By Rich Warren
Spain’s Ribera del Duero region is known for full-bodied, flavorful red wines – and a fairytale landscape. Located an hour north of Madrid by high-speed train or two hours by car, it’s dotted with castles, cathedrals, and the Duero River valley’s ancient walled cities, plus vineyards and cellar tasting rooms.
Spain’s D.O. (denomination of origin) regulatory system, mandates that Ribera del Duero wines use a minimum of 75 percent tempranillo – which is often complemented by cabernet sauvignon, malbec, or merlot. “The wines of Ribera del Duero hold up to the very best of Spanish wines,” says New York-based Virtuoso travel advisor Dan Beschloss, who counts winemakers and sommeliers in his own family. “I prefer red wines that are a bit ‘in your face’ – similar to great California cabs or the Australian Penfolds label – and the Spanish wines from this region are just that.”
Picturesque towns such as Peñafiel beckon visitors with a wine museum inside the local castle, occasional bullfights in the town square, and Protos winery, with its striking rooftop resembling ripping waves and a labyrinth of wine cellars beneath its hill. Just minutes away in the town of Aranda de Duero, interconnecting wine cellars – some cut into sheer rock – extend beneath cobblestone streets.
At hilltop winery Portia, architecture is the draw thanks to Norman Foster’s three-point star design, made with steel, wood, concrete, and glass. The innovative structure allows trucks to drive directly onto the roof to drop grapes into the gravity-fed winery. Other famed wineries in the area include Tinto Pesquera and Condado de Haza, famous for its aging barrels signed by Spanish royalty, soccer players, and movie stars.
When it comes to hotels, Beschloss recommends Abadia Retuerta LeDomaine, a former twelfth-century monastery decorated with frescoes and tapestries. Hotel staff line up to welcome new guests, who come for experiences such as helicopter sightseeing, falconry, the chance to help with the harvest at on-site winery Abadia Retuerta, or to just taste and explore their way through the 1700 acres of vineyards on horseback or by Land Rover. Because the 30-room hotel lies just outside Ribera del Duero’s official D.O. boundary, winemakers enjoy more creative freedom with blending (they recently produced an outstanding white blend with sauvignon blanc and a touch of verdejo).
At the resort’s Santuario Spa, treatments begin with a wine tasting. Based on preference, the “spa sommelier” selects oils to pair with specific wine properties – a type of “vinotherapy” said to boost energy, relieve stress, and increase mental clarity.
From the resort, winery-hop along the nearby “Golden Mile” (more like six miles) on the main highway. Try Grupo Matarromera’s individual bodegas, sip aging wine out of barrels at Rento, and sample vintages alongside cosmetics from Esdor (made with polyphenols extracted from grape stems and seeds) at Emina.
Top photo courtesy of ICEX.