A Wine Journey through Spain: Visits to Emilio Moro, Abadia Retuerta, Aalto, Alonso del Yerro, Pérez Pascuas, Finca Valpiedra, Marqués de Vargas, Marqués de Riscal, R. López de Heredia, Roda, Remírez de Ganuza, Talai Berri, Can Rafols dels Caus, Parés Balta, Jean Leon, Clos de l’Obac, Clos Mogador and Mas Martinet

In September 2010, Charlie and I spent three weeks visiting five wine regions of Spain – Ribera del Duero, Rioja, Txakoli, Penedes and Priorat.  We also spent some time in Madrid, San Sebastian and Barcelona.  I arranged the trip through Cellar Tours, http://www.cellartours.com/, and working with Cellar Tour’s owner Gen was a pleasure.  We had a driver (or as his card says “transportation captain”!), Jose Maria (“Pepe”), for the entire trip, and he was fantastic.  If you want a first rate trip, contact Gen at Cellar Tours, and be sure to ask for Pepe.


click/tap map (and any photo) to enlarge

Every bodega we visited was welcoming.  We met wonderful people and drank great wines.  This trip really opened our eyes as to how good the red and white wines of Spain are.  The wines were so good that when we returned home I looked into setting up a distributor company for Spanish wines (which unfortunately didn’t work out). This was a great trip! For those who have followed my posts, you know that my wine descriptions are succinct. But, if I say “buy,” that is my strongest recommendation for a wine.  I have also included some of the restaurants and sites that stood out during our trip.

We arrived in Madrid and spent a few days there While in Madrid, we had a “Spanish Wine Masterclass” (wines from regions that we weren’t visiting) with Mary and Miguel, the owners of Planeta Vino (http://planetavino.net/).  Gen had suggested this for a Sunday evening, and the tasting, accompanied by tapas, was great.  Although we expected excellent Spanish red wines throughout our trip, this tasting really first opened my eyes as to how good the Spanish white wines could be.  The wines we tasted were:

Telmo Rodriguez Gaba do Xil 2009 godello – fresh, easy drinking white wine, some minerality, buy

Adega Eladio Piñeiro Frore de Carme Solo 2006 albariño – an excellent white wine, buy

Bodega Belondrade Belondrade y Lurton 2007 verdejo – a barrel fermented white wine, ok

Bodegas Julian Chivite Gran Feudo Rosado 2008 (tempranillo, grenache, merlot blend) – very dry; light and delicate, buy

Bodegas Viñas del Vero Secastilla 2005 – lean, no real body

Cortijo Los Aguilares Tadeo 2007 (petit verdot, syrah blend) – good fruit, good acidity; a very nice wine, buy

Bodegas Raúl Pérez El Pecado 2009 mencia – floral nose, violets on the nose; excellent, buy

Bodegas El Nido Clio 2007 (monastrell, cabernet sauvignon blend) – very fruit forward, smokey

Bodegas Teso La Monja Victorino 2007 tempranillo – subtle, very nice, buy

Fernando de Castilla Antique Amontillado NV (sherry made with palomino fino grapes) – very, very dry

Olivares Monastrell Dulce 2006 – a nice dessert wine

After Madrid, we headed to the Ribera del Duero –

View from castle at Penafiel

view from the castle at Peñafiel

Castillo de Curiel - Cureil del Duero

Charlie and me at Castillo de Curiel (we spent the night in the castle at the top of the hill)

vineyards in Ribera del Duero

Our visits/tastings in the Ribera del Duero were:

Emilio Moro (http://www.emiliomoro.com/en/) –  tour and tasting with Helian; wines tasted:

Charlie and me in the barrel room at Emilio Moro

Charlie and me in the barrel room at Emilio Moro

Cepa21/C21 Hito 2008 – very nice, good fruit, buy

Finca Resalso 2009 – 100% tinto fino, good fruit, meant to drink young

Emilio Moro 2006 – 100% tinto fino, very nice, balanced, good acidity, soft, buy

Malleolus 2006 – 100% tinto fino, very nice, balanced, a little smokey

Malleolus d Valderramiro 2007 – 100% tinto fino, could taste a little oak

Malleolus de Sancho Martin 2007 – 100% tinto fino, really enjoyed, the best wine we tasted, chewy, good acidity and balance, buy

Following this visit, we had lunch at Convento la Claras (http://www.hotelconventolasclaras.com/es/restaurante-asador-conde-lucanor.php) in Peñafiel.  The meal, served with a 2006 Vina Sastre Crianza, was very good.

Abadia Retuerta (http://www.abadia-retuerta.com/tours-en.html) – tour and tasting with Maria Martin Escudero; wines tasted:

Seleccion Especial 2007 – blend of tempranillo, cabernet, merlot; had a somewhat bitter taste

Cuvee Palomar 2004 – blend of tempranillo, cabernet; green on the nose, but much better than the Seleccion

Pago Graduna 2006 – syrah; nice, smooth, tastes better than it smells

Pago Negralada 2006 – tempranillo, ok, but better with some air

Aalto Bodegas y Viñedos (http://www.aalto.es/?lang=en) – tasting with enologist Jose Carlos Garcia Vega; this was a very nice visit; wines tasted: barrel tasting of the three 2009’s, then the 2006 Aalto PS.  The Aalto PS was excellent; buy.  Jose gifted us with a bottle of the Aalto 2007 in OWB when we left.

assistant winemaker Jose Carlos in the Aalto barrel room

Viñedos Alonso del Yerro (http://www.vay.es/index.php/en/our-family/about-us) – tasting with winemaker Lionel Gourgue; wines tasted:

Alsono del Yerro winemaker Lionel Gourgue

Alsono del Yerro winemaker Lionel Gourgue

Alonso del Yerro 2008 – young, good fruit, smooth but with a back palette kick; funky nose

Alonso del Yerro 2007 – enjoyed much better than the 2008, buy

Maria 2008 – good fruit, smooth, soft, very good, buy

As a footnote, I stayed in touch with Lionel after the trip, and he helped with some visits in other countries.

Bodegas Hermanos Pérez Pascuas (Viña Pedrosa) (http://en.perezpascuas.com/) – tasting with Pilar (if you owned a winery, Pilar is someone you would want in your tasting room!).  We also visited with Manuel Pérez Pascuas (one of the three brothers who started this winery).  Wines tasted:

Pilar in the vineyards

Pilar in the vineyards

Viña Pedrosa Finca La Navilla 2005 -100% tempranillo, nice, smooth, good fruit

Viña Pedrosa Reserva 2005 – blend of tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon, ok

Pérez Pascuas Gran Seleccion 2003 – 100% tempranillo, a little smoke on the palate

This was really a nice visit, with Pilar giving us the three bottles that she had opened for our tasting.  Although none of the wines made my “buy” list, this bodega is worth a visit.

Now, on to Rioja –

vineyards in Rioja

Finca Valpiedra (http://www.familiamartinezbujanda.com/valpiedra/index.php?idc=20&ln=1) – tour and tastng with Leticia Villegas; this tasting included valpiedrapairings with chocolates from around the world – really enjoyable!  Wines tasted:

Finca Antigua Blanco 2009 – 100% viura, floral aroma, also cut hay; fresh; would be good w/ seafood or by itself; buy

Cantos de Valpiedra 2007 (their second label) – a tempranillo, smooth, easy drinking, vanilla and pepper on the nose, and then with some time in the glass, almost chocolate on the nose; buy

Finca Valpiedra 2001 – a blend of tempranillo, graciano, cabernet sauvignon; a little dill on the back palate, but better with some air

Finca Valpiedra 2005 – much better nose than the 2001; smooth and silky, a little sweet (in a good way); buy

Moscatel 2009 – 100% moscatel morisco; peaches on the nose; an excellent sweet wine, buy

view of the Ebro River from the terrace of Finca Valpiedra

Marqués de Vargas (http://www.marquesdevargas.com/en/)  – tasting with Eva; also included visit to the family home; tasting included tapas with the wines; a very nice visit; wines tasted:

owners' personal residence at Marques de Vargas

owners’ personal residence at Marqués de Vargas

Pazo San Mauro 2009 – albarino, mineral with citrus; served with salmon spoon and an anchovy/caviar spoon; a nice wine, buy

Conde de San Cristobal 2006 – blend of tinto fino, cabernet sauvignon, merlot; served with jamon w/ peppers; this wine was overpowered by the food

Marques de Vargas Riserva 2005 – blend of tempranillo, mazuelo, grenache, graziano; served with cheese and the jamon/pepper spoon; very nice, went well with the tapas; buy

Lunch afterwards was at La Galeria (http://www.restaurantelagaleria.com/home.htm) in Logrono, wines served were the Copa de cava Agusti Torello and Azpilicueta Reserva 2005.  An enjoyable meal!

Marqués de Riscal (http://www.marquesderiscal.com/storyeng.php?id=29)  – tasting with Carlos Ulibarri Echevarria. I had a contact that was supposed to open the door for us to taste some older reservas, but that didn’t happen.  Instead, we tasted:

Marqués de Riscal’s cellar of old vintages

Reserva 2007 – tasted “green”

Reserva 2006 – barnyard aroma (and for those who know me, you know that I hate barnyard)

Reserva 2005 – barnyard

Baron de Chirel 2005 and 2006 – this wine is produced from old wines and only in the “best vintage years” – I don’t have any notes on these two wines, so I probably wasn’t impressed

Marqués de Riscal’s cellar of the old vintages going back to the 1800’s

The bodega is next to the Frank Gehry-designed Marqués de Riscal Hotel.  The hotel is very impressive looking and stands in stark contrast to anything else in the region.

Marqués de Riscal Hotel designed by Frank Gehry (the colors of the hotel represent the wines of Marqués de Riscal – purple for the wine, gold for the netting around the Marqués wine bottles and silver for the foil capsule)

R. López de Heredia (http://www.lopezdeheredia.com/indexgb.html) –  tour and tasting

inside the wine shop of R. Lopez de Heredia

inside the wine shop of R. López de Heredia

with Natalia (only a group tour was available); this winery looks like you stepped in a time machine and went back to over a 100 years ago (complete with mold-covered cellars). Then, even stranger, there is this ultra modern visitors’ center and wine shop in front of the bodega.  This was not one of our favorite visits.  Wines tasted:

Viña Tondonia 1992 Blanc Reserva – after the first taste, this was a nice wine

Viña Tondonia 2000 Reserva – nice, but missing something

Viña Tondonia 2002 Rosé – dry, apricot color, more like a dry white wine

Natalia in the cellars of R. López de Heredia

Bodegas Roda (http://www.roda.es/en/) – tour and tasting with enologist Vega Angula Roig (note that many of the Spanish wineries have multiple enologists; one may be technical and responsible for complying with the strict regulations of the region, while one may be the winemaker); a great visit and tasting!  Wines tasted:

Sela 2008 – primarily tempranillo, with a small amount of graciano; fresh, easy to drink, good fruit; somewhat off smelling at the beginning, but blew off

Roda 2006 –  primarily tempranillo, with a small amount of graciano; smooth, soft,roda good tannins and fruit; red fruit and spices; a nice wine

Roda I 2005 – tempranillo; more complex; strong, but elegant; silky; this was my favorite wine; buy

Cirsion 2006 – tempranillo; notes of tobacco, chocolate & coffee; complex; per Vega, drinking well now, but then wait 10-12 years to drink again; buy

After the wine tasting, we did an olive oil tasting.  One olive oil was the Dauro (a blend of three olive varieties), and the other was the Aubocassa (100% arbequina olives).  We really enjoyed the Dauro olive oil.  At the end of the visit, Vega gave us a bottle of Roda I 2005 and a bottle of the Dauro olive oil in OWB.

view from the Roda terrace

Lunch afterwards was at Las Duelas in Haro.  Lunch was served with the restaurant’s two house wines, the Bodega Ibaiondo Blanco and the Bodega Ibaiondo Crianza.  A very nice lunch.

Bodegas Remírez de Ganuza (http://www.remirezdeganuza.com/eng-index.html) – tasting with Luis Martinez, export manager.  Tasting included cheese and jamon.  This was one of our favorite visits!remirezdeganuza Wines tasted:

Erre Punto Blanco 2008 – a blend of viura and malvasia; floral, crisp, but with body; would be great with seafood; buy  [Erre Punto is “R.”; the son of the owner Fernando Remírez  de Ganuza is an artist, and he signs his paintings with “R.”]

Remírez de Ganuza Reserva 2004 – mostly tempranillo with a little graciano; smooth and easy drinking; a very nice wine; buy

Trasnocho 2006 – mostly tempranillo with a little graciano; an elegant wine; silky tannins, a great wine; buy

Fincas de Ganuza – mostly tempranillo with a little graciano; more rustic and more tannins; Luis said this was a typical Rioja with oak and leather

in the cellars of Remirez de Ganuza

in the cellars of Remírez de Ganuza

outside the gates of Remírez de Ganuza, Village of Samaniego – can you spot the donkey that they hang on the church bell tower during Festival?

Next up was San Sebastian, with a tasting in the Getariako Txakolina region along the way –

Talai Berri (http://www.talaiberri.com/ing/historia.php) – tasting with owner/winemaker Bixente Eiagirre Aginaga; a great visit on their deck overlooking the vineyard (Charlie and I can still hear the squawking scarecrow that keeps the birds away from the vines).  Wines tasted:

overlooking the vineyards of Talai Berri

overlooking the vineyards of Talai Berri

Talai Berri 2009 – mostly hondarribi zuni; Bixente told us to pour this wine from 4-5” above the glass in order to get the most bubbles; fresh, effervescent; small bubbles; Bixente served this with tuna, and the wine matched perfectly; buy

Finca Jakue 2009 – a more rounded white Txakoli

Talai Berri Red Txakoli 2009 – a red Txakoli made with the hondarribi beltz grape; not my favorite

Afterwards, we had lunch at Elkano (http://www.restauranteelkano.com/) in Getaria.  We had a perfectly grilled whole turbot, along with a Txakoli, the Txomin Etxaniz 2009; an excellent lunch.



While staying in San Sebastian, we had a really nice dinner at L’Auberge Basque (in the Pays Basque in France) (http://www.aubergebasque.com/en/), and an exceptional lunch at Akelaŕe (https://www.akelarre.net/en).

San Sebastian




one of our courses at Akelaŕe

We also visited the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, which we really enjoyed.

Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

outside the Guggenheim

Charlie and me in front of the sculpture by Anish Kappor at the Guggenheim

Next up was the drive east to the Penedès region –

While in the Penedès and Priorat regions, we stayed at the Can Bonastre (http://www.canbonastre.com/en/) in Penedès, had a picnic on the grounds one night, and a wine tasting of their own wines one evening; highly recommended!

our picnic at Can Bonastre

First up in Penedès was Can Rafols dels Caus (http://www.canrafolsdelscaus.com/en/); tasting with Amanda, joined by owner Carlos Esteva.  I had been referred to this winery by a wine journalist from Madrid (who I had contacted through the Robert Parker bulletin board), and the journalist said to use his name as a reference. Gen did so in setting up this visit.  However, Senyor Esteva thought we were good friends with this journalist, and treated us accordingly.  Charlie and I just sort of nodded when he asked about our “good friend.”  Undoubtedly, because of the (mis)understanding, Senyor Esteva made sure we had a great visit and tasting.  Wines tasted:

Can Rafols dels Caus

Can Rafols dels Caus

Gran Caus Blanc 2007 – blend of xarel-lo, chardonnay, chenin blanc; good acidity, good mouth feel, some citrus; buy

El Rocallis 2005 – 100% manzoni (pinot blanc and reisling); a mineral edge

Gran Caus Rosado 2009 – 100% merlot; raspberry in color; smooth and silky; tasted great; one of the best rosés we have ever had; buy

Gran Caus 2001 – a blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon; smooth, licorice and black fruit; very nice; buy

Ad Fines 2006 – 100% pinot noir; nice, but a touch of barnyard

Caus Lubis 1999 – 100% merlot; initially a green nose and taste, but that blew off, and the wine evolved to become very smooth and nice

Gran Caus Cava 2004 – a blend of xarel-lo, macabeo, parellada made in the method champenois; white fruit, toasted almonds; buy

Gran Caus Rosé Cava Reserva 2004 – 100% pinot noir; a sherry nose

earth roof over the cellars of Can Rafols dels Caus

After this visit, we had a great al fresco paella lunch at Fragata (http://www.restaurantefragata.com/), in the seaside town of Sitges. Highly recommended!

our paella at Fragata

our paella at Fragata

view from Sitges

Parés Balta (http://www.paresbalta.com/our-history/) – tour and tasting with Marc Picon, export manager (including a 4-wheel drive tour of the property); we also spent some time with owner Joan Cusiné Carol; served some really good manchego cheeses with our wine tasting; this was an epic wine tasting; wines tasted:

Pares Balta

Parés Balta

Cava Selectio- blend of xarel-lo, macabeo, parellada, chardonnay; mellow, yeasty, easy drinking

Blanc de Pacs 2009 – primarily parellada; easy drinking, floral, peach; a solid everyday wine

Calcari 2009 – 100% xarel-lo; would be good with seafood

Electio 2008 – 100% xarel-lo; minerality, touch of fennel, more complex Radix 2009 – a rosé made with 100% syrah; strawberries and red fruit, fruity

Cava Rosé – 100% pinot noir; deep salmon/orange in color, strawberries and raspberries; I loved this sparkling wine, buy  [I tried to find this wine in the US when we returned, but I couldn’t find it anywhere, so I contacted the importer. The importer told me that this wine was not imported because he thought the color would turn off most American buyers.  Americans are missing out on a really good cava!]

Indigena 2009 – a grenache; very nice

Hisenda Miret 2007 – a grenache; smooth, good tannins and fruit; buy

Absis 2003 – blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah; dark and brooding, complex, spicey

Dominio Romano RDR 2006 – this is wine from a sister winery in Ribera del Duero; 100% tinto fino; concentrated, but elegant, good tannins, easy to enjoy; buy

Gratavinum 2∏R 2007 – this is wine from a sister winery in the Priorat; a blend of grenache and carignan; a very nice wine, good fruit; buy.

We also tasted the olive oil from Gratavinum, but we enjoyed Roda’s olive oil better.

Jean Leon (http://www.jeanleon.com/en/) – tasting with Anna; wines tasted:

Petit Chardonnay 2008 – a touch of oak

Merlot 2006 – good fruit and acidity

Zemis 2003 – blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot; good acidity and tannins, smooth, buy

Gran Reserva 2000 Vinya La Scala- cabernet sauvignon; smooth, silky, spicy, very nice; buy

Now we are off to Priorat –

terraced Priorat vineyards near Gratallops

overlooking Gratallops in Priorat


Carles Pastrana at our tasting at Clos de l’Obac

Clos de l’Obac/Costers del Siurana (http://costersdelsiurana.com/) – a very nice tasting with owner/winemaker Carles Pastrana; wines tasted:

Kyrie 2006 – a blend of white grenache, macabeu, xarel-lo, muscat; dried fruit on the nose, good acidity

Miserere 2004 – a blend of grenache, cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo, merlot, carinena; smooth, silky, very nice; buy

Clos de l’Obac 2002a blend of grenache, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot, carinena; austere, but complex, good fruit and tannins; buy

Dolc de l’Obac 2005 – grenache with some cabernet sauvignon; enjoyable

Clos de l

Clos de l”Obac

Rene Barbier

René Barbier

After leaving Clos de l’Obac, we saw a winery, and decided to check it out.  It turned out to be Clos Mogador (http://www.closmogador.com/index.asp?idioma=EN), and René Barbier was pouring wines for a couple in the business, and invited Charlie and I to join them.   For those of you who don’t know, René Barbier is credited with reviving Priorat, and bringing it world recognition.  I didn’t realize the gentleman pouring the wines was Mr. Barbier, but when he introduced himself, I said “oh, you’re famous” (which still makes Charlie laugh).  The wines we tasted were:

Manyetes 2008 – blend of carinena, grenache, cabernet sauvingnon, syrah; very nice, smooth, good fruit; buy

Clos Mogador 2008 – a blend of grenache, carinena, cabernet sauvignon, syrah; smooth, good fruit and tannins

Nelin 2009 – primarily white grenache; ok

Mas Martinet (http://masmartinet.com/) –   we were supposed to meet with the owner, Sara Perez, for our visit, but she was out of the country during our visit.  Sara arranged to have Rachel Ritchie, who gives specialized tours in Priorat, conduct the tasting.  The wines we tasted:

Martinet Bru 2008 – grenache and syrah blend; barnyard aroma, did not like the smell or taste

Els Escurcons 2006 – grenache and syrah blend; ok

Clos Martinent 2006 – blend of grenache, carinena, syrah, cabernet sauvignon; ok

Camí Pessoroles 2007 – grenache and carinena blend; good fruit, smooth, best of the wines tasted

view from the highest vineyard of Mas Martinet

Charlie and then spent the next few days in Barcelona, a city we had visited before.  While staying in Barcelona, one morning Gen had arranged a tapas and wine tasting at Vila Viniteca (http://www.vilaviniteca.es/en/who_are_we).  While we had drank plenty of wine on our trip, this tasting, led by Jordi, was exceptional, and I would highly recommend it.

Vila Viniteca in Barcelona

Finally, we ate dinner at Cinc Sentits in Barcelona (http://cincsentits.com/en/food/) and had a fabulous meal.  Cinc Sentits is a Michelin one star, family-run restaurant.  We were well taken care of by Amèlia Artal, whose brother Jodi is the chef, and their mother serves as hostess. Very highly recommended!

the entrance to Cinc Sentis in Barcelona

the entrance to Cinc Sentits in Barcelona


one of the amuse bouche served to us at Cinc Sentits

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