Spanish Tastings to Lift the November Gloom

With the deepening evenings looming over us, October and November offer some great wine events to cheer up even the most passionate Bacchant!

Rhône Wine Week runs from 2nd-8th November, with some terrific events around the country. Check out the full schedule on their website or Jean Smullen’s Wine Diary. The highlight of the week is the Ely Big Rhône tasting; read about last year’s mayhem over at Frankly Wines.

logo-isw-enFor the Iberophiles amongst you, lamenting the end of the World Tapas Day celebrations, fret not; there are two terrific events to brighten up your gloomy November evenings. First up is International Sherry Week, where Dublin celebrations are centred on Stanley’s Wine bar. For the full list of events, get yourself over to recently-qualified sherry educator Paddy Murphy’s Vineinspiration.

Then on Wednesday 11thNovember Spain Uncorked offers the exciting opportunity to try some of the best wines Spain has to offer, in the fabulous surrounds of the Smock Alley theatre in Dublin city. Over 40 bodegas will represent the wines of Ribera del Duero and Rueda. Although geographically close, these two regions offer contrasting styles. The brooding, powerful Tempranillo reds from the former; crisp, refreshing Verdejo whites from the latter. Ribera del Duero was the first wine region I visited (read here) and remains one of my favourite wine styles, so don’t miss this wonderful event. Limited amount of tickets still available at Eventbrite.

Sunny Saturday Reds

The forecast says today is set to reach 20 degrees across parts of our fair isle (cue thunderstorms and egg on my face!). So if you plan on taking advantage of our 24-hour window of summer with a BBQ, here are a few suggestions to match your grub.

O’Briens have a fantastic summer sale at the moment, so if you’re in the mood for a juicy BBQ steak I recommend these two great reds. The first is from my favourite red wine region in Spain, Ribera del Duero, by one of its top producers, Torres.  Celeste Crianza is a staple on Miguel Torres’ lunch table at his private Mas Rabell restaurant; if it is good enough for him, surely it’s good enough for us mere mortals!

Torres Celeste, Ribera del Duero.  O'Briens: WAS €21.99. NOW €17.99

Torres Celeste, Ribera del Duero.
O’Briens: WAS €21.99. NOW €17.99

Unlike the over-oaked behemoths that we sometimes find in northern Spain, this Tempranillo is full-bodied but fresh, delivering juicy blackberry fruit and a long peppery finish.  This is a great price for a terrific wine; I was in Catalunya last week and it was the same price in the supermarket there.  Considering Ireland’s scandalous wine taxation I would consider this a bargain.

Porta 6, Lisboa. O Briens: WAS: €12.99. NOW €9.99

Porta 6, Lisboa. O Briens: WAS: €12.99. NOW €9.99

For something a little lighter on the pocket and the palate is Porta 6, from Portugal.  A blend of Tempranillo (called Tinta Roriz in Portugal) and local varieties, this offers plenty of warm forest fruits and floral notes.  Like the Celeste above it has lovely freshness and acidity to balance the weighty tannins and spicy finish.  Excellent value and worth grabbing a few bottles at this price.

Emilio Moro

This article first appeared in Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine:

emilio-moroJosé Moro looks like the archetypal traditional Spanish winemaker. With his salt-and-pepper hair swept to the side and a face that could have been hewn from the rock of the meseta, he is a man whose very heritage is tied to the vineyard. However, there is a lot more than just tradition to the current head of Bodegas Emilio Moro, as Wine+ recently found out.

There are few names more synonymous with Ribera del Duero than that of Emilio Moro, whose family tradition in winemaking stretches back over 120 years. It was José’s grandfather, Don Emilio, who founded Bodegas Emilio Moro with a focus on selecting the best individual vines in the vineyard and grafting these on the next generation to produce the purest expression in the winery. This clonal selection is now common place, but in Don Emilio’s day it was cutting edge winemaking.

The efforts of his forefathers is not lost on José, who readily appreciates their commitment, ‘when you perceive this from childhood, this care, this sacrifice, you retain a warm feeling of pride in family’. The result of their dedication and hard work is the Tinto Fino clone; the purest expression of Tempranillo, claims José. But a good grape is nothing without terroir and in Ribera del Duero, this small, thick-skinned grape is perfectly married to the conditions. It is here, situated high on the Spanish plateau, with its extreme continental climate, varied soils and influence of the meandering Duero river that Tinto Fino produces some of Spain’s best quality, longest-lived and powerful wines.

But it is not only by looking to the past that the Moro family is driven forward. When asked about the philosophy of the winery, José answers in his deep, heavily-accented deliberate manner that it is ‘necessary to establish a balanced triangle on three fundamental pillars: Tradition, Innovation and Social Responsibility’.

The traditions of the family run deep, with José eschewing the practice of blending his beloved Tinto Fino grape with the Bordeaux varieties allowed in the DO. Instead he strives to retain pure varietal character in all of his wines. Each of these wines is supported by the other two pillars of José’s philosophy. Through their socially responsible vineyard techniques they refuse to use fertilisers with heavy metals, avoid irrigation and harvest grapes by hand to ensure they are in the best condition when they reach the winery. Bodegas Emilio Moro firmly believe the quality of their wines is directly related to their commitment to sustaining the land.

José knits together this commitment to Tradtion and Innovation seemlessly, ‘I learned everything from my father and grandfather but of course we have many universities to study modern techniques. In associaiton with the University of Valladolid we have developed GPS systems to look at many aspects of our vineyards’. This system allows José to identify problems with individual vines in the vineyard and address any deficiencies in the plant. Targeting individual vines reduces the need to interfere with the development of healthy plants.

Cepa 21, Ribera del Duero.

Cepa 21, Ribera del Duero.

In 2007 José’s core philosophies came to fruition when the family opened Bodegas Cepa 21. Located outside the town of Peñafiel on 50 hectares, this brand new winery complements and enhances the landscape. Two years ago I arrived at the winery door without an appointment. Instead of turning me away, I was warmly welcomed like an old friend by enthusiastic staff and given a private tour of their state of the art facility. We tasted their beautiful wines in the intimate tasting room overlooking the ageing cellar; accompanied by the sweet and sour scent of younger vintages patiently ageing in oak.

Not content to simply replicate what they were doing at Emilio Moro, José and his team carefully selected old-vine clones of Tinto Fino for planting on the cooler, north facing vineyards of Cepa 21. José explains their philisophy. ‘We chose north facing slopes, less hours of sunshine. The growing cycle is longer; this produces totally different aromas- more freshness, a high aroma’. This attention to detail produces an elegant range of wines with lovely freshness and aroma, very different to those produced at Emilio Moro.

However, José doesn’t like to call these modern wines. Instead he refers to them as a different expression of the same fruit, ‘I do not like to use traditional versus modern but prefer to talk about the different terroirs that produce different wines’. As at Emilio Moro, these wines are aged in a mix of French and American oak and abandon the traditional terms of Reserva and Gran Reserva. This gives the winemakers freedom to innovate with ageing terms.

Cepa 21 creates innovative wines that encapsulate José Moro’s core philosophies- Traditional Tinto Fino clones used by the family for decades married to the very best innovative vineyard and winery practices, and a firm focus on a respect for the land and enviornment that produce the unique conditions of the Duero valley.

And all this effort and attention to detail is certainly worth it. Today José’s wines are stocked in fifty countries on five continents, regularly winning awards and top marks from critics. His family owns almost 170 acres in one of the most exciting and beautiful wine regions in the world and his company is growing at about 15% per year. As well as this, Bodegas Emilio Moro just became the first visually impaired accessible winery in Castilla y Léon, carrying on from labelling their wines in braille, and also run a successful charitable foundation. The future looks very bright for the Moro family.

‘Wine is an art. If you know how to listen it speaks to you… It is like a living being that you have to understand, look after and care for.’
-Don Emilio Moro.

Spanish Wine Tour Part I- Ribera del Duero



I love travelling around Spain.  Having travelled from India to Australia, USA to Africa, I maintain that Spain would be my first choice location to emigrate to.  Not only is it a country full of fabulously friendly people, brilliant food and a rich history and culture, the landscape is hugely varied too.  From the sun-kissed beaches of southern Andalucia, to the wet, Atlantic-influenced northern area of Galicia.  From the sparsely populated plains of the interior Mesa, to the vibrant, populous cities, it offers the very best of Europe in many ways.  It has a gastronomic menu as rich as the French, the varied beauty of Italy, it is as warm and welcoming as the west of Ireland and even does a banking and unemployment crisis better than the Greeks!  But most importantly, for me anyway, is the fact it makes amongst the best wines in the world.

The first time I did a wine tour in Spain was during a diving holiday in Lanzarote.  My girlfriend and I rented a car for a day and explored the island’s interior, making unplanned stops at any bodegas that were open and willing to let us try their wines.  Admittedly there weren’t that many- it was a Sunday and in rural Spain it’s hard to find anything open.  However, the few that were open for business were beautifully romantic and a pleasant change from the bustling bars down at the coast.  Although I wasn’t hooked on Lanzarote wines, I was hooked on the romanticism of a wine holiday, so began planning our next holiday as soon as we arrived home.



Traveling with my girlfriend, we decided early that we wanted to stay in relatively rural areas and see the real Spain, so chose to visit the neighbouring wine regions of Ribera del Duero and Toro, north of Madrid.  So in late May we picked up a car in the fabulous Andalucian city of Córdoba and drove the ten hours north to the little town of Peñafiel, in the Valladolid province.  Sitting high on the Mesa that dominates central Spain, Valladolid enjoys hot, dry summers and very cold winters.
Only when we arrived at the lovely Hotel Pesquera at the end of May, it was extremely cold.  The locals had pulled their winter jackets out of storage and looked like they were heading off on a skiing holiday.  We, on the other hand, had come from Andalucia and only had tee shirts and shorts.  Not wanting to have come all this way to eat hotel food, we layered on every stitch of clothing we had and, ludicrously attired, headed in to town for dinner.  We were pretty much dressed like the Michelin man on holidays for four days!

View of Peñafiel from the castle walls.

View of Peñafiel from the castle walls.


Peñafiel is picture book pretty, with narrow, meandering, cobbled streets flanked by red-tiled wooden buildings.  An old farming community, the town is beginning to see an increase in tourism, bringing with it the first green buds of commercial prosperity.  Above the town the impressive, sleek figure of Peñafiel Castle dominates the landscape.  Long and narrow, it sits like a grounded ship on the summit of the mountain, a reminder of the troubled history of Medieval Spain.  Nowadays the castle is an impressive tourist attraction, offering guided tours with unrivalled views of the valley as well as an interesting Wine Museum.

Long and narrow, Peñafiel Castle is suitably known as The Ark.

Long and narrow, Peñafiel Castle is suitably known as The Ark.


That first night we had dinner in Plaza del Coso, the traditional bullfighting and fiesta square of the town.  For less than €20 we each had two glasses of fine wine and more local sausage and morcilla than we could possibly finish. This is a trend throughout rural Spain- small, local tapas bars charging very reasonable prices for fabulous local food and drink. Just ask a local and you will be enthusiastically told the best local eateries.


But even in a small town like Peñafiel, the Spanish offer quality dining options too. Not to be missed is Molino De Palacios, a converted windmill, straddling the Duratón River. This is a rustic, traditional restuarant, serving wild meats of rabbit, deer and bird, cooked over a vast open fire in the middle of the restaurant. The cavernous interior is cosy and comfortable, the bare stone walls wonderfully adorned with old milling and farming equipment. Although not cheap, the menu is fantastic and varied, the wine list offering the very best Ribera del Duero can offer, and the owners and staff could not be friendlier or more helpful. Just as with much of this rural area of Spain, everyone protests they don’t have a word of English, but each time I pitifully tried my pigeon Spanish, it seemed to give locals the confidence to converse perfectly in English. But even attempting a few words in Spanish is gratefully appreciated and you will get a lot of helpful local information for your effort.


Plaza del Coso with the castle in the background.

Plaza del Coso with the castle in the background.



The Rio Duero. An unremarkable river that gives rise to some of the greatest wines in the world.

The Rio Duero. An unremarkable river that gives rise to some of the greatest wines in the world.

As nice as the town and food are, there really was only one reason we chose Ribera del Duero- the wine.  As mentioned, the area is located on the high plateau that dominates central and northern Spain, and this is vital for the production of fine wines.  Whilst summer days can touch 40 C, the high altitude sees a big drop in night temperatures, allowing the grapes cool down and stabilise without baking.  This diurnal temperature difference is vital to the production of good fruit in many hot wine making regions around the world.  Named for the Duero river that runs from central Spain to the Atlantic coast in Portugal (where it becomes the Douro), Ribera del Duero produces some of the best wines in Spain outside the top DOCa classification enjoyed by Rioja and Priorat.  Vineyards located on the sides of the steep valleys, with poor soil and good drainage, tend to produce the best wines.  However, Vega Sicilia, Spain’s most famous wine, is produced in the far west of the region on relatively flat land with arid, sandy soil.  As well as Vega Sicilia, which is very difficult to get access to, there are many other fine wineries amongst the 267 bodegas that make up Ribera del Duero.  Amongst these are Protos and the Emilio Moro-owned Bodegas Cepa 21.


Cepa 21, Ribera del Duero.

Cepa 21, Ribera del Duero.

Bodegas Cepa 21.

Although there were no tours of Bodegas Emilio Moro available for the dates we were in the region, we were kindly directed to their brand new winery, Bodegas Cepa 21, where we got a private tour of their facility.

Aging cellar as seen from tasting room, Cepa 21.

Aging cellar as seen from tasting room, Cepa 21.

Set on 124 acres, the winery solely grows Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) to produce three main wines, of which their premier wine, Malabrigo, limited to 5,000 bottles, is the pick.  Aged in American oak, it is powerful, but rounded with the classic strong Tinto Fino flavours of cherry and spice; spectacularly good.  You can try their wines at the winery in the impressive tasting room overlooking the cavernous aging cellar, as the rustic smell of oak barrels and sweet aging wine fills the room.   Also worth noting is their restaurant that has fantastic views of the surrounding valley thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows.  Arriving first thing in the morning, we didn’t get a chance to eat there, but the menu looked very inviting.  The details of tours can be found on their site, and although our lovely guide, Carrol, had excellent English, you should give plenty of notice if you want to ensure a tour in English.

Entrance to Bodegas Comenge.

Entrance to Bodegas Comenge.

There are dozens of other bodegas worth visiting in the area, from the luxurious hotel and spa of Bodegas Arzuaga Navarro to the smaller, brand new facility of Comenge Bodegas Y Viñedos, with its unrivaled views of the beautiful Curiel de Duero valley.  Complete with an abandoned medieval fortress, you get the impression that this was an area that has been fought over for centuries, with its defensible craggy peaks and verdant valley floor.  With an organic farming philosophy, Comenge produce the wonderful Don Miguel wine; made with 90% Tempranillo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, this blend is fast becoming a firm favourite in Ribera del Duero and the 2010 was awarded a Silver Medal at this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards (meanwhile their basic wine, Comenge 2009, nicked a Gold).

Entrance to old winery, Protos, Peñafiel.

Entrance to old winery, Protos, Peñafiel.

Protos Bodegas Ribera Duero De Peñafiel.

From the spectacular and modern, to the rustic and quaint, you could spend a year visiting the bodegas of Ribera del Duero without getting bored.  However, if you could only visit one, it would have to be Protos, the first modern commercial winery in Ribera del Duero, and the winery that gave the whole region its name. Taking its own motto, Ser Primo (Be The First), very much to heart, Protos does everything on a scale way beyond what is possible elsewhere in the region.  Entering the winery through the grand old gates, you find yourself in a cool, dimly lit, atmospheric old greeting room hewn from the rock face.  The tour then winds through 2km of storage and aging tunnels that burrow under the mountainside, before emerging in the vast, bright new winery on the opposite side of the road.  Costing over €15 million to build, this is by far the most impressive, if not most characterful, winery in Peñafiel.

New, cliamte coltrolled aging room in the new winery.

Climate-controlled aging room in the new winery.

2km of aging tunnels wind under the mountainside of  Peñafiel.

2km of aging tunnels wind under the mountainside of Peñafiel.





Between the two wineries, Protos can store up to 14,000 casks and a further 3 million bottles for aging.  This is wine production on a vast scale, buying their grapes from co-operatives from all corners of the region.  At this scale it can be assumed that quality has to be sacrificed to simply process the 1 million kg of grapes that passes through it each year, but that’s not the case, as we found out at the tasting at the end of the tour.  All of their wines are classic Tinto Fino varietals, but the Finca El Grajo was the star of the show- so much so I flew home with three bottles at the expense of a few tees and shorts!  Produced by the fruit of low-yielding, 70-year-old vines, the wine is all about spicy freshness, earthiness and sweet red fruit.  But their other wines are no slouches either- this year their Reserva and Crianza both won Silver Medals in the DWWA and consistently score well in the Peñín Guide to Spanish Wine.  At the end of the tasting you are free to take away a nice souvenir glass.  Don’t bother- the first time I tried to wash wine it exploded in my hand and nearly took my pinky off!  Not surprised they’re giving them away!


Protos was the last bodegas on this leg of our tour.  From here we travelled to the neighbouring region of Toro, the home of the 100 Parker Point Termanthia.  But there is much more to this rising star of Spanish wine than the score of one well-heeled American, but that will have to wait for Part II.