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

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


The Spanish Artisan Wine Group & Amorim Corks; A Cork Briefing from Amorim Cork Producers, Portugal

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 Why Cork Stoppers in Bottles of Our 
Spanish Artisan Wine Group Wines Matter

Tubes of cork destined to become wine stoppers at Amorim in Portugal.
All photos by Gerry Dawes©2010. Contact for publication rights.

Will All Be Using Specially Selected Amorim Portuguese Corks
In Our Bottles Within Two Years of Being Selected Into the Group

We Will Guarantee Our Wines Against "Cork-taint" 100% 

And We Will Say So on Our Labels!

Carlos de Jesus of Amorim in Portugal explains the process of preparing cork 
that will be made in natural cork wine stoppers. 
All photos by Gerry Dawes©2010. Contact for publication rights.

Cork Briefing
(Courtesy of Amorim)

Slide show of Amorim cork production.
(Double click on images for enlarged version in Picasa; 
click on "slideshow" in the upper left-hand corner, then hit F11 for a full screen show.)


Portugal’s Cork Country

The Alentejo is a mystical place of gliding plains, sudden mountains, and the largest cork forests in the world. The Alentejo’s Cork Country is a lightly populated region with open horizons where the rhythm of life follows the rhythm of regional songs. And this fertile land produces more than half of the world's total cork supply.

Cork harvesting at Amorim in Portugal's Alentejo region. 
All photos by Gerry Dawes©2010. Contact

An Introduction to Cork Country

During the summer the green stands of cork oaks turn the flowing plains of the Alentejo into a romantic and enchanting place of sun and shadows. Wine estates, olive groves, or a white and blue house on a hill occasionally interrupts these ancient forests, which have produced cork for millennia. After the bark is harvested, the trees light up the day with their red hues, a sign of the only tree that has a renewable bark.

The Portuguese often refer to the Alentejo, with its own dialect, strong Moorish flavor, white washed towns, and unique songs, as its own nation. Most towns seem to float on hilltops above the plains, embraced by a castle. Gothic towers and red tiles rise from the venerable walls. The songs of the Alentejo, with a flavor of coriander and garlic, greet the visitor.

Extending from the southern bank of the great river Tejo to the mountains of the northern Algarve, the Alentejo is bound by the sea to the west, and Spain to the east.  Its name means "Beyond the Tejo," and it occupies more than one fifth of Portugal, with only a small fraction of the national population.

Its endless landscapes are rich in reminders of it past. From prehistory there are countless Dolmens, Mehnirs, and burial mounds. Impressive Roman relics are everywhere, from the still-standing temple at Évora to a mostly intact Roman villa at São Cucufate. While the Alentejo flourished under centuries of Roman rule, it thrived in the 400 years that the Moors held it. They left behind cultural and architectural ties, a Mosque at Mértola, and legends.

By 1249 a young Portuguese nation had incorporated the Alentejo, and strong castles arose to guard the plains. With mild winter weather, abundant soil, and a hospitable landscape, the Alentejo flourished in the Middle Ages and the Age of Discovery. Cork, wine and wheat would become the treasures that this land would offer the world.

Today, the Alentejo remains rural and natural with thousands of miles of cork forest and a variety of wildlife. Its large towns are living museums, still in their ancient walls, with a sense of timelessness that is increasingly difficult to find elsewhere. From the monumental charm of the regional capital of Évora, to the impossibly high castle tower at Beja in the south, history, tradition, and grandeur are everywhere. It is a place where amid a harmony between nature and humanity we can remember so much of what we have forgotten. These lands of cork once bore the likes of Vasco da Gama to explore the world. Today, the world is invited back to discover the Alentejo.

The Land

Occupying nearly a third of the mainland, this picturesque region is an hour's drive from Lisbon. It is bound to the north by the river Tejo, and by mountains to the south. Spain and the River Guadiana mark the border to the east, and the open Atlantic is the border to the west. The northeast of Cork Country is famed for its villages along the Castle Route: Nisa, Castelo de Vide, Marvão, Portalegre and Alter do Chão. Further south, the landscape becomes warmer and flatter. Around Évora (one of the most beautiful cities in Europe), one finds the enchanting walled towns of Monsaraz, Vila Viçosa, Estremoz, and Arraiolos (renowned for its handmade tapestries and rugs).

To the south, the rolling plains are even less inhabited, the only shade being provided by olive and cork oak trees. A trip to the museum-towns of Alvito, Beja, Serpa and Mértola will offer many memories.

To the west, the Alentejo’s coastline offers magnificent Atlantic beaches, sea cliffs, and umbrella-like pine trees.

Cork Country has distinct seasons, with a green spring rich in wild flowers. In the early summer, storks build their nests on rooftops in whitewashed villages, and the heat turns the plains to gold. The winter is mild, but the open fields become bright yellow-green, and the shepherds dress in long capes to stay warm.

What is Cork?

Cork is a unique substance and the perfect closure for wine. A totally natural product, cork is environmentally friendly, renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable. There is enough cork today in the forests of Portugal to last more than 100 years. Under a reforestation program, Portugal’s cork forests are now growing by four percent a year on average.

From Bark to Bottle

To produce cork, a cork oak (Quercus Suber, or Sobreiro in Portuguese) must be at least 25 years old. A cork oak can live as long as two centuries. To harvest the cork, the outer bark is stripped from a cork oak once every nine years. The tree is protected by an inner bark, which is always left on the tree. The harvested bark is boiled and purified. The corks are then punched.

The cork industry is environmentally friendly and truly sustainable. In Portugal, for example, the protection of cork by law has resulted in thousands of acres of protected forests. In return, these forests protect hundreds of species of birds, animals, and plants. The cork industry also sustains more than 15,000 employees in remote areas.

The wine cork is one of the most natural products in use in modern consumer society. Made entirely from the bark of the cork, wine cork is completely biodegradable.

A Tradition

Cork has been used for thousands of years. The most widespread application in cork’s history is as a wine closure, a use that began in the 17th century when Dom Perignon chose the bark of the cork oak as the perfect sealant for his champagne and it grew with the spread of mass-produced glass bottles. Portuguese cork has brought the world all of its greatest wines.
Cork’s Living Forests

According to a recent study by The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the use of natural corks by the world’s wine industry sustains a variety of rare wildlife in the cork forests of Southern Europe.

These cork oak woodlands, known as "montados" in Portugal, have been used to produce cork and graze livestock for centuries, making them a haven for wildlife. Forty-two bird species depend on them, including the endangered Spanish imperial eagle (with a global population down to 130 pairs), as well as rare species such as the black vulture and black stork. Smaller birds, such as robins, finches and song thrushes, migrate to the Iberian Peninsula’s cork forests from northern Europe, along with blackcaps from the United Kingdom. In spring and summer, the cork forests are home to a rich variety of butterflies and plants, with more than 60 plant species recorded in just one square meter. In more remote parts of these protected lands, the rare Iberian lynx can still be found.

The cork oak is the only tree that can regenerate its bark. Natural wine corks are made from the bark of these trees, which are stripped every nine years. One particular tree, known as the "Whistler Tree" because of the many singing birds attracted to it, is said to be 212 years old. It is estimated that this tree alone had produced 1,000,000 corks by the year 2000.

Suggested Tour (north to south):


Among the towers and walls of the medieval castle stand the Paços do Concelho and Hospital da Misericórdia. Main sites include: the Cathedral, São Bernardo Convent, the São Francisco Monastery (13th to 18th centuries), and the Regional, Sacred Art, and Casa de José Régio Museums.


Just south of Castelo de Vide lies impossibly high and fortified village of Marvão. Inside its impressive castle, Marvão offers wonderful views.

Castelo de Vide:

This ancient market town is known for its ruined castle and Jewish quarter (with a 15th century synagogue). Sights include the charming village fountain, the chapel of São Salvador do Mundo (Visigothic) and the twin Paços do Concelho (medieval and 18th century).


A ship of walls rising above the trees, Estremoz is a marble town, with its a 13th-century castle, Santa Isabel Chapel (18th-century), Royal Palace, São Francisco Church and Convent (Romanesque-Gothic), Paços do Concelho (14th-century), Maltesas Convent (16th-century), and the Municipal Museum.


A museum-city with its historic center classified on UNESCO’s International Heritage list. The well-preserved Roman temple, located close to the Cathedral, houses a Sacred Art Museum (Roman-Gothic). Among its many convents and churches are São Brás Chapel (Gothic-Moorish); São Francisco Church (with its Capela dos Ossos, a chapel walled with human bones) and São João Baptista Church (Gothic-Manueline); churches of Nossa Senhora da Graça ,Santo Antão and São Vicente (Mannerist). Palaces include: Archiepiscopal, Dom Manuel, and Dukes of Cadaval. Other many sites include the Praça de Giraldo with 16th-century arches, an aqueduct, the convents of Santa Clara, Santa Helena do Calvário and Lóios (currently a Pousada), the University, and an ancient Jewish quarter.

Vila Viçosa:

Built around the palace of the House of Bragança, the last Portuguese dynasty. Other places of interest: Castle, Santo Agostinho Church (13th-18th centuries), Chagas de Cristo Convent, Nossa Senhora da Esperança Monastery and Castelo Novo (Renaissance).


Fortress town, with a Roman-Arab castle. Sites include the Amoreiras Aqueduct (15th-17th centuries), town church (Manueline), churches of Nossa Senhora da Consolação (Renaissance) and Santa Clara (17th century), and Archeology Museum.


This is an inviting and beautiful medieval village, with castle walls and fortifications to challenge all enemies. Sites include the Santa Catarina Chapel, Paços do Concelho, Paços de Audiência and Porta da Vila.


This town thrived under the Romans and Moors. Sites include the Queen Leonor Museum, churches of Santo António (Visigothic) and Santa Maria, convent and castle of São Francisco (a Pousada), chapel of Santo André (Gothic-Moorish), and Misericórdia Church (Renaissance). Roman ruins are nearby at Pisões.


This breathtaking place sits on the right bank of the Guadiana River. The town’s well-preserved castle was built by the Moors. The main church, with its sculpted façade and elements from the Manueline period, was once was a mosque. Mértola is a hub of archeological activity. The Roman museum occupies the Town Hall building. The Islamic collection includes the country’s essential archive of ceramic objects (9th to 13th-centuries).

Other Cork Country Towns to Visit:

Alcáçovas, Aljustrel, Alter do Chão, Alvito (Pousada), Arraiolos (handmade rugs), Avis, Borba, Campo Maior, Crato, Santiago de Escoural (archeological park), Evoramonte, Flor da Rosa (Pousada), Monforte, Montemor-o-Novo, Moura, Nisa, Ourique, Redondo, Serpa (Pousada), Viana do Alentejo, and Vila Nova de Milfontes.

The Cuisine:

· Carne de porco à alentejana (pork with clams and coriander)

· Migas (bread crumbs)

· Coriander bread soup

· Rabbit and hare

· Soups (fish, tomato, gaspacho)

· Kid and lamb stews

· Egg sweets

· Cheeses: Nisa, Serpa and Évora

· Red and white wines: Borba, Redondo, Evora, Portalgre, Requengos, Vidigueira, Cuba and Alvito.

Cork Q&A

1. What is Cork? How Does it Work?

From bark to bottle, what is this thing called cork? Who first stuck it in a bottle, why does it protect wine so well, and how long does it last?

2. Cork and the Environment

Because of the growth of the cork industry wildlife in the cork forests has flourished. Because cork oaks take 30 years before they are productive, cork production may become threatened if world demand drops, forcing farmers to grow crops such as sunflowers, or fast-growing eucalyptus trees. The result may be impoverished soils and water shortages, causing problems for both wildlife and people. The fragile relationship between a sustainable forest and something as simple as a wine cork has a real influence on of one Europe’s last great green areas.

3. Cork and Wine: A Symbiotic Relationship

A wine cork should not be taken for granted as a simple barrier between the wine and air. Natural cork is an important partner with the glass bottle in the process of creating wine. Without a cork it would never have been possible to so easily bottle and transport wine. Since the introduction of the glass wine bottle, glass, wine, and cork have become an inseparable trio. Together they continue to allow fine wine to be enjoyed around the world. Indeed, cork and wine are grown in the same climate, share common bonds in traditions and history. And, like grapes, cork trees have different qualities, uses, and applications. There is no better way to seal a wine than with a real cork. Without real cork, no wine would taste the way it does. How many people know that vintage port or Champagne would not exist without cork? And, there would be no way for a wine to age and improve in the bottle. Without corks, the great wines of the world would simply not last for future generations to savor.

4. Origins and Legends of Cork

Corks preserved the wines of ancient Greece and Rome. But, with the fall of the Roman Empire the technology of cork was almost lost. The use of cork as a protector of wine was only rediscovered in the 17th century by the great Dom Pierre Perignon (born in 1639) as a way to preserve his creation, Champagne. Corks are a natural product and are wholly biodegradable. The Iberian Peninsula has become the largest producer of cork in the world. Today, cork is appreciated, but often misunderstood. Its origin, history and traditions merit another look.

5. Cork as Art

Natural cork not only protects wine, but also is the ultimate label for a wine. Producers and merchants take pride in the branding of their corks, which are often quite attractive objects in their own right. Many wines now have a clear capsule to display their ornately decorated corks. For Old Vintage Ports, which traditionally have no labels, corks are the only way of discovering the year in which the wine was made. Corks not only outlast the paper label; they are outlasting the wine. All types of cork-inspired arts have sprung up, including wine corkboards, trivets, cork jars, and framed corks to remember a special bottle of wine. The natural warmth and particulate of cork has given way to all types of kits to reuse the savored corks of great wines. And, at many weddings today, the popping of a Champagne cork has replaced the throwing of rice after the service.

Fact Sheet

Cork: From the Latin Quercus, or oak, cork is the bark of glandiferous cork oak grown mostly in Southwestern Europe and North Africa. The bark is harvested once every nine years in a traditional process that does no harm to the tree. Once removed, the bark simply grows back. The average lifespan of a cork oak is 150 years. New technologies and ideas have reduced the waste in cork production to a minimum and have made the processing of cork ecologically sound.

And cork is not just for wine either: it is used in flooring, insulation, fishing rods, head gaskets, sporting goods, and industry.

Cork by Numbers:

25 - The age of a cork tree when its bark can first be harvested.

350,000 tons - The amount of cork harvested annually worldwide.

17,000,000,000 - The number of wine corks sold to wineries each year.

55% - Portugal’s world share of cork production.

1680 - The year that Dom Perignon first used a cork to seal sparkling wine.

2,200,000 - The global number of metric acres of cork forests in Southern Europe and North Africa.

For more information on Portuguese Cork Country:

Miguel Carvalho
Portuguese Trade and Tourism Office
Press and Public Relations Manager
590 Fifth Avenue, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10036-4702
Tel: 646 7230213

Jayme H. Simoes Louis
Karno & Company Communications,
LLC31 Warren St.,
Concord, NH 03301
Tel: 603 2245566 x19

Need a guidebook? Call 1-800 PORTUGAL.


Ribera del Duero Article & Slide Show

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Ribera del Duero: Wine Adventures in Castilla y León

by Gerry Dawes

Nearly twenty-five years ago, when I first began visiting La Ribera del Duero–the Duero river valley, which in Portugal becomes the Douro, the fabled Port river–I thought it was the dedicated wine aficionado’s back-country dream. It was a region dotted with a few castle towns, stark clean limestone-streaked hills, unirrigated gnarly old vine vineyards mostly planted with tempranillo (then called by the local names tinto fino or tinto de país), tawny wheat fields in the higher elevations, and often nondescript villages, some of which had amazing restaurants specializing in lamb and wine. Located just an hour and a half north / northwest of Madrid (like Napa Valley is to San Francisco), and an hour south / southwest of the overlooked, but wonderful provincial capital of Burgos, the Ribera del Duero is the most prestigious wine region within easy reach of the Spain’s capital city.

Slide show with captions on the Ribera del Duero.

Double click on the slide show, then when the Google album comes up, click
on slideshow link to the right and go to a full screen view.

All images are copyright by Gerry Dawes 2011. 
None can be downloaded or published without prior arrangement by e-mailing

Winters can be cold and windy in La Ribera, springs wet and always with the danger of a very late frost and the autumn delightful during the harvest season. But, though I enjoyed visiting the Ribera any time, I especially liked summer, when warm days turn into delightfully cool nights at these altitudes of 2,300 to 2,600 feet above sea level, which is one of the most important reasons that the tempranillo grape grows so successfully here. During the day, the heat of the summer sun ripens the grapes and the cool nights allow the vines a respite. (Also fogs that develop in the Duero Valley provide heat relief and moisture to the vines.) In the hands of the best winemakers, these grapes produce wines that are perfectly ripe, but not overripe, and have good acidity for balance. 

Though tinto fino/tinto del país/tempranillo is the main grape por excelencía in all Ribera del Duero wines and the vast majority of bodegas produce 100% mono-varietal wines (usually labeled Tempranillo), other authorized grape varieties are cabernet sauvignon, garnacha tinta and merlot, along with the rarely encountered malbec and the white grape, albilla, which is used by a few bodegas in small percentages for a natural acid kick. For instance, Vega Sicilia, Spain’s most revered winery, uses 80% tempranillo blended with varying amounts of cabernet sauvignon and merlot; Pago de los Capellanes usually a maximum of 10% cabernet sauvignon and merlot; Pérez Pascuas 10% cabernet sauvignon; and Finca Villacreces a blend of 75% tempranillo, 15% merlot and 10% cabernet sauvignon.
During my summer visits, I could taste wines and have long, informal conversations in rustic bodegas with viticulturist winemakers still in their field clothes. Sometimes I was invited to eat in their merenderos, often just a small room or terrace with a picnic table just outside the entrance to centuries-old, cool, subterranean, hand-hewn limestone or sandstone wine caves, where growers formerly aged family wines in big old casks that had to be coopered down there because the entrance stairways to the caverns below were so narrow and steep. We would eat baby lamb chops cooked al sarmiento–over grape vine cuttings from their own vineyards, drink rich, deep ruby-colored wines from needle-nosed wine drinking vessels called porrones and talk about wine and life as the sun set over the Duero Valley. On one early trip, I was invited to eat wild boar that had been killed by one of the Pérez Pascuas brothers when his car hit it one foggy morning earlier that week. Even road kill tasted good with their superb Viña Pedrosa wines.

In those days, La Ribera del Duero had just one wine that was well-known beyond the borders of Spain: The mysterious, exotic, legendary Vega Sicilia. Also noteworthy was the 400-member co-operative that produced Protos, whose winemaker was Teófilo Reyes, the Duero’s padre enologist, by then into his 30th-something vintage (he would make more than 50 vintages at Protos, at Pesquera and at his own eponymous winery in Peñafiel). Reyes winemaker skills made Protos an underground favorite of wine lovers from Madrid and Burgos. Except for a few wines like Torremilanos, which was actually founded in 1903, but began to grow in popularity in the early 1980s, most of the region’s wines were produced by cooperatives that stood on the outskirts of the larger wine villages. Most of the coops also made rather rustic bottled reservas, a few of which acquired a following with some Castilian wine aficionados.

The cooperatives usually fermented their wine in open-topped epoxy-lined cement tanks. God was more or less in charge of the temperature control system during fermentation. If the fermentation season was cool and the tanks were clean, some stupendous cooperative-made, vinos del año (wines from the current harvest), especially from vineyards in the cooler uplands of the Ribera de Burgos, could end up in the terra cotta pitchers of the region's superb, often colorful country asadores (brick-oven roast houses). Though served without labels these house wines became the stuff of legend in Aranda de Duero, where of travelers used to stop for lunch on their way north or on week-end day trips from Madrid. "Aranda de Duero, Vino y Cordero (wine and lamb)," signs proclaim at entrances to the town. Drawn by the town’s famous asadores (more than a dozen in Aranda alone)–with their brick ovens redolent with the aromas of irresistible roasting suckling lamb–generations of Spaniards (and a few foreigners) discovered how good the jewel-like, deep black raspberry-colored Ribera del Duero vinos tintos could be.

After the official denominación de origen Ribera del Duero was granted in 1982, the nucleus of small grower producers who would soon put the Ribera del Duero in the wine world’s map began to emerge. Led by Alejandro Fernández (whose Pesquera would take a moonwalk quantum leap when Robert Parker, Jr. compared it to Bordeaux’s Petrus in the late 1980s), several grower-producers began to demonstrate that where there was smoke (Vega Sicilia, Protos and the pitcher wines of Aranda), there was fire. Even with their fledging wines, often the first vintages they had bottled, producers such as Alejandro Fernández (who established Pesquera in 1972) in Pesquera de Duero, Torremilanos en Aranda, the Pérez Pascuas family (Viña Pedrosa) in Pedrosa de Duero, Valduero in Guimiel de Hizán, Valsotillo in Sotillo de la Ribera and Victor Balbás en La Horra were already showing the great potential of the Ribera del Duero.

During most of the 1980s, I used to visit these wineries at least once or twice a year, and, along with a tasting visit with the great Mariano García, then the winemaker at Vega Sicilia and consultant to Mauro (just outside the Ribera del Duero D. O. in Tudela de Duero), I was able to cover most of the quality wine producers in a couple of days. Since then the number of wineries has spiraled up to more than 200 and now it would take a week or more just to cover the more noteworthy wineries, not to mention the new bodegas that spring up every year.

Now worthy of visits are not only the clásico small producers who surfaced in the early 1980s after the D. O. was established, but also the wineries which began their ascent to stardom in the late 1980s and early 1990s: Dehesa de los Canónigos, Pago de Carraovejas, Matarromera, Emilio Moro, Condado de Haza (Alejandro Fernández’s second venture, single vineyard estate winery ), Félix Callejo, Arzuaga Navarro, Bodegas Monasterio (whose young Danish winemaker, Peter Sisseck, would become an international star with Dominio de Pingus, his “garage” wine), Carmelo Rodero, Vega Sicilia’s Alión, Viña Mayor, Grandes Bodegas (Marqués de Velilla, Villalobón), Finca Villacreces, Viña Sastre, Cillar de Silos, López Cristóbal and Montebaco.

Up until 1995, growth in the Ribera del Duero seemed manageable for an intrepid wine taster of that old breed who believes that to really know a wine well, you must visit the bodega and meet the people who make the wines (I have visited 42 bodegas in Castilla-La Mancha alone). Since then the explosion in the number of wineries clamoring for attention in the Ribera del Duero has reached a crescendo. Among them are some serious contenders such as Emina, Pago de los Capellanes, Cachopa, Aalto, Dominio de Atauta, Real Sitio de Ventosilla (Pagos del Rey), Pagos del Infante and Viña Arnaiz, all founded during the five years leading up to the Millennium. The year 2000 on seemed to spark its own comet trail of coming stars to further light up the Ribera del Duero’s wine sky, including the not inaptly named Celeste from Cataluña’s Miguel Torres, Astrales from Alberto and Eduardo García (two of star winemaker Mariano García’s sons) and La Rioja Alta’s Aster).

Though relatively little known now, there are a number of nascent stars that have made successful debuts in Ribera del Duero’s red wine galaxy just since 2000, many of which have drawn high praise from the Spanish wine press. They include Mattaromera’s Rento, Emilio Moro’s Cepa 21, Bodegas Conde’s Neo, the Osborne family’s Bodegas y Viñedos del Jaro (Sed de Caná, Chafandín), Montegaredo (a new pyramid-shaped bodega), Alonso de Yerro, peripatetic flying winemaker Telmo Rodríguez’s Matallana, Lynus, Abadía de San Quirce, Miros de la Ribera, Codorníu’s Legaris, Bodegas Trus, Uvaguilera (an ex-Mauro winemaker), the very promising Montecastro and the wines of Bodegas y Viñedos Lleiroso, the pet project of Pascual Herrera, Director of the Enological Station of Castilla y León and director of the Wine Museum of Peñafiel.

The investment in La Ribera del Duero from bodegas from outside the region mushroomed after the new Ley del Vino (wine law) was passed by Spain’s Congress in 2003, allowing wineries to make and sell wines from other regions. In addition to the wines from Osborne, Telmo Rodríguez, la Rioja Alta and Codorníu, other outside producers include La Rioja’s Féderico Paternina (Marqués de Valparaiso), the giant Cava producer Freixenet Valdubón), Catalan Cava producer Parxet (Tionio), Pernot Ricard’s Tarsus, O. Fournier (Alfa Spiga) and the Carrion group (Viña Arnaiz).

It is evident that with so many quality wineries to consider, keeping up with the Ribera del Duero can be a daunting task. Still, a two-to-four day trip can be immensely rewarding for lovers of wine country. The Ribera’s wineries and vineyards are located on either side of a 70-mile stretch of the Duero River that runs from east to west. But many of the wineries are concentrated in several main wine towns in the Ribera de Burgos hills and along the river plains on both sides of the valley in the provinces of Burgos and Valladolid (there are also Ribera del Duero D. O. vineyards in Soria and a few in a small northerly portion of Segovia). And, unlike the days when I first began traveling in the Ribera del Duero, there are now a number of good, charming, reasonably priced lodgings along the way. Then, as now, there have always been some wonderful country asadores, where, if you are lover of lamb, you will be in for some of the great dining experiences of your life.

A trip like the one I planned in the summer of 2006 can provide a good overview of the wines, gastronomy and historical sights of the Ribera del Duero and provide those in search of great back country wine adventures with indelible memories. I usually rent a car at Madrid’s Barajas airport and drive north on the A-1 auto-route through the mountains to Aranda de Duero and turn west on the Soria-Valladolid road (route 122), then drive northwest on local roads through the picturesque uplands of the Ribera de Burgos to Roa de Duero, where I often make my base. 

However, on this trip, I decided to change my normal route to visit Soria, the easternmost and least known of the four provinces that comprise the Ribera del Duero. There are two wineries well worth considering in this province: Dominio de Atauta, which has been making some sensational wines that have drawn raves both in Spain and internationally, and the more modest, but quite delicious Viña Gormaz, located in the historic town of San Esteban de Gormaz, which has one of the oldest Romanesque churches in Spain. The town of Atauta is filled with centuries-old, hand-hewn bodegas burrowed into the hills and has a mirador that overlooks a sea of vineyards. Atauta was unknown even to serious Spanish wine aficiondos until recently, when Dominio de Atauta began making a series of first-rate, limited edition wines from a series of a very old single vineyards planted on pie franco (French rootstocks), since the 19th-century phylloxera bug invasion did not reach this back-country area.

The next stop to the west of San Esteban de Gormaz is the great crossroads town of Aranda de Duero, where the wineries of note are Torremilanos, Martín Berdugo and the new-wave star, Bodegas Conde, which produces highly regarded, but oaky Neo. Aranda is famous for its legendary asadores such as Mesón de la Villa, Casa Florencio, El Pastor y the perennial favorite, Rafael Corrales, which feature fall-off-the-bone roast suckling lamb and other Castilian cuisine specialties. Don’t miss Aranda’s Santa María church with its superb 15th-century Isabeline plateresque façade and the picturesque Plaza Mayor in the 15th- and 16th-century old quarter, beneath which is a subterranean network of ancient wine caves. Aranda has several hotels worthy of using as a base of operations, including two out by the main highway, Torremilanos, a winery hotel set in the vineyards, and the comfortable, well-appointed four-star Hotel Tudanca, which is located at a major highway rest stop complex and also has a noteworthy restaurant.

From Aranda, head north and west of the city, to the Ribera de Burgos region, where in the past twenty years, wine has joined sheep raising and wheat as the main pillars of the area’s agricultural economy. You will enjoy meandering through this strange, picturesque section of Castilian landscape, exploring quaint back country wine villages such as Gumiel del Mercado, Sotillo de la Ribera, La Horra, Roa de Duero, and Pedrosa del Duero, where tourists are practically unknown and you can taste excellent wines in such bodegas as Valduero, Valsotillo, Balbás, Condado de Haza, Viña Pedrosa, Carmelo Rodero and Pago de los Capellanes. Sotillo also produces some excellent Castilian type ewe’s milk cheeses. In this area, there are also newly renovated places to stay in small towns, including several casas rurales (inexpensive, often rustic and charming, but very comfortable bed-and-breakfast lodgings) in Gumiel de Izán (see listings) and in the renovated and highly recommended Palacio de Guzmán y Santoyo in the village of Guzmán near Pedrosa (see listings).

Those strange, fascinating rock formations protruding from nearly every hillside in towns like La Horra, Sotillo and Gumiel del Mercado are called zarceras. The hills are soft sandstone or limestone, which made digging bodegas, or wine cellars, relatively easy so the villages in this region are honeycombed with hundreds of manmade wine (and cheese) caves. Each of these caves needs a ventilation shaft, so the landscape sprouts weird, often individualistic, conical-shaped, stone-and-cement zarceras. There may be as many as twenty or thirty of these five-to-ten foot tall structures cropping from a single hill. The effect is other worldly, resembling an outdoor pop sculpture garden crafted by visitors from another planet.

The modern, functional, inexpensive, but comfortable Vado del Rey Hotel in the center of the lively, historic wine town of Roa de Duero is also a good base for exploring this region and it has two excellent restaurants, Nazareno, one of the most highly regarded asadores in Castilla y León and El Chuleta, which serves superb roast lamb and a very good broader menu of regional specialities. At Roa de Duero, the Roman Rauda, a Roman bridge still in use spans the Duero. Cardinal Cisneros (Gonzalo Jiménez de Cisneros), once confessor to Queen Isabela and the powerful regent of Castile after the death of King Ferdinand died here in 1517 and there is a statue of him on the esplanade, overlooking the Duero plain where there are several important wineries including Aalto, Condado de Haza and López Cristobal, one of real sleeper wineries of the region, winner of one of the most important Spanish wine prizes in 2007, Castilla y León’s Zarcillo de Oro, for its red crianza 2004. 

No visit to the Ribera del Duero would be complete with seeing Peñafiel (Valladolid province), the largest town between Aranda and Valladolid. Peñafiel spills down a high escarpment that rises above the Duratón River, which meets the Duero here. Peñafiel means faithful rock, the rock being crowned by the unique, long, narrow, white-gray, 14th-century castle, which rides on the hill above the town itself like a battleship in the sky, and now faithfully houses the Museo del Vino, the Wine Museum. 

Peñafiel, home to Bodegas Protos and Pago de Carraovejas is a fascinating, lively market town with loads of atmosphere. Besides the castle, the town has a number of impressive old churches and ancient buildings scattered about its steep, narrow streets. The Plaza del Coso, an unpaved square, is surrounded by three-story, balconied houses with shuttered multi-paned windows, and still serves as the town bullring during fiestas. Zarceras are also a prominent feature in Peñafiel– ventilation chimneys dot the castle hill, which is home to a warren of underground wine caves, and some even project from the steep streets themselves. 

Mesón Mauro, one of Castilla y León’s greatest roast houses, is located on one of the highest streets, near the castle. The fare here is salad, a plate of local cheese and chorizo, a quarter of roast baby lamb, and jarras (clay pitchers) of Mesón Mauro's spectacular Ribera del Duero house wine. If you have time for a couple of meals in Peñafiel, the colorful Molino de Palacios a very good Castilian fare restaurant ensconced in renovated old mill house on the Duratón is an excellent choice. The good, comfortable Hotel Ribera del Duero has some rooms with a view of the castle.

North of Peñafiel, past another ancient bridge is Pesquera de Duero, home to Alejandro Fernández’s Pesquera, Emilio Moro, Bodegas Monasterio and Bodegas y Víñedos del Jaro. West of Pesquera, are several of the Ribera del Duero’s most important wineries, including Vega Sicilia, Dominio de Pingus, Alión, Mattaromera, Finca Villacreces and Arzuaga Navarro, but some criss-crossing of the Duero is required to take in the wineries in the towns of Valbuena de Duero, Padilla de Duero and Quintanilla de Onésimo, plus the not-to-be missed major historic attraction in the area, the 12th-century Cistercian monastery of Santa María de Valbuena. It will take it will take some serious enchufe (connections) and writing ahead to get into either Vega Sicilia or Pingus. 

At this end of the Ribera del Duero are some excellent hotel and dining choices, including the hotel and restaurant in Arzuaga Navarro winery and Fuente de la Acena, a highly rated hotel and creative cuisine restaurant in an old renovated mill on the Duero, both in Quintanilla de Onésimo.

Just beyond the western limits of the Ribera del Duero D. O. are two major wineries, Abadía de Retuerta in Sardón de Duero and Mariano García’s Mauro in Tudela de Duero, which also has one of the great country restaurants in the entire region, Mesón 2,39. Both produce wines classified as Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla y León.

The Duero flows on west, south of the historic capital city of Valladolid and the Cigales wine district. Then on through the Rueda district, where some excellent white wines are being made from the Verdejo grape, and Toro, where some of some Spain’s most powerful red wines are made. At the Portuguese border, this great wine river becomes the Douro and its waters bless the region that produces the grapes for Port then flows on to meet its date with the Atlantic Ocean at Oporto, but those are tempting adventures for another time. Doubling back through the Ribera del Duero on the way to Madrid to visit a few more wineries and having another meal of that irresistible lamb accompanied by a good bottle of rich, black-ruby Ribera del Duero wine are temptations that few can resist.
Ribera del Duero Travel Sidebar


Hotel Restaurante Tudanca - Aranda
N-1 Autovía del Norte, Km. 152
Fuentespina (Burgos)
Tel: 947 506 011

Finca Torremilanos (Aranda de Duero exit, west)
Aranda de Duero (Burgos)
Tel: 947 512 852

Parador Nacional de Turismo
Plaza Mayor, 1
Lerma (Burgos)
Tel: 947 177 110

Palacio de Guzmán y Santoyo
Plaza Mayor
Guzmán (Burgos)
Tel: 947 554 104

Casa Durmión (casa rural)]
Avda. del Cid Campeador, 75
Sotillo de la Ribera (Burgos)
Tel: 947 506 016

El Zaguán de Gumiel
Real, 54-56
Gumiel de Izán (Burgos)
947 544 141

Hotel Vadorrey (& apartment hotel)
(Also with a good asador-restaurant)
Las Cruces, 21
Roa de Duero (Burgos)
Tel: 947 541 832

Hotel Ribera del Duero
Avda. Escalona, 17
Peñafiel (Valladolid)
Tel: 983 873 111

Hotel Fuente de la Acena
Camino del Molino
Quintanilla de Onésimo (Valladolid)
Tel: 983 680 910

Arzuaga (In Bodegas Arzuaga Navarro)
National Route122.
Carretera Valladolid-Soria, Km. 325
Quinatanilla de Onésimo (Valladolid)
Tel: 983 687 004


Casa Florencia
Isilla, 14
Aranda de Duero
Tel: 947 500 230

El Lagar de Isilla (15th Century underground wine cave)
Isilla, 18
Aranda de Duero
Tel: 947 510 683

Mesón de la Villa
La Sal, 3
Aranda de Duero
Tel: 947 501 025

Asador Rafael Corrales
Calle Carrequemada, 2
Aranda de Duero
Tel: 947 500 277

Asados Nazareno
Puerta del Palacio, 1
Roa de Duero (Burgos)
Tel: 947 540 214

El Chuleta
Avda. de la Paz, 7
Roa de Duero (Burgos)
Tel: 947 540 312

Asador Mauro
Atarazanas, 2
Peñafiel (Valladolid)
Tel: 983 873 014

Molino de Palacios
Avda. Constitución, 16
Tel: 983 880 505

Restaurante Fuente de la Acena
Camino del Molino
Quinatanilla de Onésimo (Valladolid)
Tel: 983 680 910


Bodegas Gormaz, San Esteban de Gormaz (Soria)

Bodegas Dominio de Atauta, Atauta (Soria)

Torremilanos, Aranda de Duero (Burgos)

Bodegas Valduero, Gumiel de Mercado (Burgos)

Bodegas Balbás, La Horra (Burgos)

Bodegas Ismael Arroyo (Valsotillo), Sotillo de la Ribera (Burgos)

Bodegas Condado de Haza, Roa de Duero (Burgos)

Bodegas López Cristóbal, Roa de Duero (Burgos) email:

Pago de los Capellanes, Pedrosa de Duero (Burgos)

Bodegas Hermanos Pérez Pascuas (Viña Pedrosa), Pedrosa de Duero (Burgos)

Bodegas Alejandro Fernández Pesquera, Pesquera de Duero (Valladolid)

Protos Bodega Ribera de Duero, Peñafiel (Valladolid)

Vega Sicilia, Valbuena de Duero (Valladolid)

Bodega Matarromera (also Emina & Renascimiento-Rento), Valbuena de Duero

Bodegas Arzuaga Navarro, Quinatanilla de Onésimo (Valladolid)

About the author

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine

Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television series
on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

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

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

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