There is kind of a simple checklist when visiting Spain: Eat, drink, shop, relax, repeat. The drink portion, though, could very well take up most of your time, as wine tourism continues to heat up in the country. Spain’s sweetheart regions, Ribera del Duero and Rueda, have been home to historic vineyards for centuries, and the result is a portfolio of wines with character, class, and most of all, great taste. The resulting bottles can pair with anything from tacos to T-bones easily and fit everyone’s wallet, from big to budget.
Brahm Callahan, a master sommelier and the beverage director at Grill 23 & Bar & Bar, Harvest, and Post 390 (all from the Himmel Hospitality Group, Boston), is a Ribera del Duero and Rueda ambassador and regularly visits the region to explore what’s happening in both the vineyard and the bottle. “The wines here are really special and very food-friendly,” he said.
Ribera del Duero is well known for its lush, tempranillo-based red wines, and Rueda the star for bright, verdejo-based whites. Varietals from both regions made impressive dents in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Best Buys of 2016 list. Why? Wines from these regions are multi-faceted. They pair well, taste good, and are a great value.
You will regularly find wines from the region on wine lists from the world’s best restaurants — Enrique Olvera’s Cosme and Jeremy Fox’s Rustic Canyon both highlight these regions. When visiting, you’ve got to try the local cuisine as well; since it is the “land of wines,” you’d better believe the food will be amazing, too.
The regions are only 2.5 hours northwest of Madrid. So visiting the area for both winery tours and restaurant visits is easy as a day trip or weekend-long one. Hook up with a wine tourism group like TheWineJourneys, an agency that specializes in tailoring trips for wine and food lovers and guarantees you a seat at the best table in town and sips at premiere wineries with behind-the-scenes vineyard tours. If you’re more of a DIY person, Brahm has you covered. He mapped out the best of both Ribera del Duero and Rueda for the ultimate Spanish wine region retreat.
Where to Eat
Trotamundos Restaurant - Only You Atocha, Madrid
A must-try is this restaurant in the new Only You Atocha. The Latin American-Asian fusion is wicked. Favorite dishes were definitely the ribs with sweet potato and cinnamon and croquetas de Madriz al cielo (Madrid stew and corn croquettes).
Don’t miss this two-Michelin-starred restaurant from Dani Garcia. It’s a classic Madrid experience at a reasonable price point. With a mix of upscale tapas, as well as larger entrées and even a prix fixe option, it’s possible to have multiple dining experiences when you eat here. What to order? Try the jamón ibérico (one of the better ones I’ve had), steak tartare, creamy ham croquettes, and tuna crudo. Also, they have an awesome wine list that includes both local Spanish highlights and a strong sherry selection, with a nice presence of international bottles, too — and the pricing is very kind.
Meson de Candido, Segovia
Located across from the stunning Roman aqueducts, the oldest restaurant in town has made a name for itself by serving some of the best suckling pig around. The atmosphere is a warm throwback to the 1500s, when Segovia was one of the major power centers in Spain.
5 Gustos, Valladolid
The centerpiece of this modern dining room is the towering wine display, but there’s more to enjoy here beyond the bottles. Don’t skip the little fried balls of happiness (stuffed with cheese, ham, and herbs), a mushroom-stuffed ravioli topped with a creamy truffle sauce, and of course, more amazing jamón ibérico.
Los Zagales, Valladolid
The guys behind this iconic hotspot are heavyweights in Spain and are known for their creative tapas (they have won a national competition on the subject several times). The tapas never loos like what they are: Picture a cigar with ash that turns out to be phyllo dough stuffed with sardines, a bread bag made of edible plastic film containing calamari and spicy aïoli, and other surprises that never fail to delight.
With obvious French influences, this is a different expression of verdejo. The wine is much rounder, with more body, largely due to the influence of oak and winemaking. The level of fruit and spice is dialed up largely because of that oak influence, a benchmark example of barrel-influenced verdejo.
Vidal Soblechero, Valladolid
One of the best expressions of verdejo I have ever had, their single-vineyard wines are farmed biodynamically (using a horse to plow the vineyards, following phases of the moon, using falcons to prevent pests). They have a plethora of old bush vines, and the level of depth and concentration they are achieving while still keeping the wines bright and focused is amazing.
Ribera del Duero
Dehesa de los Canónigos, Valladolid
With an amazing tradition in the DO (more than 25 years), these wines are more focused and elegant than ever. The winemaking is modern but focused on maintaining the identity of tinto fino — with a little support from cabernet sauvignon and albillo (an indigenous white grape that traditionally was used in small amounts of the blends for red wines).
Bodegas NEO, Burgos
This winery is pushing the edge of modern in Ribera — run by a young team of friends who grew up in Ribera and decided to start out on their own, they have no qualms about making wine the way that they want to make it. All their wines are polished and lean toward a more modern edge, but at the same time there is still something distinctly Ribera about them. Their flagship wine NEO was one of the better reds we had on the trip.
Tinto Pesquera, Valladolid
Somehow, these wines continue to over-deliver. As one of the founders of the DO, they certainly have plenty of experience but also are some of the most classic examples — not just of tinto fino, but of the winemaking and sense of place that made Ribera famous.