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Food Arts Silver Spoon Award to Gerry Dawes


 Premio Nacional de Gastronomía - - James Beard Foundation Nomination (Best Wine Writing)
Premio Periodistíco Cava

Gerry Dawes's Article Medieval Riches of El Cid's City (About Burgos, Spain)
Front Page, The New York Times Sunday Travel Section

 About Blog Author Gerry Dawes, Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award)




6/09/2017

Camino de Santiago Hikers Led by Restaurant Tycoon Andy Pforzheimer Spend a Day With Gerry Dawes in Spectacular Ribeira Sacra, May 2017.


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Mencía vineyards on the Miño River in Belesar, Chantada, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain.
 Photo by Gerry Dawes

May 12. 2017

Camino de Santiago, Day 39, Part 2.  Edited notes from Andy Pforzheimer, who for six weeks was walking the Camino with his wife Zelie and with several friends who have dropped in and out to walk part of the Camino with them.

Gerry Dawes is a raconteur, bon vivant*, and liberal redneck. . . a man who knows half as much about Spanish wine as he says he does**, and twice as much as anyone else in the English-speaking world.  

GD Editor's Notes:   *Spanish gastronomy and wine research is Hell, but someone has to do it.
**I know as much as I say I do.  




He arrived just after 2:00, and swept us into his car, headed for Ribeira Sacra - a lesser-known Spanish DOC whose great red wines are made from the Mencía grape. . . Gerry represents small growers, and imports their wines into the US, for a living, so these trips - hard miles in Spain on back roads to small farmhouses - are part of his daily life. He takes to the highway, then gets off in the middle of nowhere and winds his way onto a tiny road. 

"I would never rent me a car*," he observes.

*Hertz has me blacklisted.

It's hard to capture a car ride with Gerry. He is a cantankerous good ol' boy whose backwoods drawl masks his encyclopedic knowledge of medieval history, Spanish literature, and conspiracy politics. There are no gaps in the conversation, as Gerry is happy to fill these with opinions that only barely neglect the implied ending*, "...and anyone who doesn't agree is a dumbass."  (*The only people who perceive this implication are those for whom the descriptor fits.) 

Zelie knows Gerry (I have met Zelie three times), but Denise Reiss is enthralled (the inference here is if Denise knew me she wouldn't be enthralled!). I find that these weeks on the Camino have left me with a lot of unanswered questions, so I prod Gerry into expounding on the Inquisition, medieval stonemasonry (and the pornographic carvings on the undersides of choir stall seats), Castilian wars of succession, and cathedral architecture.  (Andy et al were shocked to find out that Torquemada was a converso Jew, but Andy was not shocked to find out that much of the great stone and wood carving in the great churches along the Camino de Santiago was done by Jewish artisans and their aids and apprentices in their workshops.)

As we approach the Rio Miño, one of the growing regions of Ribeira Sacra, Gerry announces to the car that "You're about to see the most beautiful wine-growing region on the planet." This is how Gerry talks - most things are the greatest, or the worst, ever - and we are driving in flat scrub land under leaden skies, so I am completely unprepared when we come around a corner and there, laid out for me in 1,000 feet of plunging mountainside, is the most spectacular wine landscape I've ever seen. And while I am not a wine professional, I rub elbows with that world enough to have seen more than the average person's allotment of vineyards.

((Contemplate these sentences from the Camino de Santiago-addled Pforzheimer: "As we approach the Rio Miño, one of the growing regions of Ribeira Sacra, Gerry announces to the car that "You're about to see the most beautiful wine-growing region on the planet." This is how Gerry talks - most things are the greatest, or the worst, ever - and we are driving in flat scrubland under leaden skies, so I am completely unprepared when we come around a corner and there, laid out for me in 1,000 feet of plunging mountainside, is the most spectacular wine landscape I've ever seen."

It would appear, from Pforzheimer's account, and please correct if I am wrong, that I promised him "the most beautiful wine-growing region on the planet." and I delivered "the most spectacular wine landscape I've ever seen." I purposefully arranged the "flat scrubland under leaden skies" as a dramatic counterpoint.   And Pforzheimer had not yet seen the dramatic canyon vineyards of the Sil River sections of la Ribeira Sacra yet.

The "worst" he refers to is usually related to Donald DumbF and his minions.))


 Mencía vineyards on the Miño River in Belesar, Chantada, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain.
 Photo by Gerry Dawes

The terraces of Ribeira Sacra - both here and later on, in the canyons of the River Sil - plunge so steeply that they cannot be harvested by machine, so steeply that they cannot be harvested by horse or mule. Only humans, clambering down stone steps hundreds of years old with 40-pound panniers attached to their backs, can get to the grapes to plant them, tend them, prune them, and, finally harvest them. In some places the hillside is so steep that there are rails - the same as comprise railroad tracks - laid almost vertically down the side of the slope, with a carriage on wheels running on top, and the grapes are brought to the rail(s) where they are hoisted up the mountainside by rope* (*actually by mechanical winches and cables, driven by generators). There is a name for the winemaking (vineyard farming) that goes on in the Miño and Sil canyons, and it translates as "Heroic Viticulture." Gerry says that many of the terraces date back to Roman times, and slave labor, and it's hard to imagine how else they could have been built.


 Roberto Regal, Andy Pforzheimer, Zelie Pforzheimer, Denise Stein in Belesar on the Miño River.  Photo by Gerry Dawes

We drive down the slope on a sinuous road that crosses the river at the town of Belesar. There, we meet Roberto Regal, one of the small winemakers that Gerry represents. He tends fields that are 100% organic, and makes a wide assortment of wines from the mencia grapes that serve as the backbone of his best reds, but also from the garnacha, and the brancellao, that were planted years ago as blending varietals. Gerry takes us to see a restaurant built into a barge on the bank of the river; it would have been our lunch spot but it is rented out, so we continue on to another restaurant, this one impossibly situated on a bend of the river at a point so wide that it overlooks a sandy beach. There, we taste our way through 10 or so wines while being treated to pan con tomate, wild mushrooms a la plancha, local cheese wedges, Serrano (Galician) ham, and Padron peppers.

 Hongos a la plancha, plancha-grilled mushrooms at Praia da Cova restaurante on the Miño River in Galicia's Ribeira Sacra.  Photo by Gerry Dawes.

Denise Reiss, VP of Reiss Entertainment, with a lineup of Roberto Regal's wines at Praia da Cova restaurante on the Miño River in Galicia's Ribeira Sacra.  Photo by Gerry Dawes.

We eat like starving people, and try all 10 wines, and are out the door as quickly as politeness allows. I know this drill well - there are many wines to taste, yet - but Denise is a bit shocked at how perfunctory we are with this wonderful food, these intriguing wines. Before she knows it we are back in the car and headed into the mountains, Gerry hardly worse for wear, and towards the canyons of the River Sil.  The Sil canyons are, if it can be believed, even higher and more rugged than those of the Miño. Here we are met by José Manuel Rodríguez, the head of the DOC for Ribeira Sacra, and the maker of an elegant, hard-to-find wine called "Décima." We are treated to a clamber in his spectacularly-sited vines, then we go to his house to try some bottles of Décima, and some tastes from the yet-unbottled 2016 in its stainless steel vats.

 Andy Pforzheimer and Denise Reiss at the vineyards of José Manuel Rodríguez, Presidente of the D. O. Ribeira Sacra and producer of the stellar mencía-based red wine Décima.  Photo by Gerry Dawes. 

From Decima we headed to a third producer of Gerry's, Jorge Carnero, whose grapes are at the very bottom of the Sil Canyon, in one of the most flavorful parcels* of land (*Pforzheimer, the Hybolic, did not taste the parcel to see how flavorful it was!), and one of the hardest to farm. We go to his house, which doubles as his bodega, his tasting room, his bottling plant, and the ancestral home of his great-grandparents back to the 1700s. Jorge makes three wines under the Viña Cazoga label, a feat of unusual restraint: a white, made from Albariño, a red made from mencía, and a reserva, Don Diego, named in honor of his father. We drink it in the hall of the old stone house that he has been restoring for over twenty years. His partner shows us photos from far back in time - he with his shirt off, grapes weighting his shoulders as his picks his way through the vines far, far down, and smiling the smile of the young and foolish, ready to build a stone house with his hands, and make wine with grapes from the bottom of a canyon.

 Jorge Carnero, owner of Cazoga, Denise Reiss, José Manuel Rodríguez, Andy Pforzheimer and a friend of Jorge Carnero at Cazoga.  Photo by Gerry Dawes.

When we get back to Melide it is past 9:00, and Mike has been at the hotel for a few hours, waiting.  Gerry has 6 bottles of Albariño waiting for him at the bar, cold.  Zelie goes to bed. I make my way back downstairs where Gerry, Mike, Denise, and I eat octopus and drink Albariño until I tag out at 10:30. I love getting up early to face the Camino, and love wine tasting. . . but some things go together better than others.

 Pulpo a Feira (steamed Octopus with olive oil, pimentón [superb Spanish smoked paprika] and sea salt served with a lineup of Albariños--Avó Roxo 2015, Cabaleiro do Val Crianza 2010, Lagar de Candes 2015, Rozas 2015, O'Forrollo 2015 and Lagar de Broullón 2015--from The Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group – Gerry Dawes Selections in the bar at Hotel Carlos 96 in Melide (A Corunna), Galicia on the Camino de Santiago, with Andy Pforzheimer and Mike and Denise Reiss.   All photos by Gerry Dawes©2017.

 Stellar lineup of artisan Albariños--Avó Roxo, Cabaleiro do Val Crianza 2010, Lagar de Candes, Rozas, O´Forrollo and Lagar de Broullón--with dinner at Hotel Carlos 96 in Melide on the Camino de Santiago.  Photo by Gerry Dawes
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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. 

In December, 2009, Dawes was awarded 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. 
 
video
Pilot for a reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.
 
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