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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


Ribeira Sacra: The Perfect Lunch at O Grelo Restaurant

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Persistence of Memory (Salvador Dalí) Rating.

Ribeira Sacra vineyards in Amandi overlooking the Sil River with the Catamaran that carries tourists. 
 Photo by Gerry Dawes©2009.

In recent years, La Ribeira Sacra, a stunningly beautiful, isolated wine region located some 350 miles northwest of Madrid in northwestern Spain's mountainous Galicia, has begun showing some of the most exciting potential I have encountered in more than 40 years of traveling the wine roads of Spain. Here God and Men--using primarily godello for white wines and mencía for reds--are creating exceptionally delicious, often profound wines from native grapes grown in impossibly steep, rocky vineyards, whose terroir is the equal of any in France. The region's is so awesomely compelling and the wines so enticingly beckon the drinker back for another sip--with bright fruit, good acid balance, lower alcohol levels and, mercifully, little or no flavor destroying new oak flavors--that the Ribeira Sacra is rapidly becoming one of the most compelling "new" wine regions on earth.

Lunch at O Grelo, Monforte de Lemos, Ribeira Sacra
(An interview with Gerry Dawes at O Grelo restaurant by Luíz Díaz in La Voz de Galicia [English translation])

As I write this (literally, I have a note pad with me at the table) I am having lunch alone on the terrace of O Grelo, a very good traditional Galician restaurant situated just down the hill from the parador and castle of Monforte de Lemos, the main regional agricultural and business center of La Ribeira Sacra. For the third time this week I do something I almost never do--at least in the same short span of days--I am repeating one of those nearly perfect meals that I have sometimes been lucky enough to encounter.

Almalarga Godello and the Galician Cows' Milk Cheeses


First, I am served wedges of three kinds of Galician cows' milk cheeses--the suggestive tetilla (shaped like a woman’s breast), the pleasantly ahumado (smoked) San Simón and a creamy Ulloa-Arzúa–with which I am drinking Pena das Donas Almalarga Godello (2008), a Ribeira Sacra white wine that is one of my favorites.

This wine has a depth of white peach fruit and haunting minerality that is hard to match in all of Spain, a wine that one day could become known as Spain's equivalent of Montrachet. It is lovely, beautifully drinkable and calls you back to the glass again and again, something that seems to be a defining characteristic of many Ribeira Sacra wines, both white and red. The Almalarga Godello is a perfect foil for the milky richness of the cheeses.
Tomatoes, Onion and Pan Galego

Next comes a plate of fresh tomatoes and onions; at least three, maybe four tomatoes come cut in wedges. It is a huge plateful, topped with very thinly sliced onions. The first day at lunch, I asked the waiter to take at least half the tomatoes away, since I don't want to waste them. That was a mistake. This time I keep all the tomatoes. 

For dressing this simple, but sublime dish, I am brought a stainless steel rack with Spanish extra virgen olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper shakers and a bowl of Maldon salt on the side. I sprinkle the tomatoes and onions with the Maldon first, then drizzle on a good quantity of olive oil, followed by a sprinkling of vinegar. The oil and vinegar will pool on the plate, mix with the juice of the tomatoes and make for prime dipping for the excellent, crusty, thick pan galego (Galician bread) in the basket alongside. The tomatoes are just ripe, never overripe, and are still firm to the bite and the sheer onion slices make a perfect counterpoint. I am in heaven with this salad.

Zamburiñas, tomates, Godello and Décima Ribeira Sacra Mencia at O Grelo restaurante, Monforte de Lemos, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia. Photo by Gerry Dawes©2013 /

Zamburiñas al horno

For the main course, I have zamburiñas al horno (oven-baked small scallops). There are eight of them, each in its half shell cradled by a crescent of pink-orange coral with the milky white scallop juices pooling up in the shell. 

Zamburiñas and my notebook, lunch at O Grelo restaurante, Monforte de Lemos, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2013 /

The zamburiñas, one of my favorite of all Galician bi-valve or crustacean dishes (which is saying something given the incredible range of Gallegan mariscos), are unflavored by anything but the sea and their own good taste and are incredibly delicious.

Dessert is arroz con leche with a caramelized sugar, créme brulée-like crust on top.
The Pena Das Donas Almalarga Godello 2008 with its sweet stone fruit flavors and long, compelling mineral finish balanced perfectly by fine acid levels is a superb match for the scallops and made this luncheon complete, ethereal, unforgettable.

Antonio Lombardía pouring Pena Das Donas Godello. 
Photograph by Gerry Dawes 2008.
Wine Tasting note:
Pena das Donas, Pombeiro, Pantón (Lugo), Ribeiras do Minho Almalarga Godello 2008 Summum $21 (13%) US Importer: Eric Solomon European Cellars

Lively green tinged, white gold.
Beautiful nose of lime, white peach and minerals.
Soft, silky and well balanced with lovely, sweet white peach fruit, and a haunting, lingering bitter almond and a haunting mineral finish. This is wine that may benefit further from a year in bottle. 93 points Exceptional value.

(This summer I drank the 2006 Almalarga, one of several bottles I had, and rated it 96 points.)

Antonio Lombardía, one of the owners of Adegas Pena Das Donas, who makes the stellar Almalarga Godello. With him a his vineyardist-partner, Jesus Vázquez Rodríguez and visitor Basilio Izquierdo, who made the top Rioja CUNE wines for 30 years. Views of Pena das Donas vineyards. Photos by Gerry Dawes©2008.

Restaurant & Hotel Info:

O Grelo, Campo de la Virgen, s/n, Monforte de Lemos (Lugo) 15011, Spain (Just down the hill from the Parador.) Telephone: 011-34 982 404 701. 
Hotel Parador de Monforte de Lemos, Plaza Luis de Góngora y Argote, s/n - 27400 Monforte de Lemos (Lugo), Spain. Telephone: 011-34 408 916 9102; Fax: 982418495;

Road Warrior's Inexpensive Hotel:
Hotel Ribeira Sacra, Rúa do Conde, 17, 27400 Monforte de Lemos (Lugo) Teléfono: 982411706; Fax: 982411546;

Modern, plain, comfortable (good beds) and homey, sometimes a bit noisy; wi-fi on the first floor and in the breakfast room. Spartan breakfast available: pan tostado or croissant with butter and jam, café or tea and freshed juiced orange juice. At about 30 Euros per night, a steal. My home-away-from-home in Ribeira Sacra.

More on Galicia

About Gerry Dawes   

 The American writer and town crier for all good Spanish things Gerry Dawes . . .” – The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge and The World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese (The Dial Press, New York), Michael Paterniti, Bestselling Author of Driving Mr. Albert. 

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"Gerry Dawes, I can't thank you enough for opening up Spain to me." -- Michael Chiarello on Twitter. Chef Chiarello toured northern Spain with me in October 2011 and was just in Barcelona again in January 2013.  He is preparing to open his new Spanish inspired restaurant, Coqueta, at San Francisco's Pier 5 in April.

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"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..." -- James A. Michener, author of Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections
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Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 

 ". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts.
Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television series
on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.
Experience Spain With Gerry Dawes: Customized Culinary, Wine & Cultural Trips to Spain & Travel Consulting on Spain  

Gerry Dawes can be reached at

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