official denominación de origen (like wine). Once an artisan cheese, much of today's queso Roncal is produced in a local factory and can be purchased in markets or shops all over Navarra. If you want a homemade cheese, look for signs that say "Queso Roncal del Pastor" (shepherd's cheese).

Queso Roncal, a ewe's milk cheese that is the pride of the Navarran Pyrenees.

At Roncal's southern edge, on a hill overlooking the town, I found Casa Indiano, the charming two-story fieldstone home of Ana Maria Donazar, a grandmother who dotes, with equal amounts of cariño, or tender loving care, on her young grandson and her casa's rustic pine-timbered interior. The living quarters, including a kitchen with spectacular valley views, were on the second floor. Señora Donazar put me in a small room with a double bed, a dresser, and an armoire, just across from a clean, modern bathroom.

For lunch, on the main road just below Casa Indiano, I found Restaurante Begoña, a small cafe on Hostal Zaltua's second floor overlooking the river, where fishermen cast for trout. On the wall was a "celebrity" photograph of a man wearing a huge Basque boina (beret) and displaying several trophies - - Roncal's 1991 trout fishing champ. When I asked for trout, Begoña, who answers the jangling telephone, waits tables, and cooks, informed me, "If you had told me ahead of time, I would have had trout." I settled for a salad; red beans and chorizo with guindillas (hot peppers); superb revueltos con ajos y gambas (eggs scrambled with garlic shoots and shrimp); and queso Roncal. When I ordered a bottle of rosado, Begoña handed me the corkscrew and returned to the kitchen. The bill was about $10.

Pochas con guindilla.

North of Roncal is beautiful Isaba, a village in a lush green valley below the rugged peaks culminating in the Mesa de los Tres Reyes (Three Kings' Table), Navarra's highest mountain (7984 feet). Saving a more thorough inspection of Isaba for evening, I headed north toward the high gray-stone peaks that poke up through the surrounding forests like giant teeth. On the way I saw fishermen working the picturesque Belagua, a trout stream criss-crossed by rustic stone bridges. On the high plain below the peaks were verdant pastures where herds of sheep grazed with bleating newborn lambs and mares nursed wobbly-legged foals. Signs on farmhouses offered homemade Roncal cheeses.

Beyond the plain the road climbs steeply for several miles to the heights of Belagua with its stunning views down the valley towards Isaba. Incredibly, I encountered cyclists pedaling all the way to the summit; Miguel Unduráin, the Navarrese cyclist who won the Tour de France, trains here. On the way up the mountain is the rustic Venta de Juan Pito. In the rock-and-timber dining room, one can sit in front a big fireplace and lunch on migas ("shepherd's crouton's") and grilled lamb chops.

At Belagua is a ski refuge with spectacular cross country and downhill trails, but no lifts. With the temperature in the 70s in Roncal, I was in shirt sleeves, but it was cold at these heights, where there was still snow in the high crevasses. The road climbs through increasingly rugged terrain, where lovely little clumps of intensely blue wild flowers were a strikingly juxtaposed against the rocks and snow. Finally, the road ran level through a pass where I got breath-taking airplane views of France before heading back down to Isaba.

That evening, I explored the picturesque streets of Isaba, admiring the streets and houses that seem to be made of the same rectanagular-shaped stones; the flower-festooned balconies; and quaint doorways. After inquiring, I was directed to the gift and ski rental shop at Hotel Isaba where I purchased a herrada, like the one I had seen at Casa Osaba in Ochagavia, for $130.

Since Roncal has few places to eat, I decided to stay in Isaba for dinner. Isaba has several choices including upscale Hotel Isaba's reasonably priced, Restaurante Leyre, which offers good regional fare. I chose Isaba's popular Hostal Lola restaurant, where pimientos rellenos (piquant peppers stuffed with salt cod puree), trout cooked with cured ham, superb cuajada, a bottle of rosado, and coffee came to about $20.

Back in Roncal I found a lively bar that served homemade pacharán. The place was packed with young people eating, drinking, and listening to music. A sign on the wall, translated, said "If bullfighting is art, cannibalism is gastronomy."

Tired, but exhilarated from my day in the mountains, I returned to Casa Indiano and spent a restful night. The next morning, Señora Donazar and her husband, with "help" from their grandson, gave me a breakfast of cafe con leche, pan tostado with homemade mermelada (jam), and galletas (thin Spanish cookies). I paid my bill, which was about $14 with breakfast. As I was loading my car, I saw the little boy and his grandmother waving from an upstairs window. I waved back and reluctantly began the day-long drive out of these splendid mountains to Madrid and the plane ride back to New York.

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About Gerry Dawes

Writing, Photography, & Specialized Tours of Spain & Tour Advice
For custom-designed tours of Spain, organized and lead by Gerry Dawes, and custom-planned Spanish wine, food, cultural and photographic itineraries, send inquiries to  

I have planned and led tours for such culinary stars as Chefs Thomas Keller, Mark Miller, Mark Kiffin, Michael Lomonaco and Michael Chiarello and such personalities as baseball great Keith Hernandez and led on shorter excursions and have given detailed travel advice to many other well-known chefs and personalities such as Drew Nieporent, Norman Van Aken, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg, Christopher Gross, Rick Moonen, James Campbell Caruso and many others.

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“The American writer and town crier for all good Spanish things Gerry Dawes . . . the American connoisseur of all things Spanish . . .” Michael Paterniti, The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge and The World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese

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"Gerry Dawes, I can't thank you enough for opening up Spain to me." -- Michael Chiarello on Twitter. 

"Chiarello embarked on a crash course by traveling to Spain for 10 days in 2011 with Food Arts
contributing authority Gerry Dawes, a noted expert on Spanish food and wine.  Coqueta's (Chiarello's new restaurant at Pier Five, San Francisco) chef de cuisine, Ryan McIlwraith, later joined Dawes for his own two week excursion, as well. Sampling both old and new, they visited wineries and marketplaces, as well as some of Spain's most revered dining establishments, including the Michelin three-star Arzak, Etxebarri, the temple to live fire-grilling; Tickets, the playful Barcelona tapas bar run by Ferran Adrià and his brother, Albert; and ABaC, where Catalan cooking goes avant-garde." - - Carolyn Jung, Food Arts, May 2013.

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"In his nearly thirty years of wandering the back roads of Spain," Gerry Dawes has built up a much stronger bank of experiences than I had to rely on when I started writing Iberia...His adventures far exceeded mine in both width and depth..." -- James A. Michener, author of Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections

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Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià.

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 

Pilot for a reality television series with Gerry Dawes  
on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

Experience Spain With Gerry Dawes: Customized Culinary, Wine & Cultural Trips to Spain & Travel Consulting on Spain

Gerry Dawes can be reached at


A Morning's Pleasure: Running the Bulls at Pamplona (An Excerpt from Homage to Iberia: More Spanish Travels & Reflections by Gerry Dawes)

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(All material, except for black & white photographs, copyright 2015 by Gerry Dawes.)

Forty-five years ago on July 8, 1970, I ran the bulls in Pamplona and became entangled in on of the most memorable montones, or pile-ups, in the history of the encierro (running of the bulls.)   

This is my story of what happened to me and my friends, including American Matador-artist John Fulton, that day.

Running the bulls on the Estafeta.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2010.

The first year I lived in Sevilla, to make ends meet, I began to sell paintings for John Fulton, the American Matador who lived in Sevilla for decades, made his living as an artist and was featured in James A. Michener's best-selling book on Spain, Iberia.  In early July 1970, Fulton and I found ourselves flat broke and itching to go to the Fiestas de San Fermín in Pamplona, a place I had only read about in Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and in Iberia

On July 6, the day the fiesta actually begins, as I was walking through the narrow corridors of Sevilla’s Barrio de Santa Cruz, where with girlfriend (and late ex-wife,) I was renting an idyllic apartment, I encountered an affluent-looking group of American college students. As they filed by me in the narrow street, I couldn’t help thinking that many of them had undoubtedly read Iberia and, if only there were a way to introduce them to Fulton, I was sure they would at least buy some lithographs and books and we could possibly finance our trip to Pamplona.

 Gerry Dawes (circled, left center) & American Matador John Fulton (arrow, center)
in the famous montón, the pileup, on July 8, 1970.

Fulton had printed some little cards with a picture of him in his traje de luces (suit of lights). It had some “propaganda” inside about being the American matador-artist featured in Iberia. As the one of the last students in the line passed me, I handed him several of the cards and told him if the group was interested in meeting John to call me. Within the hour, they called, asking if they could meet John Fulton. I bought some cheese, chorizo, olives, and bread and several bottles of red wine for 10 pesetas a liter, made sangría, and got Fulton and the students together for a party in the open-air patio at my house in the Barrio de Santa Cruz, where I kept a display of Fulton’s art. The students were thrilled to meet the famous matador. They purchased so many of his lithographs and books that we earned enough money to leave for Pamplona the next afternoon, July 6, the day before the first of the eight San Fermín encierros was to be run.

Fulton, Bill Cimino (an aspiring young American bullfighter Fulton was tutoring), and I piled into John’s little green Seat sports car and left Sevilla in the afternoon, intending to drive all night and arrive in Pamplona in time to run the bulls on the morning of the seventh. We drove across the scorching plains of La Mancha and into the highlands of Castile. Fulton took the mountain roads via Soria to Logroño in the darkest hours of the night and the predawn of July 7 found us racing around curvy roads that followed trout streams rushing through tall woods. On bicycles, fishermen in hip boots with fly rods and wicker creels slung across their chests pedaled out to fish them. A family of bright-eyed foxes scurried across the road in front of us and disappeared into the woods.

It was just past six as we drove through Romanesque Estella. The sun was rising from the direction of Pamplona and it came up over the hills in a bright ball. A few clouds drifted over the sun. At first Fulton and I teased them into cloud sculptures with our imaginations, then they began to take on shapes of their own.

“Christ, would you look at that one?” I said to John Fulton, “I don’t believe it!”

“How about the one in front of it?” Fulton pointed out another shape and the images grew more lifelike for a few brief moments and then began to break up, but not before they had been engraved in my mind. First we had seen a runner in the sky, then the cloud behind him become a bull, his head down, his horns searching. I told Fulton this would make a fantastic lead for a story on San Fermín.

“Don’t ever try to write about it,” he told me, “No one would ever believe you.”

The elation I felt at having what bordered on a mystical encounter faded in the face of the experienced matador’s logic. After all, I had never even set foot in Pamplona, and I was ready to let a trick of my imagination lure me into conclusions about an event I had never even seen. It was still half an hour before the bulls for the encierro would be released from the corrals at the bottom of Santo Domingo hill in Pamplona.

We wanted to reach Pamplona in time to run, but we were behind schedule. Even so, I urged Fulton to make a quick stop at the first open bar we saw.  I had already figured out that one must be very brave, very crazy, or very drunk to get into the streets with a string of fighting bulls. I also calculated that, not only was I lacking in the first category, I was not far enough along in the second, so I decided a bottle of brandy might help me emulate some of both qualities.

We drove on through Puente la Reina, Legarda, and Astrain without seeing a bar open. My nerves were rapidly failing, when Fulton announced that it would be impossible to reach Pamplona in time to run in the encierro. Suddenly, I felt I could run with the bulls. Now I lamented our being late.

Just minutes before seven o’clock, the hour the bulls were turned loose in those days (before national live television coverage required an eight o’clock start for more light), we reached the area near the legendary teléfonos dogleg, parked the car, and ran toward the encierro route. We were able to climb up on a truck just in time to watch the tail end of an uneventful run. A mass of runners, bulls, and steers swept past our vantage point and it was all over in a few seconds. The whole thing looked simple, but I was far from convinced that anything involving hundreds of alcohol-fortified runners being pursued by a pack of fighting bulls could be that easy.

After the encierro, we walked over to the Plaza del Castillo and within five minutes I found myself sitting at the same table at the Bar Txoko with the legendary Matt Carney. Carney was as handsome as Michener had described and he was in fine spirits. I was excited to meet Carney after all I had read about him in Iberia, but I was a little apprehensive about his reputation as a brawler. When Fulton introduced me to him, Carney flashed his famous Irish grin and something about him made me feel I belonged, that I was no newcomer, no outsider, at his table. Over the years, I would subsequently observe Matt welcome other people to the fiesta in much the same way. Carney had a big heart and his idea of San Fermín was a fiesta of sharing, not of exclusion. 

But, today, my first day at San Fermín, I was going to see both sides of the coin. Within ten minutes after we had pulled up chairs around Matt’s table, his demeanor suddenly changed. “That’s a lie,” I heard him say. Then he shouted, “You’re a goddamn liar. Take that back, I said, take it back!” He jumped up and hit the spectacle-wearing man sitting beside him.

“Wow,” I thought, “Carney sure lives up to his reputation. Michener was right; Hemingway, Basque woodchoppers. . . and now, right in front of me, he’s slapping the hell out of someone named David Black. I’m going to be damned careful what I say in front of this guy.”

I was sure that Carney regularly blew up like Old Faithful and that after Iberia was published, he must have thought it was his duty to keep up his brawling since, along with his bull-running, broad Irish smile and gravelly jota singing, his whole persona now bordered on a
conjunto artistico-folklorico, an artistic-folkloric ensemble on the verge of being declared of touristic merit.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. I subsequently knew Matt Carney for another 18 years and spent parts of ten sanfermines with him. Other than the slapping around of David Black, known far and wide as “The Dirty Old Man” and a man so contemptible, obnoxious, and purposely provocative that there are few regulars at Pamplona who had not hit him, I saw Matt Carney in just one other fight—during the legendary night of the giant Angelino at the Bar Txoco about which we will hear more later. But first I had my date with the encierro.

Hemingway wrote about Pamplona’s running of the bulls, the encierro, in the Toronto Star Weekly in 1923: “Then they came in sight. Eight bulls galloping along, full tilt, heavy set, black, glistening, sinister, their horns bare, tossing their heads . . . They ran in a solid mass, and ahead of them sprinted, tore, ran, and bolted the rearguard of the men and boys of Pamplona who had allowed themselves to be chased through the streets for a morning’s pleasure.”

Unlike Hemingway’s “men and boys of Pamplona,” I was not out for “a morning’s pleasure” when I ran the bulls. And unlike most of the foreigners—many of them American college students who read The Sun Also Rises in American literature classes or Iberia in Spanish classes—who had come to Pamplona on a lark to run the bulls, I had seen enough bullfights, more than one hundred at the time, to have developed a very healthy respect for the Spanish fighting bull.

But, since every man who goes to Pamplona—except for the very crippled and very old (and even some of them run)—is expected to run the bulls at least once, I felt I had to, especially since I had come to Pamplona with John Fulton and Bill Cimino, who called himself León Camino.  He was as brave as a lion—in fact, maniacally brave.

After we had missed running in the encierro that first morning, I felt like a kid whose dental appointment had been canceled. Yet the inevitable had merely been postponed. Still, I kidded John Fulton all morning in the Bar Txoko, claiming the brave matador had caused us to arrive late so he wouldn’t have to run the bulls. Fulton reminded me that the bulls to be fought in each afternoon’s corrida were run each morning of the fiesta.  He would have several more opportunities to prove himself, he said, and so would I.

Early on the morning of the eighth of July, Fulton aroused me from a restless sleep. Bill Cimino was having no part of the encierro. He groggily informed us that if he were to die on the horns of bull, it would be in the glory of the bullring, not in the anonymity of the street. He rolled over and went back to sleep.

Shortly before seven a.m., we crawled through the double row of heavy timbers that are put up each morning to barricade the citizenry from the mayhem and clustered at the traditional gathering place in front of Pamplona’s storybook ayuntamiento (city hall). We were six: Fulton, the late writer Toby Williams, Ron Vavra (the twin brother of Iberia photographer Robert Vavra), U.S. Navy Commander Dennis Fish from Rota, a Marine captain, and me. Only Fulton and Williams had ever run the bulls.

I entertained no illusions of glory. I wanted to run far enough ahead of the bulls to say out of danger, but close enough to get a glimpse of them behind me, then sprint into the bullring at the end of the course and vault over the fence to safety. This little romp would earn me my imaginary bull runner’s merit badge, lend credence to my claims to manhood, add a few lines to my dinner party repertoire, and gain me acceptance with the Pamplona regulars, that international group of Hemingway’s spiritual descendants who return to San Fermín each July to revel in the light of a sun that for them always still rises.

Hundreds of runners and thousands of spectators were converging along the 850-yard course that runs uphill from a corral at the bottom of Santo Domingo hill through the barricaded streets of Pamplona’s old town. At the bullring every morning, a packed house awaits the exciting entrance of bulls and men as they come pouring through a narrow passageway.

The plaza in front of city hall was filling with runners—men and boys, not just from Pamplona, but from all over the world. Many appeared to have been drinking all night; their white fiesta costumes were soiled from sleeping, and often wallowing, in the streets and from poorly aimed botas, the ubiquitous wineskins that fuel the fiesta. Even at this hour they staged impromptu drinking contests, seeing who could take the longest draughts of Navarra wine arched from botas held at arm’s length. Others danced the jota and the riau-riau, the infectious folk music of Navarra, which blared from poorly wired loudspeakers.

From behind polished brass lions gracing the balconies of the fairy-tale façade of Pamplona’s city hall, the city fathers surveyed the bacchanalia with an air of paternalistic tolerance. Wives, daughters, and nuns watched with demure amusement from their privileged perches. Pretty Basque girls looking for their favorites leaned out from the balconies of the houses lining the narrow streets. Tourist and native alike strained for a better view or camera angle from the timbered barricades surrounding the plaza.

The crowd of runners grew larger. Our group waited, close-knit and nervous. We mangled the rolled-up newspapers Fulton had advised us to bring. Tradition has it that one is supposed to be able to ward off an imminent goring by whacking a bull on the nose with a newspaper. As we waited Fulton told us about the runners down on Santo Domingo hill—the “crazies” who run toward the bulls. They work up their courage by singing to a statue of San Fermín which occupies a special niche overlooking the street. As they sing, they thrust their rolled newspapers skyward to the image, invoking the saint’s protection. San Fermín is said to intervene on behalf of fallen runners, suddenly appearing with a cape to distract a bull about to spike an endangered mozo, as the Navarrese affectionately call those who run. It was of no solace to me that San Fermín was unable to intervene in time in 1969, just a year earlier, and two runners were killed at Jim Michener’s feet as he stood in a doorway on Santo Domingo.

Fulton, professional matador and veteran runner, had volunteered to initiate us into this time-honored fraternity. Scared, but trusting as Boy Scouts on our first hike, we listened intently as Fulton explained how he runs the bulls for maximum effect and minimum risk. He encouraged us to pace ourselves and stay with him. We were to arrive at Teléfonos, the telephone office corner, at the top of the hill where the street doglegs left into the bullring. We would stop there and wait for the bulls to come up the famous canyon-like street, calle Estafeta. Each of us could then decide just how close he wanted the bulls to get before running for the bullring.

The hands on the city hall clock inched inexorably toward what the Spaniards call la hora de verdad, the moment of truth. The crowd of runners was straining against the line of police who were keeping them from moving into Doña Blanca de Navarra (now named Mercaderes) and Estafeta. Shortly before seven, they allowed the mass of runners to move into the empty streets ahead of them and many began running. I stayed close to Fulton, as did most of the rest of our group. We walked and half-jogged along the cobble-stoned Estafeta, which is the long uphill straightaway on the course.

At 7:00 a.m. sharp, a rocket streaked into the sky above the old quarter and a loud report signaled the release of the bulls. At that moment, several steers and seven fighting bulls were pouring into Santo Domingo, some 500 yards down course from our position and out of sight because of turns in the street. When I heard the rocket, I was ready to streak for the bullring, but Fulton encouraged me to wait. By the time we reached Teléfonos, runners were flying by us like proverbial bats out of hell. We looked back down the Estafeta, but we still couldn’t see the bulls. The confusion of noise, motion, and dust from the rush of runners caused a further drain on my rapidly diminishing supply of machismo. I decided I was quite ready to follow the last of Fulton’s instructions: Run like crazy into the bullring, break off to the
left, and vault over the bullring fence to safety.

I started to take off. A familiar voice—Fulton? Williams?—shouted, “Hey, don’t you even want to see them?” In the confusion, I actually paused to consider the question—a big mistake. It was like being on the way to an air raid shelter and having some fool ask you for the time. I actually turned to say, “No!” As I looked back, I saw a mass of runners stampeding toward me. Behind them was an ominous space, a swath being cleared by the bulls. I raced for the tunnel leading into the bullring. I intended to get into the ring and over the fence—fast.

The rest was a nightmare. Reaching the tunnel, I found a montón, a pileup. Several runners had fallen and others had tripped over them as they frantically tried to get through. The pile was building; the entrance to the bullring was blocked. The bulls would be on us in seconds.

My first impulse was panic. I tried to climb over the pile like everyone else, but it was futile, so I chose the only alternative: I would have to take my chances in the pit with the bulls. I withdrew from the pile with the irrational idea of spreading myself along the wall of the tunnel like a coat of paint.  Unfortun-ately, other people had similar thoughts, there were already making like coats of paint two and three deep along the wall. We pressed against one another hoping that we could somehow fuse and become indistinguishable from the concrete.

Matt Carney at Bar Txoko, San Fermín, early 1970s. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2010.

The bulls charged into the tunnel and ran into the pileup. They were stopped by the human barricade and began to mill about in the confusion. I found myself being jammed against the runners behind me by a huge brown fighting bull from the ranch of Juan Pedro Domecq, one of the most respected ranches in Spain.  Luckily, I was left standing along his flank when he stopped. For now, at least, his horns could not reach me and his body was shielding me from other bulls. For some reason, I thought I might be able to push the half-ton plus animal aside so I could get out. I put my hands on his massive sides and shoved. He didn’t budge an inch. I remained trapped for several moments. It seemed an eternity.

El encierro, Pamplona, July 8, 1970.  I (circled) am looking towards a toro suelto (a bull separated from the herd and thus, very dangerous, since he will often attack anything that moves or go along the fence hooking anything in his path with his horn--called "limpiando la pared" ("cleaning the wall").   The animal in the picture is a steer (there is a cowbell around his neck), not a toro bravo.  Luckily, the loose bull did not hook everything he saw along the fence.

The lead bulls struggled like floundering swimmers through the pileup.  Fortunately, they were so disoriented that they were not trying to gore anyone, but they were trampling the fallen. When the first bulls broke through into the plaza, they attacked and several people were gored. 

Finally, the big brown bull moved. I freed myself and followed a group of runners heading back down the course to escape the bulls. We knew that if the remaining bulls were frustrated in their attempt to go forward, they might turn and wander back into the street. I got out of the tunnel and ran for the nearest fence, but dozens of people were already up on the barricades. They climbed just high enough to save themselves. Once out of danger, they stopped to enjoy the spectacle. 
Since I couldn’t get up the fence, I positioned myself against it. There was an animal in front of me, but I saw the bell around its neck and realized it was one of the steers that run with the bulls to help keep them in a pack. Then I saw the most frightening thing a runner can experience outside of a pileup: A toro suelto, a bull that has become separated from the herd. Such loose bulls often take the offensive, attacking anything that moves, sometimes “cleaning the wall,” going along a wall or barricade hooking everything they encounter.

I froze, peering out from the line of men along the fence, hoping the bull wouldn’t go for us. He turned and glared at us for a long moment, but no one moved enough to provoke a charge. He suddenly wheeled and ran toward the bullring in search of his brothers.

Now, my thoughts turned to my friends. I saw Fulton on a barricade across the street. After the bull passed, he climbed down and ran back into the tunnel. I foolishly followed him. As I caught up with him in the bullring, he ordered me to stop in my tracks. The last bull, the toro suelto, was still loose in the ring. We stayed still until one of the official ring attendants lured the bull into the corrals with a cape. A rocket signaled the end of the encierro.

The normal run lasts from 2 ½ to 3 minutes from the time the bulls are released from the Santo Domingo pens until they are herded into the bullring corrals a half-mile away. We would find from reading the local newspapers, that today’s encierro had taken 6 minutes, 41 seconds (they are officially timed), one of the longest in history. One reporter wrote that the only other pileup to rival ours occurred in 1947 (another legendary pileup happened a few years later and that I will touch on it with a humorous story about Noel Chandler).

Our group had been lucky. None of us wound up in the hospital. Later, we read that nearly 50 runners had required medical attention and that one man, first reported dead, was critically injured. We found Ron Vavra bleeding from a long scrape on his nose. A bull had shoved him face-first against the concrete wall of the tunnel. Fulton and Vavra had been trapped on the opposite side of the tunnel from my position fighting off horns and hooves for several minutes. At one point, Vavra had looked at Fulton, a yard away through the common frame of a pair of horns, and said, “Man, we are in trouble.” Fulton had a long, painful bruise along his thigh, where a huge steer had mauled him with its hooves.

The other members of the group were unaccounted for, but I had seen the Marine captain go up the fence, so I was sure he was all right.  Dennis Fish soon joined us; he had avoided the pileup. Later, we found a slightly battered Toby Williams sitting in the Bar Txoko, drinking a double brandy.

I remained in the bullring with Fulton for the morning capea, or amateur bullfight. To the delight of a capacity crowd, cows with leather caps over their horn tips are turned loose to wreak havoc on a mob of daredevils.  The cows, vacas bravas of fighting stock, are two to three years old; they are strong and charge ferociously.

Before the toril (gate to the bull pens) is opened to let one of these cows into the arena, a group of demented young men gathers in front of the gate to take the first fresh charges of the animal with their bodies. After the cow tears into the pile, she races around the ring smashing “the men and boys of Pamplona” (and not a few foreigners) like figurines in a china shop. Fulton unfurled his newspaper and managed to get off a nice pass to one of the cows. When they let out a particularly large animal with no protective leather on its horns, I decided enough was enough and vaulted over the fence to safety.

When the capea was over, we strolled over to the Plaza del Castillo, where Williams was holding a table for us at the Bar Txoko. The cheap, coarse brandy we ordered was bracing; it steadied nerves and loosened tongues as we recounted our adventure and basked in the glory of having been in the breach.

As I listened to the retelling of the morning’s events and added my own embellishments to this colorful tapestry of personal legend that we were all weaving, I sensed that something very important was missing from our descriptions: It was the powerful animal smell in the close air of the tunnel that was the most realistic element in the dreamlike sequence of events. That detail had been lost amid the surreal mix of noise, dust, fear, confusion, and excitement in the tunnel. But the smell of the big brown juanpedro bull was still on my jacket and on my hands.

As the others ordered fresh croissants for breakfast, I went down to the lavatory in the basement of the Bar Txoko and, in the cold water of Pamplona, I washed my hands of “a morning’s pleasure.”

As the years went by, I would claim that I had made a deal with that bull in the tunnel, “If you let me out of here alive, I will never came back to molest your brothers,” I told listeners when the subject came up.  The legendary English bullfight aficionado Michael Wigram says that I also made another declaration, “If I am going to die on the horns of a bull, I would prefer it to be in an Andalucian bullring with several thousand Spaniards clapping palmas por bulerias, not after being trampled by some sophomore from the University of Nebraska.”

I never ran with the bulls again.
The End


About Gerry Dawes  

Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel  

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 

In December, 2009, Dawes was the subject of the Food Arts Silver Spoon Award in a profile written by José Andrés

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 
Pilot for a reality television series 
on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.


Bodegas Aliaga Superb Tempranillo and Garnacha-Based Wines From Navarra, Including Aliaga Rosado de Lágrima de Garnacha (Garnacha Rosado made with free-run juice), one of Spain's Greatest Rosados

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 Bodegas Aliaga, Corella (Navarra)

 The wines of Carlos Aliaga and his family.

Carlos Aliaga showing his Viña Aliaga vineyards to a visitor.
 Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011 /

The Wines of Aliaga and Restaurante El Crucero
(Click on the El Crucero titles below to see photos of the restaurant and its dishes.)

Aliaga Lágrima de Garnacha Rosado 13.5%

Made from free-run juice from 100% old vines Garnacha from the Viña Aliaga vineyard located at Ombatillo near Corella in the heart of the Ribera Baja of Navarra.  The soil is calcareous and poor; vine density is 1,200 vines per acre.

This superb, lovely rosado is made by the free-run sangrado de lágrima method.  After brief contact with the red grape skins, the grape juice is separated by gravity without using any mechanical pressing, after which the must is fermented in temperature- controlled stainless steel tanks for 20 days at 14º C. (57º F.)

Fresh, clear and brilliant strawberry-cherry colour. The fragrant bouquet is reminiscent of fresh fruit.  On the palate the wines is clean, smooth and will balanced with a hints of flowers and cherries and a long, persistent mineral-laced finish.  This wine steadily evolves with time in bottle and is often superb 2-3 years from the vintage.

Food Pairings: Ideal for tapas, first courses, aperitifs, fish and seafood, chicken, port, Asian food, pasta, pizza and salads.  Not just a summer wine.  If you drink cold white wine in the cooler months, you will love this great rosado all year long.

"An almost dusty-dry Navarra sangrado ("bleeding," i.e. free-run juice) rosé — meaning that it's made from free-run juice — with a light, luminous pink color and an intense strawberry fruit both on the nose and on the palate." - - Colman Andrews, The Daily Meal.  Read more:  Spanish Wines — A Seductive New Crop: Godello, mencia, and other less-than-famous Iberian grapes shine in a new selection from Spanish wine expert Gerry Dawes

In Tudela (Navarra) at the home of Carlos Aliaga and his wife Mari Cruz with a tomatada (tomatoes, ham and snail stew from southern Navarra) made by Nabor Jimenez of Restaurante El Crucero, which was closed for vacation,  and a bottle of Aliaga Rosado de Lágrima de Garnacha (Garnacha Rosado made with free-run juice), October 8, 2014. A wine represented by The Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group - Gerry Dawes Selections.  Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube /  Pinterest.  Canon G15 / Canon f/1.8 – f/2.8 5X 24-140mm IS USM.

Aliaga Tempranillo 13.5% 


Dark cherry color, with violet tones. The bouquet is clean, harmonic and intense. The taste is pleasant and reminiscent of ripe red fruits, the tannins are well-integrated and overall effect fresh, persistent and lasting.  This wine is ideal for red meat, game, roasts and well-cured cheeses.

Straight forward, good, un-blended, un-oaked Tempranillo, a relative rarity in Navarra, where there are a multitude of tempranillo wines, often blended with mediocre cabernet sauvignon.  Made from 100% Tempranillo grapes grown in the calcareous soil of Viña Aliaga.  The wine is fermented for 6 days in stainless steel tanks at 28 º C. (82 º F.). 

Aliaga Garnacha Vieja Tinto 2010 13.9%

100% old vines Garnacha grown in the calcareous 1,200 vine per acre Viña Aliaga vineyard.  

The wine is fermented for 6 days in stainless steel tanks at 28 º C. (82 º F.) followed by maceration on the grape skins for 20 days with two stirrings every day.  Aged 6 months in American and French Allier oak cask, but the wines does not have heavy oak flavors.  Only 2,800 cases are produced. 

Deep dark cherry color. Ripe black cherry and spice nose. Round, rich black cherry fruit with hints of garrigue herbs with long, persistent finish. 

Food Pairing:  Ideal with red meat, game, roasts, cheeses.

Aliaga Colección Privada Tinto 2007 13.5%  

Made from 80% Tempranillo and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the calcareous soil of Viña Aliaga.  The wine is fermented for 6 days in stainless steel tanks at 27 º C. (80 º F.), followed by maceration on the grape skins with two stirrings every day. Aged 12 months in new American and French Allier oak.  Just over 1650 cases made.

Deep black cherry colour rimmed with brick-red.  The nose is intense, with “toasty” aroma from its ageing in cask, reminiscent of ripe black and red fruits. Smooth, full-bodied and round, with a long finish. A very special wine.

Good with red meat, game, roasts, grilled and fried fish, Spanish, Italian and Mediterranean dishes, cheese.

Carlos Aliaga at the edge of Aliaga's property. The vineyards are on a higher plateau. Here the vineyards end and the land drops off into an area that is covered with wild thyme and rosemary, traces of which turn up in some of the wines as what the French call garrigues.   Photo by Gerry Dawes©2013 / / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Pinterest.   Canon EOS 6D / Tokina Macro 100mm f/2

Aliaga Reserva de la Familia Tinto 2005 13.5% 

Brick-edged ruby.  Black and red fruits, complemented by toasty oak in the nose. Round, smooth and ripe with red and black berry compote, spices, garrigues-like herbal components and persistent finish. Good with red meat, game, roasts, grilled and fried fish, Spanish, Italian and Mediterranean dishes, cheese.

Made from 75% Tempranillo and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the calcareous soil of Viña Aliaga.  The wine is fermented for 6 days in stainless steel tanks at 27 º C. (80 º F.), followed by maceration on the grape skins with two stirrings every day. Aged 14 months in new American and French Allier oak.  Just under 2000 cases made.

Aliaga Moscatel Vendimia Tardia Dulce 2010 12.0% 500ML

100% late harvested Moscatel de Alejandria, from the calcareous soil of a single vineyard, Viña Lorena at Fugenique near Corella in Navarra’s La Ribera Baja.    Fermented for 35 days in stainless steel tanks at  12 º C. (53.6 º F.), after which by using only cooling techniques the fermentation is stopped without the addition of alcohol. Only 750 cases are produced.

Clean, clear, bright, gold-tinged color. Lovely honesuckle nose with hints of pear and peach.  Very fruity with luscious honeysuckle and peach flavors and a lingering, fresh, but not unctuous finish.    

Excellent with foie gras, ripe, soft cheeses and fruit-based desserts.

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Upgraded to Four Dalí Watches: El Crucero in Corella (Navarra), Lunch with the Wines of Aliaga at One of the Great Restaurants of Navarra's Ribera Baja Wine-growing Region, Also Home to One of Spain's Finest Vegetable Growing Regions and Some of Navarra's Little-known, But Best Country Restaurants.

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 Gerry Dawes's Persistence of Memory* (Salvador Dalí)  Melting Watch Awards.
Four Watches to Nabor Jiménez's El Crucero Restaurant in Corella (Navarra)

Updated to FOUR WATCHES after highly enthusiastic reports from Chef Michael Chiarello, Chef Susan Spicer and Debragga Meats CEO George Faison and his wife, publicist Stephane Crane Faison.  

Cardos con semillas de granada (fresh cardoon salad with pomegranate seeds and the restaurant's own extra virgin olive oil), El Crucero, Corella (Navarra).

Long legendary for their quality, the vegetables of La Ribera de Navarra region-fat white esparragos, green asparagus, pimientos de piquillo, artichokes, beans (pochas [fat white, cranberry bean-like and delectable), vainas [green beans], alubias [smaller white beans] and habitas, [tender young fabas]), cardos (cardoons), ajetes (green garlic shoots), etc.  

Esparragos Blancos de Navarra, Denominación de Origen protected, just like wines.

Some of the top vegetable canneries--such as Camporel in Cintruenigo 
(see slide show below)--in Spain are located in this region.  

The classic vegetable dish from this area is menestra, a melange of vegetables (vainas, peas, asparagus, carrots, cardoons, etc. cooked together, sometimes with ham)–are some of the best in Spain.  Menestra, when the vegetables, especially young spring vegetables, are cooked al diente is one of the great vegetable dishes of Spain.  However, in the past, menestra and other vegetables were overcooked, which ruined the dishes.  

Menestra, San Ignacio Restaurante, Pamplona.

Now, with advent of the well-trained chefs of the Ferran Adriá era, the overcooking vegetables--while still not a thing of the past–is much less frequently encountered.  Chefs like Enrique Martínez of Maher in Cintruenigo, Atxen Jiménez of Tubal (Tafalla), Casa García (one of the underground legends of great vegetable cooking in Navarra;  frequented by Juan Mari Arzak, Juan Suárez and other food luminaries, in Cascante, and Nabor Jiménez are doing justice to the mother lode of vegetables available in southern Navarra (and neighboring southeastern Rioja, the Rioja Baja wine growing region, also known as Rioja Oriental).

Slide show of top restaurants in La Ribera Baja region of Navarra.

If you happen to visit Corella, in the Navarra Ribera Baja wine growing region, don’t miss having lunch at El Crucero in the center of town, where Nabor Jiménez is doing some great food based on the products of this famous vegetable growing region of the Ebro Valley, the Ribera de Navarra, where Corella is located.  

Nabor Jiménez, Chef-owner of El Crucero, Corella.

I have had the good luck to have had lunch at El Crucero, twice this year, once with Carlos Fernández Aliaga, English wine merchant Anthony Sargeant and Basilio Izquierdo.  Izquierdo was the winemaker at CVNE for thirty years (until 2006) and now the winemaker owner of the tiny Rioja Alavesa bodega, Aguila Real, where he makes B. de Basilio wines (a garnacha blanca-based white that is one of the best Rioja whites I have ever tasted and a spectacular red that is reminiscent of the great CVNE Viña Real Oro wines of years past.  

Gerry Dawes, Basilio Izquierdo, Carlos Fernández Aliaga and 
English wine merchant-importer Anthony Sargeant, lunch at El Crucero.

In January, Sargeant, Izquierdo and I drove down to Corella to see Carlos and taste his wines, since Sargeant was looking for new properties for his English wine importing business.  Carlos put us in Nabor Jiménez’s capable hands and asked him to do a tasting menu for us to accompany a lineup of his wines.  First off, this being January, you may be wondering what vegetables are available in the middle of winter.  The Navarrese are masters at cooking winter vegetables such as cardoons, borrage and cabbage; making dishes with the region’s bounty of tinned and glass jarred vegetables; and turning dried beans into something magical.  

Slide show of Navarran vegetable dishes.

Our luncheon began with Viña Aliaga’s superb, cherry-red Garnacha Rosado de Lágrima 2009 (see Spanish Rosados: Among Spain's Most Delightful Wines), a brilliant, delicious rosé with good acidity, rich fruit and full-bodied (13.9%; weighty, but not over-the-top), then we sampled a 2009 Verdejo, a nice white wine with the oak, fruit and acid in harmony (and perhaps a touch of Viognier in the blend to spice it up). 

Aliaga Rosado de Lágrima.

With these wines, Nabor Jiménez served us a salad of cardos con semillas de granada, a refreshing dish of cardoons with pomegranate seeds.  

Cardos con semillas de granada.

The next dish was bright green steamed borrajas (borrage)--a stalk vegetable that is believed to have originally come from north Africa, where in Arabic its name is abu rash-- dressed with Jiménez’s own Condado de Martinega aceite de oliva virgen, olive oil.  


Nabor Jiménez with his own Condado de Martinega aceite de oliva virgen.

He followed that with slightly picante pimientos de cristal (red peppers not to be confused with the famous local piquillo peppers), which were served with a minced black olive-infused oil.  

 Pimientos de cristal.

Next up, with a Viña Aliaga Tinto 2007 (supposedly Tempranillo, but probably with 25% Syrah in the blend) came one of my favorite of all Navarran dishes, pochas, this with verduras (veggies: pimientos rojos y verdes, zanahorias, tomate and cebolletas, scallions) for which I put five *****, my stars.  These beans were buttery, heavenly and the soft, smooth Aliaga 2007 that came next was the right wine with which to finish this stellar dish. 


The region’s wonderful alcachofas, artichokes, tender young hearts of artichoke at El Crucero, came with foie gras and just the right squirt of the normally dreaded balsamic vinegar. 

For me, it was a four-star dish, but the combination of artichoke and balsamic vinegar royally screwed up the flavor of the Garnacha Vieja 2007, one of Aliaga's best wines.   

Then Nabor sent out a exceptionally flavorful dish of caracoles (snails) cooked with Ibérico ham, codorniz (quail), ajos morados asados (roasted purple garlic cloves) and pimientos de cristal.  

El Crucero's Snail dish.

The purple garlic cloves reminded me of Las Pedroneras (Castilla-La Mancha) in the province of Cuenca, which is the ajo morado capital of Spain (read Gilroy, California, the garlic capital here) and has a festival to celebrate the bulb every year.  The town is also home to arguably the best restaurant in that region, Las Rejas, where the great chef of La Mancha, my friend Manuel de la Osa cooks.  Nabor Jiménez brought out a plate of the big purplish cloves to show us.  “Ajo morado is much finer garlic than the kind we have here in Corella,” Jiménez said.  

Ajos morados (purple garlic).

To accompany this dish, we had an Aliaga Cuveé Tempranillo-Cabernet Sauvignon that was well-balanced, smooth and elegant despite its 14% alcohol and with the patorillo, practically embryonic baby, baby lamb parts (the feet, tripe and and bones; all tender, but  this was not the all-time favorite lamb dish on my lamb pleasure meter).


With the patorillo, we had the dark, silky Aliaga Reserva de la Familia, a blend of 85% tempranillo, 10% cabernet sauvignon and a 5% hit of “other,” which I guessed may be the dastardly outlawed (not permitted in Navarra) grape, Syrah.  The wine was rich at just under 14% and had sweet cherry and black raspberry flavors with a hint of clove and a bit of oak bite in the finish.  

Aliaga Cuveé.

With a fine cabrito asado, roast kid with a wonderful crackling skin, we drank the Aliaga Colección Privada 2007, another well-made, silky wine with moderate alcohol (for southern Navarra) at 13.7% and more sweet cherry and blackberry flavors.  

 Cabrito asado.

The Colección Privada 2007 was made from 80% tempranillo, 15% cabernet sauvignon and 5% of the ubiquitous “other.”  It was aged for 13 meses in 60%  French Allier oak and 40% American oak, mercifully none of which was new oak (the barrels are 3-4 years old); instead the wine was well-rounded without the raspy new oak curtain that one finds marring the finish of many so-called “modern” wines.

We finished up this superb luncheon with helado de turrón de Jijona, a rich, nutty, delicious almond turrón ice cream, which was accompanied by the exceptional Viña Aliaga Moscatel Vendimia Tardía (Late Harvest) 2008, a deep green-gold, beautifully fresh, perfumed wine with only 11% alcohol and great acid levels to carry the lovely sweet, but never cloying, honeysuckle flavors that made it taste like a fresh moscatel grape trapped in a bottle. 

Helado de turrón de Jijona.

(Also see Food in Navarra, Navarra's Country Cuisine [Stay tuned for an updated version.])

Recommended Restaurants in La Ribera Baja region of Southern Navarra:  

El Crucero, calle Mayor 1, 31591 Corella (Navarra).  Tel: 948 78 16 83
(Exit 16 off AP-68, Corella-Cintruenigo exit, drive 3 kms.  to center of Corella, straight ahead beyond the stoplight. Parking in streets around and behind the restaurant.)  Moderate.

Maher Restaurante-Hotel, Ribera 19, 31592 Cintruénigo (Navarra)
Tel. 948 81 11 50 . Fax 948 81 27 76

The one-star Michelin restaurant of maestro Enrique Martínez and his brothers, Martínez Hermanos, thus Maher.  Offers a fine combination of modern Spanish dishes and beautifully prepared Navarrese classics, including vegetable dishes from La Ribera de Navarra. Reasonably priced for the quality of the dishes served.  (Located in the same town as Bodegas Julián Chivite.)

Casa García, Mayor 93, 31521 Murchante (Navarra). 948 838 052

An underground legend of great vegetable cooking in Navarra, frequented by Juan Mari Arzak, Juan Suárez and other food luminaries, in Cascante (Navarra).  Not expensive.

Tubal, Plaza de Navarra 2, Tafalla.  948 79 08 52  70 12 96.
Owned and run by Atxen Jiménez, a woman with the highest standards for cuisine and service, and her son, Chef Nicolas, Michelin one-star Tubal is one of the top-ranked and most elegant restaurants in Navarra. It offers first-rate, sophisticated nueva cocina and artfully prepared renditions of Navarrese classics, always based on the best, freshest ingredients. Tubal has an excellent wine list.  Expensive.

Restaurante Hotel Casa Zanito, Rua Mayor 16, Olite.  948 74.00.02

This restaurant serves nueva cocina dishes such as hake-filled crêpes with clam sauce and classics such as brick oven-roasted shoulder of goat.  Moderately expensive.  Has two lovely hotels in Olite. 

Mesón El Chapitel, Mirapies 8, 31390 Olite (Navarra); Tel.:  948 71 22 50

This is a fun restaurante on an interior street in the old village of Olite.  For those who want a break for all those veggies in southern Navarra (all the restaurants have fish and meat dishes on their menus), you can really get off the wagon here.  El Chapitel serves excellent steaks of a wood-fired grill (my friend Michael Whiteman, the ex-jefe of Windows on the World and President of the Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman Company, says Chapitel's steak was "one of the best I have ever eaten."  Chapitel also serves grilled rabbit, lamb and veggies, including good salads, for which you would be wise to tell them to hold the balsamic vinegar, and you can even get a good pizza here.

Bodega Chateau-Hotel Pago de Cirsus de Iñaki Nuñez, Ablitas, (Navarra) (5 kms. from Tudela).

The title alone gives you the idea.  This hotel-restaurante-winery is crowned by a glaring white faux castle keep of very recent construction.  It is the property of film magnate Iñaki Nuñez’s and looks like what a film maker magnate might imagine a castle-winery to be.  The hotel is comfortable and the restaurant is good.  I did not like the wines.

Recommended lodging in La Ribera Baja region of Southern Navarra (and nearby La Rioja Baja): 

AC Ciudad De Tudela, Misericordia S/N, 31500 Tudela (Navarra). Tel: 948 40 24 40; Fax: 948 40 24 41;

Best Western Hotel Hospederia Nuestra Señora del Villar, NA-161 km 2.5, 31591 Corella (Navarra). Tel: 34 948 78 21 97;Fax: 34 948 40 40 32

Hotel-Restaurante Palacios, Ctra Zaragoza s/n 26540 Alfaro (La Rioja). 866-538-0187 (reservations).A good restaurante and wine museum in a hotel owned by the family of internationally renowned winemaker, Alvaro Palacios of Priorat L'Ermita, Clos Dofi, Les Terrasses fame. The family winery, located in Alfaro is Bodegas Palacios Remondo.

Parador de Turismo Principe de Viana, Plaza Teobaldos 2, 31390 Olite (Navarra). Tel: 34 948 74 00 00; Fax: 00 34 948 74 02 01;

A storybook parador alongside a XVth century castle in the magical village of Olite.


About Gerry Dawes  

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 

Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television series 
on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

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