Feeling like an insider is unlike anything else — especially when you’re traveling. As a somm, I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy some pretty crazy experiences, so I wanted to put together an insider’s guide to two of my favorite wine regions (Ribera del Duero and Rueda). For anyone who has wondered what wine professionals do on the road, here are some favorite hangouts and under-the-radar spots… The sorts of things that make you feel like a traveler, not a tourist.
First, fly into Madrid! Everybody loves on Barcelona, and certainly it is a lovely city, but Madrid has so much to offer. Stay at the iconic NH Eurobuilding Collection in the financial district, about 4 KM from the city center and Plaza Mayor. Grab classic tapas for dinner at Taberna el Sur, a local’s secret. I also recommend getting out for a walk or run through the gardens in madrid El Parque del Buen Retiro, near The Only You Atocha (another great hotel option!).
After a day in the city, hop in a rental car and drive two and half hours northwest to Valladolid. Stay at Nexus Valladollid, a boutique hotel that offers wine tastings featuring Nexus (Ribera del Duero) and Frontaura (Toro) bottles, plus fun cultural excursions with stops at their vineyards and wineries.
Want the scoop on the two regions? Order them as you would your wine tastings — white wine first, then red country.
A good first visit is Bodegas Naia. These wines have always been among my favorites. They make a full range of expressions of Verdejo – the eponymous Naia – that are crisp, clean, and refreshing. The Naiades, from pre-phylloxera vines and barrel-fermented, a pinnacle of a more generous style of Verdejo
Definitely check out Javier Sanz. Wines here are lovely, approachable, and the Sanz family is 4th-generation winemakers. The wines mirror the viticulture; they are focused, restrained, and always reflect a clear sense of place
As a quick stop, hit Marques de Caceres, grab a glass of Verdejo, and sit out on their patio under their 100 foot canopy while taking in the vineyards. You’ll immediately relax.
Another favorite, though it is a bit of a bumpy ride, is Ramon Bilbao. This is the new guy on the block in Rueda, but wines here are amazingly interesting, as their bold winemaker Sara Bañuelos experiments a little with various types of oak and fermentation vessels. Stop to grab lunch at the incredible, Michelin-starred restaurant, La Botica de Matapozuelos.
Before you head to Ribera del Duero, pop into Gabi Garcia in Valladolid for your last hurrah. The chef is kind of a big deal and he is there every night, greeting guests and cooking away in the kitchen. Try the steak frites, lamb stuffed with sausage, mushrooms with creamy carrots or the grilled octopus with garlic roasted potatoes. You cannot go wrong
Ready to hit the road? Take a 45-minutes or so drive to…
Ribera del Duero
There are couple wineries that you can’t miss. As a somm, at the top of my list is always Vega Sicilia. Beg, borrow, steal your way in – sneak in with the grounds crew if you have to! The Japanese garden is unreal … and just kidding on sneaking in! That’s frowned upon.
Check out Bodegas Neo. They often have live music, and they’re throwing parties and cooking amazing food all the time. While they know how to have fun, they make some really serious wine too.
If you aren’t faint of heart, check out a hot air balloon ride (try Vallaglobo) through the region. Sommeliers look at dirt and this concept of “terroir” as the holy grail – and a hot air balloon ride above “the golden mile” of Ribera del Duero is basically an hour-long master class in some of the best dirt in Spain. Plus, it is an incredible view as you float above vineyards and valleys throughout the region.
Fuente Aceña in Valladollid: The view of the River Duero is killer, and you get an idea of how small the river is but how big an impact it has on the terrior of the golden mile. Try the suckling pig confit with baked apple, or, if you are feeling adventurous, the thin lasagna stuffed with local black sausage.
The wines of Ribera are a benchmark, but the whites of Rueda are an amazing counterpoint – the textbook example of Verdejo in the world. The wines are a pure expression of place, as their minerality and purity of fruit is the perfect balance between flavor and approachability with a focused tension that comes from their unique soils, elevation, and restraint in winemaking.
Other Top Picks From Fellow Somms
Josh Lit, Sommelier at The Modern: “Check out La Venecia. It is an amazing old school sherry bar in Madrid, and I always tell people to go there. In the region of Rueda, stop by Martinsancho. The family at this winery has been producing old-vine Verdejo for decades! The wines are outstanding.
Dana Gaiser, Advanced Sommelier and Importer at Lauber Imports: “My favorite in the regions is Vidal Soblechero / Pagos de Villavendimia. Villavendimia is making some of the most inspired wine in the region of Rueda, and showing the potential to make wines that go beyond just fresh and easy drinking wines without trying to make them too “international” in style.
Marlon Toro, Wine Director and Sommelier “The Bazaar” by Jose Andres is a huge fan of Bodegas Arzuaga Navarro and their restaurant. “The wines, contemporary decor and staff are phenomenal – plus their baby milk-fed lamb dish is life-altering. This place is amazing, and truly has it all.”
Like I said, Ribera del Duero and Rueda present an incredible opportunity. With these tips, you can visit a pair of regions that are producing world-class wines; but most of the world hasn’t figured it out yet. As a result, experiences that are usually only open to high-level trade or collectors are part of the everyday routine.
(Have you bought your tickets yet?)