Last week we took an impromptu trip through Spanish Wine Country.
Not only did we escape the kids for a few days, we were joined by our fave Canadian/Bahamian duo, Tim and Rebecca Tibbitts (T & B).
Aside from being some of the best humans I know. This pair happens to be a world-class Chef and Sommelier Team. They came to Spain for a work/play adventure and to shop for wine. As supportive friends, we felt obligated to help them with their research and to offer our poor translation abilities.
So, last Wednesday, I found myself (sipping cava) on the AVE Train bound to Valladolid (Capitol of Rueda), to meet my crew for an ass kicking few days of sipping grapes.
This little Spanish D.O (Denominación Origin) is the best kept secret of Spanish Wine. There are only 60 Estates throughout the region. Few people visit this area. There is such little tourism….. the Bodega operators are actually surprised to see you.
Unlike popular Rioja there aren’t many hotel choices. We stayed at the Parador in Tordesillas. Not fancy. However, the old manor style villa was interesting and clean.
The Rueda D.O straddles León-Castile and is best known for the Verdejo variety of wine. Verdejo wines are dry, fruity, and light to medium bodied…a great choice for a warm patio afternoon. Other notable whites are: Viura and Sauvignon Blanc.
Much lesser common reds are: Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Garnacha.
We even stumbled upon a Bodega, Palacio de Bornos, which produced a high quality traditional method (champagne) sparkling wine. The Brut Nature is 100% Verdejo and bottled for 3 years. Delicious and a great buy.
Ribera del Duero WINE
From Rueda, we made tracks (145 Km) to Ribera del Duero. Located in the northern plateau of Spain, the landscape here is rather boring compared to neighboring majestic Rioja. Yet, don’t be fooled. This D.O produces some fabulous wines that give the more celebrated Rioja some serious competition.
There are roughly 300 estates in Ribera del Duero. The highest concentration being in Peñafiel. The D.O here requires that 75 percent of the vines be Tempranillo and the majority of the region exclusively bottle Reds.
The other grape varieties are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Pinot Noir.
*Albillo – the only white
Categories are similar to Rioja:
- Crianza – Aged 2 years, with at least 12 months in oak.
- Reserva – Aged 3 years, with at least 12 months in oak.
- Gran Reserva – Aged 5 years (min.), with at least 24 months in oak.
On a whim, we stopped at Bodegas Resalte de Peñafiel after recognizing the name. We literally rang the doorbell and cold called for a tasting. Fortunately, they happily accommodated us. We thanked them by buying some wine.
We stayed just outside the capitol (Arando de Duero) at the Hotel Torremilanos. The boutique hotel resembles a French Style Chateau and has recently been completely refurbished. The striking hotel is situated on a family owned winery. One of the proprietors, Juan Pablo, treated us to a private tour and a great array of tastings. Great experience – super service!
A short drive the next day took us to Rioja. The first night we stayed in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The Parador Hotel (Parador de Santo Domingo de la Calzada), occupies a 12th Century Hospital that took in the pilgrims traveling the famed: “El Camino de Santiago“, or the “Way of St. James.” The Hotel is in the heart of the ancient village beside the cathedral.
T & B had a contact for a local Cellar Master in La Guardia. After a few lost in translation moments we found the Master himself, Basilio Izquierdo, at his small Bodega in La Guardia, Rioja.
Master is actually an understatement. As it turns out, Basilio is a Spanish wine making legend. He is also one of the most charming and likable characters I’ve come across. He regaled us with wine tales in Spanish and French as we tasted many barrels and a few precious bottles he held aside. Our tour ended, but our time carried on through lunch in the village.
Basilio rocked up to Los Parajes, a fabulous local spot, with his personal stock in hand. Clearly, well-known to the staff, we were given the royal treatment. Los Parajes did not disappoint for food, service and ambience. The building was complete with a 16th Century Wine Cellar and Tapas Bar.
The next day consisted of more exploration of Rioja and a cross-over into Basque country where we stayed in Elciego, the home of Bodegas Marqués de Riscal.
Rioja wines are controlled by the Denominación de Origen Calificada (D.O.Ca).
The Red varieties of Rioja are: Tempranillo (60%), Garnacha Tinta (20%), Graciano & Mazuela usually make up the rest.
The White varieties of Rioja are: Viura (prominent), Garnacha Blanca (adds body) and Malvasía (adds aroma).
Rioja is a magical part of Spain. Ancient wineries line the narrow picturesque streets. The old villages are layered with stone houses and cobbled roads. The backdrop is an interesting mix of lush Mediterranean forest, generous mountains and lunar-esque areas. It’s also a stark contrast between old and new. Many modern buildings and massive-scale wineries are now part of the scenery. None being more pronounced than the hotel at Marqués de Riscal, designed by Canadian Architect, Frank Gehry.
The Hotel is a sharp contrast to the native landscape. This unique property embodies and celebrates the colors and hues of the local wines and the gastronomic history of the region. The winery is a massive-scale production and lacks the intimacy and heart of the smaller vineyards. However, the hotel gets it right. The decor, comfort, and service are spot on. The well deserved Michelin starred restaurant on the property is also spectacular!
Finally, it was time to start home. We veered south to drive 450 Km to Tarragona and stay at Le Méridien Ra. It was a quick pit stop and a welcome sea break on the Med. It was also supposed to be our “break” from wine. However, they welcomed us on arrival with Cava…Oops. Then we found Brockmans Gin at the bar. …Oops again…
El Priorat WINE
The reason for our massive detour to the east coast of Spain was for a final night in Priorat.
Priorat is a high-end, up-and-coming wine area. Governed by the D.O.Q. (Denominació D’origen Qualificada). If you’re wondering why that sounds like odd Spanish….welcome to Catalan country.
Only an hour and a half south of BCN, this is an accessible region of Spanish wine country. Priorat has steep sloping terraces and a much different terrain to the wineries in the north. The region grows:
- 39% Garnacha
- 27% Cariñena
- 14% Cabernet Sauvignon
- 12% Syrah
- 6% Merlot
We visited Cellar Perinet, where we were fortunate enough to have another hook up.
The family and friends rate got us VIP treatment and a behind the scenes look at this fascinating property. Perinet is new to the wine scene and Wow! They are currently barreling some great product. They also have a state-of-the-art facility with an amazing team. Definitely one to stay tuned for.
Our final hurrah was at Trossos del Priorat, a tiny (7 room) boutique Hotel/Winery buried into the side of a hill. The Hotel was kind enough to let us take over the kitchen. So, we declined their tour, drank our Perinet and watched Chef Tim iron chef food brought in specially from Barcelona.
From Start to finish, it was an amazing 5 Days of Wine and an epic road trip. The final drive home (1000 km) to Andalusia even seemed painless. T & B bought some great wines for Flying Fish Bahamas.
We all had a super time catching up and likely drank a barrel of wine in the process.
Have you been to Rueda, Ribera del Duero, Rioja, Priorat?
Would you like to go?
Hit me up and I’ll help point you in the right direction.