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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


Viña Cazoga, Jorge Carnero, The Spanish Artisan Wine Group's "Wild Child" From Ribeira Sacra

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Viña Cazoga Mencía - Jorge Carnero, Ribeira Sacra, Amandi sub-region (Lugo province), Galicia

Jorge Carnero, Viña Cazoga, La Ribeira Sacra (Lugo province), Galicia.

Tuesday, May 8, 2015 on Gerry Dawes & Friends on WPWL Pawling Public Radio 103.7 FM in Pawling, New York, my guest Ron Miller and I tasted The Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group wine Viña Cazoga 2016 (Ribeira Sacra, Amandi sub-region, Sil River).

One of the stars of The Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirts 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 2016 and Viña Cazoga Don Diego 2012 & 2015, a wine that spends some several months in 6-year old, 500L re-conditioned Allier oak.  For more information on Viña Cazoga or any of the other wines of The Spanish Wine & Spirits Group - Gerry Dawes Selections, please e-mail:

Viña Cazoga Mencía 2016***  $27.99  13.5% (alcohol)

Tasting Viña Cazoga Ribeira Sacra Mencía 2016
from Gerry Dawes on Vimeo.

Viña Cazoga has a long history of fine wine production in the Ribeira Sacra and was once one of the largest and most important estates in the area, but during the nadir of the region’s fortunes- which really started at the dawn of the twentieth century, when so many of these steep vineyard sites were abandoned and young people emigrated en masse in search of more profitable work- Jorge Carnero’s family’s vineyard holdings in the village of Amandi dwindled down to almost nothing. 

Jorge’s grandfather, Raimundo Vidal, was instrumental in starting to resurrect the Ribeira Sacra region in the 1970s and today the family owns a single, 3.9 hectare parcel of vines right above the Sil River that was long recognized as the finest vineyard in Ribeira Sacra. Almost the entire vineyard is planted with vines in excess of one hundred years of age, with ninety-five percent planted to Mencía and the balance made up of a mix of Tempranillo and Merenzao.

The 2010 Viña Cazoga Mencía is a beautiful wine, offering up a deep, very intense and complex nose of black cherries, pomegranate, black pepper, a touch of spiced meats, slate soil tones, espresso and a topnote of cigar smoke. On the palate the wine is deep, fullbodied and very sappy at the core, with great focus and grip, excellent balance, bright acids, virtually no tannins and outstanding length and grip on the dancing and palate-staining finish. Great Ribeira Sacra! 2012-2020. 94. -- John B. Gilman, View From The Cellar

"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   

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.

To read more, click on title:
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.

Gerry Dawes, Jorge Carnero and John Gilman at Cazoga with the 1995 Mencía, which was made by Jorge's late father.

"Jorge Carnero is one of the sweetest and most self-effacing winegrowers in all of Ribeira Sacra, and I am not really sure if he truly knows just how spectacular his wines are, but he is quite clearly one of the stars in the region. He very generously offered to open a few older bottles the morning following our dinner with other growers at O Grelo in Monforte, but apologized in advance that “Mencía from the decade of the 1990s was going to be a very old wine and probably no good to drink!” We chuckled, anticipating something a wee bit more vibrant at that age, and the following day, I think the light was beginning to go on for Señor Carnero regarding the aging capability of his wines, as his 1995 Mencía was absolutely stellar!" – John Gilman, View From The Cellar

The 2014 Mencía from Viña Cazoga is another absolutely stellar wine from Jorge Carnero, who has run this small family estate with great skill since taking over from his father several years ago. The wine offers up a superb and youthfully complex bouquet of blackberries, pomegranate, wood smoke, a touch of pepper, a fine base of slate minerality and a touch of tree bark. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied, pure and still fairly primary in personality, but with the complexity to come readily apparent. The wine is sappy at the core, focused and seamless in balance, with moderate tannins and outstanding length and grip on the vibrant finish. While this is deceptively easy to drink today, it is still a puppy and I would give it at least three or four years in the cellar to start to develop some of its secondary layers of complexity. It is a great bottle of Mencía in the making! 2019-2045+. 94.- - John Gilman, View From The Cellar    

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 /

Viña Cazoga Tinto 2010 ($27). Another Ribeira Sacra mencía, 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 2011 Ribeira Sacra 13.5% $39.99

"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 $40.)"- - 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 2014 and Viña Cazoga Don Diego 2011, a wine that spends some several months time in 7-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.

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.  Cazoga is Gallego for Carnero, or ram, 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% Mencía, 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 iheritance 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 denominación de 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.

During the grape harvest and fermentation period, they used a cuba (a large horizontal wine vat, a huge barrel) from the epoch of Jorge’s great grandfather to sleep in.  They cut a door in one end of the barrel 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," Jorge told me.  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 Cazoga in Galician, which means “ram,” thus the ram’s head, the symbol of the winery), tasting his wines with a visitor from New York.  Jorge Carnero is inside a large barrel formerly used to make wine, now with door installed and a bed and television inside. Cazoga 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 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 is the Producer and Host of Gerry Dawes & Friends, a weekly radio progam on WPWL 103.7 FM Pawling Public Radio in Pawling, New York.

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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