Wine Tour through Ribera del Duero
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Wine Tour through Ribera del Duero

David Nicolas Red wine, jamon iberico, and sheep's milk cheese at El Molino de Palacios in Penafiel David Nicolas
Ribera del Duero's rich red wines have attracted international attention, but the region itself has remained off the radar. T+L takes you to the source.

Some of the best wines coming out of Europe these days are
from Ribera del Duero, the swath of land that cuts
east-west along the Duero river, north of Madrid. Though
these rich, intense, and deeply complex Ribera reds have a
growing number of devotees around the world, the region
itself is still largely undiscovered. Lacking the easy
accessibility of, say, Napa or Loire vineyards, Ribera's
bodegas (wineries) often require appointments for
visits—and a basic knowledge of Spanish is helpful in
getting around. Until recently, when a flurry of new hotels
and inns attached to wineries started opening, even rooms
were scarce. But for the adventurous oenophile, the payoff
in visiting Ribera now is enormous. Medieval castles,
ancient walled cities, and wildflower fields fill the
landscape. The bodegas are small, with intimate tasting
rooms and vintner-led tours (try finding that in Napa). And
the regional food—lechazo asado (roast baby lamb),
jamón ibérico (cured ham), rich sheep's milk
cheese— alone is worth the trip. It's only a matter
of time before the crowds arrive.

STAY Use one of the several new bodega hotels as a base. We
like the centrally located Hotel Torremilanos at the
Bodegas Peñalba Lopez (Finca Torremilanos, Aranda de
Duero; 34/94-751-2852;; doubles from
$173), just west of the region's main town, Aranda. The
lobby is grand, and the service outstanding, though the 20
rooms are basic. The pretty terrace off the breakfast room
is just the place to sip a glass of wine in the late
afternoon. At the western end of Ribera, Hotel Arzuaga (Bodegas Arzuaga, Km 325, Carr. N122, Quintanilla de
Onésimo; 34/98-368-1146;;
doubles from $180) has a tasting room and a restaurant in
front. Guests can also have breakfast on the patio. Ask for
a room that looks out over the vineyard.

TASTE Seventy-three-year-old wine maker Alejandro
Fernández put the region on the map with Tinto
(2 Calle Real, Pesquera de Duero; 34/98-387-0037; Considering its renown, the
winery itself is surprisingly small and quaint. Here, in a
tasting room that feels like a private library, you can try
some of Pesquera's best: a 2000 El Vinculo Campa de
Criptana, with a pretty raspberry nose and bright acidity;
the 2000 Condado de Haza, with a sweet fruit aroma,
terrific concentration, and a generous, round palate; and
the 1996 Pesquera—very rich, very long, and
delicious. The nearby Condado de Haza (Carr. de la Horra,
Roa; 34/94-752-5254;,
Fernández's other Ribera bodega, is more of a
showplace than the charming Pesquera. (Fernández's
collection of restored antique vineyard equipment is on
display in the courtyard.) Large and modern, the cellar
houses thousands of barrels, including ones signed by
Spanish royalty, soccer stars, and actors; it's the Iberian
equivalent of the signed head shots you see in Los Angeles
dry cleaners—all the bodegas have them. The sprawling
winery is also the site of a splendid house that
Fernández built recently for his family. • Don't be
deterred by the unmarked dirt road that leads to Bodegas
Peñalba Lopez
(see Hotel Torremilanos). The
102-year-old estate is spread over 492 acres, including
some planted with 80-year-old vines. The winery makes its
own barrels from its vast store of oak staves; if you want
to see how it's done, the cooper will often oblige by
whipping a few barrels together on the spot. Try
Peñalba's 2000 Torremilanos Crianza, which has a
black-cherry nose and nice silky texture, or the 1997 Torre
Albéniz: herbal, quite complex, and very elegant.

EAT You'll likely find throngs at the door of Mesón
El Pastor
(11 Plaza de la Virgencilla, Aranda de Duero;
34/94-750-0428; lunch for two $71), one of the region's
best asadores—a type of restaurant named for the
wood-burning brick oven at its heart. There's nothing that
goes better with a red Ribera wine than lechazo asado, roast baby lamb with crackling skin and tender meat. Here,
in a low-ceilinged room filled with brass chandeliers and
mounted antlers, an order of lechazo is assumed. Servers
will ask not what you'd like to order, but whether you'd
like entremeses—salad, jamón, morcilla, chorizo—before the lamb arrives. (You would.) The
extensive wine list ranges from Joven (young wines) to Gran
Reserva (outstanding vintages, at least two years in oak
and three in bottle). • Among the town of Peñafiel's
steep winding lanes and tree-filled parks is the excellent
Molino de Palacios (16 Avda. Constitución,
Peñafiel; 34/98-388-0505; lunch for two $78). This
old water mill turned restaurant serves the ubiquitous
lechazo along with jamón ibérico, lomo
(cured loin from the same type of pig),
sheep's milk cheese, and, in the spring, white asparagus.
After lunch, take a trip up the hill to see the
15th-century Moorish Castillo de Peñafiel, which
houses a wine museum and tasting room. • The tavern-style
Mesón de la Villa (3 Plaza Mayor, Aranda de Duero;
34/94-750-1025; dinner for two $84), set on the site of the
region's oldest underground bodega, is a favorite among
local winemakers. Intensely traditional, the food here
includes piquillo pepper rellenos, generous platters of
wild porcini, squab estofada, suckling pig, and Burgos
cheese with honey and delicious bread.

THE ROUTE Most of the wineries lie off the N122, the road
that follows the Duero river, but you'll also want to hit
the backroads to the north to see the region's other
highlights DON'T MISS The tiny village of Guzmán,
whose pride is the 12th-century Virgen de las Fuentes
Church, and the ancient walled town of Peñaranda del
Duero, with its gorgeous Moorish castle RESOURCE Visit for more information

Whether you're wining and dining in Ribera del Duero or
simply browsing at your local bottle shop, here are three
of the region's dense, fruit-filled vintages that you don't
want to miss. • Bodegas Emilio Moro's 2001 Malleolus ($62)
tastes of concentrated cherries, berries, and smoky
oak—plus a kiss of vanilla. • Bodegas Uvaguilera
Aguilera's 2001 Palomero
($120) has an extraordinarily bold
profile that combines truffles, herbs, berries, smoke, and
even leather. • With hints of cherries, truffles, currants,
and licorice, Bodegas Vega Sicilia Unico's 1995 Reserva
($325) is a bit of Ribera royalty—and has a price tag
to match.—Anthony Giglio

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