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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


Spain's Vaunted 2001 Vintage

by Gerry Dawes

For fans of Spanish wines, and particularly those crafted from tempranillo - Spain's finest indigenous red wine grape - the 2001 harvest may have produced one of the greatest vintages of all time - an ironic conclusion to a rollercoaster growing season afflicted by hard frost, inordinate heat, prolonged drought and potentially damaging rains.

On back-to-back visits in September and October, I spent more than six weeks prowling the vineyards of Spain's key red wine-producing regions - from the firmly established La Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Navarra, Penedès and Priorato to up-and-coming spots such as Toro and La Mancha. A veteran of more than a dozen Spanish harvests, I have rarely seen grapes in such healthy condition or a harvest season (vendimia) that enjoyed such propitious weather.

In their reports on the 2001 vendimia, most of Spain's preeminent winemakers concur. In the top red-wine regions, many are using such superlatives as magnífico, espectacular, extraordinario and una cosecha para la historia (a harvest of historic quality) to describe the 2001 vintage. In those early reports, they expressed confidence that the resulting wines will have great depth of color, superb aromatics and concentrated flavors. The best of them were already showing "silky tannins" that will make them drinkable young, but still auger well for long-term cellaring.

Some producers in La Rioja, where tempranillo is the main grape, predicted the 2001 vintage for red wines would be superior even to the exceptional 1994 vintage. A few even ventured that last year's wines might be the best since 1964 (considered by most experts to be the standout vintage of the 20th century in La Rioja).

All was not so rosy, however, earlier in the year. Rather, prospects looked downright grim. In April, hard frosts and "black ice" (caused by freezing mist, thin coatings of ice covered the vines) wiped out 20 to 60 percent of the expected crop in many major wine regions. In the Ribera del Duero, José Manuel Pérez, the Pérez Pascuas family's enologist at Viña Pedrosa, says his crop was only about 40 percent of normal quantity.

Summer brought near-drought conditions to many regions. Miguel Torres, president and technical director of Bodegas Torres, reports his crop was down 25 to 30 percent in Penedès and in Cataluña in general. South of Penedès in Priorato, an area accustomed to dry years (and resulting wines with high alcohol levels), Carles Pastrana of Costers de Siurana, producers of Clos de L'Obac, says summer was inordinately arid, even by Priorato standards. Alvaro Palacios, owner-winemaker of Bodegas Alvaro Palacios, says the early summer dry spell, in tandem with prolonged heat, caused yields to plummet to 50 to 70 percent of normal.

Then, in late summer, torrential rainstorms hit places such as La Rioja, prompting Bodegas Muga owner Isaac Muga to use some salty expletives to describe the gully-washer that had struck his particularly fine-looking stands of grapes. At first, many winegrowers, such as Muga and his son, Jorge, thought the tardy rains would swell the water-starved grapes, only to be followed by more rains ruining what was already going to be a short crop. The September storms broke the drought (a few regions got a little precipitation in August, too).

As it turned out, the rains gave way to classic autumn weather, and the grapes ripened under nearly perfect conditions in most of Spain's key wine regions.

Many growers, though disappointed with their lower yields, were compensated by the superiority of their red grapes. Shortly after the harvest in Cataluña, Miguel Torres observed: "In terms of quality, the result has been excellent with extremely healthy grapes possessing a great wealth of sugars, aromas and tannins." Within a few months, Torres reconfirmed his earlier assessment: "The wines of 2001 are excellent, particularly the reds." Although he is more famous for his cabernet sauvignon-based wines, such as Gran Coronas (Black Label), his Merlots and his Grans Muralles (a blend of four recovered Catalan varietals), he also grows tempranillo, generally using it as a blending agent. "The standout red wines this year are my Tempranillos," he reports. "They are probably the best we have tasted in the past ten years, yet the Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons are also among the best of the past decade." Torres also predicts great things for his Grans Muralles blend (it hails from an estate in the Conca de Barberá denominación de origen). "The colors are very intense, and it is full and rich in the mouth with an exquisite density of flavor that presages a great future for this wine," Torres says. He also vinified 5.5 tons of fruit from the first harvest of his new vineyard in Priorato. "Despite the fact that the vines are so young, in 2001 we got intense fruit and magnificent structure," he says.

Trailblazing Priorato winemaker Alvaro Palacios, one of Spain's brightest young wine stars, is acquainted with the 2001 vintage from a three-point perspective: In addition to making wine at his eponymous Priorato winery, he oversees with his brother Rafael their family winemaking operations at Bodegas Palacios Remondo in La Rioja Baja and, with a cousin, he makes wines from a spectacular old-vines mencia (a grape related to cabernet franc) vineyard in Bierzo (an up-and-coming DO in northern Spain's León province). "The potential in all three of the regions is great," he observed in December. "My Priorato wines [which include the stellar old-vines L'Ermita Vineyard] will be unusually potent and concentrated. The sporadic September rains served to stabilize the sugar levels and give the wines more acidity to balance the richness." He expects an excellent wine from L'Ermita in 2001.

Carles Pastrana of Costers de Siurana, producer of Clos de L'Obac, says his 2001 Priorato wines have "fantastic concentration." Pastrana, who makes some of the longest-lived wines in the region - his 1998, 1999 and 2000 wines are remarkable - harvests Priorato's native garnacha and cariñena grapes before they reach the overripe levels that many wine critics seem to prize these days. He noted that while the normal harvest period lasts 40 to 45 days, because of the heat and dry weather in 2001, Clos de L'Obac's harvest was completed in just twelve days.

In the Ribera del Duero, at the Pérez Pascuas family's Viña Pedrosa, their high-altitude estate in the Ribera de Burgos region, yields were about 225 gallons of wine per acre. Shortly after the harvest, Pedrosa enologist José Manuel Pérez predicted that 2001 would be one of the greatest vintages of all time in the Ribera del Duero. Interviewed again in February, he remained true to his earlier assessment. "The evolution of these wines in barrel has been magnificent; they are perfectly balanced and show enormous potential as wines for laying down. We are still talking about a year that can be defined as being among the greatest of the Ribera del Duero's great vintages," Pérez confirms.

In the warmer western zones of the Duero Valley, Bodegas Mauro's Mariano García, the man many believe to be Spain's greatest winemaker, is slightly more circumspect. "Two-thousand-one has been an excellent year in the greater part of the Spanish geography," observes García, who also owns Maurodos in Toro and consults at a handful of bodegas in his Castilla-León region and in La Rioja. "It was a short crop, but it has given ripe, very concentrated, deeply colored wines. In the Ribera del Duero and in my Tudela vineyards, 2001 can be compared to 1999 for the quality of its fruit tannins. The wines will be very fruity and should age well."

Florian Miquel Hermann, a wine writer for El Mundo, one of Spain's top newspapers, is cautiously optimistic about the 2001 wines of the western Duero Valley. "There is indeed a lot of euphoria concerning the 2001 Ribera vintage," he says. "I've tasted little so far - only at Mauro, Leda, Aalto (all made by García's hand) and Abadia Retuerta, another non-DO wine from this region - but based on this limited sampling, I found much to like. On the other hand, I strongly believe that it's too soon to judge whether 2001 qualifies as a truly 'historic' vintage.

"We shouldn't forget," Miquel Hermann continues, "that there are many microclimates in the Ribera Valley and that there was hail and frost just after flowering. Therefore, the growers got significant percentages of second generation fruit," he explains. "Obviously, everybody claims that he has eliminated these bunches, but knowing the mentality of the viticultores, I can only smile. All that said, polyphenol levels [phenolics are the myriad organic building blocks in wine that account for color, tannin and flavor attributes] seem to be very high everywhere," adds Hermann, who remains on the fence.

Hermann is not alone. By late February, Spain's famous Vega Sicilia, located at the western end of the Ribera del Duero, had announced it would not make a 2001 Unico, the wine it produces only in what it recognizes as exceptional years. Those who follow Vega Sicilia, however, understand this is not necessarily a warning that the vintage was not great elsewhere. For example, Vega Sicilia's reserve vintages have been an anomaly on many occasions, making Unico in such years as 1974 and 1987 - vintages that were not considered outstanding years by other wineries in the region.

According to Winemaker Xavier Ausas, the hard freeze that hit Vega Sicilia's vineyards in the spring wiped out a large percentage of the crop: "A second flowering of the vines followed, but it produced fruit that lacked the characteristics required for our top-of-the-line Unico, which can spend from 15 to 25 years aging in our cellars." Instead, the grapes that he deemed of "good quality" were destined for the Valbuena and Alión wines.

In contrast, west of the Ribera del Duero, in Toro, Mariano García again had much for which to be thankful. "The crop was 50 percent of normal, but we have some very opulent, tannic wines," he reports. "The key is the fact that we have achieved elegance and balance."

In Navarra at Bodegas Julián Chivite, Fernándo Chivite, one of Spain's most accomplished winemakers, is ecstatic. He believes "2001 is the best harvest in our history: The yields were low, the concentration is spectacular, and the wines will be extraordinary." Of particular promise is the fruit from Chivite's Arínzano estate, which is ranked among Spain's top vineyards.

Many winemakers in La Rioja, the most important red wine-producing region in Spain, were also elated by the quality of the 2001 vintage, even though production, primarily due to stricter Rioja DO controls, was 25 percent below that of 2000 (a weak vintage for many producers). Francisco Hurtado de Amezaga, technical and production director of La Rioja's oldest winery, the now renascent Marqués de Riscal, thinks the newly renovated bodega's 2001 wines will be noteworthy. "In La Rioja in general, and particularly at Marqués de Riscal, 2001 has been, without a doubt, exceptional," Hurtado says. "Above all, our wines will be characterized by their finesse. Additionally, the quality of the tannins is superior even to the great 1994 vintage. The 2001 wines are rounder and sweeter than the 1994s."

Hurtado, like Torres, is particularly impressed by the quality of the tempranillo: "We sincerely believe that 2001 is a year in which tempranillo has come very close to reaching its greatest potential, if, indeed, it has not done so."

Jésus Madrazo, a member of the family that owns the Compañía Vínicola del Norte de España or CVNE (pronounced Koo-nay) and Contino, a single vineyard Rioja Alavesa "chateau" winery at which he is winemaker, was nothing short of effusive about CVNE's 2001s. "The stability of the color held up magnificently after malolactic fermentation and the purity of the aromatics of each varietal was maintained. We have color, body, alcohol content and beautiful aromas," he enthuses. "We are standing before one of the greatest vintages in history." At Contino, Madrazo claims to have made his best Graciano ever in 2001 - "a wine as dark as ink with 14.2 percent alcohol."

"They haven't seen such levels of color in La Rioja in a long time," observes Mauro's Mariano García, who also consults for such wineries as Bodegas Villabuena, producers of Viña Izadi, a fine, up-and-coming Rioja Alavesa wine. "The raw materials - black wines with fresh fruit flavors - are great, but it will be important to see how the wines evolve before we can be sure that they can be rated historic."

María Martínez Sierra, winemaker at La Rioja's Bodegas Montecillo, is among those withholding judgment on the 2001 harvest in La Rioja. In November, she went on record saying she expected "very good" wines, but felt it was a bit early to proclaim 2001 excellent. By February, she had nudged her assessment up a notch: "I can confirm that 2001 is a very good to excellent vintage. The wines are very deep, intense, well colored and very rich. This is due to several factors: the growers eliminated grapes in late spring (which is key), warm temperatures persisted all season, plus the level of rainfall was ideal." She also believes "the wines have very good concentration, as well as a lot of aging potential," and compares 2001 to the great 1994 vintage. Yet she still has some reservations. "There are already several voices in the area saying that 2001 is even better than the '94, but I do not agree because the big and complex '94 wines are not so easy to repeat," she explains.

Isaac Muga, one of La Rioja's most important producers, says some people in La Rioja are euphoric over wines whose sugar contents soared during the warm days of early October, yet he warns that while the grapes appeared ripe, the essential components that translate to color, aroma and structure were not fully mature. "Those who based the harvesting of their grapes solely on the sugar levels, had some unpleasant surprises after their wines finished malolactic fermentation," he says. Muga, who sources from several vineyards in the higher elevations of La Rioja Alta - in contrast to Jésus Madrazo's situation at the Contino estate along the banks of the Ebro River - says his Graciano harvest was the worst in memory. Still, Muga, who is also very high on his 2000 wines, expects both 2000 and 2001 to be superior in quality to "the mythical 1994 and 1995" crops, which were among the best in the past 20 years.

If the 2001 vintage has an Achilles' heel, it could be those high alcohol levels, and the corresponding acid deficiency that is often the hallmark of such wines. As Muga points out, in some regions wines were made from fruit that was high in sugar, but not phenologically mature.

Having visited all of the main winegrowing areas of northern Spain, Christopher Canaan, president of Europvin, Inc., (importers of such wines as Vega Sicilia, La Rioja Alta and Clos Mogador), underscores Muga's points. "Everyone is happy with the vintage," Canaan reports, "even if it was not always easy to judge the correct maturity of the grapes. The alcohol levels everywhere are high (in some cases at 14.5 to 15 percent before the grapes were phenologically ripe). However," Canaan continues, "all the serious growers were able to cope with this phenomenon resulting in delicious, rich, concentrated wines with masses of ripe fruit, but also good color, structure and balanced acidity."

White wines from 2001, though not being assessed in the same glowing terms as the reds, may also be quite good in many regions. Mariano Fuster of Juve y Camps, one of Spain's top cava producers, lamented the lack of rain (which could signal lower acid levels), but says all the white varieties used for sparkling wines - parelleda, xarello, macabeo (viura) and chardonnay - had a "magnificent aspect, matured at a good pace and were exceptionally healthy." Freixenet, the giant cava producer, reported lower yields and excellent quality, but noted that the "record very dry" year had caused a "light dimunition of acidity." Miguel Torres, who makes some of Spain's best white wines, such as Milmanda Chardonnay, Fransola Sauvignon Blanc and Gran Viña Sol, says 2001, though not excellent for whites, will prove a "very good" year. He is particularly pleased with the harvest from his higher elevation vineyards of garnacha blanca, a native variety that had almost disappeared from Penedés because it was not one of the main grapes in cava, 90 percent of which is produced in that region.

Whether 2001 will be as great as any of the milestone vintages of the past century remains to be seen. But it is clear already that it will produce some truly superlative wines with deep color, exceptional aromatics and superb concentration. And the good news doesn't stop there. Due to the fact that the past few vintages in Spain produced a glut of red wine, many wineries had lowered their prices on unsold wines and subsequently paid far less for top-quality grapes in 2001 than in years past.

Given the perceived quality of the 2001 vintage, prices are sure to be far from cheap, but we will probably not see the absurd prices that marked many of the releases from the mid-1990s.

Looking back on last year, there are many things that most of us would like to forget, but by most accounts, the 2001 harvest in Spain will not be among them. ¶


Gentle Corrections Department

A gentle correction to an article in the current October 2004 Restaurant Issue of Gourmet Magazine, an issue that has some excellent articles. (If readers find errors like this in my pieces, please e-mail them to me, I would rather have a little egg on my face than steer you wrong.)

In an article by Alexander Lobrano about Spanish truffles, in which I was glad to see the French own up to getting a lot of their truffles from Spain, the author tells of Joel Dennis, the sous chef from Alain Ducasse's New York restaurant meeting up with his Spanish truffles contact at "Hostal Los Manos, a flourescent-lit truck stop in the backcountry of Catalonia." He then goes on to talk about truffles country and mentions the towns of Mora de Rubielos and Albentosa, which are in the truffles country in the southern foothills of the mountainous El Maestrazgo region in the province of Teruel in Aragón, not Cataluña. Hostal Los Maños, not Manos (hands), is in Albentosa. Los Maños is a colloquial term for the people of Aragón. If the Hostal were named "The Hands," it would be Las Manos, since manos is a feminine noun.


The Estate Wines of Jean León

by Gerry Dawes

Within the past few years, there has been a significant trend in Spain towards establishing château- and estate-style wineries a la Bordeaux, where all or most of the grapes come from the property surrounding the winery. In Spain, these properties are known as pagos, which are basically agricultural estates based on single-owner vineyard plots in close, often contiguous proximity to one another.

Map of Jean León Estate
Gerry Dawes copyright 2004

In La Rioja, the well-known Contino and Remelluri estates were established in the 1970s, but the modern godfather of this concept in Spain was Jean León, a Spanish expatriate who emigrated to the United States, worked in a number of restaurants frequented by movie stars and politicos, and with legendary actor James Dean founded La Scala restaurant, a popular Los Angeles hangout for movie stars.

Jean León came to America, began as a dishwasher in New York and went to work for Frank Sinatra at the singer’s Villa Capri restaurant in Hollywood. He served in the US military during the Korean War, became a naturalized American citizen, and with just $3500 opened La Scala and eventually saw five American presidents and an untold number of movie stars dine there.

In the early 1960s, Jean León used some of the profits from the lucrative La Scala to buy a 370-acre estate near Torrelavit in the highlands of the Catalan wine-growing area of Penedés west of Barcelona. He smuggled cabernet sauvignon vines that he had obtained from Châteaux Lafite-Rothschild, cabernet franc from La Lagune, and chardonnay from Burgundy’s exceptional Corton Charlemagne vineyards (and some pinot noir), ripped up the existing xarel-lo, parellada and macabeu vines (Catalan white grape varieties) ~ much to the surprise of local vine growers, who called him “a crazy American” ~ and planted these foreign varieties on 60 hectares of his land.

View of Jean León Vineyards in the Alt Penedès, Torrelavid (Barcelona)
Gerry Dawes copyright 2004

In 1969, Jean León released his first wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva, almost all of which was sold in his La Scala restaurant or given as gifts to his celebrity friends. It was the first cabernet sauvignon varietal wine made commercially in Spain. In the 1970s, Jean León’s wine, though an anomaly since virtually no Spanish wineries were selling varietal wines, became an underground wine legend. His cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc-laced blends established a level of quality for those varietals that was unknown in Spain at the time.

Inspired by Jean León’s bold venture, Miguel Torres Riera, then the young French-trained heir to the Bodegas Torres winemaking mantle, soon procured foreign varieties and planted them on his family’s nearby properties. Within a decade his Mas la Plana Black Label Gran Reservas (which eventually were made from 100% cabernet sauvignon) had gained international recognition, even topping the eminent Château Latour in a blind tasting held in Paris.

If Jean León first showed how successful Bordeaux and Burgundy varieties could be in Cataluña, Torres became the leading edge of a wave of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and chardonnay that washed over the Penedés and in the 1980s spilled over into several emerging wine regions of Spain such as Navarra, Ribera del Duero, Somontano, and Priorato.

Jaume Rovira, who has been the winemaker at Jean León since the bodega was founded in 1964.
Gerry Dawes copyright 2004

Jean León became ill in his sixties and sold his winery and estate to the firm of Miguel Torres. Torres was his friend and the man most responsible for making Jean León’s dream of producing great wines from French grape varieties a huge success in Spain. The wines of the Jean León estate are still made by the original enologist, Jaume Rovira, but the direction and sales of the wines are now in the hands of Miguel Torres Riera’s son, Miguel Torres Maczassek (known as Miguel Torres, Jr.).

Miguel Torres Maczassek, Managing Director of Jean León and son of Miguel Torres Riera, Bodegas Miguel Torres, long one of Spain's most important wineries.
Gerry Dawes copyright 2004

This writer has long admired the red wines of Jean León and, in recent years, especially a young, fresh, barely-oaked chardonnay (it spends less than two months in oak, just the right touch). In mid-September 2001, with Chef Mark Miller of Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe, I joined Miguel Torres Jr. at the superb Catalan restaurant Ca l’Isidre in Barcelona for an excellent dinner. We began with that wonderful Jean León white wine, which is sold under the charming name of Petite Chardonnay. With the rest of the meal we drank the wines of Bodegas Miguel Torres, including the supernal, Burgundy-esque Milmanda Chardonnay 1999, the top-of-line Mas la Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 1995, and the multi-faceted Grans Muralles 1997, a new Torres wine from Conca de Barbarà that is a blend of several different recuperated Catalan varieties.

Just over a year later, in November 2002, I met Miguel Torres, Jr., Juan-Ramón Pujol, his American marketing manager, and the representative from Five Star (Jean León’s New York distributor), at Chef Terrance Brennan’s Picholine, one of New York City’s top restaurants. We enjoyed a tasting dinner in the private wine room featuring just the wines produced by Jean León. The dishes, personally prepared by Picholine’s chef de cuisine David Cox, were spectacular and the wines kept pace.

Picholine’s Wine Director Richard Shipman first served us a sample of the fine, fragrant, stylish, boutique Cava (sparkling wine), María Casanova, which, though not made by Jean León or Torres, was from Cataluña and a perfect aperitif to prepare our palates for the tasting. After the Cava, we were served the spicy, floral Terrasola 2001, a delicious chardonnay (85%) and garnacha blanca (15%) blend. Terrasola in Catalan means “small terrace,” the terraced vineyards on which vines were traditionally grown in Cataluña. There are two other wines in the very fine Terrasola line, all of which pair a native variety with a local grape: a rich, peppery syrah-cariñena blend and a muscat-parellada blend.

OVER DINNER AND IN A SUBSEQUENT INTERVIEW, Torres, Jr. and I talked about the Jean León estate, in which he has a significant personal investment, both financially and professionally.

WFSN: Could you tell me a few things about the Jean León bodega, vineyards, and wines?

MT, Jr.: Yes, I think that we have something very good, which are some of the oldest vines of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot in the region. The cabernet is already 39 years old, and the soil does not provide many nutrients, so the vines are stressed and are producing the best quality for us.

WFSN: What changes have you implemented?

MT, Jr.: Since 1994 we have done a lot of work in the winery. We first started by acquiring new oak barrels, both French and American, and reorganizing the installations. During 2000, 2001 and 2002 we made the biggest improvements. We decreased even more the production, lowering it to 4,500 kg per hectare (just over 2 tons per acre) and less for the Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva. I did not want irrigation because I believe that we have to show what the vines can give us naturally. The second thing I did was to invest in a new temperature-con-trolled room, so that we can perfectly control the fermentation of our barrel-fermented chardonnay. It also helps a lot to cool down all grapes before crushing them in the press. The third thing was to maintain the oak barrels even more carefully, I liked some good American oak for the reserva, but I liked French oak better for the longer-lived gran reserva, so now I use only new French small-grain oak barrels for the gran reserva and the chardonnay. Also for the reservas and the gran reservas, I thought that they were sometimes not expressing the primary aromas clearly since they were aged for up to two years in new oak. We decided that only for the first year would they be aged in new oak and then we would put them in 4- or 5-year old barrels the second year so that they would not absorb too much oak flavor.

WFSN: Anything else?

MT, Jr.: Yes, I wanted the cellars to be cooler at Jean León! So, now with new equipment we can regulate the temperature not only during the fermentation, but also in the cellar and even in the grape pick up area, which is also very important. And on November 9th we started operations in a new visitor’s center at Jean León, located in the heart of the vineyards with a breathtaking view of the Penedés region. So now Jean León is open to all the wine lovers who want to visit us.

AS ONE MIGHT EXPECT FROM THE PRICE DIFFERENTIAL, the Jean León estate wines were the stars of the evening at Picholine. There was the spicy, rich, buttery, very classy Jean León Chardonnay 2000 made from grapes grown at Viña Gigi, a 40-acre chardonnay vineyard, which is the oldest chardonnay vineyard in Spain.

The Jean León Merlot 1999, a 100% merlot varietal, was a deep blackberry-colored wine with rich, spicy, fruity merlot flavors and a long tannic finish that showed it would benefit from more aging. Jean León’s merlot vines, now ten years old, were a late addition to the estate.

Jean León Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, a blend of 85% cabernet sauvignon and 15% cabernet franc, was a clean, clear medium blackberry color, had a nice mint and cedar nose, showed lovely, rich blackberry and chocolate flavors on the palate and had a long spicy, well-stuctured finish.

The nicely structured Jean León Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 1995 (same blend), a serious black raspberry-colored wine with a minty, eucalyptus nose, chocolate, ripe fruit flavors and earthy hints of cabernet franc, spent 2 years in oak and like a good Bordeaux, will benefit from cellaring.

The exceptional Jean León Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 1994 is basically the same grape blend as the reservas, but it all comes from specially selected lots made from the oldest vines grown on the estate’s La Scala vineyard. This dark, plummy, blackberry colored wine has a deep, ripe nose and luscious, delicious, complex flavors and firm structure that puts it on the level with many great Bordeaux châteaux wines.

We finished our meal at Picholine with a selection of superb Spanish cheeses and a selection of older cabernet sauvignon wines from Jean León, including the still vital, but mellow 1985; the still-closed, Bordeaux-esque 1979; and the excellent minty, complex 1975.

During the heyday of La Scala restaurant in Beverly Hills, Jean León became known as “the wine of the stars.” Now, some thirty years later, the wines of Jean León are showing their own star potential.

Gerry Dawes has been writing about Spanish wine, food and culture for more than 25 years.


Rias Baixas Wines

Rías Baixas Wines

Rías Baixas Wines On a ten-day tasting trip last spring through six wine growing regions of northwestern Spain, I got a crash course in just how promising Spanish native varietals can be in the Atlantic Ocean- influenced climates of Galicia (Rías Baixas, Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras) and Castilla-León (Bierzo, Toro and Rueda). In this post I will cover Rías Baixa. In subsequent posts, I cover the others.

First, I flew from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela, the monumental destination city at the end of the Camino de Santiago, the medieval pilgrimage route that runs from France down into the Iberian Peninsula and then more than 600 miles across northern Spain. From Santiago, I began my visit to emerald-green Galicia's Rías Baixas, where I tasted some 50 wines, including some superb 100% Albariños. Pazo de Señorans, Fillaboa, Do Ferreiro, Lagar Pedregales, Palacio de Fefiñanes, Lusco, and Pazo de Barrantes, not only reinforced my belief in the excellence of this white native varietal, it alerted me to aspects of albariño's versatility and ageworthiness of which I was unaware.

From my tastings of barrel fermented Rías Baixas white wines, I re-confirmed my belief that new oak does not significantly enhance these fresh, fruity wines; in fact, it often obscures their fruit and charm. Most wineries are experimenting with barrel-fermented (a current fad) Albariños, but hardly any of them were better than the bodega's un-oaked Albariño.

I also discovered that two notable producers, Pazo de Señorans and Palacio de Fefiñanes, were making Albariños that see no new oak and are eminently ageworthy. Pazo de Señorans produced a stunning 1996 Albariño aged on the lees in stainless steel for three years, which is undoubtedly the greatest Rías Baixas wine I have tasted. Palacio de Fefiñanes showed a superb vertical lineup (from 2001 through 1996) of Albariños aged in large used oak vats. Another surprise was a luscious, sweet, complex, vendimia tardia (late harvest) Albariño made as an experiment at Pazo de Barrantes.

Galician Seafood & Albarino Posted by Hello

The Rías Baixas denominación de origen is composed of five subzones: Val do Salnés, Soutomaior, O Rosal, Condado de Tea, and Ribeira do Ulla, the newest of the designated wine growing areas. Surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean, the Ría de Arousa and the Ría de Pontevedra, the area known as Val do Salnés, with more than 60% of Rías Baixas's registered vineyards, is the most important of the five, followed by Condado de Tea and O Rosal, both along the Miño river. Because of Galicia's high rainfall and humidity, vines are trained on tall wire trellises, which are usually anchored by granite or concrete posts. The grapes are grown several feet off the ground to allow for maximum air circulation, which promotes even ripening and helps prevent rot and associated vine and grape afflictions.

To use the Albariño varietal designation on a label, in all five Rías Baixas subzones a wine must be 100% albariño. Since 94% of just over 5900 acres of registered vineyards in the Rías Baixas DO are albariño, this is often a moot point. By law, other white Rías Baixas-designated wines of must contain a minimum of 70% Albariño. The remaining 30% of the blend is usually composed of one or more of the other authorized, preferred grape varieties - - treixadura, loureira, and caiño blanco (some godello, torrontés, and marqués grapes are also authorized) - - which add different aromas, body, and often more complexity to the wines.

Although Albariños are among the world's finest single-varietal white wines, the Rías Baixas blends often match them in quality. In tasting albariño-treixadura blends such as Adegas Galegas's Veigadares, Valmiñor's Dávila, Marqués de Vizhoja's Señor de Folla Verde, in the Condado de Tea subzone of Rías Baixas, along the Miño River that is the Galicia's border with Portugal, and albariño, loureiro, and treixadura blends such as Terras Gauda, Santiago Ruíz, Pazo San Mauro, and in the O Rosal subzone, I also saw significant potential in loureiro and treixadura as blending grapes which add complexity to albariño-based wines.

It is not politically incorrect to call Rías Baixas wines of the most feminine in Spain, especially since the consejo regulador's president is María Soledad Bueno (the owner of Pazo de Señorans) and many top wines are made by women enologists, including Isabel Salgado (Granja Fillaboa), Cristina Mantilla (Adegas Galegas - Veigadares), Angela Martín (Castro Martín- Casal Caiero), María del Pilar Jiménez (Pazo de Barrantes), Ana Martín (Salnesur - Condes de Albarei), Ana Oliveira (Terras Guada), Ana Quintela (Pazo de Señorans), and María Luisa Freire (Santiago Ruíz).

Rías Baixas Albariños and albariño-based blends are some of the most versatile, delicious, food-friendly, and least intimidating wines in the market. They usually are a lovely green-tinged straw color and their fruity albariño aromas are reminiscent of white peaches, pears, apricots or pineapple. On the palate they are fruity and often luscious, but finish dry. The fruit is usually beautifully balanced by a fine-edged underpining of acidity and the wines exhibit lovely, complex, mineral-laced flavors in the finish. These qualities make them ideal matches for a wide variety of modern and traditional dishes, as well as delicious wines for sipping as an aperitif or to accompany tapas, Spain's wide variety of little dishes.

Galician Seafood & Pazo de SenoransPosted by Hello

Albariño blends are also supernal companions to the splendid seafood that Galicia was known for before the criminal actions of the Prestige single-hull oil tanker, which sank off the coast of Spain in November 2002, destroyed the most important source of prime shellfish in Europe, and ruined the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of hard-working Spaniards and Portuguese, including those who work in the superb marisquerías, or seafood restaurants of these two maritime countries. I am happy to say in this update on August 7, 2004, the Galicians, through a Herculean effort have recuperated much of their fishing grounds. --Gerry Dawes©2003

Catavino: Sherry Glass

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Catavino at Vinicola Hidalgo
Gerry Dawes Copyright 2008

Manzanilla Sherry glass

A smaller tulip-shaped glass called a catavino is used for sherry. Ideally, they should be 5-6 ounce glasses, but you should only fill them about half full (2-3 ounces of sherry), though this thristy caballero on horseback at the Feria de Sevilla has his catavino nearly full.

Catavino: Rider at Feria de Sevilla Posted by Hello
Gerry Dawes Copyright 2004

An alternative is a tulip-shaped 6-ounce Champagne glass will do nicely. The Champagne flute should be one that curves in at the top, not one that flares out, so that you can more fully enjoy the wonderful fragrant smells of sherry.


Back to The Future - Wine Enthusiast, Sept. 2002

Spain: Looking Back To The Future By GERRY DAWES

First Appeared in The Wine Enthusiast, Sept. 2002

Three-star restaurants, cultish boutique wines and appreciative, affluent consumers: europe’s gastronomic epicenter just may be shifting to España.

When I first began traveling the wine roads of Spain in the early 1970s, the state of Spanish wine and food was dramatically different than it is today. Most wineries were rustic and used time-honored, often ancient, techniques to vinify grapes and age their wines. They were imbued with the romance of Old Spain and were aged in old barrels, often in moldy, cobweb-laced, ancient caves. I loved tasting them. However, while some of the wines were excellent on the spot when served with down-to-earth Spanish food like milk-fed baby lamb chops grilled over vine cuttings, air-cured hams and artisan cheeses, many of the wines were not built to travel.

Back then, there were wonderful down-home restaurants with legendary regional dishes that were often the object of gastronomic pilgrimages by Spanish aficionados. The meals included roast suckling pig and lamb, black rice paellas, fat pochas beans cooked with country chorizo and quail, and shellfish hot off a flat grill. But many ordinary restaurants were plagued with poorly trained cooks using substandard cooking oils instead of the quality Spanish olive oil that gourmands so appreciate today.

In fact, many upscale restaurants often offered so-called “continental” cuisine that seemed designed to protect foreign tourists from the horrors of olive oil, garlic and other ingredients that are now highly regarded elements of the Mediterranean diet.

In those days I often wished that the Spaniards would figure out how to get those deeply flavored, ruby-colored Duero Valley wines—in Aranda de Duero, served in earthenware pitchers—in shape to sell in foreign markets. And those wonderful Manzanilla Sherries that I drank on Sanlúcar de Barrameda’s Bajo de Guía beach at sunset with exquisite grilled langostinos (giant prawns): Would we ever be able to get fresh Manzanilla in America? And what about those deeply flawed, but incredibly promising backcountry Priorato wines I drank with grilled rabbit and allioli in the 1980s?

Up until the early 1990s, the main players in the export markets remained the well-aged red wines from Rioja, Sherries from Jerez, cheap sparkling wines from Cataluña, the wines of Miguel Torres, Sr. and the near-mythical Vega Sicilia, then Spain’s most expensive and mysterious wine. For most Americans, Spanish wines conjured up visions of a hot Mediterranean country that produced robust oak-aged reds, mediocre whites, cheap bubbly and Sherries that usually sat on restaurant and retail shelves until they were shot. Since then, there has been an explosion in the quality and breadth of Spanish wines comparable to that of California in the 1970s and 1980s. And many experts are now beginning to believe that the food in Spain these days is better than it is in any other country in Europe.

Poised on the Edge

Until the mid-1970s, the octogenarian dictator Francisco Franco was ostensibly still running the country; to outsiders, Spain seemed mired inextricably in the past. At that time, Spaniards were poised on the edge, precariously balanced between that backward post-Civil War period—an era they desperately wanted to shake—and an uncertain future, one that the many brighter lights in Spain thought was filled with promise.

During that unstable political climate, a few were willing to take a chance on the future of Spanish wine. Years earlier, Jean León, a Spanish expatriate and Los Angeles restaurateur, had already shown what could be done in Spain with estate-grown wines, producing several acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon-based reds and Chardonnays in Penedès. In Rioja, in 1970, Henri Forner, a Bordeaux producer (Château Larose-Trintadon and Château Camensac) whose Valencian family was exiled to France during the Spanish Civil War, took the plunge and founded the Unión Viti-Vinícola, whose brand Marqués de Cáceres became a legendary success. Sherry producers such as Domecq (Marqués de Arienzo), González Byass (Beronia) and Osborne (Montecillo) either founded or purchased new bodegas in Rioja and, in 1973, Bilbao industrialist Luís Olarra founded the state-of-the-art Bodegas Olarra, one of the greatest Rioja wineries of the period.

Sherry country itself experienced something on the order of a coup d’etat as more than 50 percent of the production was gobbled up by Rumasa, a giant company with Sherry-family roots. Soon Cava country bubbled over as Rumasa moved in and took over 40 percent of the production. Building Spain’s first truly international brand of oak-aged table wines, the Torres family continued to invest profits back into their company in Vilafranca del Penedès, and year by year young Miguel Torres, Jr. made his presence increasingly felt on the style and quality of the wines. Codorníu, the Cava giant, planted a sizeable estate vineyard with Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay in Lerida province in the foothills of the Catalan Pyrenees. It then became its own denominación de origen, Costers del Segre. And, in a little-known area of the Duero Valley, Alejandro Fernández, a producer of agricultural equipment with a taste for rich, silky, but balanced and ageworthy wines, began making Pesquera, which became Spain’s first great overnight international star in the 1980s. By the mid 1990s, Álvaro Palacios (Clos Dofi and L’Ermita), Carles Pastrana (Clos de L’Obac), René Barbier (Clos Mogador) and Daphne Glorian (Clos Erasmus) had begun to put the dark, powerful wines of Priorato on the map.

Gastronomy and Winemaking Flourish

Following the death of Franco in 1975 and several more years of political turmoil, Spaniards began to excel in business, the arts, cinema, architecture, fashion and even golf. Fueled by a newly affluent and steadily expanding middle class armed with credit cards and buoyed by a surprising jump in the number of English speakers, Spain experienced an unprecedented wine and food boom that hasn’t let up. The country’s gregarious citizens who always loved to wine and dine suddenly began to take a serious interest; wine and gastronomic publications, wine clubs, wine-tasting groups and wine courses proliferated. Spaniards, like their American and European counterparts, began to see wine and food as desirable career choices; enology courses and cooking schools cropped up around the country.

Jesús Madrazo is an exemplar of the new wave in the Spanish wine world. He is a thirty-something member of one of the regal families of classic Rioja wine—CUNE (Compañía Vínicola del Norte de España)—and is one of Spain’s brightest new wine stars. Madrazo is currently the general manager of Contino, a CUNE-affiliated winery and one of the first to embrace the Bordeaux-style single-estate concept in the early 1970s. His three wines, Contino Reserva (which becomes more elegant and stylish each year), the single-plot El Olivo and the 100 percent Graciano (probably the best example of that classic Rioja varietal made) have earned serious national and international attention.

“In 1985, when I was working on my engineer in agronomy degree,” Madrazo remembers, “it was difficult to find any wine-tasting courses; now there are hundreds around the country. There were just a few magazines specializing in wine and food, now there are at least 10. Specialty wine shops hardly existed, now there are hundreds.”

It took a couple of decades, but to longtime observers, Spain’s quantum leap happened with surprising speed. In the March 2002 issue of Sobremesa (one of Spain’s top food and wine magazines), Editor-in-Chief Ernesto Portuondo reflected on how the Rioja-Jerez-Cava trio dominated the early articles of the magazine and how much things have changed. In just over 15 years, he wrote, “Spanish customs, polemics, language, understanding, the national panorama and, above all, wines have changed so much that it is difficult to believe that we are talking about the same country.”

These days the whole world is talking about Spain’s latest wine-and-food miracle. A Basque restaurant was recently awarded Michelin’s highest rating—three rosettes. That makes four Spanish restaurants with three each (the newest, Martín Berasategui, joins Arzak in San Sebastián; El Racó de Can Fabes, just outside Barcelona; and the famous El Bullí, two hours north of Barcelona). The indispensable dining guide in Spain, the Madrid-based Gourmetour, rates restaurants on a 10-point scale and lists a dozen establishments with nine or more points, which is their equivalent of Michelin’s three rosettes. Some wineries, such as Marqués de Murrieta, stillbottle their gran reservas by hand.

“The most innovative cooking in Europe is being done in Spain nowadays,” says Mark Miller, chef at Coyote Café, which has locations in Santa Fe and Las Vegas. Miller has been to Spain a dozen times in the past few years. “Not only are the cooking techniques and presentations as creative as at other top restaurants in the world, but the whimsical and creative design and casual atmosphere make dining a true pleasure for the mind and the senses, and not just an exercise in status. The Spanish passion for living and expression makes eating in Spain a true delight.”

According to Michael Lomonaco, former executive chef at Windows on the World and now a consulting chef at Manhattan’s new Latino restaurant, Noche, “Spain is a must for everyone serious about food and wine. I am impressed with how Spain’s distinctive regional cuisines seem so naturally suited to the wide spectrum of Spanish wines.”

A Trend in Pagos and Estates

That wide spectrum is reached, in part, because of the thousands of old-vine vineyards in very special, if previously underdeveloped, microclimates such as Rías Baixas, Priorato, Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra. These are places in the Texas-sized country where long-acclimatized grape varieties are rooted in the kinds of soils that rival the terroirs of France.

Some of the recently released wines from these microclimates have been so impressive on a world-class scale that they are making real headway in the American market. In addition to the traditional favorites from Rioja and brands established in the late 20th century, reds from the Ribera del Duero, Priorato, Navarra and Penedés and white wines from Rías Baixas, Rueda and Penedés have made significant inroads lately. And there is a steady buzz about the new-wave wines coming out of these areas, especially those from single vineyards or pagos.

Andrés Proensa, one of Spain’s top wine writers, calls the single-vineyard movement one of the most dominant trends in modern Spanish wines. Historically, Spanish wine producers paid little attention to single-vineyard estates. In the early 1970s, Rioja had only the fledgling Remelluri and Contino estates; Cataluña had only Jean León and Miguel Torres’s Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. Today, there are too many to count.“This is the most important change in Spanish wine,” Proensa says, “producers at the vanguard are looking more towards vineyard quality now and are relying less on using technology to manipulate the wine in their cellars.”

Even in Rioja, where wines are still largely made by a modified négociant system in which some grapes and wine are purchased, the process is undergoing dramatic changes. Many of the larger bodegas have augmented their grape sources by purchasing existing quality vineyards, planting new ones and cementing relationships with quality cosecheros—those who have not yet founded their own small estate-based wineries. These are the same viticulturalists who have been growing grapes for the larger wineries to increasingly demanding specifications.

Proensa, who authored the annual Guía de Oro de Los Vinos de España for several years and will begin publishing the Guía Proensa (de Los Mejores Vinos de España) next year, says that for the past decade there has also been a distinct trend toward what he calls “Parkerian fever” as many Spanish winemakers have been making styles seemingly preferred by Robert M. Parker, Jr. But Proensa acknowledges that many top producers are beginning to let up on the big, ripe, blockbuster wines—wines he describes as having a “bruising character”—in favor of those with “a more finely drawn style that is more subtle, but still rich in color, flavor and aromas.”

While backward winemaking technology ceased to be an issue in Spain several years ago, Proensa believes that technical progress has reached its ceiling. The latest advances have been rapidly assimilated in Spain as well as elsewhere, even at traditional Rioja wineries such as Marqués de Riscal (founded 1860), CUNE (1879) and La Rioja Alta (1896). While having state-of-the-art facilities has obvious benefits, Proensa explains this development has had its downside.

“The reliance on modern winemaking technology has a tendency to make wines that are too uniform,” Proensa says. (Much the same can be said for the widespread, heavy-handed use of new French oak in Spain.) “The smartest Spanish enologists are looking to combine many elements—soil, grape varieties, climate, proper vineyard cultivation, production methods and different types of oak—in order to make more harmonious wines with distinct personalities.”

Yet Spain’s steady stream of new wines could become an embarrassment of riches. A bewildering array of new wines from diverse and little-known regions around Spain are constantly entering the market. No longer confined to specialty shops, wines from La Mancha, Toro, Somontano, Jumilla and other even more obscure regions are becoming widely distributed and many top restaurants feature them on their wine lists.

Three Steps Forward and Two Back?

It is difficult to keep up with the hundreds of wines that are being produced in Spain. And while a vast number are very good, there are a few unfortunate characteristics common in many emerging Spanish wines. Often their color is so dark that you can’t see the bottom of the glass, they have the smell and taste of overripe fruit, have too much alcohol and are brutally lashed with new French oak.

In my darker moments after a full day of tasting too many of these oak-whipped wines, I sometimes feel that my tongue has been trampled by the late shift at a sawmill. I wake up in a sweat, sure that one day new oak will be discovered to be a carcinogen, which would be curtains for any journeyman wine taster of this epoch.

I also get wary when I hear the claim so common with regard to Spanish wines (and others) that a special wine is exclusively from old vines. Old-vine grapes often produce superconcentrated wines that are overly rich and too much of a good thing to my palate—I have never been of the school that more is better. And I wonder, if those grapes are that good, why are they being taken out of the winery’s main blend?

Likewise, another pet peeve is the claim, also in vogue in Spain, that a wine should be unfined and unfiltered, as if those features alone guarantee wine quality. Pardon me, but I like the idea that the makers of classic Spanish wines fine their wines with fresh egg whites (as Muga, CUNE, López de Heredia, and others still do). I don’t think consumers should be straining dead lees (amply stirred by battonage these days), grape skins and other bits of debris through their teeth just so some winemaker can avoid proper racking and light filtering, if even needed after proper racking. And I am not convinced that many unfiltered wines are even stable. However, winery owners should erect a statue to whoever came up with this brilliant bit about not filtering wines. It actually allows some wineries to sell the sediment in the bottoms of their vats and barrels, thus augmenting their revenues without having to increase the amount of actual liquid they produce. But none of these trends are uniquely Spanish. To many wine lovers, it is the curse of modern wines, a curse that many of us are praying will pass.

—G.D.In the past five years in Rioja alone, scores of new wineries and new expensive modern international-style alta expresión wines have surfaced—partly in answer to a profusion of domestic challenges from international-style wines that have become media stars and partly to compete with the new generation of French “garage” wines, the boutique wine stars of California and Italy’s super Tuscans.

Back in the 1980s, when I first began visiting the Ribera del Duero, I would regularly visit several wineries—Vega Sicilia, Pesquera, Valduero, Pérez Pascuas, Balbás and Torremilanos. Now there are 140 registered wineries in the region with more on the way. It would take more than a month of nonstop work to visit them all. In Rioja, after a three-day marathon tasting called Los Grandes de La Rioja where I felt I was catching up, I still fell short. I needed at least another week just to visit the rest of the worthwhile wineries. Not to mention all of the new wines emerging from the vast wine lake of Mediterranean Spain—Alicante, Valencia, Utiel-Requena, Jumilla, Murcia, Tarragona—and the even more expansive wine region that is La Mancha and its related denominaciones de origen.

As a 30-year observer of the Spanish wine scene, nothing that the talented, industrious wine people of this vibrant country accomplish surprises me anymore. With more acreage under vine than any wine-producing country in the world, many special microclimates, some splendid terroir-driven sites that are rapidly coming to the forefront, great grapes and more accomplished winemakers, there’s no question of a remarkable future ahead for Spanish wines—and limitless enjoyment to be reached in drinking them.


Monte Real 1964

Decanting a bottle of Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Reserva 1964 at Kaia Restaurant in Getaria (Guipuzkoa). Posted by Hello

The Wines of Navarra

The Ancient Kingdom of Navarra – Spain's Exciting New Wine Region By Gerry Dawes

(Also see Tasting & Touring in Navarra)

(Photos to come, stayed tuned.)

Navarra, the landlocked northern Spanish province that shares a wild stretch of the western Pyrenees with neighboring France, is one of the most rewarding places in Spain for wine aficionados in search of good up-and-coming wines, exceptional regional cuisine and off-the-beaten-track travel experiences. Given the advances of the past few years, Navarra promises to be Spain's next great wine discovery and is set to become a major producer of top-quality wines from across a spectrum that includes world-class whites, exceptional rosés, native and foreign varietal reds and surprising dessert wines.

The province boasts some of the most varied topography in Spain: in the cooler uplands one finds snowy peaks soaring above pine- and beech-covered slopes, pristine green valleys, wild, awesome canyons, and terraced vineyards framing picturesque villages; warmer climes boast sun-drenched southern hills overlooking valleys filled with old-vine garnacha vineyards and lush vegetable gardens irrigated by the Ebro River. Also gracing this strikingly beautiful, ancient kingdom are a number of historically important, dramatically situated villages, medieval castles and major shrines along the Camino de Santiago, the Pilgrim's route to Santiago de Compostela.

Only a narrow coastal strip of the Basque Country along the Gulf of Biscay separates the province's northwestern border from the Atlantic. The tempering maritime influences are much the same as those enjoyed by Bordeaux, but Navarra's climate also is affected by the Pyrenees along its northeastern border and by continental Spain to the south, so its relatively small area has climatological variations that would make a large country proud. There are snow-capped, pine-clad peaks and swift, cold trout streams in the north; a Rioja Alta-like, almost Burgundian climate in the west; a mini-desert (Las Bardenas) in the southeast; and a California interior-like climate along the Ebro River in the south.

Part of Navarra's enduring charm lies in its relative isolation. Its mountainous terrain and, until recently, a dearth of straight, fast roads for getting there, once discouraged visitors.

Were it not for the international fame brought to Pamplona by Ernest Hemingway in his writings in the 1920s, and years later by James A. Michener in his non-fiction Iberia, Navarra may not have been discovered by outsiders at all. Hemingway's prose made the area famous in The Sun Also Rises, a novel in which he described wine-drinking episodes with Navarrese Basques, an unforgettable trout fishing expedition in the Pyrenees and the wild days of the Fiestas de San Fermín, where bulls are run through the streets of Pamplona, Navarra's capital. But, except for the celebration of San Fermín in early July, when thousands of foreigners descend upon the region, and the Camino de Santiago, whose pilgrims pass through Navarra, foreign tourism has not been a major economic factor.

On my annual visits to Navarra since the 1970s, I have often attended the Fiestas de San Fermín; stayed in the wonderful castle village of Olite; made pilgrimages to my favorite Camino de Santiago sights, such as the Romanesque jewel, Sangüesa, monumental Estella, and the lovely, 12th-Century pilgrim's bridge at Puente de la Reina; lingered in the back streets of Tudela, a Jewish-Moorish-Christian town; and reveled in photographing the grape harvest, which produces Navarra's lovely, dry rosado (rosé) wines.

I also delighted in drinking those wonderful rosados with Navarra's delicious, hearty country food, some of the best in Spain.

Increasingly, though, over the past several years, I have been drawn to Navarra to check on the progress of a new wave of wineries now coming of age that should be the next great chapter in the Spanish wine saga, once dominated completely by La Rioja. In just a decade, the world has seen the surprising red wines of the Ribera del Duero and Cataluña (primarily from Miguel Torres and the blockbuster mountain region of Priorato) and the superb, food-friendly Albariños from Rías Baixas rise to international prominence.

While it has taken Navarra longer than its more famous sister regions to emerge, there are complex reasons behind this – not the least of which has been Navarrese wine tradition, which dates back at least 2,000 years, as evidenced by the remains of a Roman winery excavated at Funes in southern Navarra.

Modern winemaking in Navarra (and the rest of this part of northern Spain, especially La Rioja) really got its big push in the 12th Century when the Cistercians, the same Burgundian order that founded Clos de Vougeot and other great vineyards, established monasteries and planted vines (probably that century's version of pinot noir) to service the great medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, a key element in the repopulation of the Christian territories on a nascent Spain's Moorish-held frontier. And for almost three centuries (1234 to 1512), Navarra was a kingdom powerful enough to count a large section of southwestern France, including Bordeaux, in its dominions. Spain, and Navarra in particular, would export native garnacha (called garnacho in Navarra) to Provence during the reign of the Popes of Avignon, contributing one of the major grapes in such wines as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras.

In the 20th Century, Navarra, with one important distinction, was comprised mostly of cooperative wineries, producing reasonably good claretes (clarets), or light red wines (rather confusingly, rosados are sometimes still called claretes), for the local market and vinos de granel, or bulk wines, made mostly from some very good, yet under-appreciated, old-vine garnacha. The bulk wines were exported to neighboring Spanish regions, and to other European countries, France especially, for blending.

The notable distinction, overlooked by nearly everyone, was rosado, the great sangrado (free-run) garnacha rosé wine, which is probably the best in the world in its genre. Until recently though, with the exception of a few of the rosado producers, the only wineries with any notoriety outside Navarra were Chivite, Las Campanas and Señorío de Sarría, whose inexpensive, workman-like reds had their aficionados.

After Spain's democracy was established in the 1970s, Navarra, like other Spanish wine regions, began the quest to establish its own vinous identity. Navarrese pride in their historical and gastronomic attractions extended to winemaking, but, with the exception of the rosados and a few red wines such as those from Magaña and Chivite, success had been spotty. It has taken Navarran bodegas longer to hit their stride than it has for their peers in other Spanish wine regions, such as Ribera del Duero in Castilla-León or Rías Baixas in Galicia.

The Ribera del Duero and Rías Baixas denominaciones de origen have had a clearer, more vertical path to international prominence because each was dealing primarily with just one native grape variety: the great red tinto fino grape in the Ribera del Duero and the exceptional white albariño grape in the Rías Baixas. And while winemakers in the Ribera del Duero will experiment with French oak, producers such as Alejandro Fernández, whose Pesquera has become one of the top new red wines in the world, rely primarily on American oak. A grape as noble as tinto fino, which in the Ribera del Duero produces such clearly first-rate wine by itself, requires little tinkering and experimentation. In the Rías Baixas, the vinification of albariño, a white grape capable of making superb wine without wood, is generally not further complicated by the question of oak aging.

In Navarra, the picture is far more complex. There are actually five growing regions with varied terrain and climatological differences within the province – Tierra de Estella, Valdizarbe, Baja Montaña, Ribera Alta and Ribera Baja – that can produce distinct denominación wines just as the Médoc or the Rhône Valley does. In fact, the Chivite family is having great success with Bordeaux varieties, especially cabernet sauvignon, in their exceptional Arínzano Vineyard in the temperate, very Rioja Alta-like, Tierra de Estella area in southwestern Navarra. And the Ribera Baja region is particularly receptive to such varieties as garnacha, which can rival the quality of that grown in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Until recently, the authorized red varieties for the region were tempranillo, garnacha, graciano and mazuelo (carignane); the whites were viura, garnacha blanca, malvasia, palomino and moscatel. Rather than continue focusing on the production of ersatz Rioja blends made primarily from tempranillo and garnacha, which are sometimes quite good, but a tough sell in competition with the well-established, internationally renowned Rioja houses, many traditional Navarrese bodegas decided they had to break tradition if they were to be successful.

Simultaneously, new bodegas were established, many of them on the French château or estate model, but with an eye toward Cataluña's lead with varietal-labeled wines, à la California.
Navarrese growers – led by the example of Juan Magaña who had brought in vines from Bordeaux and set up his own vine nursery in the 1970s – planted virus-free clones of foreign varieties, especially cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay. Of course, those grapes would have to be vinified in new oak, both American and French, the latter in several flavors, Limousin being particularly popular. Consultants were brought in to advise wineries, budding young winemakers trained in La Rioja, Bordeaux and California, and annual visits to Vinexpo in Bordeaux became de rigueur.

As models for what could be achieved with foreign varietals in Spain, the Navarrese had the example of their Mediterranean neighbors to the east, Miguel Torres and Jean León, who achieved international recognition with that approach in Penedés. They also knew that their Atlantic-tempered climate was probably more suited to the balanced style of French wines, rather than the California-esque style of many hot-country Mediterranean wines. And the early success of Juan Magaña, who produced some stunning Cabernet-Merlot blends in the early 1980s, showed the levels of quality Navarra was capable of attaining.

As the new vineyards reached the wine-producing stage, the age of experimentation in Navarrese winemaking shifted into high gear. It would still take another decade, however, for this experimental phase to result in world-class red wines. During this period, as in many parts of Cataluña, Navarra became a bastion of Euro-técnica, producing "international style" varietal wines. Some producers, long on modern theory and short on experience in producing truly palatable wines, churned out treatises dissecting every scientific aspect of the viticultural and winemaking process. In these documents, there was seldom any emphasis on how good the wines taste with food. I sometimes got the impression that the new wave of Navarrese winemakers wanted to convince the world that they really knew what they were doing.

Until recently, too many Navarrese wines seemed to be works in progress. Too often, winemakers with inexperienced palates wrestled with multiple variables that included young vines, foreign varieties (with which they had little experience), blends that needed perfecting and those eternal questions about oak: American, French (Limousin, Nevers, Allier) or Bosnian? How much time in oak? How much new oak? Unfortunately, the too-often-encountered answer seemed to be "too much new oak is not enough."

As in many other wine regions around the world, new oak almost seemed to be the raison d'être for making wine. One Navarrese winemaker proudly told me his wines spend their first year in a combination of new Allier, Tronçais, Nevers and Limousin oak, then another year in large Allier vats.

I asked myself why people are so proud of their wines smelling and tasting more like oak than grapes. Wines such as those say more about a winemaker's wood-purchasing acumen than his winemaking ability. This then begs the question: If winemakers are working with several different grape varieties and with three to four types of oak with which they have little experience, what does the consumer get? They get experimental wines financed by, you guessed it, the consumer. This push toward an international style has been egged on by a triunfalista, or over-zealous, Spanish press that wants to report on how accomplished Spanish producers are with both New World and New European-style wines.

Although I remain unconvinced by many of Navarra's new-wave wines, I believe this province has enormous potential. Some of the old-line producers such as Chivite have upgraded their facilities and have integrated new varieties into an already established track record with native grapes. And Chivite, in particular, now that the spectacular Arínzano Vineyard has come into production, is poised to become a world-class player with the release of its 1994 reservas. Exceptional 1994, 1995 and 1996 vintages should coincide with the coming of age of many Navarrese winemaking operations, particularly the small estate and château types. So, I expect a quantum leap in the recognition of Navarra's quality outside Spain in the next few years.

The Navarrese, despite the over-modernization of the winemaking process, are still producing more high-quality, superbly food-friendly, garnacha-based rosados than any area in the world, and the wines are an absolute steal. Several Navarrese producers also are making some good barrel-fermented Chardonnays, which are more Burgundian than Californian in style. Chivite's buttery, barrel-fermented Colección 125 Chardonnay and those of Palacio de Muruzabal, Castillo de Monjardín and Nekeas have drawn considerable attention to Navarra's potential as a world-class Chardonnay producer. Several bodegas, notably Ochoa and especially Chivite, are making exceptional sweet, white Moscatel dessert wines that are delicious with excellent Spanish foie gras. I also expect to see some superb, old-vine garnacha reds emerge from Navarra over the next few years.

Contributing Editor Gerry Dawes, who has been traveling to Spain regularly for more than 25 years, is a New York-based wine, food and travel photojournalist whose articles and photographs have been published in The New York Times, International Wine Cellar, Food Arts and Martha Stewart Living.

Tasting & Touring in Navarra

By Gerry Dawes


Bodegas Guelbenzu
San Juan 14
31420 Cascante
Phone: (948) 85.00.55; fax: (948) 95.00.97

Guelbenzu is an old, family bodega founded in the mid-1800s, which recently revived itself as a modern Euro-técnica operation. One of the best of the new-wave wineries, Guelbenzu, like several other bodegas, still has a long way to go in taming oak and making the wines truly delicious and food-friendly.

Bodegas Julián Chivite
Calle Ribera
31592 Cintruénigo
Phone: (948) 81.10.00; fax: (948) 81.14.07

The 1994 vintage – combined with the coming of age of the Chivite family's (Fernando, Julián and Mercedes) spectacular 150-hectare Arínzano Estate Vineyard (planted to tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay near the historic town of Estella) and the maturation of Fernando Chivite's winemaking skills – will firmly place Chivite among the ranks of Spain's greatest wineries.

The 1994 Colección 125 is an astounding bottle of wine and can stand alongside the best wines I have ever tasted. Chivite makes the best-selling Gran Feudo rosado, one of the greatest rosés in Spain (which is to say one of the world's best), but I contend it was even better years ago, before cold fermentation, when it had a touch of that wonderful rust/onion-skin color that the greatest garnacha rosados then possessed.

1994 Colección 125 Gran Reserva (80% tempranillo/20% merlot; from the Arínzano Estate; aged in American and French oak with at least one year in new French oak): Deep garnet hue. Tight nose with whiffs of pretty oak. Absolutely superb, beautifully balanced wine with delicious, ripe, black raspberry, black cherry and black currant flavors followed by a long finish imbued with complex spices and lovely, earthy terroir notes. Reminiscent of a great vintage of Château Margaux. This will be the wine that makes Fernando Chivite and his Arínzano Vineyard's reputation. Score: 97+

Bodegas Magaña
San Miguel 9
31523 Barillas
Phone: (948) 85.00.34; fax: (948) 85.15.36

At one point, Magaña was making the best red wines in Navarra, most notably a stunning Merlot reserva. Lately, the wines have been somewhat spotty and there are persistent rumors of problems at the winery. Juan Magaña is Spain's maestro of Merlot, but he has had trouble keeping an importer, and the winery is in a state of flux. I am hopeful that Magaña will recoup his early style, which showed the promise of producing some of the best red wines in Spain.

Señorío de Sarriá
Finca Señorío de Sarriá
Puente La Reina
Phone: (948) 19.85.40; fax: (948) 17.21.64

This spectacular estate is in a jewel-like setting a few kilometers outside the lovely medieval Camino de Santiago town of Puente la Reina, whose arched Romanesque bridge is not to be missed–it is one of the marvels of northern Spain. Señorío de Sarriá is under new management, has a new winemaking and producing the best wines in its history including some very good modern red wines and the stunning rosado, Señorío de Sarriá Viñedo #5 (Vineyard plot #5), made from 100% Garnacha.

Bodegas Ochoa
Carretera Zaragoza 21, 31390 Olite
Phone: (948) 74.00.06; fax: (948) 74.00.48

Javier Ochoa was in charge of Navarra's experimental enological station at Olite, an undertaking that helped mark the epoch in modern-day Navarra winemaking. He was constantly experimenting with foreign varieties and became the leader in Navarra for innovation. Ochoa makes a number of varietals – Cabernet, Merlot, Tempranillo, Garnacha – and is one of the primary forces behind the 100 percent varietal wine movement in Navarra.

Bodegas Nekeas
Las Huertas, 31154 Añorbe
Phone: (948) 35.02.96; fax: (948) 35.03.00

Here winemaker Concha Vecino deals with foreign varieties (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay), tempranillo and new oak with mixed results. The 1993 vintage was the first harvest at Nekeas. Producers of the popular Vega Sindoa line. They also produce El Chaparral, a very good Garnacha made from old vines grapes.

Bodegas Las Campanas
Vinícola Navarra, SA
Carretera de Zaragoza km 14, 31397 Campanas
Phone: (948) 36.01.-51; fax: (948) 36.02.75

Once one of the top wineries in Navarra for its solid, reliable wines – especially its young clarete-type tinto, its superb Las Campanas rosado and, now, the exceptional, top-of-the-line Castillo de Javier rosado – this century-old winery is now owned by the giant Bodegas y Bebidas (Campo Viejo). In my opinion, it could do much, much better with its red wines.
Palacio de Muruzabal
A & B Marino (Álvaro Marino)
Calle Mayor, 31152 Muruzabal
Phone: (948) 34.42.79; fax: (948) 34.42.79

One of the most promising Navarrese producers, Muruzabal has 17 hectares of cab and four hectares of merlot. They also make a very good Chardonnay from a six-hectare plot.

Bodegas Piedemonte
Sociedad Cooperativa
Rua Romana, 31390 Olite
Phone: (948) 71.24.06; fax: (948) 74.00.90

Organistrum, Eventum, Durius, Augustus and Olígitum. The Romans, who occupied Spain for centuries, including Olite, are back. In Spanish, pie de monte means at the foot of the mountain, so forgive the coincidental confusion with the Italian Piedmont. This sociedad (limited association) owns 450 hectares of vines, including 160 of cabernet sauvignon, 150 of tempranillo, 60 of garnacha, 40 of merlot, 20 mazuelo (carignane) and 20 of viura. The oak-aged wines see about a five-to-one ratio of American to French oak. The wines, bearing very modern labels, offer good value.

Lodging in Navarra

Most Pamplona hotels are either modern in nature or have been recently renovated. They are sometimes more functional than charming, but they are comfortable nonetheless. During July's Fiestas de San Fermín, unless one has reserved well ahead, rooms are very hard to come by and extremely expensive.

Hotels in the provinces tend to be modestly priced, are sometimes homey and usually are reasonably comfortable.

There is also the option of staying in casas rurales, rustic, picturesque family village homes, which have been renovated to accommodate tourists. Most are quite comfortable and usually downright cheap.

In the area, there are two good paradores de turismo – Spain's excellent system of government-run hotels, which often are in converted palaces, castles and other historic buildings. There are paradores at Olite (in a wing of the castle-palace) and at Sos del Rey Católico, the unspoiled medieval town just across the Navarrese border where King Ferdinand was born (a few kilometers into neighboring Aragón). Parador reservations can be made in the United States by contacting Marketing Ahead, 433 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016; phone: (800) 223-1356; fax: (212) 686-0271.

Remember that rates can more than double during the Fiestas de San Fermín.

Hotel Baztan
Carretera Pamplona-Francia km 56, Gartzain-Elizondo
Phone: 58.00.50; fax: 45.23.23

Situated just outside one of the liveliest and largest villages in the Navarrese Pyrenees, Baztan is a comfortable hotel with a swimming pool. (Moderate.)

Hostal Burguete
Calle Unica 51, 31640 Burguete (Navarra)
Phone: 76.00.05

Typical, rustic inn where Jake Barnes and Bill Gorton stayed for their trout fishing expedition in The Sun Also Rises. (Inexpensive.)

Parador Fernándo de Aragón
50680 Sos del Rey Católico, Zaragoza
Phone: 88.80.11; fax: 88.81.00

Situated in a spectacular medieval village with stunning views, the restaurant serves good regional food, including seldom encountered dishes drawn from ancient recipes. (Moderate.)

Hotel Irache
Carretera de Logroño km 43, 31200 Ayegui-Estella
Phone: 55.11.50; fax: 55.47.54

A functional, modern hotel located a few kilometers from Estella. (Moderate.)

Hotel Maisonnave
Calle Nueva 20, 31001 Pamplona
Phone: 22.26.00; fax: 22.01.66; telex: 37994

A modern, comfortable, conveniently located hotel. The choice of many well-heeled foreigners who flock to San Fermín each year. (Moderate to expensive.)

Meson del Peregrino
Carretera Pamplona-Logroño km 23,
31100 Puente la Reina
Phone: 34.00.75; fax: 34.11.90

A charming, rustically decorated hotel with an excellent restaurant. Situated where the most heavily traveled pilgrim's routes to Santiago de Compostela converge. (Moderate to expensive.)

Parador Principe de Viana
Plaza Teobaldos 2, 31390 Olite
Phone: 74.00.00; fax: 74.02.01

Located in a wing of the castle-palace in an enchanting walled village in wine country, this parador is comfortably furnished with period antiques and tapestries; its restaurant offers authentic regional dishes. (Moderate to expensive.)

Iruña Palace Tres Reyes
Jardines de la Taconera, 31001 Pamplona
Phone: 22.66.00; fax: 22.29.30

Pamplona's luxury hotel offers all the amenities. (Expensive.)

Hotel Yoldi
Avenida San Ignacio 11, 31002 Pamplona
Phone: 22.48.00; fax: 21.20.45

A classic, recently renovated hotel that is a favorite among bullfighters, many of whom choose to stay there while competing. (Moderate to expensive.)

Casas Rurales:

Many Navarra villages have two or three casas rurales, some, like Ochagavia in the Pyrenees, have up to ten. A booklet titled Guía de Alojamientos de Navarra – Turismo Rural contains color photos of each house, proprietor's names, telephone numbers, number of rooms and prices. To obtain this booklet or to reserve rooms in the casas rurales in the villages of Navarra, write to the Tourist Office of Navarra, calle Duque de Ahumada 3, 31002 Pamplona (Navarra), or call 22.07.41.

Bed and breakfast at many of these charming houses is quite inexpensive.

The Pilgrim's Reward

An important stop on the Camino de Santiago is the Monasterio de Irache, 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) south of Estella just off route N111 at Ayegui. Irache, believed to have its roots in the Visigothic period, was one of the earliest Benedictine monasteries and one of the first pilgrim hospitals on the Spanish portion of the road to Santiago. The massive building incorporates a blend of architectural styles added over the centuries, including a 12th-Century Romanesque apse, a Renaissance cloister and a Herreran-style tower patterned after El Escorial.

Facing the monastery is Museo del Vino (a wine museum), part of the Castillo de Irache winery, whose dry rosado is one of the best in Navarra. Behind the winery, along the gravel pilgrim's road that leads up to the monastery, is one of the most unusual oddities in the world of wine, the Fuente del Vino, a spigot (there is also one for water) from which pilgrim's can draw a glass of wine gratis, courtesy of Bodegas Irache. The red wine is pretty coarse, suggesting press wine, but it has sustained many a wine-thirsty pilgrim and, hell, it's free.

Points of Interest

Pamplona: July 6-14, Fiestas de San Fermín; running of the bulls and bullfights • Excellent restaurants • The Old Quarter

El Camino de Santiago: Sangüesa • Roncesvalles and environs • Puente la Reina's Romanesque bridge • Medieval town of Estella

Southern Navarra: Medieval castle town of Olite • Old Moorish and Jewish quarters of Tudela-Roman winery at Funes • Walled castle village of Artajona

For more information, contact the National Tourist Office of Spain, 666 Fifth Avenue, 35th Floor, New York, NY 10022. Phone: (212) 265-8822

Contributing Editor Gerry Dawes, who has been traveling to Spain regularly for more than 30 years, is a New York-based wine, food and travel photojournalist whose articles and photographs have been published in The New York Times, International Wine Cellar, Food Arts and Martha Stewart Living.



Gerry Dawes has published hundreds of articles in the past 25 years on Spanish gastronomy, wine, travel and culture.

"In his nearly thirty years of wandering the back roads of Spain," Gerry Dawes has built up a much stronger bank of experiences than I had to rely on when I started writing Iberia. . . . His adventures far exceeded mine in both width and depth.. Truly he had a basketful of experiences that made me envious."– James A. Michener, author of Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections. From the forward to Homage to Iberia, a work-in-progress.)


The Wine News, Food Arts, Decanter, Wine Enthusiast, Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar, Restauradores (Madrid), Santé, Cocina Futuro (Madrid), Berlitz Travellers Guide to Spain, Kevin Zraly's Windows on the World Complete Wine Course

Articles & Photographs

The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, The Chicago Tribune, Food & Wine, James Beard Foundation Magazine, Fine Wine Folio, Playboy (America's Best Restaurants; America's Best Bars), Spain Gourmetour (Madrid), La Prensa del Rioja, El Diario de La Rioja, Sobremesa (Madrid & Latin America)

Speaking Engagements, Conferences, Television & Radio Appearances

Public Speaking Engagements

"Gerry Dawes--has emerged as the leading American speaker, consultant, and writer on the subject of Spanish wine. . . suffice to say that everyone from The New York Times to the James Beard Foundation, from 60 Minutes to CNN, has sought Gerry's wisdom on the subject of Spanish wine, food and culture." - -David Rosengarten, The Rosengarten Report (August, 2004)

". . . Gerry Dawes, the gastronomy/travel writer known for good reasons in wine and periodical circles as ‘Mr. Spain." An inexhaustible fund of knowledge on his favorite subject . . ." (July-August, 2003) & "Intrepid Hispanist Gerry Dawes. . . (an) unimpeachable Spanish food and wine specialist and widely recognized Spanish guru. . ." – Michael and Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher, Food Arts

". . .our culinary tour guide, Gerry Dawes, is among America's most enthusiastic, authoritative and entertaining experts on Spanish food and wine." - - Union Square Cafe (NYC) newsletter, Autumn 2002 announcing an Autumn Wine & Food Dinner: A Fresh Taste of Spain.

Gerry Dawes has been a featured speaker on Spain, Spanish wines, gastronomy, culture and travel at:

— The Smithsonian Institution
— Macy's De Gustibus
— Executive Wine Seminars
— Tasters Guild International
— International Wine Center
— Boston Wine Expo
— Centro Riojano (Madrid)

Teaching at Artisanal Cheese Center

Speaking Engagements and Conferences

— Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust International Leadership Symposium (Held in Barcelona, at EXPO '92, in Sevilla, and in Madrid)

— Conference on Spanish Regional Gastronomy II International Congress on the Mediterranean Diet (Held in Barcelona and Córdoba, Spain; March 1998)

— Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park, NY) 1998 Winter Dining Series

— The James Beard Foundation's Mediterranean Festival (New York; October, 1999) - A Photographic Tour of Spain's Regional Cuisines & Wines

— First International Symposium on Tempranillo (Logroño, Spain; April, 2000)

— The 10th Annual Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta (Santa Fe, New Mexico; Sept. 2000)

— Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival (Austin, Texas; April, 2001) A Culinary Slide Lecture Tour of Spain's Regional Cuisines & Wines

— Fiesta de España, Two Rivers Theater Company benefit, Food & Wine Co-ordinator; Speaker VIP Tasting (Oceanport, NJ; June 2002)

— Guest speaker on Rias Baixas wines, The Great Match, The Regent Wall Street Hotel, NYC (Oct., 2002)

— Guest speaker on Ribero del Duero wines, The Great Match, Scottsdale Culinary Institute, Scottsdale, Arizona (Oct., 2002)

— Guest speaker, Food & Wine Co-ordinator, A Fresh Taste of Spain Dinner, Union Square Cafe (Nov. 2002)

— Faculty Lecturer, Artisanal Cheese Center, classes on Spanish cheeses and wines. (May 2003 - Present).

— Guest speaker on the wines of the Spanish Levante, The Great Match, New York City (Sept., 2003)

— Featured Speaker & Panelist (four seminars on Spanish gastronomy & wines), Worlds of Flavor: Mediterranean Flavors, American Menus--Tasting the Future, Culinary Institute of America, Napa Valley, (November 6-8, 2003)

— Guest Speaker, Celebration of the Gastronomy of Spain Dinner, Rainbow Room, New York City (February, 2004)

— Guest Speaker, A Taste of Spain Dinner, Cindy's Supper Club, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena, California (June, 2004)

— Guest speaker on the wines of the Spanish Levante, The Great Match, Miami, Florida (Oct., 2004)

— Seminar on Spanish Wines & Cheeses, Macy's De Gustibus, New York City (Oct., 2004)

Television & Radio

— Food Network, as an expert on Spanish food and wine. Dawes's color photographs also used as background for Food Network segment on the Basque Country. (Video clips available.)

— "A Matter of Taste," 2003 JBF Award winning program of David Michael & Rachel Kane, San Francisco. (July, 2004)

— CNN, interviewed by Carolyn O'Neill on Spanish Cuisine.

— Has appeared in several interviews on television and radio in Spain.

— CBS-TV 'Sixty Minutes' - Associate Producer for a segment on Spain.


Kudos for Spain: An Insider's Guide

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"Just finished shooting the fourth season of my seemingly endless PBS/Europe series and had a chance to view your blog.  It is great, and it's of particular interest to me because I only a few years ago visited Spain. . . For some reason, Spain was never on the list.  But it certainly is now!  And I, of course, love Spanish wines." -- Contributing writer, National Geographic Traveler; public radio's "Savvy Traveler"; and host & co-executive producer of the 52-part public television series, "Smart Travels: Europe with Rudy Maxa.

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Hi Gerry,

Wow -- this looks great! We'll look forward to spending more time on your site, and to sharing word of it with our 10K+ e-Newsletter readers!

All the best,
Karen & Andrew

Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
527 Third Ave. Suite 130 New York, NY 10016
Phone: (212) 642-5870 Email:

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The churros photos from Chocolateria San Gines, which I sent to my mailing list of friends, generated a slew of comments. Among them are these:

Dear Mr. Dawes,

"While looking at your photos, I put on two pounds. Couldn't you have made the photos smaller, so it could have been only two ounces?"
H.G. (old friend Howard Goldberg, The New York Times)

"Gerry, Thanks for the stuff. Impressive… I downloaded all of it and I’m sure it will give me hours of pleasurable and informative reading and reminiscing. Talk to you soon,"
d (Dominic Cerrone, French Culinary Institute)

"Hola Gerry; Solo puedo decir algo: ERES COJONUDO, me encanta tu trabajo sobre los churros y todo lo que pesco que tu has hecho y firmado. Un abrazo grandote,"
Juli Soler (Owner, El Bulli)

"Gerry, as usual, EXCELLENT! Have you yet written a book? And if not, why not/You are THE authority...and if you have I WANT IT! Best from Miami,"
Viviana Carballo (Miami Herald) "MMMMMmmmmm!!"

"God, I hope and pray my future contains a trip to Spain with you! (These are the only sorts of matters in which I invoke the help of the Deity.) Warmest Regards,"
Steve Lyle, Chef-Owner, Village Restaurant, NYC

"Gerry, You old salty Spanish dog, you're breaking my heart. You're damn right I want to be in Madrid right now, stopping in for some very early morning churros y chocolate after a most enjoyable tabas bar crawl with a bunch of buddies. Thanks."
Mark Vaughan, Editor & Publisher, Santé, The Magazine For Restaurant Professionals

"Magnificent....and wonderful, wonderful. Makes me want to give up Italy for SPAIN!! made my day that much brighter." Arlyn Blake, Publications, James Beard Foundation
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