Among red Spanish wines, I have always favored the ones from the Rivera del Duero, or ‘Riberitas’ as some informally like to refer to them. I think it is their fruitiness and balance what I especially like and make them always enjoyable; even the Crianzas please the palate, not to mention Reservas, and Gran Reservas.
For a long time I had been interested in seeing where these sensational bottles came from. Finally, in November 2014 we could undertake a trip through the Rivera del Duero, which we will not forget. I talk in plural because, most of the times, I am lucky to travel with my husband, who is the perfect pilot to tackle any route in the world, especially the ones put together by me! During that ride, we admired the people, the wine, the food, the Roman and medieval traces, the landscape of rolling hills, the colorful meadows, the vineyards, the forests, and, of course, the Duero River.
For my reviews on each foodie spot mentioned below (shown red, in bold), check my Sneak Peek Curious in the Rivera del Duero.
Day 1 – We drove 160 km from Madrid to Aranda del Duero, our door to the Ribera. First we strolled around the historic center and had lunch at El Lagar de Isilla, located on the main street.
After the wonderful lunch, we continued 20 km direction Roa to check in at Hotel Raíz. A modern, charming six-room wine hotel with restaurant, run by a father and his daughter. The way we were welcomed felt we had arrived at some friends’ place. That night we were the only guests, and we stayed totally on our own in the hotel. We were surprised that the hosts left us with a key of the main entrance. Before they left, we made sure to order one bottle of a Reserva 2010 and some jamón ibérico. We enjoyed that tranquil moment in our room, with breathtaking views of the surroundings, and the company of the good ‘Riberita’.
- At El Lagar de Isilla walk down the fifty-nine steps to reach its wine cellar (12.5 m BGL), it is one of the 15th-century interconnected underground tunnels and caves in Aranda that is still used and can be visited.
Day 2 – We checked out after breakfast and in only ten minutes (4.8 km) we arrived to our first wine tasting in the Ribera. How exciting! It took place at Condado de Haza, one of the Grupo Pesquera estates, considered Alejandro Fernández’s château.
We were friendly welcomed by Conchi, a young, knowledgeable wine stewardess.
While telling us about the winery, she showed us a bit of the vineyards and led us through the facilities and cellars.
She took us to the tasting room, where we could try the wine in a very private atmosphere. What I liked the most of this visit was Conchi’s thorough, clear explanations about their winemaking methods.
Now with a true feeling of being in the Golden Mile of the Ribera, we drove thirty minutes (27 km) to Peñafiel and checked in at the Pesquera AF Hotel with views of the imposing Castillo de Peñafiel. The Pesquera AF, a modern, and somehow, eclectic boutique hotel, stands out in the rural character of the town.
We went for a walk in Peñafiel and – after a quick break at a tapas bar – our big delight was the encounter of Plaza del Coso, a fantastic square still used as bullring.
We finished the day at the hotel with a glass of Tinto Pesquera … What else?
- If you stay at the Pesquera AF Hotel, wine tastings in two of their wineries are included.
Day 3 – We had to drive 6 km from Peñafiel to Pesquera, hometown of Tinto Pesquera, the winery where Alejandro Fernández‘s successful story began.
We were there for our second wine tasting. This time we were not on our own. While waiting for the small group to be completed, I saw somebody approaching who looked exactly as the man on the poster displayed in the room. It was Alejandro Fernández himself! He was there, shaking hands with everybody. He is in his 80s and, apparently, shows up every day.
The stewardess toured us around the facilities, which are as impressive as the ones in Condado de Haza. When we reached the tasting room, we were delighted to know that the tasting was going to be conducted by Don Alejandro himself. What a privilege to be in front of this legend, talking with him about wine!I really don’t know how many different bottles are usually intended for each tasting, but, I am sure, that Don Alejandro opened for us a couple more, including some rarities. Unforgettable!
After all that wine, we needed something to eat. We arrived in 10 minutes at Alabrasa; it is strangely located in a commercial complex, but don’t hesitate, go ahead. The restaurant itself is nice, and we enjoyed a delicious lunch.
In the afternoon we visited the Castillo de Peñafiel, located 10 minutes away from the restaurant, just above Protos, where we had the appointment for our next tasting. Definitively, the impressive medieval castle is worthwhile a visit. Besides, it also hosts the Provincial Wine Museum.
At the foot of the Peñafiel castle hill, we found Protos, exceptionally located. I have a long-time special bond with Protos, because it was the first Ribera I learned and — I tell you — it was love at the first sip. Coincidentally, protos means ‘first’ in Greek.
There were like twenty people taking part in this tasting. It all started with a video and then a guided tour around the old winemaking facilities (including part of the 3-km fascinating underground tunnels inside the hill) and the new building designed by Richard Rogers. The tasting area and shop are in the new part, where the vaulted wooden roof shows magnificently.
The Rivera del Duero welcomed us warmly on our first visit, giving us good reasons to go back. There are many other wineries — like the renowned Vega Sicilia, Alión, and Dominio de Pingus among others — still waiting to be explored. For sure, we will be back.
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