In June 2018 and 2019 I ran tours to the Northern Spanish regions of Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Toro and Cigales, based in the historic city of Valladolid. My tours in 2012 had been a huge success, and both 2018 and 2019 were equally fantastic.
In 2018 our first taste of Rueda wine was at our first night dinner, at which we were joined byJean Belondrade from the fabulous Belondrade bodega. Jean is the son of Didier Belondrade who founded the winery, and was a very entertaining and engaging host. Their Apolonia Rosé was washed down with some very innovative tapas and we sat down to a multiple course dinner accompanied by the Verdejos of Belondrade, finishing with a Jeroboam of the sublime Belondrade 2012.
On both tours we visited Bodegas Menade. Set up in 2005 by Ricardo, Marco and Alejandra Sanz, these three siblings of a famous wine making family have a created an extraordinary ecological estate in the heart of the Rueda DO. This is white wine country with the indigenous Verdejo grape being the most important and comprising 90% of all the plantings.
We tasted a sublime selection of Verdejos plus a dry and a sweet Sauvignon Blanc. Fabulous quality, fascinating place and a brilliant visit (not least for its insect Air BnB’s and frisky donkeys!).
Founded in 1942, the Fariña estate is regarded as the founding father of the Toro region that almost single handedly established this small area as a quality wine production zone, culminating in being awarded its DO in 1987.
They have an extraordinary art collection (artists submit label designs for one of their reds each year) and grow Malvasia, Tempranillo (called Tinta del Toro in the region), and Muscatel. Their Lagrima reds are particularly smooth, and they have a big range of Reservas and Crianzas. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch of pork ribs with potatoes, beef casserole with salad, and the famous cakes, “nuns’ buns” made in the local convent. I doubt anyone ate out that night.
Ribera del Duero
Home to arguably Spain’s most famous estate – Vega Sicilia, where Tempranillo (known as Tinto Fino) is King – our task was to explore as much diversity as we could.
On each tour we visited different estates.
In 2019 we visited Finca Villacreces, an old Franciscan monastery acquired by Viña Izadi of Rioja in 2004. We visited the vineyards and winery and tasted their wines with some mature cheeses. Their Pruno is a great ‘entry level’ Ribera, Finca Villacreces oozed richness and depth, while the Nebro, made in tiny quantities, is of extraordinary quality (and price – over £130/bottle in the UK).
Our second visit was to Valduero, the location of a very memorable visit in 2012, that provided an equally memorable experience in 2019. The Las Vegas style lighting of the cellar might not be to everyone’s taste, but there is no shortage of groups or individuals taking up membership of their Barrel Club – ‘owning’ barrels of wine which will eventually be bottled and shipped to them (Mark Knopfler was the most recent name to be added to the list). A fabulous tasting took us through almost the entire range, accompanied by some tapas of manchego, morcilla and chorizo and then lunch of gazpacho soup, roast lamb and fruit. The wine flowed from a 5 litre giant of a bottle and when that ran out a seemingly endless supply of Reserva was poured. Finishing lunch at 6.15pm, we literally poured out of Valduero into the bus.
Tomás Postigo was our first visit in 2018. Tomás is a renowned enologist who has worked with some the most famous names and estates in Ribera del Duero. In 2008 he set up his own bodega in an industrial unit near to the train station in Peñafiel.
His son Gabriel described the level of detail involved to create the highest quality wine – read the blog to find out more.
Their barrel fermented Verdejo was rich and utterly delicious – perhaps the best Verdejo we have tasted on tour. We then tried the 2017 Ribera red, not yet released but samples decanted from three different barrels – each with a different level of toasting. The differences were plain to taste and gave a really meaningful insight into the art of deciding on the use of oak.
From Peñafiel, it was a short hop to Aranda de Duero where we met owner Riccardo Penalba, owner of the Finca Torremilanos. This is a 200 hectare estate, organic and biodynamic and with a four star hotel attached to it. Riccardo gave us a wonderful insight into the history and philosophy of the estate as we wandered through the vines.
We enjoyed a leisurely tasting in the courtyard of the hotel before moving into a beautiful high ceilinged dining room a traditional, classic lunch: morcilla, sausage and croquetas, followed by lechazo – young lamb and salad. A deliciously rich crème caramel and ice cream rounded things off perfectly before we all got stuck into the local Spanish spirit – Orujo. Before it all got too messy it was time to leave and after a burst of animated discussion, the bus went quiet……
Historically, this area used to be a big wine production area but a succession of wars, economic depressions, phylloxera, and a movement of labour away from the villages over the past 150 years reduced the area to a pitiable small reflection of its former glory. In recent years, it was famous for its Rosado, and in the past 20 years producers have reinvested with great success.
In 2019 we visited Finca Museum, owned by the huge Baron de Ley wine group. Export manager Inigo Echavarri had driven 260km from Logroño to meet us along with their winemaker Luis Chaca. This was a formidable team as we walked around the winery, glass in hand, and started tasting from the tanks. A very light Verdejo – their first vintage of the grape for them, followed by a young 2018 red that was destined for reserva status but had yet to see any time in barrel, followed by a 2016 red that we tasted from tank but had spent two years in barrel. This was a brilliant way to show the style of their wines and kept everyone on their toes.
Into the gloriously luxurious tasting lounge, everyone availed themselves of comfy sofas and tucked into a fabulous Rosado, the Verdejo – now bottled, the Crianza and Reserva.
First stop in 2018 was Finca La Legua. Hosted by owner Gonzalo Escribano, we had a fascinating insight into their philosophy based around polyphenols, tannins, grape ripeness and balance – a theme that permeated their whole approach to winemaking. Add in 300 years of viticultural history, some amazing old cellars and a truly charming host, it established Cigales as a place to visit.
On both tours our final visit was to Bodegas Concejo. Enrique Concejo, the owner, showed us the spanking new winery and then showed us round the 1000 year old historic palace in the village that he has converted into a beautiful boutique hotel.
We then tasted their range – 3 rosados and three reds – all paired with some amazing tapas prepared by Enrique’s brother-in-law, a very capable chef. Carpaccio of beef, cheese salad, squid ink risotto, tortilla, a mini burger and a delicious croqueta. This was a stunning final visit.
On both tours we had splendid dinners at Restaurante Trasteo in the centre of Valladolid. At our final night dinner in 2018 we had the most exciting and innovative 8 course degustacion menu which we paired with some of our favourite wines from the tour – Menade Verdejo and Postigo Ribera del Duero. Asparagus creations, foie gras, monkfish, beef, rice pudding – all fashioned in beautifully creative ways completed a truly wonderful and harmonious tour.
In 2019 our final night dinner was at the Michelin starred Trigo restaurant in Valladolid. Impeccably elegant appetizers: frogs’ legs, cod and squid ink creations, delicious bundles of rice, foie gras, red mullet, amazing cheeses and a sensational dessert all based around corn. This was an exceptional tasting menu, accompanied by Belondrade Apolonia Verdejo and Cillar de Selos Ribera that rounded off a simply delightful tour.
What my clients said about this tour
“Thanks for a great trip – it was superbly organised, interesting and a lot of fun.”– Caroline and Ian Bull, Cheam (2019 tour)
“We had a great time on the trip. The thing I like best about your tours is you wake up each morning and know the day is going to be interesting & involve stunning wine & great food. What more could one want?”– C Hurley (2018 tour)