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

"My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life. . .” - - Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019; Chef-partner of Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards, New York 2019


The Wine Advocate's Robert M. Parker, Jr. Did He Not Begin as a Paper "Blogger," in the Days Before the Internet

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“It has been said often enough that anyone with a pen, notebook, and a few bottles of wine can become a wine critic. And that is exactly the way I started when, in late summer 1978, I sent out a complimentary issue of what was then called the Baltimore/Washington Wine Advocate.” -- From THE ROLE OF ROBERT M. PARKER, JR. and OUR WINE CRITIC ETHICS and STANDARDS on   
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Robert Parker in La Rioja for Pancho Campo's Controversial WineFutures-Rioja Conference 2009. Photo:

Is "blogger" a pejorative term? Parker and Pancho Campo seem to think so. Was not Parker, starting The Wine Advocate, before the advent of the internet, in fact a paper blogger?  Isn't Parker a "newsletterist" and indeed a blogger himself.

From Robert Parker's statement about the possibility of lawsuits against "these bloggers" threat posted on and copied on several websites.

"This blogger posted about Miller/Campo charging for tasting Spanish wines or for visiting Spanish wineries a while ago.We launched an investigation at that time despite the fact that both Miller/Campo denied all the allegations. We found no substance or truth to any of the allegations. Now he has brought similar charges. This time we have requested our lawyers to fully examine every allegation again, and they have also retained an additional lawyer, from Madrid, to study the allegations, and if again false, consider legal action. Jay chooses and controls 100% of the wines he tastes and wineries he visits.

He uses the Spanish Wine Academy (Pancho Campo is their President) to assist in organization. We would never permit a winery to pay us for the privilege of tasting their wine or visiting the winery. Moreover, Campo also understands his organization cannot charge wineries for Miller's visits. Both of them have full knowledge that is an appalling conflict of interest that would not be tolerated under any circumstance.* There have been trade conferences organized by the Spanish Wine Academy that Jay has been paid a fee of $10,000 (which seems reasonable) and far less than the amounts reported by this blogger.

I have been asked by our USA lawyers to refrain from commenting about this given the potential lawsuits by Jay, by Pancho, and possibly by TWA against these bloggers. Until we are 100% certain of all the facts, I think this subject, which appears to be a reckless and malicious disregard for the truth and clearly aimed at damaging Miller, Campo, and TWA, needs to be closed."- - Posted by Robert M. Parker, Jr. on on December 1 and copied on several forums.


Don Quixote, Casa de Cervantes, Valladolid (Castilla y León)

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Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Author of Don Quixote*

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Casa de Cervantes, Valladolid

Dostoevsky in The Diary of a Writer on Don Quixote*

"There is nothing in life more powerful than this piece of fiction. It is still the final and the greatest expression of human thought, the most bitter irony that a human is capable of expressing; and if the world came to an end and people were asked somewhere there: ‘Well, did you understand anything about your life on earth and draw any conclusion from it?’ a person could silently hand over Don Quixote. ‘Here is my conclusion about life. Can you condemn me for it?’"

Highly Recommended:  Edith Grossman's translation of Don Quixote:

“The extraordinary significance and influence of this novel were reaffirmed, once again, in 2002, when one hundred major writers from fifty-four countries voted Don Quixote the best work of fiction in the world.”  Translator’s Note to the Reader, Don Quixote: A New Translation by Edith Grossman (Ecco, Harper Collin, New York, 2003.)

"Miguel de Cervantes was born on September 29, 1547, in Alcala de Henares, Spain. At twenty-three he enlisted in the Spanish militia and in 1571 fought against the Turks in the battle of Lepanto, where a gunshot wound permanently crippled his left hand. He spent four more years at sea and then another five as a slave after being captured by Barbary pirates. Ransomed by his family, he returned to Madrid but his disability hampered him; it was in debtor's prison that he began to write Don Quixote. Cervantes wrote many other works, including poems and plays, but he remains best known as the author of Don Quixote. He died on April 23, 1616." -- Harper Collins website.

Valladolid -- See Valladolid: Castilla y León's Capital & Historical Treasure Trove -- was the capital of Spain for five years (1601-1606) under Phillip III after the city bribed the Duque de Lerma, the royal favorite and one of the most corrupt individuals ever to hold power in Spain, 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. The Casa de Cervantes is located at calle del Rastro 7, two and a half blocks east of Plaza de Zorilla (just south of the Plaza, don’t miss the Campo Grande park where magnificent semi-tame peacock–with the emphasis on “semi”– fan their feathers and strut about the park doing their mating dance for the peahens and tourists alike).

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.

My old friend and some-time mentor, the late William Byron, author of the definitive biography of Cervantes (Cervantes: A Biography), 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 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, Argamasilla de Alba and Sevilla–that the great writer graced with his presence–most unjustly in all the instances. 

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, Volume I of 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. 

More on Cervantes:


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 are 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.

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; Alternate e-mail (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected):


Spain's Great Escapes Madrid, Seville and Barcelona are the starting points for three spectacular countryside tours By Gerry Dawes (Food & Wine Article from 2017)

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An article published several years ago in Food & Wine (Note:  Some of the restaurants are now closed.)

American chefs often come back from trips to Spain sounding this refrain: "I didn't like most of the Michelin-starred places, but I had the most incredible roast suckling lamb at a tiny restaurant in the middle of nowhere." When they aren't raving about the lamb, they're praising the grilled seafood, the stewed rabbit, the gazpacho, the charcuterie or some other local specialty.

I'm with them. After several years of trying nueva cocina (nouvelle cuisine) in the big cities, I am convinced that Spain's best food is served at traditional regional restaurants in the countryside, where quality is a bigger priority than novelty. With that in mind, here are three short gastronomic excursions: from Madrid, from Seville and from Barcelona. Each includes visits to cultural destinations like the Dalí museum, gorgeous drives, overnight stays in paradors (government-owned hotels) and stops at top wineries.

From Madrid: Castile and Rioja

Suckling Lamb, Red Wine and El Cid's Hometown

Day 1 Travel north from Madrid until you see a billboard that reads Aranda de Duero, Vino y Cordero. Aranda de Duero is the town; vino is wine (such as Vega-Sicilia, Spain's most expensive and renowned red, and Pesquera, the new star, which has been compared to Château Pétrus); and cordero is supernal suckling lamb, roasted whole in brick ovens with nothing but water and coarse salt. Aranda has a dozen asadores, or roast houses, and they have been the object of many a modern pilgrimage.

If you get to this market town by noon, you'll have time to see the Plaza Mayor and the 15th-century Isabeline church of Santa María before heading to Rafael Corrales (2 Carrequemada; 011-34-947-50-02-77) for a lunch of chorizo, morcilla con pimientos (blood sausage with red peppers) and, of course, roast lamb.

Afterward, head north to Burgos, then east along the road that follows the medieval pilgrimage path to Rioja, the great wine district. Your destination is the town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Check into the Parador de Santo Domingo de la Calzada (3 Plaza del Santo; 011-34-941-34-03-00; fax 011-34-941-34-03-25), a former hospice for pilgrims. Across the plaza is a cathedral, where a caged cock and hen commemorate a legend from the Middle Ages with a surprise twist. The story: a judge sentenced a young man to be hanged, but miraculously, though strung from the gallows, the prisoner did not die. When his family pointed this out, the judge said, "That boy is as dead as these roast chickens I am about to eat," at which point the birds rose from the platter and began running around.

A few miles south, at the gates of the imposing Sierra de la Demanda, is the mountain village of Ezcaray and the remarkable Hostal Echauren (2 Héroes de Alcázar; 011-34-941-35-40-47). I'm especially fond of the perdiz con peras como la hacía mi madre (partridge "like my mother made," cooked in red wine and served with wine-steeped pears). The wine list is full of reasonably priced bottles, from a pale and lovely local rosado to a fine stash of such gran reservas as the 1987 Monte Real from Bodegas Riojanas.

Day 2 Drive northeast to Haro, the wine trade capital of the prime Rioja Alta district, and the Barrio de la Estación, an extraordinary enclave of Rioja's top wineries, called bodegas. In this small area are CVNE (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España), López de Heredia, La Rioja Alta and Bodegas Bilbaínas, all a century old, as well as Muga, a brilliant 60-year-old newcomer.

After touring the wineries, stop for lunch at Terete (17 Lucrecia Arana; 011-34-941-31-00-23). Everyone in the wine trade who has ever visited Haro has had at least one meal at the scrubbed communal picnic tables here, feasting on such splendid dishes as roast lamb and menudillos de cordero con huevo al horno, a casserole of lamb giblets and egg.

Poke through the villages of San Vicente de la Sonsierra and Laguardia for a few hours, then return to Haro's Los Agustinos (2 San Agustín; 011-34-941-31-13-08; fax 011-34-941-30-31-48), an excellent hotel in a renovated 600-year-old Augustinian convent.

Day 3 Turn southwest to Burgos, the capital of Old Castile and hometown of El Cid, the 11th-century warrior who is Spain's national hero. The town has a superb Gothic cathedral and one of the best preserved and most bustling old quarters in Spain. In addition to the ubiquitous lamb, taverns like El Mesón del Cid (Plaza Santa María; 011-34-947-20-87-15) serve the famous Queso de Burgos (a sheep's milk cheese beloved by Gertrude Stein), roast suckling pig, Arlanza River trout (a Hemingway favorite), cecina (air-cured beef "ham") and excellent little red alubias (beans) from the nearby town of Ibeas.

The great luxury hotel in Burgos is the Landa Palace (Madrid­Irún Road; 011-34-947-20-63-43; fax 011-34-947-26-46-76), but I prefer to go there for lunch or dinner at its marvelous restaurant and to stay at the more modest but centrally located Fernán González (17 Calera; 011-34-947-20-94-41; fax 011-34-947-27-41-21). The drive from Burgos back to Madrid is less than three hours.

From Seville: Andalucia

Fisherman's Stew, Sherry and Matadors

Day 1 Drive south from Seville to Jerez de la Frontera, the capital of the sherry district. Schedule a tour of the historic working museum at the old winery of González Byass (12 Manuel María González; 011-34-956-35-70-00; fax 011-34-956-35-70-46), producers of Tío Pepe.

A 20-minute journey west will bring you to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, where lunch on the beach at Bar Bigote (Bajo de Guía beach; 011-34-956-36-26-96) is absolutely essential. Bigote serves only fish caught the previous day and those only through lunchtime. When the weatheris bad and the fleet stays in port, the restaurant closes. Its fisherman's stews are legendary, especially the huevo marinero, a casserole of shrimp, monkfish and Manzanilla brought out bubbling with a just-cracked egg on top.

After a lunch that can stretch out until 6 p.m. (if you can, stick around to see the sunset), head east to the town of Arcos de la Frontera,home of the Parador de Arcos de la Frontera (Plaza del Cabildo; 011-34-956-70-05-00; fax 011-34-956-70-11-16), which perches on the edge of a steep cliff. End the day at El Convento (7 Marqués de Torresoto; 011-34-956-70-32-22) with choco con patatas (squid with potatoes), conejo del campo (wild rabbit) and local cheeses served with nuts and mountain honey.

Day 2 After strolling around Arcos, move on to El Bosque, which is in the foothills of the wild Sierra de Grazalema and is famous for trout. Casa Calvillo (Plaza El Anden; 011-34-956-71-60-10) is a nice place for a lunch of gazpacho, berenjenas fritas (deep-fried eggplant) and the house specialty, fresh trout with a slice of Serrano ham tucked in its belly.

Travel to Ronda, driving over curvy backcountry roads through cork forests and stopping at the ancient white villages of Ubriqueand Grazalema, mountain hideaways that were once refuges for bandits and muleteers.Check into the Parador de Ronda (Plaza de España; 011-34-95-287-75-00; fax 011-34-95-287-81-88), then head for dinner at Pedro Romero (18 Virgen de la Paz; 011-34-95-287-11-10).

The restaurant, across from the ancient Plaza de Toros, is covered with photos and posters chronicling the heroics of such Rondeño bullfighters as Cayetano Ordoñez (whom Hemingway immortalized in The Sun Also Rises), his son, Antonio Ordoñez (considered to be the greatest matador ever) and Francisco Rivera Ordoñez (the current sensation). The kitchen produces excellent ajo blanco (a white gazpacho, made with almonds and garlic) and conejo estofado (rabbit stewed in a saffron-scented sauce). On my last visit, I was pleased that my 1991 Chivite Reserva Tinto from Navarra was served--correctly--at cellar rather than room temperature.

Day 3 Explore Ronda's old quarter, across a bridge straddling a crevice over 300 feet deep. Leave for Seville by late morning, via the unusual town of Setenil, where many of the houses are built into the overhang of a deep gorge. Seville is about a two-hour drive away.

From Barcelona: Catalonia

Clams, Cava and the Costa Brava

Day 1 West of Barcelona you'll find Villafranca del Penedés, famed for its cava (sparkling wine). Stop at the Miguel Torres winery (22 Comercio; 011-34-93-817-74-00; fax 011-34-93-817-74-44; call Louise Compte Kelly to arrange a visit) and the Museo del Vino, or wine museum (Plaza San Jaume I; 011-34-93-890-05-82). Save time for the modernist cava

cellars and museum at Codorníu (Avenida Jaume Codorníu; 011-34-93-818-32-32; fax 011-34-93-891-08-22), outside San Sadurní d'Anoia. El Mirador de las Caves (San Sadurní­ l'Ordal Road; 011-34-93-899-31-78), with stunning vineyard views, is a good spot for lunch.

Head north to Vic, where the Parador de Vic (Paraje el Bac de Sau; 011-34-93-812-23-23; fax 011-34-93-812-23-68) overlooks the awesome Sau Valley, now dammed up and flooded to form a massive lake. Ten minutes down a rough cement road is the humble but wonderful Fussimanya (Tavènoles-Osona; 011-34-93-812-21-88), which produces its own charcuterie on the premises. When I was there most recently, the owner brought me a knife and a cutting board with a half-dozen sausages, including bull (a boiled sausage made with offal), cooked black-and-white botifarra and the irresistible thin, salami-like fuet. I followed these with a fine escalivada (roasted Mediterranean vegetables), a beautiful golden grilled rabbit served with all-i-oli (Spanish aioli) and then a classic crema catalana for dessert. I had a glass of cava before dinner and a bottle of a fresh, quaffable 1995 Maises d'Avinyo Merlot from the local Pla de Bages region. My meal came to about $20 with wine and tip.

Day 2 Drive an hour to the town of Begur-Aiguablava on the Costa Brava, Spain's rugged northeastern coast, which reminds me of California's Big Sur. Check into the villa-style Hotel Aiguablava (Playa de Fornells; 011-34-972-62-20-58; fax 011-34-972-62-21-12) or the modern Parador de Aiguablava (Playa de Aiguablava; 011-34-972-62-21-62; fax 011-34-972-62-21-66); the two face each other across a small cove. You can sun on the small beach or swim off the rock platform. 

Have dinner in the genteel beach town of Llafranc, a well-kept secret just a few miles from Aiguablava. At Llevant (5 Francesc de Blanes; 011-34-972-30-03-66), the upscale cuisine includes albóndigas con sepia (cuttlefish meatballs) and rodaballo (turbot), prepared here with olives, capers and sea salt.

Day 3 Get an early start to beat the lines at the Teatro-Museo Dalí (Plaza Gala-Salvador Dalí) in Figueres, the most visited museum in Spain after the Prado. Tour Dalí's home and studio at Port Lligat, just outside the artists' village of Cadaqués.

A few miles from Cadaqués, near Roses, is El Bulli (Cala Montjoi; 011-34-972-15-04-57), a Michelin three-star restaurant that is the domain of Ferran Adria, the Salvador Dalí of modern Catalan cuisine. His way-out food will either convince you that he is a genius or send you fleeing to the kind of regional cuisine found in L'Escala, a neighboring fishing and resort town.  (Closed.)

L'Escala's La Punta (4 Paseo Doctor Isern) and La Cala (3 Paseo Doctor Isern) look like hamburger joints, with their plastic Coca-Cola tables and Sprite and Carte d'Or beach umbrellas; but for the tables scattered willy-nilly at the water's edge, one might pass them by. French families on holiday drink chilled rosat, a Catalan rosé; Dutch tourists in bathing suits dive into the water. The scene is enchanting.

At La Punta, start with a bottle of cherry-red Penedés rosat, the 1996 Raventos i Blanc l'Hereu, then proceed to the anchoas (anchovies cured in oil) and sharp boquerones en vinagre (fresh anchovies marinated seviche-like in vinegar). Also exquisite are grilled sardines, sepietas (sepia squid) and navajas (razor clams). If you're sitting at one of the tables nearest the water, the waves will splash your feet and Barcelona will seem far away. After lunch take in the Greek and Roman ruins at Empúries.

Day 4 On the two-hour drive back to the Barcelona, you can stop in San Celoni for lunch at El Racó de Can Fabes (6 Sant Joan; 011-34-93-867-28-51; fax 011-34-93-867-38-61), a cutting-edge Michelin three-star restaurant. Here you can sample dishes on the order of pigeon cooked in Udine grappa with cardamom. Chef Santi Santamaría's food is so good that it may convince you to break off your love affair with regional cooking. But somehow, I don't think so.  (Closed.)

GERRY DAWES has been traveling the food and wine roads of Spain for 25 years. He is currently researching and writing Homage to Iberia, inspired by the late James A. Michener's Iberia.

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Comments are welcome and encouraged.
Text and photographs copyright by Gerry Dawes©2021.  Using photographs without crediting Gerry Dawes©2021 on Facebook.  Publication without my written permission is not authorized.

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  Shall deeds of Caesar or Napoleon ring
More true than Don Quixote's vapouring?
Hath winged Pegasus more nobly trod
Than Rocinante stumbling up to God?
Poem by Archer M. Huntington inscribed under the Don Quixote on his horse Rocinante bas-relief sculpture by his wife, Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington,
in the courtyard of the Hispanic Society of America’s incredible museum at 613 W. 155th Street, New York City.
 Gastronomy Blogs

In 2019, again ranked in the Top 50 Gastronomy Blogs and Websites for Gastronomists & Gastronomes in 2019 by Feedspot. (Last Updated Oct 23, 2019) 

"The Best Gastronomy blogs selected from thousands of Food blogs, Culture blogs and Food Science blogs in our index using search and social metrics. We’ve carefully selected these websites because they are actively working to educate, inspire, and empower their readers with frequent updates and high-quality information."  

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

About Gerry Dawes

My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life." -- Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019

Gerry Dawes is the Producer and Program Host of Gerry Dawes & Friends, a weekly radio progam on Pawling Public Radio in Pawling, New York (streaming live and archived at and at

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 on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.


Update: Background to the Robert Parker-Pancho Campo-Jay Miller-Kevin Zraly Wine Futures Rioja Scandal 2009

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by Gerry Dawes ©2009

First Published October 19, 2009

On Sept. 4th, 2009:, Decanter published Arrest warrant posted for Spanish Wine Academy director co-authored by investigative reporter, Jim Budd, and Decanter editor, Adam Lechmere. 

And on October 2, Decanter published Pancho Campo resigns to 'focus on clearing name', this time also signed by Adam Lechmere and Jim Budd:

"Pancho Campo MW has stepped down as director of the Wine Future Rioja conference next month and resigned as president of the Spanish Wine Academy.

Kevin Zraly of New York's Windows on the World wine school, and a highly respected wine critic and writer, has taken over as chair of the conference, at which Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson MW, and Decanter's consultant editor Steven Spurrier are due to appear.

Campo's brother-in-law Rony Bacqué will replace him as president of the academy.

The beleagured Campo has been embroiled in a complex battle with authorities in Dubai for the last few weeks, after a Madrid journalist came across a type of arrest warrant or 'location notice' for him on the Interpol website.

The warrant relates to a 2002 complaint brought by former business partner Jackie Wartanian to do with a fee paid to singer Enrique Iglesias. At the time Campo ran a sports and music promotion company in Dubai.

It now appears that in June 2003 in Dubai Campo was found guilty in absentia of breach of trust and given a one-year custodial sentence followed by deportation."

Jim Budd, on his Jim's Loire weblog, has detailed the chronology of the  Campo affair under Pancho Campo, MW: the essence.

Campo was pushed to resign as Director of WineFuture-Rioja 2009 because he is the subject of an Interpol arrest warrant and he said he "wanted to concentrate on clearing my name."  

Campo also resigned, on paper at least, as President of The Wine Academy in early October (See the Time Line on this case by Jim Budd, the Decanter magazine writer who finally broke the story with the help of  several contributors in Spain, in the U.S. and in the Caribbean).  Campo named his brother-in-law, Rony Bacqué, as President of The Wine Academy of Spain and his wife, Melissa, is still one of the directors.

On October 1, Kevin Zraly was named to succeed Pancho Campo, President of The Wine Academy of Spain, as "Technical Director" of WineFuture Rioja 2009 to be held in mid-November in Logroño (La Rioja), Spain.Many, including journalists, winemakers and political figures in La Rioja, believe that Kevin Zraly, who lives two hours northwest of New York City and does not speak Spanish, is un hombre de paja, "a straw man," or figurehead who will allow Pancho Campo to continue to direct the conference behind the scenes.

Campo's The Wine Academy of Spain is still the organizer of the event and still stands to profit from the revenues.  On the Wine Academy website, a statement says that WineFuture-Rioja 2009 is the propiedad (property) of The Wine Academy.  Some reports emanating from La Rioja place The Wine Academy's gross profit on the WineFuture Rioja 2009 conference at 1,000,000 Euros (approximately $1,500,000) and others have placed Robert Parker's fee for appearing at the conference at 100,000 Euros ($150,000).

The WineFuture-Rioja 2009 conference is being underwritten by the government of La Rioja--they are also providing the venue for the conference, Riojaforum, free-of-charge--and by several wineries and other entities, including the very recent addition of the government of Aragón as a sponsor.  The event is also very strongly supported by the Rioja Consejo Regulador (Regulatory Council), with whom Kevin Zraly's wife, Ana Fabiano, signed on earlier this year to promote Rioja wines in the United States.

And, notably, WineFuture-Rioja 2009 is also supported by a number of periodicals, specialized wine publications and websites, all of which to date have been silent (at least to the knowledge of several writers following this story) for almost two months about what has come to be known as "The Pancho Campo affair."

Aragón, the Spanish comunidad (group of provinces) neighboring La Rioja, who signed on as a sponsor after the Pancho Campo Interpol affair broke in Decanter magazine, seemingly stands to gain more than La Rioja from WineFutures-Rioja 2009. Aragón promotes its wine regions and its wines under as the "El Reino de La Garnacha" banner. Aragonés wines from Garnacha, a native Spanish grape, produces big, rich, soft, smooth wines, albeit with alcohol levels that seldom drop below 14.5% (and are often even more potent), wines which are known to be favored by Robert M. Parker, Jr. and Dr. Jay Miller of The Wine Advocate.

The reason that Aragón stands to benefit as much or more than La Rioja, the main underwriting region, is because the "cata magistral," the tasting with the maestro, at WineFuture-Rioja 2009 will be conducted by Robert Parker and was originally planned to include nothing but "Grenache-based" wines (Garnacha is a native Spanish grape and should always be referred to by its Spanish spelling).  Only five Spanish wines are included in this tasting, but
three of them come from Aragón and none of them from La Rioja, which is famous for its Tempranillo-based wines.  The rest of the wines announced for the tasting come from France, Australia or California.

After mounting pressure from local press and Rioja politicos, plus complaints from many Rioja wineries, shortly before he "resigned," Pancho Campo came up with the "surprise" addition of two Rioja wines, a 1945 historical wine from Marqués de Riscal, one of the conference sponsors, and, supposedly, a Contador 2007, neither of which contains Garnacha.

The Marqués de Riscal 1945, which contains 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Tempranillo, is one of the greatest wines ever made in all of Europe, but it is now 64 years old and certainly does not speak for the Rioja of today, in fact, many forces in Spain, including most of Madrid's wine press corps, have spent considerable ink trying to paint La Rioja's historical wines as dinosaurs.

The latest rumor about the Contador, a wine given 100 points by Parker's Spanish wine reviewer, Jay Miller, is that there is not enough of the 2007 remaining to serve at the tasting, so it will have to be replaced.  Contador, like two of the wines from Aragón, are wines that  Jorge Ordoñez, Robert Parker's most favored
Spanish importer,  brings into the United States. That makes the score in the Parker tasting:  Aragón 3, Jorge Ordoñez  3, La Rioja 2!

According to Campo, he had this "surprise" planned all along although he did not reveal his "little homage to La Rioja" until his ass was already in the big-time vise grip and "the surprise" was too little, too late. Campo, who then went on to describe has gesture as a "little homage" to Rioja benefactors infuriated many Riojanos, including politicians such as Miguel González de Legarra, spokesman for the minority Partido Riojano. González has written several long editorials recently denouncing the whole WineFuture-Rioja 2009 process and focusing in the fact that La Rioja is underwriting the conference, which is basically the Pancho Campo Wine Academy's own profit-generating business venture.

In one editorial, González wrote, (In spite of the Rioja wine powers-that-be contracting someone sought by Interpol to run the conference. . .) "Neverthless, I consider the programming of Wine Future Rioja 2009 the most scandalous, "an event that is paid for by Riojan grape growers and wineries," there has been no inclusion of the wines from the Rioja D.O."

"It was indicated that the main event of the congress is a tasting led by the renowned media guru, Robert Parker, that is dedicated to Garnacha, when Rioja wines are known for the Tempranillo variety, but they are going to taste 18 wines, of which only five are Spanish, all of the them from Cataluña y Aragón."

In the opinion of González, "the situation is a bloody farce," especially when one takes into consideration that "the Rioja Regulatory Council lied when they now say that they had always planned to have two Rioja wines" (both put belatedly into Parker's Garnacha tasting, where they are totally out of place). 

González continued, "The program has been finalized for months and until yesterday no one mentioned two Rioja wines, y besides, Tempranillos, which are not part of the tasting (of Garnachas), and are not comparable to the rest of the wines (in the tasting); they are jumping in and trying to fix what is not fixable, nor justifiable."

The Pancho Campo affair has created an ever widening whirlpool of crosscurrents involving high-powered wine interests in Spain and abroad, a number of well-placed Spanish wine and food figures, importers of Spanish wines to the United States on Robert Parker's most favored list; and politicians, not only in La Rioja, but in Sherry country as well, where Campo was selected to run the "noble" desserts and fortified wine fair, Vinoble, and an uproar  ensued that  brought the woman mayor of Jerez de la Frontera under fire  from opposing politicians and is still ongoing.

Even the King of Spain, Don Juan Carlos I, has been caught up in these swirling waters, since it has been reported that he was influenced by high-placed people known to have had business dealings with Pancho Campo to offer dinner to Robert Parker at his official residence, La Zarzuela Palace, just outside Madrid.  However according to Victor de la Serna, Deputy Director of the newspaper, El Mundo, in a post on the website's Sobremesa section, Parker is only receiving a "brief audience" on the afternoon of November 10, though there have been many reports of a lunch or a dinner.  On October 7, De la Serna wrote on the Sobremesa board, "
Ni hay ni nunca hubo cena de Parker con el Rey. (There is not, nor was there ever a Parker dinner with the King.)"

Some of these same "enchufados," the people wired into the Royal House of Spain, had a powwow  after they heard that Campo had resigned, and told Campo that he would not be permitted to attend the Parker audience (lunch/dinner?) with the King.  Some of the journalists investigating this story have it on good authority that at least one of the Campo cohorts with connections to the King of Spain has known about the Interpol arrest order for several months.

Add to this potent mix, the collusion of Spanish wine journalists* who  have been silent almost to the person, along with the attempted stifling of the independent press,  including reports of intimidation and suppression through veiled threats by Pancho Campo's lawyers and, from some reports,  offers of perks that could be interpreted (and were) by some specific sources as attempts at bribing them into silence.** This worked for awhile until a couple of  journalists in Spain, armed with overwhelming evidence, were finally able to file some stories, after nearly two months of being muzzled. (The journalists' jobs may be at risk in a game where money and the illusion of money overrules principle.)

*The list of 29 media outlets and organizations signed on to WineFuture-Rioja 2009 as "Media Partners" is revealing and explains why so little (almost nothing) has been written in the wine press about the Campo affair.  The list now totals 30 with the addition to The International Federation of Wine Journalists (IFWJ) and Associación Española de Periodistas del Vino (AEPEV), who just signed on (see below).

**On October 13, nearly two weeks after Pancho Campo “resigned” as Director of WineFuture-Rioja 2009, The International Federation of Wine Journalists and its Spanish Chapter, the Associación Española de Periodistas del Vino (Spanish Association of Wine Writers) gave their support and backing to the event, which is still being run by Campo’s Wine Academy. According to María Isabel Mijares, Vice President of IFWJ and President of AEPEV, “All members of this Association can attend this congress, enjoy the conferences and round tables that are offered on the program, as well as cover the event for their respective media outlets, thanks to a collaboration agreement that has been reached.”  Mijares, as an official in both these organizations, has confirmed her personal support and underscored that she will be attending WineFuture-Rioja 2009.

So, into this maelstrom steps Kevin Zraly and this is where Gerry Dawes and Gerry Dawes's Spain comes in, since the aforementioned "unnamed American journalist" warned by Pancho Campo's lawyer was me, Gerry Dawes*, writer of this blog; contributor for decades to numerous publications on Spanish wine, food and travel; and recipient of the Premio Nacional de Gastronómía Marqués de Busianos award for writing and lecturing about the quality of Spanish gastronomy over many years.

On August 31, 2009, this writer had an extensive phone call (see below) with Kevin Zraly, during which I forwarded a third-party e-mail (a scanned copy  is available) with information about the Pancho Campo case to Zraly. Two days later, on September 2, as described below, I received a phone call threatening various actions from someone saying he was Alfonso Martínez, Pancho Campo's lawyer. This was followed by an e-mail by Martínez to the same third party e-mail address requesting a meeting with me the following week in New York.  The Decanter article was published on Sept. 4.  So far, I  heard from nothing more from Martínez.

As with America's Watergate, the attempted cover-up may be worse than the crime, in this case the crime for which Pancho Campo is the perpetrator according to Interpol and from news reports in Dubai, Decanter magazine and other periodicals.  By attempting to silence journalists and by having his lawyer "warn" this writer, in particular, Campo's offenses against freedom of speech and the collusion of the Spanish press and of well-known wine and media figures, both Spanish and American, and  have become the real story in this ongoing saga.

But, for the sake of fairness, let me offer these ringing video endorsements--from Jancis Robinson, Robin Kelly O'Conner of Sherry Lehmann and Ana Fabiano, Kevin Zraly's wife and a contracted promoter of Rioja wines, and wine book author John Radford--
of Pancho Campo, his Wine Academy and the wines from wineries such as Gonzalez Byass (where Campo signing a barrel is a major video event, putting him in the same league as King Juan Carlos I, Orson Welles and Stephen Spielberg), Freixenet and the regions of Rioja, Rias Baixas, Jerez and Jumilla who support his efforts, plus a really quite glowing article about Kevin Zraly in The New York Times (the banner My Dubai Diary advertisement running next to the article on Zraly has nothing to do with him, but it has really quite a prescient, you-can't make-this-stuff-up irony to it.)

About the author

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 prize in 2009 and received the Association of Food Journalists 2009 Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià.

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

Gerry Dawes can be reached at; Alternate e-mail (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected):


A Blast From The Past-Wine Division According to Recently "Retired" Spanish wine critic Jay Miller of Robert M. Parker, Jr.'s The Wine Advocate, Great Wine Can Be Equated to Pornography

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"Whether I am in front of (great?) porno or a great wine I (can recognize) either without difficulty". -- Robert M. Parker, Jr.'s The Wine Advocate's Spanish wine critic Jay Miller in an interview with Barcelona’s La Vanguardia, January 2011.

  Jay Miller in Catalunya. 
(Photo: La Vanguardia.)

"For The Wine Advocate’s (just "retired") Spanish Wine Critic Jay Miller a great wine, a wine with 100 Parker points, is one capable of moving you. He adds that "it is the one who makes you live a great experience, that makes you exclaim wow!".

He said that it is difficult to express in words, but compared the experience with the pornography: "Whether I am in front of (great?) porno or a great wine I (can recognize) either without difficulty"."

In an interview with Barcelona’s La Vanguardia (January 2011), Spain’s Equivalent of The New York Times.

Alta Expresión Vino: Black gold or fool's gold? Blast From The Past on Overwrought Parkerized Wines in Spain

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"It is important for wine lovers to lay their bets on wines with authenticity and personality." - - José Manuel Pérez, winemaker, Bodegas Hermanos Pérez Pascuas – Viña Pedrosa (Ribera del Duero).

"New Wave cult wines are undeniably tasty and appealing in a shame-inducing way, like Slim Jims (which they resemble - smoky, meaty, spiced, oily, sweet) but they should in no way be confused with truly great wines, as Slim Jims ought not be confused with fine cuisine." - - Josh Raynolds, then National Sales Representative for Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchants (New York); now Wine Reviewer for Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar.

During the period from 1995 - 2010, alongside a number of high quality emerging single vineyard estate wines from established bonafide fine wine producers, hundreds of powerful, highly concentrated, new oak-riddled, new-wave wines cropped up all over Spain like the saffron crocuses that proliferate in La Mancha each October.

These intensely extracted, international style wines encompass a bewildering array of newly minted brands that vary widely in quality and seriousness. Lumped together under the controversial term vinos de alta expresión ("high expression," or "high concept" wines--read high extract and some say "alta extorsión," for the outrageous prices some command), these potent wines depart sharply from the traditional, mellow, age-worthy style for which La Rioja, the country's premier wine region, was long famous. 

Winning high praise in some circles and vociferous criticism in others, alta expresión wines pushed Spain smack into the center of the brewing international debate between winemaking traditionalists and advocates of the high-octane New World approach.

Thomas Perry, then Director of the Rioja Exporters Group, attributes the highly polemical term to Angel Jaime Baro, President of La Rioja's Consejo Regulador (Regulatory Council), who supposedly coined it as a way of trying to promote the profusion of new avant garde style of wines that have emerged from Rioja in the past few years - - wines that are sharp departure from the traditional, mellow, age-worthy wines for which La Rioja is famous.

Along with this whole new generation of such wines from La Rioja (see box), new wines from Ribera del Duero, Priorato and Toro - - and now La Mancha, Mallorca, Jumilla, Terra Alta (Cataluña), and Valencia - - are being touted as black gold by some, especially wine writers enamored of the “international” style.  And, believe it, making wines that are black as ink is now seen as a virtue in some circles and the prices generally being asked for these wines make saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, seem cheap by comparison.

In a wine market that is increasingly driven by a preference for opaque black cherry colors; pronounced new oak and ripe “black fruits” (and often little else) in the nose; voluptuous, jammy, overripe flavors and even a tolerance for residual sugar in red wines, Spanish winemakers have begun purposely producing wines that fit the alta expresión profile. 

Many top Spanish wine journalists (including a major wine writer, Victor de la Serna of the Madrid-based daily El Mundo, who attacked the use of the term in La Rioja in particular), have excoriated the term vinos de alta expresión in print.   Ironically, de la Serna, many of his fellow Spanish wine journalists, and not a few of Spain’s top producers seem to admire the same dark powerful international style that most alta expresión wines seek to emulate - - as if such wines are yet another sign that Spain has moved into the modern age.

Jésus Madrazo is the 36-year old winemaker at Contino and a descendant of the founder of the great classic bodega, CUNE (Compañía Vinícola de Norte de España).  Madrazo, whose family are major shareholders in Contino, told me, “Most of the best producers hate the term alta expresión, but it has come to define the new wave of Spanish wines and is even showing up on restaurant lists as a separate heading.”   Wine shops such as Bilbao’s D’Vinno “La Tienda,” owned by an enthusiastic young woman named Esperanza Ares, specialize in high-end, new wave and alta expresión wines.

The fruit-driven, power-packed style that alta expresión represents does have some important defenders.  Robert M. Parker, Jr., publisher of The Wine Advocate and the world’s most powerful wine critic, is the most visible.  In fact, many wine experts say his palate is responsible for launching the whole genre. 

Stephen Tanzer, the publisher and main wine reviewer for the Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, one of Parker’s main rivals, has one of the most respected palates in America.  He too, has become an admirer of many of cult wines, garagistes wines, and Spain’s
alta expresión wines.  Tanzer often rates such wines, including many new wave Spanish wines, in the high nineties.  In telephone interviews, defending such wines as Valandraud (an ultra-expensive, high-powered, new wave wine made by Jean-Luc Thuvenin that has set Bordeaux on its ear) and Domino de Pingus (Ribera del Duero), Tanzer told me that he believes that they generally have had a positive impact, especially in Spain and in such places as Bordeaux, where he, like Robert Parker, has been effusive in his praise of many garagistes wines.  

“Many of these small production wines are essentially experimental "winemaker’s" wines,” Tanzer says, “but, if yields are kept low and the winemaker uses modern wine making techniques, they show how much potential a wine region can have, especially in places like Bordeaux and Spain, where wines are often made on a large scale.”

“The negative,”  Tanzer says, “They are usually very international in style, so it is often not clear where they come from.”

Miguel Torres Riera, the owner of Miguel Torres, S. A., Cataluña’s most famous winery, agrees.  Torres has achieved world-wide recognition for a wide range of red and white table wines including the award-winning estate wine, Mas de la Plana (Black Label) 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, and his new entry into the
alta expresión sweepstakes, another single vineyard wine, Grans Muralles.  The 1996 Grans Muralles is a limited production (less than 1,000 cases made) blend of several low yield (15 hectolitres per hectare) old vines native red grapes including Monastrell, Garnacha, and the recovered Catalan varieties Samsó and Garró.  

Torres, who is always on the cutting edge of any movement in Spain and has initiated a number of experimental techniques that have helped revolutionize Spanish wine making, believes the current wave of new wines will be beneficial in the long run.  (It should be noted that the ever-restless Torres has been Spain’s most important innovator, but, to my knowledge, he has never released a wine that was over-oaked, out-of-balance, and hard to drink.)

In a February e-mail message to me, Torres pointed out, “In the Spanish market so-called alta expresión wines have a relatively small impact, because I believe they primarily aimed at wine experts and affect only about 5% of the total market.  They are interesting because they bring something new to Spanish wine culture and encourage wineries to outdo themselves in creating new wines.  I think this is a positive development because it puts us in a position to compete with the best wines in the world.”

However, a number of Spain’s top winemakers, even though they have produced wines that could be classified as such, are trying to distance themselves from the term
alta expresión.  To such acclaimed producers as Alejandro Fernández, Pesquera and Condado de Haza (Ribera del Duero), La Granja (near Toro), and El Vinculo (La Mancha); José Manuel Pérez of Bodegas Pérez Pascuas Viña Pedrosa (Ribera del Duero); Jésus Madrazo, CUNE and Contino (La Rioja); and Fernando Chivite, Bodegas Julián Chivite (Navarra), there is a big difference in their new single vineyard offerings (usually old vines) and many of the other new wave wines that have surfaced recently.  All of them are making wines from vineyards that will probably be classified among Europe’s best someday and they do not want to be grouped with the herd of heavyweight, bull-like wines that have lumbered into the market in the past few years looking for a wine guru or a blind tasting panel to “blow away.”

Álvaro Palacios, 36-year old member of a Rioja Baja family who trace their wine roots back for centuries, is the producer of the international Priorato sensation, L’Ermita,  named for his old vines hillside vineyard near the village of Gratallops.  L’Ermita is big, powerful rich wine that nevertheless reflects the Priorato style, the old vines native Garnacha (80%), and the terroir of the region’s climate and the licorella soil on which the grapes are grown.  Each year, Palacios has tried to imbue the wine with more elegance and balance even though some lovers of monster wines have criticized him for toning L’Ermita down since his blockbuster first releases in the mid-1990s.  Still Sibaritas magazine, one of Spain’s leading wine journals, named the L’Ermita ($165) 1997, from a mediocre vintage, Spain’s Wine of the Year.

“My only objective with L’Ermita is to some day be considered one of the classics,” Palacios told me recently, “I don’t want any of my wines classified as vinos de alta expresión, because it has no concrete meaning.”  He classifies producers of alta expresión wines as “all those who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.  They are just following a fleeting trend towards highly extracted wines with a lot of color and tannins.”

Alejandro Fernández, the producer of Pesquera (Ribera del Duero), one of the great wines to emerge from Spain in the 1980s, and several other high-quality wines from emerging estates, is another top Spanish wine star who is not comfortable with his wines being classifed alta expresión and, like many, questions the age-worthiness of such wines.  Over lunch at Marichu Restaurant in New York, he told me, “I may spend a month harvesting my grapes.  The key is to get wines that are in balance and harmony, not wines that are over-ripe, over-alcoholic, and over-oaked.  I have been making wines since 1975.  Many of wines have aged well for 20 years.  I don’t believe most of the so-called alta expresión wines will.”

Many of Spain’s
alta expresión-style producers are emulating producers from France, California, and Australia by turning out some of the biggest, most powerful (topping 14% alcohol content has become the norm), most “mind-blowing” wines - - as many of their admirers including such restaurateurs as Chef-owner Mark Miller of Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe describe them - - anyone has ever seen.   Little does it seem to matter that a growing number of veteran wine drinkers and wine writers are grumbling that such wines have reached the pinnacle of absurdity in style, price, and media exposure and that many of these new emperors aren’t wearing all the viticultural and oenological robes in which great wines are supposed to be draped.  
A host of producers all across Spain, including some from regions with negligible histories of producing anything remotely comparable to fine table wines, are now using irrigation, canopy management, and sophisticated, if not always felicitous, cellar techniques to produce wines that could easily fit the very loosely-defined alta expresión description.  Many of them, if not long in the finesse category, certainly fit the power and concentration profile of the powerful, high alcohol, fruit-driven wines currently in fashion among a strata of new wave wine aficionados worldwide.

Within the confusion created by the emergence of so many new wines at once, there runs a very complicated undercurrent of factors that is being hashed out in an ongoing debate in the Spanish wine press and among Spain’s greatest producers.   The argument over the high powered, concentrated blockbuster style is not unique to Spain, it is going on throughout the wine community and wine lovers are becoming increasingly polarized on the subject.  Everyone has an opinion about what direction Spanish wine should take, but few - - especially the Spanish consumer - - have a clear view of what the outcome will be.  Battle lines are being drawn in hotly fermenting debate over these emerging entries in the so-called “international style” wine sweepstakes.  One thing is sure, Spain and perhaps the rest of the wine world will never be the same once this wild river of vino returns to its banks.

Since Spain has become a serious player on the world wine stage in recent years, understanding what is going on in Spain requires some background information about what is going on internationally and, specifically, in the important American market, where it will be a long time before anyone who cares about truly great wine forgets the advent of the Millennium.  At least until halfway through 2000, everyone seemed to be getting rich off Internet stocks and spending large amounts of money on wine.  Stories were flying everywhere about overnight fortunes and wild nights at expensive restaurants, where the nuevo eno-ricos (the new wine rich) were blowing wads of money on cult wines, miraculous first vintage wonders, garagiste wines, and the new wines from Spain.

During the last decade, the buildup to this wine market madness has been the emergence of a high-end modern segment of the global wine market, whose driving force is consumers who seem to equate concentration with quality, bigger with better.  This international flavor bandwidth is generally occupied by wine hobbyists, collectors, and
speculators, many of whom have relatively undeveloped tastes, but do have a rapacious afición for wine that at times seems to border on the religious and what seems to be sheaves of money to burn.

In Spain and elsewhere, articles are still being written by a specialist wine press eulogizing the supposed superiority of powerful, concentrated, fruit-driven wines that two decades ago would have been considered mere curiosities by any wine aficionado and completely over the top by sophisticated wine drinkers.  (Remember the late harvest Zinfandels of the early 1980s?)   It seems that the newer, the rarer, the more expensive the wine, the higher the praise.  In California, Screaming Eagle brought an astonishing $500,000 - - the gross national product of a small country - - for a double magnum at the Napa Valley Wine Auction.  In a tightly allocated elite market, single bottles of Colgin, Harlan Estate, Araujo, Marcassin, and Bryant Family sold for as much a case of many fine wines from France, Spain, and Italy.  A few first vintage Spanish wines topped the $100 per bottle mark and one even approached $500 - - a bottle, not a case.

After attending a tasting of such American wines in London, Jancis Robinson, author of The Oxford Companion to Wine, wrote in Financial Times (Dec. 2, 2000), “Make no mistake about it, wine in North America is a rich man’s drink.”  Then, trying to put a positive spin on the theme, she added, “The world of wine is richer for the emergence of these overpriced, precocious beauties (Araujo Eisele, Dalla Valle Maya, Harlan Estate, and Screaming Eagle) - - even if their crazy purchasers are not.”

John Mariani, Esquire Magazine’s restaurant columnist and author of the Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink and the Italian Dictionary of Food and Drink (Broadway Books), has his own succinct formula to describe the new wave of expensive, prestige category wines: “S ) D + MH5 - F + $$ (Supply divided by Demand plus Media Hype squared separates a fool from his money).”

Many long-time wine lovers and seasoned professionals are baffled by the new wine public’s taste for the expensive, concentrated, high alcohol and new-oak laden wines riding the crest of the market wave.  Established wine experts such as author Mary Ewing Mulligan, Master of Wine, who is President of New York’s International Wine Center, complain “I feel like a dinosaur when I taste many of these so-called international style, highly concentrated wines coming into the market today.  Frankly, I don’t understand or like most of them.”

In a recent Chicago Tribune article, William Rice quoted Christian Moueix, owner of Chateau Petrus and Napa Valley’s Dominus Estate as saying, "The character of these wines, we call them 'global,' is based on extraction.  I do not care for them, but newcomers to wine seeking to launch a new label on both sides of the ocean hire fashionable winemakers who make wines that are noticed because they are dark, overripe and overly extracted, obvious with a slightly burned taste."  

Unfortunately too many producers in Spain are embracing this approach to wine making.  Many Spanish wineries have entered the mad race to turn out the wine world equivalent of monster trucks, when what the wine drinking public at large really wants is a well-balanced, affordable wine they can drink often.  Jésus Madrazo, who makes El Olivo, a new generation, single parcel wine at the Contino, a wine that could be classifed
alta expresión, but has too much balance and restraint to be a real contender in the category, told me, “It is not that difficult to make 5,000 to say 20,000 bottles of a concentrated expensive wine, if you have good grapes, a wine background, technical skills, and a little imagination.”

Mariano García, former winemaker until 1998 at Vega Sicilia, is one of Spain’s most accomplished and sought-after winemakers.  Now the owner and technical director of Mauro and Maurodos and a consultant in other regions including La Rioja, García has had a string of internationally acclaimed successes, including Mauro, Terreus Pago de Cueva Baja (a single vineyard wine from old vines that tips the scales at 14% alcohol content), and his new San Román from some exceptional old vines near San Román de Hornijos in Toro.  García is also involved with Javier Zaccagnini, a former head of the Ribera del Duero DO, in Bodegas Aalto, an ambitious new winery in that region; he is the consulting enologist for Viña Villabuena’s new Rioja wine (ironically dubbed Izadi Expresión by one writer); and he has trained and helped his son Alberto create a new wine called Leda from 50-year old vines in Cigales, just outside Valladolid.

“The alta expresión concept is highly polemical,” García told in an interview for this article.  

“Some wineries find it easy to jump on whichever bandwagon sounds the best, so the term is open to multiple interpretations and has little real meaning. The impact of so-called alta expresión wines is positive if the wines have quality and personality, so it is important to focus on the vineyards from which the wines come and on wineries, brands, and competent winemakers that have a solid track record of producing exceptional wines.”

All of García’s wines certainly have personality and are technically well-made, but they also fit the alta expresión profile to a tee.  Stephen Tanzer, in his International Wine Cellar, recently rated three of García’s wines in the 90s.  Rating Mauro Vendimia Selccionada 1996 ($60) at 94 points, Tanzer  used such descriptors as “superripe,” “shoe polish,” “huge, unsubtle finish,” “and palate-staining length;” Mauro Terreus 1998 ($140; a 14% + wine rated at 93+), included “knockout,” “hugely concentrated,” “extremely unevolved,” “dense,” and “thick tannins that saturate the entire palate; and Leda Viñas Viejas ($60; 92+), a first release, was described as "brooding and extremely backward,” “a highly concentrated fruit bomb with impressive thickness and depth,” and “the tannins coat the teeth.”

Fernando Chivite, at the time, was one of the true stars of modern Spanish wine (but since displaced in the winery in an internecine inheritance struggle).  The Chivite family had been making wine in Navarra since the 1600s, but in the 1990s, they completely modernized all their winery operations and Fernando himself had become a consummate winemaker producing thousands of cases of exceptionally good wines at a range of prices.  He made excellent, affordable, entry level whites, a superb rosado, solid red wines that one never tires of drinking; one of the great modern Chardonnay-based wines of Europe - - age-worthy in the bargain; and a dessert Moscatel that has the best restaurants in Spain begging for an allocation. 

Chivite’s much-sought-after red wines include several reasonably-priced, modernized classic-style blends; the excellent, superbly balanced Colección 125 tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon blends from his spectacular Arízano estate in Navarra; and, recently, a beautiful, smooth, silky, properly concentrated Gran Feudo Viñas Viejas (old vines) red from 50- to 60-year old tempranillo and garnacha vineyards.  The Chivite family was wildly respected across Spain for what they have accomplished in the modern era; no resting on past laurels here.

In a phone conversation, Fernando Chivite said that he was at odds with the many modern Spanish wines and international winemaking techniques.  “Great wines are made from vineyards that have been properly cultivated,” Chivite emphasized, “and fine wines from such vineyards have finesse and complexity.  Chivite says most of the highly rated
alta expresión wines currently in vogue Alack complexity, which is something you can’t add to the wine, and they stress power over subtlety.”

Fernando Chivite was contemptuous of this style of wine, which he and others called vinos de concurso, wines made especially for tasting panels and reviewers - - those he says English wine expert Hugh Johnson calls “one-taste wines,” which never get better after the first taste. “Many of them are made with artificial, not natural techniques, including the use of added tannins; you can tell some of the aromas are not natural.”

"Some of today’s techniques are perversions of the winemaking process that negate all classic standards of quality," Chivite said,  "Like much of the modern art world, many of the works of modern wine making are not about esthetics and good taste, they are created for their shock value."

Ironically, a proponent of high extract wines from the other side of the world, Brian Croser, the winemaker for Australia’s Petaluma group, echoed some of Chivite’s sentiments in a quote from a recent Chicago Tribune article by William Rice, “Technology is overrated.  You cannot pervert the essentials of nature.  Australian and American wines smell and taste like themselves when an effort is made to reflect nature.”

Victor de la Serna, Deputy Editor Madrid’s daily El Mundo, is one of Spain’s most educated, accomplished, and opinionated wine writers.  After attending Vinitech, a biennial wine technology fair held in Bordeaux, he wrote about the experience, noting that the majority of Spanish winemakers in attendance were from lesser known regions, which is significant because apparently many top established producers are the least interventionist in their wine making and don’t feel the need for all the latest winemaking technology. 

De la Serna observed that, for minimalist winemakers, there were such items the old-style vertical Spanish Marzola presses (Which begs the question: Should Spain’s rapidly-disappearing, so-called “archaic” winemaking methods of decades past go or stay?) and Taransaud, the new favorite French oak barrels that producers such as Vega Sicilia (for their Alión) and Dominio de Pingus are lining up to buy.

De la Serna also commented that most of the technological advances at Vinitech were too much of a good thing and some of it even irritated him.  All this new technology, according to de la Serna, “. . . harshly refutes the noble, but misleading things that (Robert) Parker and others are saying about how today’s wine making being less interventionist and more well-reasoned.”

“Hardly,” de la Serna wrote.  In his opinion, more and more winemakers are practicing interventionist wine making techniques, manipulating their wines, employing machines for reverse osmosis, and masking the wines with oak, other treatments such as artificial tannins, and yeasts “with all the flavors and aromas in the world.”   One winemaker went so far as to tell him that “they shouldn’t let journalists in these fairs, because they will see how easily we can make quantities of garbage (wines).”

“As a French philosopher said,” wrote de la Serna, “Excess in anything is a defect.  But, there is no recourse but to recognize that excess is also a reality in the wine world that is coming.  The chemists and engineers (of wine equipment) are in a feeding frenzy.  One of these days, even grapes will not be needed (to make wine).  Let’s hope it’s not too soon.”

Josh Raynolds, then National Sales Representative for the highly respected Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchants (New York), echoed similar thoughts, “It's not even about the grape anymore, much less the terroir.  I consider myself a pretty good blind taster - 13 years full time in the business, drinking and attending tastings for 20 years, a year in Europe devoted to visiting estates, and going to Europe once or twice a year to taste for the last 11 years.”

“I am often at a loss to even hazard a guess as to even what *&$#@*# variety has been poured,” Josh Raynolds said, “I can, however, often guess what type of oak was used and even who the winemaker or consultant was.  My experience is that there is a sameness to the wines that makes a taster think more about who made it, who consulted on it, what the alcohol level must be and where the wood came from (not to mention what it must have cost).”

Oak has become such a important flavoring agent in new wave wines that, according to an American visitor, a new wave Rioja producer was very disappointed that he had been turned down when he tried to buy the same type of barrels used by Romanée Contí from François Freres, a producer of the type of assertive French oak that is very much in vogue.  Then one day François Freres called and said, “You got a 90 from (Robert) Parker, you can have some barrels.”

As with some American reviewers, championing heavily extracted, oaky, new wave wines has become a fervor among Spain’s wine writer corps, some of whom are very good wine writers, but have ties to the trade - - either in retail, internet sales, importing, or making wine themselves.  Some are so indiscriminate in their praise of these wines - - many of which have obvious, serious flaws - - that they seem to be trumpeting a kind of modernist wine triumphalism that one suspects has as much to do with their trade connections as their love for such wines.

The booster-ism of Spanish wine and food writers also seems to mask a subliminal message to the rest of the world, “Hey, Franco is dead (the late Spanish dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco has been dead for more than 25 years).  Look at us, we are full-fledged Europeans and we can make international style wines as well as anyone else.”

Some of these Spanish writers seem to be ignorant of the fact that most people who have spent any time in Spain recently already know that the country has become a first-rate European player;  that the level of quality in many traditional wine regions is on a par with the best in Europe; and that, after several years of experimental cocina nueva meanderings reminiscent of today’s vino nuevo movement, Spanish food (both traditional regional cuisines and modern star-chef driven cooking) is among the most exciting in Europe.

In an article entitled Los Grandes Ya Son Otros published in El Mundo on January 18, 2001 (available at,) Victor de la Serna, who is planning his own entry into the new wave wine race with a recently planted vineyard on family property in La Mancha, fired yet another broadside at a favorite target of his in recent years, the traditional wines of La Rioja.  De la Serna’s article, which roughly translates as “The Great (Spanish Wines) Are Now Others,” could just as well have carried the subtitle, “Spain’s Greatest Wines Are No Longer the Ones You Think They Are, They Are the Ones I Think They Are” - - and here’s the list of ASpain’s greatest table wines today.”

De la Serna followed with a listing of some 45 wines, including several white wines, a couple of dessert wines (no sherries), and several red wines (see box) which did not exist even five years ago.  On this list was Marqués de Haro, a wine attributed to CUNE (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España), but actually made by La Rioja Alta, and Vall-Llach, the company that makes the super-concentrated old vines Cims de Porerra (Priorato), which he also listed.  

Mr. de la Serna, while mentioning that great Rioja houses such as López de Heredia, CUNE, La Rioja Alta, etc. were the stars of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, left all of them off the list.  The inference was that these great time-honored houses, who happen to produce some of Spain’s greatest, most enjoyable wines, are now passé and should no doubt be buried with the memory of Franco.

Among other Spanish wine writers, it also currently seems to be the national sport to tar all of classic Rioja with the same broad brush, damning the well-documented mediocrity of many wines from that region and rightfully so in many cases, but condemning by association some of the greatest wineries of Spain such as CVNE, La Rioja Alta, López de Heredia, Marqués de Riscal, Bodegas Riojanas, and others in the process.

Worse for the old guard of high-quality wine producers such as Vega Sicilia in the Ribera del Duero and such Rioja wineries as CVNE, La Rioja Alta, Marqués de Riscal, Bodegas Riojanas, and Marqués de Murrieta many of the Johnny-come-latelys were not only getting scores in the high 90s from some reviewers, they are selling for prices well above those of highly respected, established names.  And, according to some reviewers, these newly minted wines were far superior to wines that had been revered in Spain and elsewhere for decades.

Jésus Madrazo, who credits Contino and the Rodríguez family, who own La Granja Nuestra Señora de Remelluri, with starting the single estate “château” concept in La Rioja in the 1970s.  At the time they were considered revolutionaries.  Now, several more such estate wineries have emerged from La Rioja in recent years and most of them, including Madrazo with Contino’s El Olivo, are producing new cuvees.  In addition, several of the old guard Rioja wineries are now producing
alta expresión-style wines.  Madrazo says, “Many of the old line Rioja bodegas have produced a special cuvee as an answer to the new wave of attention-getting wines from Ribera de Duero, Priorato, and Toro.”

Chafing from the competition and favorable international press these areas have been getting, Madrazo says they wanted to make a statement, “Señores, we have been making wine for a long time in La Rioja and we know a little something  about making wine ourselves.”

On Victor de la Serna’s list of the new Spanish wine grandees were several of these bonafide modern stars, but several were wines from Spanish bodegas with just a couple of vintages to their credit.  There were also a few hastily concocted special cuvees from established wineries which have recently popped up like ping pong balls in a lottery machine, each hoping to be hit the jackpot with wines priced at $50 to $200 per bottle.

Such incredible prices were just the tip of the iceberg.  Lurking beneath the dark, inky surface of this murky wine market were scores of imitators of this modern blockbuster wine style, among them some good wines, but also what, in the opinion of this thirty year observer of the Spanish wine and food scene, are some of the most questionable wines ever produced in Spain. Nowhere on the list were any of the grandes reservas of La Rioja such as CUNE Imperial and Viña Real , La Rioja Alta ‘904, and ‘890 Gran Reserva, Muga Prado Enea, López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real, Marqués de Murrieta Castillo de Igay, or Marqués de Riscal.

In the meantime, most of the new wave Rioja wineries have failed to produce anything that to refined palates could remotely be considered a superior wine to best classical Riojas.  De la Serna’s list includes wineries such as Roda, who produce what they bill as revolutionary new blockbuster wines and, as we have noted in these pages in the past, even have anointed themselves the “new kings” of La Rioja’s classic Barrio de la Estación district in the process. 

Roda’s CIRSION 1998, an ultra-expensive alta expresión wine that has been rated in the stratosphere by several Spanish and American reviewers and has been portrayed as a wine that shows how Rioja wines should really be made.  To my palate, it is nearly undrinkable.  This ungainly 14.5% monster wine comes from the cooler upper reaches of the Atlantic-influenced Rioja Alta district, home of some of finest and most complex wines in Spain?  Please!

Agustín Santolaya, the winemaker at Roda, seems to be oblivious to the almost Port-like characteristics of CIRSION.  In a four-page e-mail to me, he outlined Roda’s meticulous search for the perfect Tempranillo vineyards in La Rioja Alta and Garnacha vineyards in the Rioja Baja.  According to Santolaya, Roda has managed to find more than a dozen 30+-year old vineyards in special microclimates “that will allow us to increase the complexity of the wines and minimize the risk of bad vintages.”   

In other words, Roda has sought previously planted, older vines, terroir-driven sites, whose yields are 30 - 32 Hl./hct. in areas warm enough to ameliorate the effects of cooler growing seasons, achieving “the maximum concentration of fruit and maximum color.”  Santolaya also detailed the modern cellar techniques including “minute analysis,” vinification in large French oak vats, then ageing in French oak for 14 to 20 months “to stabilize the wine and retain the maximum fruit possible.”

Over a period of several years, Santolaya and his team at Roda have identified specific vines in these micro-climate vineyards, which give grapes with such a complex and corpulent character that the juice is more like wine already than must.  From these vines they make the CIRSION, which, according to Santolaya, is “a wine with the highest concentration of fruit and structure, which with a short time in barrel could be stable over time, maintain the fruit, and be polished and silky to drink in the year following the vintage.”

Answering my concerns about the alcohol in CIRSION, Santolaya replied, “Concerning your preoccupation with the 14.5% alcohol, I must tell you that at optimum ripeness the grapes used in CIRSION reach these alcohol levels.  If you have tasted the wine you will have observed that the wine never shows its alcohol, but totally to the contrary, it is a fruity, fresh, balsamic wine.”

I have been drinking Spanish wines for more than thiry years and I didn’t just taste CIRSION, I tried to drink it with a meal.  Not only did the alcohol show, CIRSION is one of the most alcoholic, over-concentrated wines I have ever tasted from La Rioja and is more typical of Toro or Priorato than La Rioja.  I do agree that Santolaya’s use of the term “maximum,” has reached its pinnacle with a retail $199 price of CIRSION, the highest price ever asked for a first release from La Rioja.

Another of the new “Spanish” grandees on de la Serna’s list was Dominio de Pingus, a Ribera del Duero wine made by Peter Sisseck, a Bordeaux-trained Danish winemaker who is a good friend of Valandraud’s Jean-Luc Thuvenin, whose style he greatly admires.  Sisseck makes Pingus in a former garage in Quintanilla de Onésimo from grapes that come from several old vines vineyards located some 25 miles from the vinification facility.  Spelling it Dominico (sic) de Pingus), which suggests the wine was not labeled when he reviewed it, Robert Parker rated the 1995 Domino de Pingus, Sisseck’s first vintage, at 96-100 points in The Wine Advocate after “I tasted this wine three times prior to bottling (hence the range of scores) and it is one of the greatest and most exciting wines I have ever tasted.”

After having been singled out as one of the greatest winemakers of all time with his first vintage, Sisseck’s 1995 Pingus, of which just 325 cases were made, soared to $200 per bottle.  Then a shipment of one hundred cases sunk in a shipwreck on the way to the US.   Less than 20 cases of Pingus had been reserved for sale in Spain.    

A few months later lots of the 1995 were next offered by The Rare Wine Company (Sonoma, CA) at $495 per bottle, with a limit of one bottle per customer, but the 1996, which Parker rated 96 points, was bargain-priced at $295 per bottle.  The 1996 was recently listed on for $363 per bottle.  By comparison, was offering the exceptional 1990 Cheval Blanc (with the designation 96RP; Robert Parker) for $396; 1990 Haut-Brion (96RP) for $250); 1990 Château Margaux (100RP) for $400; and the 1996 Lafite-Rothschild (100RP) for $280.
Peter Sisseck is emphatic that “I have never made my wine for Robert Parker,” as he told me in a telephone interview in March.  Nevertheless, he very much likes the big, blockbuster style of wine and, although he claims he does not want “power just to get power,” he admires the intense concentration of such wines as Château Rayas (Châteaunuef-du-Pape), Château Valandraud (Bordeaux), and California wines such as Marcassin, Colgin, Bryant, and Screaming Eagle, all of which he mentioned specifically. 

The word concentration comes up often in conversations with Sisseck and, he, like many other winemakers in this style, seems not to question whether concentration is necessarily a good thing.  He told me that he wants to get “ripe tannins.”  “I am not going to sacrifice ripe tannins just for balance and lower alcohol,” he said. 

Sisseck likes the ripeness (more so in his hands than most others) that the Tempranillo grape achieves in the Ribera de Duero and says, Athe region’s warm climate dictates the concentrated, high alcohol style, if the wine is made naturally.  If I didn’t enjoy the style of wines

I can make in the Ribera del Duero, I would make my wines somewhere else.  I am not on a crusade, I just want to be left alone to make wine in the natural style that I like.”

By “natural,” Sisseck means severe cropping from old vines vineyards, crushing the grapes by press, foot, and even hand; fermenting the must in new oak barrels, practicing frequent battonage (stirring of the lees), and racking the wine into more new oak barrels.  The result is a very big, rich, powerful (14.5% to 15% alcohol) wine with very exotic, concentrated black cherry  flavors that, indeed “blow away” a taster, even me, but, in past vintages has become so tiring to drink with food that I have never been able to get beyond one glass.  Even Sisseck admits that his 1995 and 1996 Dominio de Pingus were “big and brutal,” because of the ripeness of the vintage.       

My barrel tastings of the 1998 Dominio de Pingus in his cellars in Quintanilla de Onésimo showed, in this vintage at least, the wines showed more restraint and balance.  If I rated wines from barrel samples, which I do not, I would have scored them very highly.   I have not had the 1998 with food yet, but I hope it will surpass the 1995 and 1996 vintages (1997 was a poor year in the Ribera).

In El Mundo, Victor de la Serna reported interviewing Robert Parker in Paris last year, where Parker had come to receive an award.  “Parker had already tasted two different samples of a Ribera del Duero wine, whose first vintage has not even been released, one about which Spaniards have hardly read a line, and he compares it to Pingus.”  The wine de la Serna was referring to is Aalto, a new wine being made by Javier Zaccagnini with Mariano García as a consultant.

Mr. de la Serna also reported that “Parker likes Spanish wines”and confirmed in his report in El Mundo what some veteran observers of the Spanish wine scene have long known, “Although he still has never come to our country to taste wines (‘next year, without fail’), he gives (Spanish wines) high scores and dedicates laudatory commentaries to them (this year [2000], he gave 99 points to Artadi El Pisón 1995 and Clos Erasmus 1998.”  Both these expensive powerhouse wines, the Artadi (La Rioja: see my commentary on this wine), a much hyped Rioja and Clos Erasmus, a Priorato with a highly polemical track record, seem by design to fit the kind of blockbuster profile Parker seems to favor.

A frustrated-sounding Pablo Alvarez, an owner and Managing Director of Vega Sicilia, told a Viandar (a new Basque Country-based wine and food magazine; Feb. 2001 issue) interviewer, “Recently I read a review in which Robert Parker gave a high score to a wine with a 200 bottle-production!” Alvarez said.  At this rate, we are going to be bringing out a single bottle: ‘Here is my wine!’  I believe a winery is something more than a place to make just a few bottles.”     

Later in the Viandar interview, Alvarez said, “The problem is not whether Parker can make a wine fashionable or cause it to skyrocket in the United States, what is worrisome is that wineries base their wine making styles on whether they think Parker will like it or not.”

In the same interview (and in a subsequent phone conversation with me), Alvarez confirmed a number points related to new wave wines.  When Vega Sicilia launched their new wine, Aliòn, they spent ten years developing the project.  Speaking of the profusion of new wine stars in Spain, Alvarez said, “I don’t understand how these wines can be made overnight.”   

About flying enologists, the ubiquitous consultants from Bordeaux and elsewhere that many new Spanish wineries are using, Alvarez has serious reservations, “I don’t doubt that they are great enologists, but knowing each zone is fundamental and these things one doesn’t learn overnight either. To make great wine, they should know perfectly the region, the varieties, the soil, the climate, etc.”

Many wine experts, among them some of the most respected wine writers in the world, are increasingly vociferous about their dislike for many of the new blockbuster style wines.  In the same Jancis Robinson Financial Times article quoted above, one of the world’s most revered wine writers, English author Hugh Johnson declared about the California cult wines, "I find no grace in these wines at all. They're designed for cigar smokers. There's mass, but no aroma."

Dan Berger, former wine columnist for The Los Angeles Times and contributor to several major wine publications, wrote me in a e-mail response, “When I think about the high-alcohol, over-oaked, lower-acid style of the so-called international 'bigger-is-better’ red wine, I remember what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland: ‘There is no there there.’”

Back in the 1970s, CUNE’s Contino and Remelluri, both in La Rioja Alavesa, brought the estate or chateau winery concept to Spain in the modern era.  Jean León, a native Spaniard and Los Angeles restaurateur and then Miguel Torres showed outsiders that world-class Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay could be grown at single vineyard estates in Cataluña.  By the 1980s, with Pesquera, Alejandro Fernández demonstrated that the quality of Spain’s most prestigious wine, Vega Sicilia, was no anomaly in the Duero River Valley and the new Ribera de Duero denominación de origen rapidly became an international sensation.  

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, an exploding Spanish economy fueled a wine boom of exceptional proportions, Spain’s chefs were recognized as among the best in Europe, a new generation of wine aficionados came of age, wine and food publications proliferated, and for many new money people wine became a fast track ticket to social entree.

As a part of the ongoing evolution of modern Spanish wines, a number of first-rate single vineyard wines has emerged.  The best of these are clearly showing the world that a brilliant viticultural future that lies ahead of Spain, which has the largest acreage under vine of any country in the world and has an incredible number of old vines vineyards, privileged vineyard sites, and even cool micro-climates capable of producing truly world-class wines.  Some of these vineyards are as yet untapped or are in the process of being developed.  Among them are many from regions with a centuries-old history of wine making and whose wines were supposedly well-known by Europeans hundreds of years ago, but fell out of fashion.

Some wines from these vineyards are truly great expressions of superb grape varieties such as Spain’s great tempranillo, old vines stands of pure native garnacha, and the little known, but high quality graciano of La Rioja.  Wines such as those from the family vineyards of Pérez Pascuas (Ribera del Duero), Chivite’s Arínzano vineyard (Navarra), Mariano García’s San Róman vineyard (Zamora’s Toro region), the Contino estate (La Rioja Alavesa), Álvaro Palacios L’Ermita (Priorato), several Catalan estates of Miguel Torres (Mas de Plana, Grans Muralles, and Milmanda [white wines]), Alejandro Fernández’s Pesquera and Condado de Haza properties (Ribera del Duero), and his new estates in Zamora and La Mancha come from exceptional micro-climates married to mature vineyards with distinguishable characteristics.  The exceptional wines made from these vineyards are among Europe’s greatest surprises and they have the potential to rank among the best in the world.

Part of the answer to why this Spanish wine explosion has occurred lies in the fact that Spain has more acreage under vines than any major wine-producing country on earth and its Mediterranean regions (as opposed to the Atlantic climate-influenced regions such as La Rioja) have all the warm country climate that California has used to so much advantage.   All around Spain, especially in some Mediterrean-influenced regions once considered too warm to produce fine wines, there are numerous pockets of old vines Tempranillo, Garnacha, and other varieties just waiting for someone to exploit.     

On the one hand, it is exhilarating to see what modern wine making technology, techniques, and trained winemakers can achieve in these barely tapped gold mines of wine, but the current wine gold rush also has the pitfalls that any rush to riches does.  Consumers who are attracted to the lure of the moment run the risk of getting sold a lot of very expensive, sometimes rotten eggs, while they are waiting for the promise of incredible wine riches to pan out.

José Manuel Pérez, one of Spain’s most talented young winemakers, makes some of Spain’s most highly respected wines from 60 year-old vines planted by his grandfather at his family’s Ribera del Duero wine estate, Bodegas Hermanos Pérez Pascuas Viña Pedrosa. The quality of their Tempranillo vineyards around Pedrosa del Duero, the family’s dedication in maintaining them (José’s father Benjamín was Spain’s viti-culturalist of the year and his two uncles, Adolfo and Manuel also work daily in the operation), the limits of cultivation climate next to where the high wheat-growing páramo begins, and 34-year old José Manuel’s winemaking skill all contribute to one of Spain’s model wine-producing estates.

In response to my e-mail asking him his opinion of vinos de alta expresión, he responded with some of the most profound thoughts of any one I interviewed for this article.  “In my opinion,” Pérez wrote, “lately, the wine world has taken on a distinctly commercial tone.  There is a lot of speculation and things are being taken out of context.  Some bodegas don’t know which argument to use to make themselves stand out from the others.  Some say that their vines are the oldest, that their grape selection is the best, and that they harvest grape by grape [one new wave producer claims to have a harvest team working on a grape selection table cutting off the riper “shoulders” from each bunch of grapes].”

“Others say they do the most perfect macerations,”  Pérez continued, “and some even claim they sleep in the bodega at night during the harvest and fermentation periods.  In each case, one must ask oneself if these claims are true or are they just vain commercial representations, which, in many case are fabrications to justify a high price.  To make a great wine, you have to go much further than just taking advantage of market conditions to make facile wines.  That is why I respect wines such as López de Heredia Tondonia, Muga Prado Enea, CUNE Imperial, La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza and many other wines in the classic traditional Rioja style, because of what they represent in the panoramic view of Spanish viniculture.”
When contemplating the purchase of these highly extracted, new wave or alta expresión wines, perhaps consumers should consider Stephen Tanzer’s Freudian statement from my conversation with him.  It goes to heart of the matter with many of these new wave wines. “Drinkability with meals is only about 20% of the equation,” Tanzer said.  

“People who pay these prices are not thinking about drinking the wines with meals.  The wines are expensive because they are usually made in small quantities.," Tanzer continued. "They are highly collectible, high visibility trophy wines.  People who buy CUNE and the other top classical wines of Spain, for instance, are thinking about how well the wines drink with food.”   

“How well the wines drink with food.”  Now there’s a true alta expresión that should be high on anyone’s list of reasons to buy a wine, Spanish or otherwise.

- - The End - -

First appeared in The Wine News, April/May 2001.

(Photos will follow shortly. -- GD)
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