Share This Gerry Dawes's Spain Post


In 2019, again ranked in the Top 50 Gastronomy Blogs and Websites for Gastronomists & Gastronomes in 2019 by Feedspot. "The Best Gastronomy blogs selected from thousands of Food blogs, Culture blogs and Food Science. We’ve carefully selected these websites because they are actively working to educate, inspire, and empower their readers with . . . high-quality information. (Last Updated Oct 23, 2019)

Over 1,150,000 views since inception, 16,000+ views in January 2020.

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


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.
Related Posts with Thumbnails