Recently, 33 members of the Algarve Wine Society hit the road north to explore Ribera del Duero, a region 180km north of Madrid that has been making wine for over 2000 years but had to wait until 1982 to be recognised with a DOP for its production, largely of quality reds.
With 288 regional wineries to choose from, local expert Nicola Thornton of Spanish Palate was called in to create a varied tour. Taking time out from developing her own wines for export, Nicola’s passion for supporting small producers found the group lunching in the family’s front room at Rubén Ramos and bending double to squeeze into the ancient underground wine cellar at Valreinas.
These smaller, family-run concerns produce wines full of character at reasonable prices. By contrast, the itinerary also included wineries like Pago de Carraovejas and Tresmano that use ultra-modern techniques, including drone surveillance, to maximise quality and consistency with export in mind.
Peñafiel, the group’s base for the trip, is at the heart of the western side of the region. It’s dominated by a curious castle shaped like a ship and housing, of course, a wine museum. The town also boasts a square used for bullfighting, lined by traditional houses.
The altitude of the surrounding vineyards at up to 1000 metres results in wide temperature fluctuations between day and night that create complex flavours in the grapes, dominated by Tempranillo.
The first event of the tour was a tutored tasting from wine educator Jeni Wilson, providing an overview of this mainly red wine area – although there is increasing production of rosados and whites based on the local Albillo grape.
The winery visits brought more detail – at Emilio Moro, the group was guided through the production process from vineyard to bottle and, in several wineries, was impressed with the huge investment in hundreds of (mainly French) oak barrels costing nearly €1,000 each.
Wine is the complement to great food, and there were also some superb dining experiences, notably the “cocktail lunch” of delectable canapés served on the roof terrace at Cepa 21 and at the historic Hotel Castilla Termal Monasterio where the group dined around one enormous table in grand banquet style.
After three days, members departed the hotel with numerous cases of wine, happy memories … and the odd headache.
Text and photos by Nigel Adams, David Durrant and Alison West