Rioja is everywhere. But where-oh-where can you buy or drink Ribera del Duero wines?
After spending a few days exploring the vineyards around the towns of Castrillo de Duero, Pesquera de Duero, Quintanilla de Onesimo and Penafiel, I think it’s a both a shame and a benefit that the Ribera hasn’t made the same maketing push that Rioja has: the shame is that a region making such powerful, full-bodied (read: super good) reds isn’t getting a lot more publicity and fame than it does. The benefit, though, is that I got a steal on some fantastic wines that I Jon was happy to schlepp back to London.
Before you go, though, I’d recommend reading Gerry Dawes’s detailed blog post about Ribera wines and restaurants, which was invaluable for a non-Spanish-speaker like me. The smattering of Chowhound posts I found were about the bigger towns in the region (like Valladolid), and otherwise, the Internet turned up surprisingly-few English-language results beyond this August 2007 LA Times article. (Think about how *long* it’s been since google failed to turn up a gazillion results for a particular search). Also helpful were a couple of wine shops (including the Sampler) we emailed for vineyard recs.
Rather than detail every wine we tried (there were many), I’ll list a few pros and cons of visiting the Ribera, geneally. Overall, the Ribera was so easy to reach (i.e., a 90-minutes drive northwest of Madrid) that it’s lame Jon and I hadn’t been there before now.
First, my least favorite parts of our trip to the Ribera del Duero:
- As I briefly mentioned in my previous post (and which Gourmet Chick immediately picked up on as a bummer), the vineyards in the Ribera required us to schedule an appointment to visit. It could be that this sort of thing is an off-season practice (right now, the vineyards are busy pruning vines, and not many tourists – Spanish or otherwise – are around), but it was annoying. Give me Napa-style “drop by anytime during opening hours” any day of the week, and huge kudos to my friend Colleen for handling all the back-and-forth and jigsaw-style planning to create a wine-tasting itinerary.
- The Ribera vineyards also required us to take a tour before tasting anything. Prices for the “tour and tasting” generally fell in the range of 10-15 euros per person, so not only did we have to plan on visiting a vineyard for at least an hour (because the tours can really take a while), but also, over time, we shelled out a substantial amount of money for tours we didn’t necessarily want (how many wine presses and bottling machines can a person see?). Now, I definitely understand that the vineyard should be able to cover the cost of wines that people are tasting (though sampling/marketing strikes me as a legit cost of doing business), but I think it’s much fairer if vineyards credit you the tasting/tour charge if you end up buying a certain number of bottles. Or at least just charge for the tasting and let me skip the hour-long tour beforehand.
- Don’t expect a huge variety of food in restaurants. While the roast suckling pig (cochinillo) and suckling lamb (lechazo) are outstanding, I have to confess that baby-animal-meat-lover that I am, even I hit my limit of rustic roasts and stews after a few days. The minute I got back to London, I practically ran to the Vietnamese place down the street to get some light, delicate flavors back in my system.
- As in the rest of Spain, be prepared to eat at later hours. Only losers and tourists (no, they’re not the same thing) eat lunch at 12 or dinner at 8. Even a 1:30 lunch is a bit Early Bird Special, so aim for 2:00 and be part of the cool crowd.
And now my favorite parts of our trip to the Ribera del Duero:
- The wines. Just outstanding stuff. I’m no wine writer, but I know what kinds of reds I like – rich, dark, nutty-chocolate-cherry-ruby-red wines that look *thick* running down the sides of your glass. And that’s the kind of wine we found everywhere we visited, particularly at Vina Mayor (which abuts the famed Vega Sicilia) and at Emilio Moro. (The exception to this enthusiastic rule was Cepa 21, which looks better than it tastes and didn’t justify the 10 euros-a-person tasting fee of a single wine. We did, however, greatly enjoy the photos on the wall at Cepa 21 of Tom Cruise and David Beckham mugging with a bottle from parent vineyard Emilio Moro).
- The bread truck guy who arrived in front of our house every morning at 9:30 am and used his special bread-truck-horn to announce his arrival. It was like the ice cream man, but with bread. Too bad his bread was rather dry, especially the round loaves of pan. But you can’t beat daily home delivery.
- The night we went to the “bodega tradicionale” owned by the family who rented us the house where we stayed. It was an underground cellar that was three parts garden shed (full of discarded old lawn furniture) and one part wine=making facility (with barrels of aging homemade wine). What started as a friendly-but-polite exchange with the son of the family soon turned into a town-wide social event featuring lots of homemade plonk, pickled snacks, and a giant pot of liebre con arroz (hare and rice stew). A memorable and heart-warming example of how people can get along fabulously despite not sharing a common tongue.
- Roast suckling pig (cochinillo). While I did (just above) list the region’s lack of menu variety in restaurants as a disappointment of the trip, the roast suckling pig was so consistently delish that I did, happily, eat a good amount of it. On a related note, if you do want some cochinillo or lechazo, some of the smaller restaurants in the area require you to mention that desire when making the booking. (I guess so the restaurant can pop one in the oven for you ahead of time).
Cepa 21, Nac. 122, Km. 297, 47318 Castrillo de Duero (Valladolid), Spain; +34 983 484 084
Bodegas Emilio Moro, Ctra Penafiel- Valoria, s/n, 47315, Pesquera de Duero (Valladolid), Spain; +34 983 878 400
Bodegas Vina Mayor, Ctra. de Soria Km 325, 47350 Quintanilla de Onesimo (Valladolid), Spain; +34 983 680 461
Bodegas Arzuaga Navarro, Ctra. N. 122 Aranda-Valladolid, Km 325, 47350 Quintanilla de Onesimo (Valladolid), Spain; +34 983 681 146
If you enjoyed reading this post about the Ribera del Duero, you might also enjoy the following posts:
- Restaurante Jose Maria, Segovia, Spain (posted 1 March 2009)
- Mayor de Migueloa and Marques de Riscal, Laguardia, Spain (posted 6 March 2009)
- Fuente de la Acena and El Molino de Palacios, Spain (posted 18 March 2009)