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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


Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group Stars from Ribeira Sacra: The most awesomely beautiful wine region on earth. "Tasted the new Holy Grail of Ribeira Sacra producers yesterday - Decima, Sabatelius, Toalde, Cazoga - just insanely good, low octane fireworks." - - John B. Gilman, Publisher of View From The Cellar

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Tourist boat on the Sil River in the Amandi subzone of la Ribeira Sacra. 
Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2010. Contact

Ribeira Sacra: A Renewed Obsession 
by Chris Barnes, Chambers Street Wines, New York City

“The Mencia grape is to Ribeira Sacra as Gamay is to Morgon or Syrah is to Cote Rôtie – a grape perfectly matched to its terroir. One doesn’t have to be a viticultural historian to know that it takes inspired people in addition to great grapes and great terroir to spell success. Today we’re celebrating a superb vintage in Ribeira Sacra, the burgeoning career of a new importer, and one young winemaker’s outstanding work with a special three-pack selected to renew your obsession with Ribeira Sacra. 

Gerry Dawes has been travelling in Spain for over 30 years. He has been to Ribeira Sacra many times and considers himself a true Galicia-phile.

Tired of passing his discoveries off to other importers, Gerry has taken the plunge and started importing his favorite Spanish wines to the States, with a focus on the northwest of Spain.  This has been a breath of fresh air; the wines are delicious, and show the best of what Ribeira Sacra has to offer: vibrancy of aroma and flavor, layers of red fruits, juicy acidity, minerals, and flowers with a lingering saveur, “red wines with the soul of white wines”, to use a colleague’s words. 

Esteemed critic John Gilman, upon tasting Gerry’s group of wines, proclaimed on his Twitter-feed that he had tasted “the new Holy Grail of Ribeira Sacra producers”, calling them, “low-octane fireworks.”

John Gilman at a tasting lunch for The Spanish Artisan Wine Group -Gerry Dawes Selections 
at Barcelona Wine Bar, Greenwich, CT.
Photo: Gerry Dawes©2012 /

(John Gilman, the great wine palate who publishes the best wine newsletter in the United States, View From the Cellar, loved the wines of The Spanish Artisan Wine Group - Gerry Dawes Selections: @JohnBGilman on Twitter ,  "Tasted the new Holy Grail of Ribeira Sacra producers yesterday - Don Bernardino, Decima, Sabatelius, Toalde,  Cazoga - just  insanely good, low octane fireworks."- - GD)

As Gerry’s first customer here in NYC, I concur;  Sabatelius, Decima, and Cazoga are delicious and authentic to their respective places.  I am especially fond of the Sabatelius from the Chantada sub-zone on the western side of the Minho.  This is a project led by sculptor/painter turned vigneron, Primitivo Lareu.  Chantada is the coolest and most Atlantic influenced Ribera Sacra sub-zone and Lareu produces wines with beautiful freshness.  Thanks to Gerry for bringing these wines our way!”

We brought not just the three afore-mentioned wineries from La Ribeira Sacra, but FIVE* (and possibly 7 or 8) bodegas! We love La Ribeira Sacra and its small artisan producers.  We believe it is somewhat like Burgundy's mix of small estate producers and reminiscent of the Loire Valley as well, but the grapes are not Pinot Noir or Chardonnay as in the case of Burgundy, but the native red Mencía grape is very reminiscent of the Loire's Cabernet Franc and the white grape Godello can be on a par with Chardonnay.   Look for pomegranate-cranberry fruit and graphite (lead pencil) minerality in these great value wines."

Décima, José Manuel Rodríguez, Vilacha (Lugo)

José Manuel Rodríguez, President of the D.O. Ribeira Sacra and producer of  Décima, showing 
California chef Michael Chiarello around his precipitously steep Ribeira Sacra vineyards on the Sil River.
Photo: Gerry Dawes©2012 /

Décima Amandi Mencia Tinto 2011 Ribeira Sacra 12.5% 12/750ML $21.99   

“My favorite tinto (red wine) was the sophisticated 2010 Décima made from the mencía grape in the Ribeira Sacra region.  Beautifully structured,  quietly scintillating, almost poetic, it requires a patient, careful reading.” - - Howard G. Goldberg

Thomas Carter, Wine Director of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, pours Décima Ribeira Sacra Mencia 2011,
Manuel Formigo Finca Teira Ribeiro 2011 and Viña Catajarros Cigales Rosado 2011 by the glass. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2012 /

The unique, rich, pomegranate-like fruit-driven Décima Mencia (with 10% garnacha tintorera) from Amandi is underpinned by a graphite-like slate minerality that comes from the preciptiously steep pizarra terraces on which Décima’s vineyards grow. The vineyards are owned and farmed by José Manuel Rodríguez, who in addition to farming his own vines, is also the President of the Consello Regulador de La Ribeira Sacra.  This wine is a masterpiece, reminiscent in style and quality, if not in Pinot Noir flavors, of a wine from Burgundy’s northern Cótes de Nuits. 

I have been visiting vineyards and bodegas with José Manuel for nearly a decade and count him among my best friends.  He has not only introduced me to the bodegueros and wineries we are bringing in, he has lead me to nearly three dozen other bodegas and tasting of hundreds of wines, which helped me immeasurably in the research for my articles on the region, but also in finding this particular set of unique wines.

Sabatelivs, Primitivo Lareu, Chantada (Lugo)

Primitivo Lareu, owner of Sabatelivs, Chantada, Ribeira Sacra.
 Photo by Gerry Dawes©2012 /

Sabatelius from Primitivo Lareu, both a Godello-and-Treixadura white and a Mencía-based red, are both truly special wines from the westernmost Chantada subregion. Primitivo, who is a painter-sculptor, is one of the most dedicated viticulturists we know and his attention to his vineyards shows in his superb terroir-driven wines.

Sabatelivs Godello/Treixadura 2010 Ribeira Sacra 12.5% $21.996/750ML $21.99

Exotic, white peach and stone fruit flavors, with a mineral-laced finish.  A superb white wine that is 60% Godello, 40% Treixadura.

Chantada, Ribeira Sacra, Primitivo Lareu makes Sabatelivs Godello/Treixadura, 
 Sabatelivs Mencía Tinto Joven & Sabatelivs Mencía Carballo, which is aged in oak.
  Photo by Gerry Dawes©2012 /

Sabatelivs Mencía Tinto Joven 2011 12.5% 6/750ML $21.99

Medium deep pomegranate color.  Pomegranate and graphite nose.  An intriguing, compelling wine reminiscent of a great Cabernet Franc-based wine from the Loire Valley, but distintive because of the difference in soils (the Loire is calcareous, here it is granite and slate.  Excellent, clean, sharp fruit flavors reminiscent of pomegranate, laced with cranberry and lead pencil, with an intriguing, complex finish from the stony vineyards on which these grapes grow.  This young Mencía-based tinto will benefit from decanting to allow the aromas and flavors to fully develop.  

Primitivo Lareu, owner of Sabatelivs, Chantada, Ribeira Sacra.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2012 /

“From old vines on the Sil River, this is "back-country" wine as described to me by the importer Gerry Dawes.  I am not sure if he is referring to the rustic qualities of the wine or the people that make it.  Either way, "the ram's head" is all rustic beauty - cherry, raspberry, smoky, spicy, meaty with lifted aromas of lavender and rosemary. Cazoga is serious business.  Although drinking now, I would hold onto this; there is enough density, concentration and balance to age at least for a few years.” - - Chris Barnes, Chambers Street Wines    

Toalde, Roberto Regal, Ribeiras do Miño (Lugo)


Roberto Regal, artisan producer of Toalde Mencía, in Ribeira Sacra vineyards 
overlooking a bridge over the Miño River in Belesar near Chantada.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2012 / 


Toalde Mencía Tinto 2010 Ribeira Sacra 13.0% 6/750ML $24.99

From Ribeiras do Miño, one of the five sub-regions of La Ribeira Sacra, the mineral-driven, but soft and voluptous Toalde Mencía is made by the talented young enologist, Roberto Regal from stunningly beautiful, bucolic vineyards overlooking the Minho River. A silky, pomegranate & mineral-driven jewel. One of the best wine in our portfolio.

Mencía grapes, with traces of other old vines indigenous varieties, grow here on steep rock (the majority granitic, some slate) terraces with a 66% incline.  The soil is poor and shallow, which drives the vines deep in search of nutrients.  The orientation of the vineyards is from northeast to southeast.  The altitude of the vineyards is 820 to 1150 feet above sea level, which allows a progressive harvesting the grapes, beginning with the grapes from the warmer lower vineyards, which ripen first, and finishing with the higher vineyards, which ripen last.

The Atlantic climate helps provides aroma and freshness to the wines and the Iberian sun provides the necessary heat in the summer and moderate temperatures in autumn and the Minho river, over which the vineyards perch, provides a moderating influence.  Average rainfall is 750mm in Winter; 250 mm in summer.

Viña Cazoga, Jorge Carnero, Amandi (Lugo)

Even the most expensive wine in Dawes's porfolio, "Viña Cazoga Don Diego Crianza from Ribera Sacra, an exotic, chocolate- and tobacco-flavored wine with some of the "wild" character the French call animal, retails for only $50." - - Colman Andrews, The Daily Meal.

Jorge Carnero, Viña Cazoga, La Ribeira Sacra (Lugo province), Galicia.
Photo: Gerry Dawes©2011 /

Viña Cazoga Tinto 2010 Ribeira Sacra 13.5% 12/750ML $26.99

Viña Cazoga Tinto 2010 ($27). Another Ribeira Sacra mencia, surprisingly soft, with a generous bouquet, a blackberry-and-black-pepper tang on the palate, and a long, satisfying finish. - - Colman Andrews, The Daily Meal.  Read more: Spanish Wines — A Seductive New Crop: Godello, mencia, and other less-than-famous Iberian grapes shine in a new selection from Spanish wine expert Gerry Dawes
Viña Cazoga Don Diego Tinto 2008 Ribeira Sacra 13.5% $49.99

"Oh, and he doesn't have much patience with excessive pricing, either, and all but one of the 30-plus selections in his portfolio (he is adding more) have a suggested retail price of less than $30 a bottle, and some are less than $20. (Even the exception, Viña Cazoga Don Diego Crianza from Ribera Sacra, an exotic, chocolate- and tobacco-flavored wine with some of the "wild" character the French call animal, retails for only $50.)"- - Colman Andrews, The Daily Meal.  Read more: Spanish Wines — A Seductive New Crop: Godello, mencia, and other less-than-famous Iberian grapes shine in a new selection from Spanish wine expert Gerry Dawes

One of the stars of this group is a unique wine from a rustic bodega in the back country. It is owned by a young winemaker, Jorge Carnero, who took over his late father’s vineyards and decided to make his own very personal wine, Viña Cazoga. We import both Jorge’s Viña Cazoga Tinto 2010 and Viña Cazoga Don Diego 2008, a wine that spends some several months time in 4-year old, 500L re-conditioned Allier oak.

We don’t expect either of these wines to be for everyone because they are so unique and unlike other red wines you may have tasted before.  For this reason, on my fourth visit to the winery when I took a guest l I decided not to say anything and just let him make up his own mind about the wine without any pre-suggestion from me. Cazoga wines were the ones the guest liked the best of all from our 2,500 km., 20-winery trip.

Viña Cazoga Don Diego 2008, a wine that spends some several months in 4-year old, 500L re-conditioned Allier oak, is one of the top wines in The Spanish Artisan Wine Group - Gerry Dawes Selections.
 Photo: Gerry Dawes©2011 /

Cazoga wines show themselves best with food. By the time you get to the last glass in the bottle, you realize you have been drinking something unique and special.  And you don't like that old-fashioned label with the Cazoga (ram) head you say.  Carnero, or ram,  is the owner’s name.  Get over it and concentrate on the wine in the bottle.  We wouldn't change a thing about this place.  Besides, there is not enough wine to fill even the modest demand we think those who really like this wine will create.  The Spanish Artisan Wine Group’s wild child; if you don't like it, I will drink it.

Viña Cazoga consists of 3.9-acres in a single plot bordering on a slope just above the water line of the Sil River.  The site wine was traditionally recognized as the best for growing wine grapes in the parish of Amandi.  The grapes are 95% Mencia, the rest Merenzao and Tempranillo.

The history of the winery is very old.  Jorge Carnero’s grandfather Raimundo Vidal owned the largest winery  in Amandi, which he inherited from his father. Carnero’s grandmother remembered from her childhood bringing down to the fair in Monforte 37 carts each with a cask of new wine.

But at the beginning of the 20th century the cultivation of those steep river banks was not profitable, so there was much emigration and many descendants inheriting their portion of a vineyard )under the Galician mini-fundia iherititance rules, so the old family vineyard was divided into dozens of plots among the cousins, some of whom kept making wine for themselves for home consumption, but other vineyards were abandoned. 
It was not until the late 70's when Jorge Carnero’s father, Diego Carnero Vidal, set out to re-unite the former vineyards of the Vidal family, re-open the old winery and recuperate the denominaciónde origin claim for Amandi, for which he always acted as ambassador, when, at a time, it was considered insane to try to cultivate those precipitous river banks.

While the Carneros were in the process of reconstructing the old winery, they  used a cuba (a large horizontal wine vat, a huge barrel) from the epoque of Jorge’s great grandfather to sleep in.  They cut a door in one end of the barrrel and put a bed, lights and a television inside, making a bedroom out of the ancient barrel.  They called my father “el tolo de Cazoga,” the crazy Cazoga, slept in a barrel and was going to bury los cuartos, the money from the vines.  The barrel now has a taxidermist-prepared head of a ram mounted on the front of the barrel, the image of which is on Cazoga’s wine labels.

Jorge Carnero (Carnero is “ram,” in Spanish, thus the ram’s head,  the symbol of the winery), tasting his wines with a visitor.  Jorge Carnero is inside a large barrel formerly used to make wine, now with door installed and a bed and television inside. Carnero sometimes spends the night in the barrel during the long hours of the grape harvest.  Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2011.

Cazoga was the first important winery in what would later become the Ribeira Sacra D.O.  Cazoga is a pago, a single vineyard equivalent to a gran cru, in the most rocky location with the best orientation.  Among those who know the Amandi subregion, the wine was always considered the best.  The production is very low and most of  the vines are a century old. 

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

 In December, 2009, Dawes was awarded the Food Arts Silver Spoon Award in a profile written by José Andrés

 ". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 
Pilot for a reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

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