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10/17/2007

Mencía: Articles on an Amazing Grape Variety From Northwestern Atlantic Spain

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 Articles on the Mencía grape in Bierzo & in Galicia (Ribeira Sacra & Valdeorras):

All Photographs by Gerry Dawes.


Pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago in Vilafranca del Bierzo, Castle of Vilafranca del Bierzo


Godello Grapes



Mencía grapes.



Mencía grapes.



Ricardo Pérez tasting Corullon at Descendientes de José Palacios Bierzo.



Old vines vineyard near Corullón.



Plowing in the precipitously steep vineyards of Corullón
A mule is brought in especially for this task.


Vineyard worker in the Palacios's vineyards near Corullón take a vino break with a drink from a wine bota.


Corullón, Bierzo.


Sunset from Palacios's Moncerbal Vineyard in Corullón, Bierzo.

10/05/2007

Valladolid: Castilla y León's Capital & Historical Treasure Trove

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 (Parts of this chronicle first appeared in the Penguin Guide to Spain & in the Berlitz Travellers Guide to Spain.)

In early May, 2007, I stayed in Valladolid while attending the Premios Zarcillo, an annual judging of wines ostensibly drawn from around the world by an international panel of wine experts, but primarily from the host region of Castilla y León. I had not really had a chance to explore the city since more than fifteen years ago, when I was working on guide books to the region for Penguin and Berlitz.




Valladolid (from the Arabic Belad-Walid, meaning land of the governor), located 193 km (120 miles) northwest of Madrid and 90 km (55 miles) east of Zamora, an eponymous provincial capital with a population of about 330,000, is also the seat of the government of the Comunidad de Castilla y León. The city of Valladolid sits at the confluence of the Pisuegra and Esgueva rivers on a high plain (more than 2,100 feet above sea level) and is surrounded by wheat fields and vineyards. 
 Valladolid is smack in the middle of four Castilla y León wine regions–Rueda (to the south, white wines), Ribera del Duero (to the east, famous for reds, including Vega Sicilia, Pesquera, Mauro, Dominio de Pingus and others, all in Valladolid province), Cigales (to the north, long famous for rosado, now making a name for red wines) and Toro (to the west, shared with Zamora and famous for powerful red wines). The area is in the middle of the famous Castilian plateau, the Meseta Central, which also means that the climate of Valladolid is subject to the same extremes–bitterly cold in winter, blazing hot in summer - - as the rest of Castile.

In addition to being the center of Castile's vital agricultural region - - the breadbasket and wine pitcher of this part of Spain - - and a major university town, in the post-Franco years, Valladolid became industrialized. As new factories such as a giant Renault factory were built, the population of the city expanded rapidly and, for a while, it less than visionary traffic patterns and city planning made it a difficult place to get around and it. But, during the past decade, a new prosperity and a new civic outlook has fostered the creation of a number of zona peatonales, pedestrian-only streets that have become prime shopping, dining and tapas hopping areas, so Valladolid has taken on a fresh new look, which belies its colorful and checkered past.


Compared to many other Spanish, and even old Castilian cities, Valladolid– which was founded by Count Pedro de Ansurez in 1084, one year before Toledo was captured from the Moors–was a latecomer. For centuries this area, including the valley of the Duero, was a no man's land, a buffer between the warring Moorish and Christian forces. But this former capital of Old Castile made up for lost time during the 15th and 16th centuries, Valladolid’s greatest period, during which it proved fertile ground for a number of Spain's most important artists and architects and was the site of a number of significant events in Spanish history, including the wedding of Isabel and Ferdinand; the death of Christopher Columbus; the births of Philip II, Philip IV, and Anne of Austria (mother of Louis XIV of France); and a three-year sojourn by Cervantes, during which Don Quixote was published (1605). Later, in the 19th Century, Valladolid had the unfortunate distinction of having served as Napoleon's headquarters during the Peninsular War.

Historically, Valladolid has suffered from a somewhat unsavory reputation. William Byron, author of a splendid biography, Cervantes, tells of a 16th-century Dutchman, who claimed that the city was full of "picaros, putas, pleytos, polvos, piedras, puercos, perros, piojos, pulgas - - rogues, whores, lawsuits, dust, stones, swine, dogs, lice, and fleas." And 20th-century wayfarers have not upgraded the city's reputation much. Nikos Kanzantzakis wrote that the city, the correct pronunciation of which is a test of proper Castilian (Vye - yah - doh - leeth), "is like a fallen princess whose lovers all have died, and so she has had to take to industry and commerce in order to survive."


Alastair Boyd, who wrote a book detailing the artistic and cultural treasures of Castile, confessed to being "prejudiced against Valladolid for years," but pointed out that there are few places in Spain without some redeeming qualities, Valladolid included. Still, he said, "it is difficult to give a coherent account of a no longer coherent city." In many Spanish cities, the great tourist treasures are set like jewels in a necklace of old and restored buildings that accentuate an overall atmosphere of antiquity. In Valladolid the necklace was broken by modern highrises; incongruity and incoherence reign and the jewels - - many of them less than crown jewels at that - - are scattered about. (This has changed a lot in the past twenty years.  Pedestrian walking areas now link most the major monuments and Valladolid has become a delightful walking city.  The new AVE high-speed train from Madrid now takes only about 50 minutes to reach Valladolid.)



Be aware, too, that the majority of the the sights here are architectural, since Napoleon's troops, headquartered here during the Peninsular War, either stole, burned, or wantonly hacked up a great number of artworks in the interiors of churches and other buildings. But, if you are seriously interested in Spanish history, architecture, art, and culture, many of Valladolid's remaining treasures are well worth searching out.


The old quarter, the core of Valladolid where most of the city's attractions are located, is a warren of narrow streets that twist and turn, and change names every couple of blocks. Consequently, it is best to walk to the many historical and architectural monuments in this town - - the Museo Nacional de Escultura in the remarkable pre-Plateresque Colegio de San Gregorio, the Isabeline Gothic facade of the church of San Pablo, the Romanesque-and-Gothic church of Santa Maria la Antigua, the unfinished Herreran Cathedral, Columbus' house, Cervantes' house, and the multitude of low priority sights considered important enough to be listed by the Valladolid tourist office.


Leave your car at your hotel, or, if you ar staying outside the city and driving in for the day, put your car in one of the carparks on the west side (one in the plaza Mayor, and two more north of plaza del Poniente near rio Pisuegra. River). Explore the old quarter on foot, and use taxis, if you are not up for the trek, to get to the Oriental Museum in the southern part of town. Valladolid is well-served by bus service and by train from Madrid, which, by 2008, will be only an hour away by high-speed AVE train (the route via Segovia is currently under construction). Both the stations are located south of the Campo Grande park, which is not to be missed because of its scores of semi-wild peacocks, geese, ducks, other birds and semi-tame red squirrels, who like to perch on the "Please don’t feed the animals signs" and munch on the contraband offerings of both locals and tourists alike, while mugging for cell phone photos. )


To find your way around this city, it is important to choose a proper map. At one point, the tourist office brochure map had the Pisuerga river on the top of the page; a popular commercial Spanish guidebook series put it on the bottom of the page; and the Michelin Guide had it on the left, or western, side of town, where it should be. Beginning in the morning and using the 16th-century arcaded Plaza Mayor with a statue of the Count de Ansurez in the middle and the Ayuntamiento, or City Hall, as a reference point on your map, you can then decide which of the monuments you want to visit, perhaps starting with the Cathedral to the east; then detouring past a number of buildings of primarily architectural interest near the Cathedral; going on to visit the Museo Nacional de Escultura in the Colégio de San Grégorio and nearby San Pablo; and finishing at the church of San Bénito before returning to the Plaza Mayor and the many tapas bars in the area.


From the south side of the Plaza Mayor, walk east for a few blocks until you come to the Cathedral, which was originally intended to be one of the largest churches in the world. Construction started on this still unfinished edifice in the early 16th century, but over fifty years passed before Juan de Herrera, the famous architect of the Escorial and many other outstanding buildings in Spain, got the project going in earnest and put the Herreran stamp on it. However, Herrera's design was only partially completed - - the west front and the tower - - then construction languished again, this time until the 18th century when Alberto de Churriguera, with his unique vision of Baroque, added that portion of the facade above the main portal, a touch that, strangely enough, meshed very well with Herrera's austere style. This church sorely needs at least one more tower (among the four originally planned) for symmetry, and the interior was never finished; for instance, the Latin Cross floor plan never even reached the crossing. The high altar, by Juan de Juni, who is well represented in the Museo Nacional de Ecultura, was originally carved in 1572 for the church of Santa Maria la Antigua.


Because work on the Cathedral was stopped, several sections of the existing collegiate church from early periods still exist. The fine Museo Diocesiano is installed in these remaining sections of the old church; you can see Mudejar designs, Romanesque tombs, and Gothic doors in the Chapel of San Llorente. The sacristy contains one of the Toledan silversmith Juan de Arfe's major pieces, a huge four-tiered silver monstrance from the late 16th century. Southeast from the Cathedral is the Universidad, whose Baroque facade surrounding the main portal was done by Narciso Tomé in 1715. As Alastair Boyd points out, during this period Spanish architects such as Tome, who did the Transparente in Toldeo, and the Churrigueras, with their wildly extravagant altarpieces, were still relatively sober in their decoration of exteriors.

Artists such as Tomé were in transition, still restrained by the power, weight, and conservatism of Herrera's influence, but in the end, just as florid Gothic gave way in Spain to Plateresque, and what was once confined to altarpieces, as Boyd puts it, "moved cheerfully outwards from the retablos to the facades." Spanish decoration would eventually degenerate into Rococo, but not yet.  The facade of the Universidad de Valladolid would like to take off, but it is anchored firmly, by four unadorned columns set on square pedestals, to the no-nonsense conservative building it decorates.


Around the corner to the southeast of the University, the Colegio de Santa Cruz represents the late 15th-century Renaissance style of Enrique de Egas, and just northeast, along calle del Cardenal Mendoza, which becomes calle Colon, is Christopher Columbus's house. In 1506 Columbus died in Valladolid a broken man, "If I had stolen the Indies and given them to the Moors, Spain could not have shown me greater enmity." The house where he died was demolished in the 1960s, then completely rebuilt to house the Casa de Colón, whose most interesting displays are the maps of the great Admiral's three voyages, and some artifacts from his new world discoveries.



Just behind the Cathedral to the north is the early 14th-century Gothic Church of Santa María la Antigua with a Romanesque portico and an exceptional 11th-century Romanesque tower. This conjunto works beautifully; Santa María la Antigua is one of the finest buildings in the city. A block northwest is the early 17th-century Church of Las Angustias (Anguish), which contains Juan de Juni's celebrated Virgen de los Cuchillos (Virgen of the Knives), a polychrome statue of the Virgin Mary clutching her breast, into which enough silver daggers have been plunged to cause anguish indeed.


The Colegio de San Gregorio


Located northeast of the Plaza Mayor are two of Valladolid's main attractions: The Colegio de San Gregorio, the remarkable, incredibly ornate (Jan Morris called it "almost edible"), late 15th-century Isabeline-Gothic building in which the Museo Naciónal de Escultura is housed and, next to it, the equally ornate, Isabeline Iglesia de San Pablo. Both these pre-Renaissance buildings are often called Plateresque, but they are not. 

They preceded Plateresque and obviously contributed to its development, but they were executed by foreign architects and stonemasons inspired–according to Professor Denning of Trinity College in Dublin– by the kind of decoration commonly used in the title-pages of books and by the wood carvings done for the altarpieces of the period. It is to this, not to the silversmiths who inspired Plateresque decoration, that we owe the remarkable style of these two structures. The 15th-century Iglesia de San Pablo, which preceded San Gregorio and is even more detailed (if that is possible), was added to in the early 17th century by the ever-present duke of Lerma, whose coat-of-arms can be seen on the facade. The French looted and destroyed the original interior during the Peninsular War, but a striking pair of Isabeline doorways remains in the since-restored church. 

San Gregorio, commissioned by the prelate of Palencia, Bishop Alonso de Burgos, confessor to Queen Isabella, was built between 1488 and 1496. The facade, like that of San Pablo, looks like a giant florid Gothic altarpiece, except that the figures, including the huge heraldic emblem of Castile and León, are largely secular. The delicacy and intricacy of much of the stonework, obviously an exceptionally laborious accomplishment, is amazing. San Gregorio's architect was Juan Guas, but the decoration of the facade has been attributed variously to Enrique de Egas; Simón de Colonia, who planned the splendid La Cartuja de Miraflores and Capilla de los Condestables in Burgos, and executed the facade on the church of San Pablo; and to the great Gil de Silöe, believed to have been a native of Antwerp, who worked on both Miraflores and the Cathedral of Burgos with Simón, and is believed to have worked on the church at Aranda de Duero with him as well. Opt for a collaboration between these foreign artists, for whom, as Sacheverell Sitwell describes, "It is the 'Espagnolade' of a foreigner, as much so as the drawings of Gustave Doré or the music of Carmen."

The great patio of San Gregorio is exceptionally rich. Beautifully turned barley-sugar columns support a second-floor gallery of archways filled with profusely-decorated, intricately-carved stone balconies, each with three short columns supporting a double-arched, heavily-decorated panel. Running below the gargoyle-studded roofline is a frieze decorated with a repetitive yoke-and-arrows (the symbol of Isabel and Ferdinand) motif that is broken at each corner by the coat-of-arms of the unified kingdoms of Castilla, León, and Aragón. 

Museo Nacional de Escultura

The Museo Nacional de Escultura in San Gregorio is filled with polychrome wood statues (many with meticulously detailed bleeding wounds); complete tableaux representing Biblical scenes; Holy Week processional pasos (floats): entire altarpieces; paintings; and even an entire set of carved wooden choir stalls, done by Gil de Silöe, Alonso Berruguete, Juan de Juni, Gregorio Fernández, Pedro de Mena, and others, is to Valladolid, as one book put it, "what the Prado is to Madrid." 

One of the masterpieces in the Museo Nacional de Escultura 's collection is the early 16th-century altarpiece by Alonso Berruguete, who Alastair Boyd claims, was "the only inspired artist of the Spanish Renaissance." Berruguete spent five years working in Florence and was greatly influenced by Michaelangelo (he was mentioned in the master's letters), Leonardo da Vinci (he was in Florence when Leonardo was painting the Mona Lisa), and Raphael; he returned to Spain to become the greatest Spanish sculptor of the 16th century. Originally built for Valladolid's Iglesio de San Benito, Berruguete's retablo, now dismantled and displayed in three rooms on the ground floor of the museum, measured over 50 feet high. 

The museum also displays another exceptional altarpiece taken from the Convent of La Mejorada in Olmedo, several first-rate pieces including the superb statues of San Sebastián and the Sacrifice of Isaac, and a fine Nativity painting, all by Berruguete, whose talents did not stop here: He also did part of the woodcarving on the upper parts of the magnificent choirstalls in Toledo Cathedral. The Frenchman from Champagne, Juan de Juni, whose work can also be seen in the Cathedral and in Las Angustias church here, is represented in this museum by one of his most highly-regarded works, the Entombment of Christ, and a good John the Baptist. 

Gregorio Fernández, who in the early 17th-century carried Juni's Illusionism even further by using human teeth, glass eyes, and graphically depicted bleeding wounds to get his point across, is very well represented here, but a little bit of Fernández goes a long way. His Cristo Yacente (Christ reclining) here is just one of a number of profusely bleeding Cristos - - shown reclining, in Pieta tableaux, and hanging from the Cross - - done by this prolific artist, and scattered throughout Valladolid.

Other notable works in this museum, where the pieces are beautifully displayed and well lighted, are Pedro de Mena's fine 17th-century statue of Mary Magdalene; the bronce statues of the duke and duchess of Lerma kneeling, whose models were done by Pompeo Leoni and cast by Juan de Arfe; and the richly-detailed, carved wooden choirstalls by Diego de Silöe, son of Gil de Silöe, and creator of the great golden staircase in the Burgos cathedral. 

There are also two fine Hispano-Flemish paintings from the 15th century: one of San Jerónimo, which was in the Convento de La Mejorada in Olmedo, and the other of Santiago, dressed as a pilgrim with his staff and a scallop shell on his hat, and San Andrés, with an X-shaped St. Andrew's cross.

Also facing the plaza de San Pablo, besides the San Pablo church and San Gregorio, is the Palacio de Pimentel, where Phillip II was born. Around the corner, northeast of San Gregorio, is the Casa del Sol, with a 16th-century minor Plateresque facade. Also in this area, but not worth detours unless you are a very serious student, are the Vivero Palace (rebuilt in the 16th century), where Isabel and Ferdinand were married in 1469; the home of the 19th-century poet and playwright Jose Zorilla, author of Don Juan Tenorio; and further west, past the plaza de San Miguel, the massive facade of the 15th-century church of San Bénito. This church is only a couple of blocks from the plaza de Poniente to the west, and the Plaza Mayor to the south.

South of the Plaza Mayor is calle de Santiago, the major shopping street of Valladolid with its own special twist, a place called Las Francesas, which has a number of good shops surrounding the cloister of an old former nunnery. The Iglesia de Santiago on this street contains a fine retable by Alonso Berruguete. At the southern end of Santiago street is the plaza de Zorilla, which forms the northern tip of the triangular-shaped Campo Grande park, an oasis of trees, fountains, flower gardens, and pleasant walks. Located at the southern end of the park, the convent of the Order of the Phillipines houses the interesting Museo Oriental, which has a fine collection of Oreintal art put together by Augustinian missionaries stationed in the Far East. 

Casa de Cervantes

Valladolid was the capital of Spain for five years (1601-1606) under Phillip III after the city bribed the Duke of Lerma, the royal favorite, 400,000 ducats to move the court from Madrid. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, spent three years in Valladolid during this period in a house on the calle del Rastro. William Byron, author of the definitive biography of Cervantes, describes what the building was like in those days, "one of five new houses jerry built by a small-bore speculator hoping to cash in on an influx of riffraff into the city. It was an instant slum." Cervantes, along with more than 20 of his relatives, friends, and perhaps a down-at-heel servant or two, crowded into 13 rooms above an old tavern that was the hangout for butchers from the nearby slaughterhouse. 

The Casa de Cervantes is located two and a half blocks southeast of Plaza de Zorilla at calle del Rastro 7. Don't expect to moved by the spirit of the great writer in today's contrived surroundings, however; the house is more interesting as a refurbished 17th-century dwelling, certainly in better shape now than it was in those days, than as a Cervantes museum. Besides, by the time Cervantes moved here, Don Quixote was already finished and in the hands of his publisher, Francisco de Robles, who had moved to Valladolid from Madrid to be close to the real money - - in this epoch certainly - - around the supremely corrupt duke of Lerma and the court of Phillip III. 

Cervantes was arrested in this house, though, after the mysterious death from sword wounds of a nobleman killed in the dangerous streets of this quarter. Cervantes and his family helped the man into their apartments, where he died two days later, and when no one could put a finger on the man's assailant, Cervantes and several members of his family were arrested, albeit briefly, thus adding Valladolid to list of jails - - Algiers, Castro del Rio, and Sevilla - - that the great writer had graced with his presence - - most unjustly. 



________________________________________________________________________________

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.


video

Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television

series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

Experience Spain With Gerry Dawes: Culinary Trips to Spain & Travel Consulting on Spain

Gerry Dawes can be reached at gerrydawes@aol.com; Alternate e-mail (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected): gerrydawes@gmail.com

9/22/2007

New Spain Posts January-September 2007

New Spain Posts January-September 2007

Some of my faithful readers, among the dozen of you, have expressed concern about the lack of posts and rightfully so. I have been traveling to Spain too much and can't keep up with it all!!! I am now averaging eight trips per year. To cut down on that average, I consolidated what would have been three-four trips in April-May to a one-month stay, so I have done three trips so far this year, a total of nearly eight weeks, and I am overloaded with information and backlogged with photographs. Some times you wish upon star and the star answers.

Posted (click on links below) and upcoming reports include: Read More

9/18/2007

Spain’s Food & Wine Fairs: A Perpetual Feast

Text & Photographs by Gerry Dawes

All photographs copyright 2008 by Gerry Dawes (Not to be used without permission, gerrydawes@aol.com)

Spanish food and wine fairs, wine trade fairs, , promotional events and gastronomic conferences can keep dedicated Spanish wine professionals, foodies and aficionados alike busy all year round, as I found out over the course of 2007, when I made a half dozen ten trips to Spain, many of them connected two and three deep to Spanish wine events. Spain now has thousands of wineries and it takes a lot of tastings to bring all that wine to the attention of the press, importers and consumers.

In January, it all begins at
Madrid Fusión, an annual event, where a roster of the top chefs in Spain—augmented by other star chefs from around the world—come to show the latest superstar cooking techniques. Taking best advantage of the drawing power of the superchefs, ICEX Vinos de España / Wines From Spain puts on a star-studded show of their own at the event. In 2007, celebrating its 25th Anniversary, Wines From Spain presented more than 130 top-rated Spanish wines in several España: Vientos de Terruño / Spain: Winds of Terroir tastings at Madrid Fusión. La Rioja also presented two big panel tastings—one contrasting classic and modern style Rioja reds, the other focusing on versatility of the tempranillo grape.

Tetsuya Wakuda at Madrid Fusión


Ferran Adrià with a food producer at Madrid Fusión

Juli Soler, El Bulli & Teresa Barrenechea, Termomix Spain at Madrid Fusión


Esmeralda Capel with white truffles


José Mari Arzak, Ferran Adrià, Rafael Ansón, Tetsuya Wakuda


Wakuda, Trotter, Norman Van Aken and Friends Having Tapas at Rafa in Madrid

Gerry Dawes and Paul Prudhomme at Madrid Fusión

That was just the beginning. Later that month in Valencia, the sixth edition of Encuentro Verema, one of Spain's most prestigious wine conferences, took place in Valencia on January 26 and 27 at the five-star Meliá Valencia Palace Hotel. The conference, organized by Valencia-based verema.com, one of the world's most visited wine websites, featured two days of high level seminars and tastings. Bodegas Herederos de Marqués de Riscal, presented "The Evolution of Rioja Wines in the Past Century," following by a tasting of historic vintages of Marqués de Riscal Reserva wines back to the stellar, legendary 1945, as well as their 2001 Barón de Chirel, perhaps the greatest in that wine’s history. The next day, Managing Director-Winemaking Team Leader Agustín Santolaya of Bodegas Roda presented a tasting of representative vintages from the winery since its creation. One of the event’s highlights was the presentation of the Verema Awards for 2006 to: Best Bodega 2006: Bodegas Roda; Rising Star Bodega: Viñas del Vero; Best Wine Award 2006: Vega Sicilia Único 1994; Wine Personality of the Year 2006 Award: Mariano García of Bodegas Mauro, Maurodos and other wineries; and Award for Best Restaurant Wine Service: Restaurante Atrio (Cáceres).

León Grau, José Luís Contreras, Verema.com & Ricardo Pérez, Descendientes de J. Palacios, Bierzo

Ricardo Pérez, Descendientes de J. Palacios, Bierzo (left) & Juan Such, Verema.com (right)

Telmo Rodríguez

In early March in Ferrol (A Coruña, Galicia) the Chamber of Commerce of Vilagarcia de Arousa staged the bi-annual (2009 is next) Fevino—Fería de Vino de Noroeste—a show based primarily on the white wines of Galicia, but with exhibitors from around Spain. Here, in a less crowded environment, some 300 bodegas brought more than 1,000 wines to taste. This one is particularly good for importers and the press interested in the wines of northwestern Spain, because sit-down sessions with bodega principals and representatives are available on a one-on-one basis.

Also a bi-annual fair—and the biggest of them all—is the huge Alimentaria fair, a huge event with thousands of exhibitors (which next will take place in Barcelona from March 10-14, 2008). Hundreds of bodegas bring thousands of wines to show and along with a mind-boggling variety of foodstuffs, there is Barcelona’s equivalent of Madrid Fusión, the less well-known, but superb BCNVanguardia Congreso Internacional de Gastronomía de Alimentaria, all of which combine to make Alimentaria a not-to-be-missed event for wine lovers and foodies alike.

Charlie Trotter at BCN Vanguardia

Ferran Àdria at BCN Vanguardia

Juli Soler of El Bulli


José Andrés & Quique Dacosta at BCN Vanguardia

In April, back in Madrid at the Casa del Campo, the Grupo Gourmets, for the past 21 years, has staged the Salón Internacional de Gourmets in three different exhibition halls, where some 1,000 exhibitors show an estimated 35,000 products, among them thousands more wines from all around Spain. This is one of best wine and food fairs I know and another no-miss event for wine and food professionals and aficionados of the best of Spanish products. For more than 30 years, Grupo Gourmets has been the publisher of Club de Gourmets magazine and an outstanding guidebook series that includes the annual Gourmetour Guía Gastronómica y Turística de España and the Guía de Vinos Gourmets wine guide.



Three-star Michelin Chefs Santi Santamaria, Ferran Ádria, Paul Bocuse and Juan Mari Arzak at the Salón Internacional de Gourmets in Madrid



Torta del Casar at the Cheese Judging at the Salon Internacional de Gourmets in Madrid

Also in April and coinciding with the Salón de Gourmets, the group behind verema.com, started a new upscale bienial wine event, Vino Elite, which featured some of Spain’s top wineries and seminars by such luminaries as Spanish art film maker José Luís Cuerda (also owner of the D.O. Ribiero wine, Sanclodio), Jonathan Nossiter of Mondovino wine documentary fame and his wife, Paula Pradini, who showed her Mondoespaña segment. The verema.com group and Emiliano García—owner of Casa Montaña (a revered Valencian bodega and tapas bar that dates to 1836) and Aranleón (a very promising new Utiel-Requena winery), also staged another star turn tasting event, Vino a Toda Vela (Wine at Full Sail), one of a string of events celebrating Valencia’s turn at playing host to the America’s Cup yacht races. The event, which featured top wines from Spain and around the world was held in the cloister of the 500-year old monastery that now houses part of the University of Valencia.

Palacio de Congresos, Valencia, site of Vino Elite

Paco Higón, Verema.com; Paula & Jonathan Nossiter

The Feria Nacional del Queso (National Cheese Fair), of Trujillo (Cáceres province) in the region of Extremadura, has taken place the first weekend in May since 1986. Called the most important cheese fair in Europe, this consumer-friendly event has nearly 100 cheesemakers showing some 300 different cheeses, which can be sampled with local wines by buying tickets that are exchanged for tastes at each tented stand. The fair takes place outdoors in Trujillo's spectacular, historic Plaza Mayor, the main square, which is surrounded by distinguished buildings and the large equestrian statue of Francisco Pizarro, the conqueror of Peru.

Cheese Fair in Trujillo's Main Plaza, La Plaza Mayor.

This is a wonderful fiesta for cheese lovers. All one has to do is show up, make your way to the Plaza on foot, purchase some tickets and enjoy a superb range of artisan cheeses, the majority of which are from Spain and neighboring Portugal. The local Extremaduran cheese such as the ewe's milk Torta de la Serena, Torta del Casar and Tortita de Barros, along with Trujillo's own goats' milk cheese Ibores, are superb and among the best cheeses in Spain.

Cheese stand at Trujillo's Feria del Queso.


Following on the heels of those events was Castilla y León’s most important wine judging event, Premios Zarcillo, in which wineries from this large region’s denominaciones de origen, which includes Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Toro, Bierzo and Cigales, vie for the coveted Zarcillo de Oro top prizes in each category. The judges—a distinguished group of Spanish and international tasters—labors for several days tasting hundreds of wines from the region (and beyond; there are wines from other Spanish wine regions and foreign countries) in an unforgettable setting in the heart of the Ribera del Duero at the 14th-century Castillo de Peñafiel, one of Spain’s most spectacular castles and now the Museum of Wine.



Premios Zarcillo, Peñafiel (Valladolid)

After the Premios Zarcillo, Fenavin (Fería Nacional del Vino), Spain’s biggest annual trade fair dedicated solely to wine, takes place the second week in May in Cuidad Real. Fenavin has more than 1,000 exclusively Spanish bodegas exhibiting in seven pavilions and some 2,500 wine buyers and importers scour the exhibition spaces for four days seeking new treasures for their portfolios. This fair also features some of the best wine seminars in Spain with top experts from the around the world and Spanish experts who are only a short AVE high-speed train ride away from Madrid.



Fenavin, Spain's Largest Wine Fair, Cuidad Real

Another bi-annual fair, and one of the most rewarding, is The Vinoble International Noble Wines Exhibition, is held every two years at the end of May in Jerez de la Frontera. In 2008, it will be staged from May 25 through May 28. It is the only wine fair dedicated exclusively to fortified, dessert, and naturally produced sweet wines, not just from Spain, which has a much overlooked vibrant production of luscious wine in this genre, but from around the world. The setting for Vinoble is Jerez’s beautifully renovated 12th-century Arabic Alcazar fortress, which dates from the Almohade epoch of the Moorish occupation of Spain. The site is spectacular with wine tasting stands occupying the gardens of the Alcazar, and wine tastings such as a Château D'Yquem retrospective and a palo cortado Sherries presentation are held in the complex's former mezquita (mosque) and tasting pavilions in the Renaissance Palace of Villavicencio, which was built within the walls of the fortress in the 17th and 18th centuries. More than 100 noble wine producing areas for from fortified and sweet wines from around the world show their best labels at Vinoble.



Vinoble: Tasting in the former Mezquita of the Alcazar in Jerez de la Frontera

But, at Vinoble, as might be expected, it is the host country, Spain, which shows the most extensive variety of high quality sweet and fortified wines. Local Sherry bodegas bring out a broad range of high quality fortified wines--finos, manzanillas, olorosos, amontillados, creams, pale creams, moscatels and Pedro Ximénez sweet wines, as do bodegas from nearby Andalucian wine regions such as Montilla-Moriles (Cordoba) with a range of finos, amontillados, olorosos and Pedro Ximénez; the Condado de Huelva with fortified Sherry-like wines, including delicious orange essence-flavored ones; and Málaga, which showed some exceptional moscatels. Cataluña was represented by sweet wines from Penedès and Priorat; Valencia by sweet mistela moscatels; Navarra by late harvest moscatels and vinos rancios; Alicante by moscatels and fondillones; Jumilla by late harvest Monastrell-based wines; and Rueda, Rías Baixas and Yecla by late harvest entries.

Only in Jerez at Vinoble can wine professionals and aficionados alike find such a broad range of high quality "Noble" wines. Even one day at Vinoble is an education into this relatively little-known, magical world of late harvest, fortified, botrytisized, dessert and dry wines such as manzanilla, fino and amontillado Sherries. Touring the Spanish stands in May 2006, I was able to taste an amazing array of wines that underscored the importance of this emerging genre of exceptional wines from all around Spain.

All these food and wine fairs take place before June, but there is more. On the first weekend in August, there is the lively Fiesta de Albariño (no permanent website) in Cambados, a charming Galician seaside town in the Val do Salnés region of Spain’s top white wine producing area, Rías Baixas. This region is where a wide range of producers make most of the excellent Albariños that are so food-friendly to modern (and traditional) cuisines have taken American wine lists by storm. Scores of the Val do Salnés region’s best Albariños are available for tasting at open-air stands along an esplanade outside the Parador de Cambados. Top wine journalists (and one American, this writer) taste wines for two days to select the top Albariños each year.

Xosé Posada, Presidente of the Irmandade de Vinhos Galegos (Brotherhood of Galician Wines) & Irmandade Member Gerry Dawes at La Festa de Albarinho in Cambados

Do Ferreiro Cepas Velhas Albariño & Nécoras (Crabs) from the Rías of Galicia, from which comes some of the world's greatest shellfish.

Those who think they might not get enough Albariño at Cambados can show up a week earlier for wonderful, little-known, country Albariño wine fair in Meaño, where more than a dozen small wineries from the Asociación de Bodegueros Artesanos, led by Francisco Dovalo of Cabaleiro do Val, stages a weekend showing of their artisan wines, along with Galician bagpipe music and culinary specialties such as pulpo a la gallega (octopus steamed or grilled and sprinkled with Spanish olive oil, superb Spanish pimentón [paprika] and sea salt) and local shellfish, which is some of the best in the world.

Asociación de Bodegueros Artesanos Emblem


With Francisco 'Paco' Dovalo, Presidente of the Asociación de Bodegueros Artesanos at their Albariño wine fair in Meaño.

I have gone to all the events described in the past two years and was privileged to be invited to speak at several of them. I could have kept on going to any number of Spanish harvest wine fairs in September, October and November, when the great chefs conference, Lo Mejor de la Gastronómía, takes place in San Sebastián, and the excellent IberWine, billed the Salón Internacional de Vino (a biannual event devoted to Spanish and Portuguese wines that alternates between Madrid, Portugal and the U.S.), but even a marathon Spanish wine geek like me needs a respite sometimes. Still, I can’t wait for the next round to start each year.

--The end--

6/06/2007

Toro: The Black Bull of Spain is Poised to Roar into the International Wine Arena


* * * * * 
 (Photos to follow)

Many wine experts believe that Toro, a relatively little-known denominación de origen (DO), located in Zamora province around the town of Toro some 215 kilometers northwest of Madrid and 75 kilometers east of the Portuguese border, is Spain’s most promising up-and-coming wine region. Once known for black, stout, powerful wines that lived up to their name (toro means fighting bull in Spanish), easily reaching 17 degrees alcohol naturally, Toro is now being touted as the new vini-cultural Eldorado of Spain by top Spanish wine authorities such as Andrés Proensa, author of the annual La Guía de Oro de los Vinos de España and perhaps Spain’s most insightful wine writer.

Toro hopes to follow in the footsteps of a number of other Spanish wine regions, which have recently risen from obscurity to international prominence. Until the 1980s, other than the red wines of La Rioja and Cataluña, Cava (Spain’s sparkling wine equivalent of Champagne) and Sherry, few Spanish wines were well known outside the country. But, in the past decade or so, all that has changed dramatically.

First, the Ribera del Duero area northwest of Madrid proved that, in addition to Vega Sicilia, Spain’s legendary equivalent to Bordeaux’s Chateau Latour, other wineries in Castilla-León were capable of producing world-class red wines. Then Galicia’s Rías Baixas and Castilla-León’s Rueda began making high quality white wines from Albaríno and Verdejo grapes respectively. In the past few years, the northern province of Navarra, just east of La Rioja, has also risen to prominence as a versatile producer of fine Chardonnays, exceptional dry Garnacha rosados (rosés), fine indigenous reds and international varietals as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and even luscious Moscatel dessert wines. Miguel Torres and his flagship Penedès wine Mas de la Plana (Black Label) Cabernet Sauvignon had long represented Cataluña as a star player on the world wine stage, but little else of red wine significance bore the Catalan banner. Then, seemingly overnight, several new producers began shipping the stunningly concentrated Priorato red wines from the beautiful, isolated, primeval hills of the Mediterranean province of Tarragona southwest of Barcelona.

Historically, Toro was part of the ancient kingdom of León, but it is now part of the modern Spanish administrative region of Castilla-León, so several Madrid-based Spanish wine writers are already using a little poetic license in calling the region "the Priorato of Castile," because its big, powerful, dark, ripe wines call to mind those of its Catalan counterpart. In this age of power palates, especially in America, with a taste for dark, monster wines with concentrated black fruits, many wine writers see in Toro yet another Spanish wine region poised to gain a substantial international, as well as domestic, following.

Like the Ribera del Duero (and the Port-producing regions of Portugal), Toro straddles the great Duero wine river (known as the Douro in Portugal). The main grape of Toro is called Tinta de Toro, the same great red wine grape known as Tinto del País or Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero and a cousin of the great Tempranillo of La Rioja. Old Tinta de Toro vineyards, planted with only about 1,000 vines per hectare (as opposed to places such as Cataluña, where a hectare supports 2,500 to 3,000 vines per hectare), makes up 65% of the vines in region. The rest is high-quality old vines Garnacha and the white grapes, Malvasía and Verdejo. Most of Toro’s vineyards are planted at 600 to 750 meters above sea level. Toro’s Continental climate is very sunny and dry; the region gets only about half the annual rainfall of Bordeaux, but the vineyards are dry farmed. The soils around Toro are well-drained and often sandy, so, curiously, they are not friendly hosts to the phylloxera bug, so most of the vines in Toro are not grafted onto American rootstocks.

In recent years, the long-time Toro producer Manuel Fariña, whose Bodegas Fariña is still the major bodega exporting from the region, tamed the alcohol levels and began to win international recognition for the concentration of fruit, balance, and price-to-quality of its red wines. Fariña’s rich, fruity, but well-balanced Colegiata brand, which is named for 12th-Century Colegiate church of Toro and carries the image on the label, was the first to show the true potential of the region. Still somewhat rustic and sturdy in style, these well-priced wines taste of black cherries, currants, coffee, and bittersweet chocolate. Gran Colegiata tintos de reserva are aged in American oak for 18 months to two years and there is also a Gran Colegiata "media" crianza, which spends just 4 months in new American oak de reserva. Fariña’s also makes a rich, young Colegiata that is blend of 50% Tinto de Toro and 50% Garnacha, sees no oak, and is a bargain. Manuel Fariña was the driving force behind Toro’s acceptance in 1987 as a full-fledged denominación de origen and he served as the DO’s first president.

During the past few years, major players from other Spanish wine regions such as the Ribera del Duero, La Rioja, and Navarra have moved in to purchase or plant vineyards and produce wines in Toro. A number of them are building new wineries. Alejandro Fernández, owner of Pesquera and Condado de Haza in the Ribera del Duero, has purchased a 600-acre former fighting bull ranch outside the village of Vadillo de la Guareña and has planted new, ungrafted vineyards on 250 hectares of the estate. The first wine to come from this new venture will be the 1998, provisionally to be called Alejandro Tinto. Fernández made 300,000 bottles from old vines Tinto de Toro purchased from growers in the Guareña River valley near the estate. The wine has been aging at Vadillo in 900 all-new American oak barrels in Fernández’s spectacular, hand-hewn, centuries-old deep cellars, which once belonged to the diocese of nearby Salamanca. Although, only a few hectares of the Fernández spread are actually within the DO Toro, the new wine, like many others to come, will carry the designation, Vino de Castilla y León. The cognoscenti will know that it comes from the Toro region and, given the track record of Alejandro Fernández with Pesquera, few will doubt that it will soon rank with the top red wines in Spain.

Mariano García, the former winemaker of Vega Sicilia and a partner and winemaker in the acclaimed Bodegas Mauro in Tudela de Duero, is already making a non-DO San Román from existing old vines Tinto de Toro and Garnacha from his recently-purchased vineyards at San Román de Hornijos, which has the reputation for producing the best wines in the region. At San Román, García has acquired some nine hectares of vines, which are reminiscent of the rock-strewn vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He plans to plant 15 more hectares here.

Although it does not carry the designation Toro on the label, just Vino de Castilla-León (analogous to Italy’s super-Tuscans), the 1997 Bodegas Mauro San Román Tinto that García showed me in April 1999 over lunch at the excellent Chivo restaurant in Morales de Toro, is probably the best wine ever made from the Toro region. 

A subsequent bottle, which I drank in late August of 1999 confirmed my earlier impression. It is a rich, powerful wine (13.8 ) made from 91% Tinta de Toro and 9% Garnacha grapes, both harvested from mature vines and aged for aged for a year in partly new and partly used French oak. This deep, black cherry-colored wine shows toasty French oak and concentrated ripe berry fruits (black currants and black cherries) in the nose. On the palate it is incredibly rich with ripe black currant and black cherry flavors, hints of the "tarry" licorice similar to that found in Vega Sicilia, and a long finish with bittersweet chocolate flavors. A 1998 San Román barrel sample had not yet spent the requisite time in oak, nor had it been clarified, but it showed promise with lots of sweet, ripe fruit and fine, stylish finish. A year later, the wine was still tight, but showed deep black currant fruit under the tannins.

García’s former employers at Vega Sicilia, Spain’s most prestigious winery, are also planning to launch a new wine, made from Tinto de Toro grapes from the Toro region. They have purchased vineyards and are currently aging their first as yet un-named released at a bodega in a village not far from Vega Sicilia. When I tasted it from barrel this spring, I found it rich, though reasonably well-balanced, but still dominated by the new oak in which it was aging.
Antonio Sanz, the Rueda-based winemaker of the peripatetic "have pipette, will travel" school, has been making basic Toro wines in the cooperative bodega at Morales de Toro since 1984, but since 1997, he has been aging his reasonably-priced, full-bodied, but well-balanced, Tinto de Toro-based Bodegas Toresanas Amant in an old convent in the town of Toro. (Some markets may see this wine under the name Dehesa Gago Chamerlot.) Sanz, who also produces
the excellent Palacio de Bornos Rueda whites and Dehesa de Cañonigos Ribera del Duero reds, can be counted among the major players in the emergence of Toro as an important wine region.

Several other producers have been making journeyman Toro wines for several years.
Wenceslao Gil, a highly-regarded winemaker who came to Toro in the late 1970s, but has made wine at in Cigales, Burgos, and Salamanca, produces Vega Sauco at an old underground bodega near Morales de Toro. Vega Sauco, which can be overripe, rustic, and tanky, is well regarded by some in Spain, but I have never found it much more than quaffable. The wines generally contain at least 90% and usually 100% Tinto de Toro. The crianza is aged for one year in American (80%) and French oak; the reserva gets the same treatment for 18 months.

Frutos Villar, a big producer of commercial table wines, is based in Cigales (Valladolid). Their Muruve Toro wines can be spotty in quality, but in good years, the Muruve crianza, which is made from 100% Tinto de Toro and spends 12 - 14 months in oak can be a good, rich, if somewhat meaty, powerful, and quite ripe wine. The Gran Muruve reserva spends two years in oak. The cooperative at Morales de Toro, where several good winemakers have vinified their wines in the past few years while waiting for their new wineries to be finished, makes the serviceable, sometimes pleasant and quaffable, but quite heady and rustic tasting Viña Bajoz.
But, even the minor players in Toro will soon feel the pressure to upgrade the quality of their wines, as Alejandro Fernández, Mariano García, Antonio Sanz, the people at Vega Sicilia, and others including Rioja’s Eguren family (producers of Señorío de San Vicente) and others join the rush for black gold around the ancient town of Toro.

And, where once Toro wines were black, brusque and as heady as a Spanish fighting bull tearing into the ring, more sophisticated wine making techniques should bring the finesse that these wines have lacked in the past, and these bullish wines may indeed become Spain’s new wine Eldorado.

--Gerry Dawes

5/27/2007

Press File: English Clips - Spanish Clips

March 27th, 2007

Adrian Murcia's musings on my rant about high alcohol wines from a Spanish wine luncheon at Per Se.


May 17 & May 21, 2007 Two-part Podcast interview at Fenavin by Ryan Opaz, www.catavino.net

Interview with Gerry Dawes, Part One / Part Two

Today, I present part one of an interview I recorded at FENAVIN with Gerry Dawes. Gerry has been traveling Spain for over 30 years and has written several books and articles on his experiences, which have gained both the respect and attention of several other well-known Iberian authors.

From beginning to end, the entire interview lasted about 40 minutes and I think its a great peak into Gerry’s career, along with some of his opinions about Spain, Spanish wine and Spanish food. If you’ve been interested in Spain as a culture, you’ve probably read at least one of his articles, if not several over the years without even realizing it. His endless knowledge on the subject is impressive and worth listening to if you desire an understanding of Spain’s gastronomical and wine evolution beginning right after Franco’s three decades of oppression.
I want to thank Gerry for taking the time to talk with me, and I look forward to crossing paths with him many more times as we continue to explore Iberia.

Cheers, Ryan Opaz

5/26/2007

Gerry Dawes's New Spain Web Log

A new web log on Spanish gastronomy, wines, travel and culture by Gerry Dawes, a award-winning authority on Spain.

Writing, Photography, Speaking Engagements, Culinary & Wine Trips to Spain, Spanish Travel Planning

Available for writing assignments, photography assignments (digital and transparencies), and speaking engagements on Spanish gastronomy, wine, cheeses, travel, etc.

Recent Appearances (Autumn, 2006)

I also customize and lead culinary and wine tours to Spain and do Spanish travel planning.

Contact: gerrydawes@aol.com

"Gerry Dawes--has emerged as the leading American speaker, consultant, and writer on the subject of Spanish wine. . . suffice to say that everyone from The New York Times to the James Beard Foundation, from 60 Minutes to CNN, has sought Gerry's wisdom on... Spanish wine, food and culture." - David Rosengarten, The Rosengarten Report

(Note: To see photographs at optimum quality, please double click on each picture.)



Premio Nacional de Gastronomía 2003 (Spanish National Gastronomy Prize): 2003 Marques de Busianos Award from the Academia Española de Gastronomía (Spanish Academy of Gastronomy) & La Cofradia de la Buena Mesa for writing, photography, and lectures about Spanish gastronomy and wines. At the Casino de Madrid, with Lourdes Plana of Madrid Fusion & Teresa Barrenechea, Chef-owner of Marichu (New York)


Gerry Dawes has been traveling in Spain for more than three decades. Since 1995, he has made sixty extensive food and wine trips to Spain, twenty since 2003 alone. In his Daytimer notebooks, he has written down every dish and every wine he has had in Spain for the past 15 years and photographs most of the dishes with digital cameras.



Gerry's notebook - Navarra, April 2003
Gerry Dawes copyright 2004

Only non-Spaniard to receive the prestigious Premio Cena de Los 11 Vinos, an award created to honor those who have made significant lifetime contribution to enhancing the image and culture of Spanish wines (for writing on Spanish wines.)



Marqués de Vargas & wife Anya, Gabriela Llamas, Gerry Dawes at Casino de Madrid, Cava Writing Award Presentation, May 2004. Primer Premio--Artículo sobre Cava, Instituto de Cava (Barcelona, Spain): First Prize of 12,000 Euros for Bebiendo Estrellas (Drinking Stars), an article on Spanish Cava (Spanish sparkling wine), written in Spanish for Cocina Futuro magazine (Madrid).


Click for Gerry Dawes Biography & Credits

Gerry Dawes
17 Charnwood Drive - Suite A
Montebello, NY 10901
Cell phone: 914-414-6982
Phone & Fax (call before faxing): 845-368-3486


Telefono movil (durante estancias en España): (011 34) 670 67 39 34
Contact:
gerrydawes@aol.com



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5/07/2007

New Spain Posts January-September 2007

Some of my faithful readers, among the dozen of you, have expressed concern about the lack of posts and rightfully so. I have been traveling to Spain too much and can't keep up with it all!!! I am now averaging eight trips per year. To cut down on that average, I consolidated what would have been three-four trips in April-May to a one-month stay, so I have done three trips so far this year, a total of nearly eight weeks, and I am overloaded with information and backlogged with photographs. Some times you wish upon star and the star answers.

Posted (click on links below) and upcoming reports include:

In January, Madrid Fusión and Valencia's Encuentro Verema

In March, more Madrid, a wild, exhilarating swing through all the D.O.s of Galicia (Valdeorras, Rías Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro and Monterrei) in early March and a return to Arévalo for supernal roast suckling pig at Las Cubas.

And in April-May, Madrid again (after all, I am an official "Amigo de Madrid") for Grupo Gourmet's annual Salón Internaciónal de Gourmets

Valencia (Vino Elite & Vino a Toda Vela) with reports on paellas (arroces & fideua), the surprising gastonomic scene in Valencia and Alicante and encounters of another kind with Jonathan Nossiter of Mondovino fame and his wife, Paula Pradini, who showed her MondoEspaña film at Vino Elite.

Another visit to wonderful, under-rated Chinchón

Trujillo's exceptional Feria de Quesos in Extremadura

A visit to an old friend at Restaurante Cala Fornells in Salamanca

Castilla y León's prestigious Premios Zarcillo at which prizes are awarded to the best wines submitted (from around the world), the vast majority of which are from the Castilla y León region, which includes Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Toro, Cigales & Bierzo and Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla y León)

Valladolid, getting re-acquainted with Castilla y León's historic, but modern capital city

Cuídad Real for the Fenavin (Feria Naciónal del Vino; Spain's biggest wine fair) and a re-visit to Mesón del Corregidor in Almagro

And, remarkable Toledo, where chef-restaurateur-bodeguero Adolfo Muñoz and his family (Julita, his wife, and Adolfo and Javier, his sons) took me and my traveling companion captive for nearly 24 hours and charged a handsome ransom. We had to visit their Viñedos Cigarral de Santa María property, which has drop-dead views overlooking Toledo (a stone's throw away) and has a 300+ seat restaurant for weddings and banquets. The cigarral is surrounded by their Pago del Ama vineyards, olive groves and gardens with aromatic plants and flowers that play an important role in Adolfo (and his chef son Adolfo's cooking. We were sequestered for the night in the five-star Hotel Palacio de Eugenia de Montijo hotel where Adolfo operates Belvis restaurant, had dinner at Aldofo restaurant (considered the best in Toledo) and, with Adolfo and restaurant director-summiller son, Javier, we got a private tour of their extensive wine collection, which is housed in the cellars of a 9th-century Jewish home in the old quarter. The next morning we had a tapas-"breakfast" at Adolfo Colección restaurant-delicatessen, then, after re-acquainting myself with monumental Toledo and re-visiting the Santa María La Blanca and Tránsito syngogues (a first for my friend), plus a damascene ware shop, it was back for a farewell lunch at Restaurante Adolfo in Toledo's old Jewish quarter.

After lunch at Adolfo, we headed for Madrid for another remarkable seafood dinner at Casa Mundi, one of a series of remarkable meals with my new-found friend, José Luís Cuerda, the great Spanish film director, producer and screen writer (Bosque Animado, La Lengua de Las Mariposas, Amanecer, The Others and more). Cuerda also owns vineyards and a winery, Sanclodio, in Galicia's Ribeiro, where he produces a delicious treixadura-based white wine, which will soon be available on the East Coast and is the subject of a New York Times article due to be published in late June (for more info on Sanclodio, e-mail alex@marblehillcellars ).

I am going back to Spain in June for two weeks and I will have reports on trout fishing in La Rioja and a much anticipated dinner at Bodegas Riojanas in Cenicero, the wedding of my friend, chef-cookbook author (The Cuisines of Spain, The Basque Table) Teresa Barrenechea's daughter, Maria, in Madrid; the Grupo Gourmet Gourmet Plus Gastronomic Feria in Bilbao at the Palacio Eskalduna from June 15-17; the superb rosados, moscatels and red wines from Navarra; plans for Expo 2008 in Zaragoza; the lastest developments in Cava, Conca de Barberá, & Priorat; another dinner at unbeatable Ca Sento in Valencia; another adventure in Alicante with my friend, María José San Román and her husband, "El Portero Pitu," owners of Monastrell, la Taberna del Gourmet and other excellent restaurants;" and a dash via Jumilla back to Madrid for yet another dinner with Sr. Cuerda, with whom I am planning a Spanish television series based on many of the adventures, people, places, wines and food you are reading about here.

After Spain, it is off to speak at several wine and Spanish artisanal cheese seminars at the Telluride Wine Festival (June 28-July 1), stopping off in Dolores, Colorado, 60 miles south of Telluride, to see my daughter Erica, her husband Ivan and my adorable Gerber Baby grandson, Graham Robert. I keep telling this now eight-month old wonder that I am his Tio Geraldo!

In July, I will be in Portugal's cork country with the Amorim cork producers to report on the state of wine corks. Despite the problems with so-called "cork taint"--many instances of which are not the fault of a cork at all--is an issue that is being successfully addressed by cork producers, for me and many other long-time wine world observers (and participants!!) abandoning the cork for plastic "corks," synthetic closures and the God Awful screw cap is not the answer (scientifically, aesthetically, romantically, image-wise and otherwise).

From Portugal, I will migrate via Oporto back into Spain and spend more time in Galicia, where within a few years fascinating, terroir-driven, indigenous varietal wines will put Spanish white wines on a par with those of the Loire Valley in France (the godello grape has the potential to rival some chardonnays from Burgundy!).

Projecting to September, I will be traveling in Murcia for an in-depth re-visit to the land of the Monastrell grape, Jumilla, Yecla and Bullas.

And, for November, see A Taste of Spain Tour of La Mancha and Andalucía for my cultural, gastronomic and wine tour.

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