On a bright sunny Monday morning 45 members of the society set of on their annual wine trip to Ribera del Duero. Once settled in the coach, folders comprehensively detailing the bodegas being visited and the daily events were distributed and digested. The long journey meant a number of stops en route including the a bodega Finca La Estacada at Tarancon in the Castilla district of La Mancha.
This ambitious bodega has introduced merlot, cabernet and syrah grape varieties to the tempranillo in recent years and now boasts an hotel and spa. Our guide explained the recent trends in pruning from bush to espalier which improves the clarity and ripeness of the grapes. They emphasized the importance of select pruning leaving only the productive buds or “yemas”. We tasted a variety of competitively priced wines, Finca La Estacada, 2010 and 2008, six and twelve months in roble costing 4 to 5 euros per bottle, and their Secua 50cl bottles 2010, at 6 euros. In the temporary absence of our speaker system, the commanding voice of participant John Sloggie enabled all to hear the explanations from the two guides. Tasty and varied tapas at the bodega with more wine (allowing time for purchases) completed the tour.
In spite of some road works we arrived as planned at Hotel Villa de Aranda. We enjoyed a reception with wine provided by the Hotel and this was followed by dinner in Restaurant El Lagar de Isilla, just around the corner from the Hotel. We agreed this was exceptional, fabulous food, copious wine, great atmosphere and friendly staff.
Breakfast was taken in a pleasant room, and was plentiful. Two tastings, in the Ribera del Duero DO were planned for this day.
Departing in the coach at the reasonable time of 9.30a.m., we arrived thirty minutes later at Bodegas Prado Rey. Tamara, our guide, spoke excellent English and had a good knowledge of the wines of the Bodega and was accompanied by a family member. One variety tempranillo wine is named Adaro, who was the founder, and decided to cultivate on very high slopes, much to the derision of his neighbours. This now produces special quality wines but it was deemed unsuitable for bottling in 2012 and 2013. We tasted four wines, a product new this year, a blush coloured rosado made with only one hour on the skins to obtain the requisite colour. This required drinking this year. The taste and colour of the second rosado 2013 would improve after one year. These were followed by two excellent reds: Adaro de Prado Rey and Prado Rey Elite.
The second bodega of the day was significantly different. British architect Norman Foster had built for the Faustino family a “state of the art” impressive, but perhaps pretentious bodega. It is named after the Portia, the seventh moon of Uranus, as it is the seventh bodega in the family. In 2003, the first Portia wine produced was awarded the gold medal for the world’s best tempranillo. While we marvelled at the technical innovations, gravity fed hoppers, size and ambition of the construction it was difficult to warm to the ‘antiseptic’ pervading feel. It was a showpiece occasion with the emphasis focused on the architecture of the building in its relation to the vinification process. Conical shaped vats were used for premier quality wines as, after the liquid is extracted and the ‘curd’ has dropped to a wider base, enhancing separation, which improves the next product. Our guide, Virginia, was very clinical, but not as communicative as Tamara. We enjoyed a professionally and well presented lunch and the wine tastings, and allowed time for purchases before the short return journey to the Hotel. The evening was free to explore the town.
Our taste buds being reactivated, we travelled to the family run Bodegas Lopez Cristobal in the region of Roa de Duero. Galo Cristobal, the grandson of founder Santiago, gave us a most interesting talk and tour. His grandfather started a successful farm in the 1930’s, which his son Santiago Junior changed to viticulture in the 1980’s at the same time as appellation Ribera del Duero was begun. Galo explained that the family grows 48 hectares with tempranillo grape and 2 hectares with merlot and albillo, 80% of barrels are French and 20% American. The barrels last only three years as, after year one 50% tannin is lost, after 2 only 25% remained, and half that in year 3. We were enamoured by his evident passion about his red wines which was subsequently reflected in the quantity bought by our group. We learnt of the Albillo white grape, authorized in Ribera del Duero, sometimes known as a well kept Spanish secret, and also grown in Galicia. A memorable visit.
Our second bodega to be visited was Bodegas Emilio Moro, in Peñafiel, which some of us previously visited in 2005. This is another family concern which has grown significantly in the last few years. While in the DO of Ribera they enjoy wine experimentation so are not constrained by having to seek reserva or crianza bottle qualifications. They have only the tempranillo variety. We tasted from their Resalto, Emilio Moro and Malleolus ranges. Lunch at the Bodega was the local produce “Cocido Castellano”, comprising soup, cooked vegetables and meat, chorizo, stuffing, chick peas, with a lemon dessert and coffee. Our evening was free to have drinks on the terrace of the hotel, and explore the town.
A planned later start meant us arriving at Bodegas Protos at 11a.m. This was the fifth and last visit to bodegas in Ribera del Duero (our first was in La Mancha). The renowned British architect Richard Rogers designed the construction of this very large bodega using the contours of the hill of Peñafiel castle and in the shape of a bunch of grapes. Many kilometres of underground facilities from the old part of the bodega made for an impressive tour with specifically designed rooms for all aspects of wine making. They make many wines of high quality. The verdejo wine we tasted was made at one of their other bodegas and proved popular as did the rosado wine. Roble and older red tempranillo were tasted and bought and a selection from their vast range including the Selección Finca el Grajo Viejo 2011.
Options of either returning to Aranda, or exploring the town and castle of Peñafiel with tapas and a guide were offered. In the evening we assembled on the terrace of the hotel, enjoyed our drinks and President Gordon thanked Margaret, Gaby, Sandy and Tim for their excellent organisation, presenting them with some of their popular wine choices. Paul was also presented with some Ribera wine and was thanked for his unflagging energy in carrying the speaker and microphone on our visits.
Another splendid meal of high quality in Aranda followed at Restaurante Casa Florencia, where we celebrated our last evening contributing significantly to the noise.
With bags packed and the coach well laden with wine (more than 11,000€ worth was purchased) we were homeward bound with comfort stops and a substantial lunch at Hostal San Fermin arriving at Rafalet at 7.15p.m. The organised collection of the wines from the coach, overseen by Tim and our “wine police”, successfully completed another memorable, successful trip. Our driver visibly heaved a sigh of relief when all purchases were unpacked. He proved very amenable and patient at all times and was publicly and deservedly thanked.
Text by Rod Anderton
Photos by Rod Anderton, Hugh & Gillian Epsom, Joan Easter & Margaret & Gaby Ferenczy 14 May 2014