Literary Inspiration for A Traveller in Wines

"Here," cried Don Quixote, "here, brother Sancho Panza, we shall be able to dip our hands up to the elbows, in what is called adventure. . ." – Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes

"People talk of the glorious dreams of opium-smokers, the frenzied exhilaration that hashish can give, but I, who have studied both, assure you that neither can for a moment compare with the delirious joy of fifty or sixty Spaniards applauding a dancer in the upper room of a café in Seville!" – From Paris to Cádiz, Alexandre Dumas pere

"Of one thing the reader may be assured, – that dear will be to him, as is now to us, the remembrance of those wild and weary rides through tawny Spain. . ." – Gatherings From Spain, Richard Ford.

"The traveller in wines, finding these topics a little beyond his comprehension, remarked loudly that Sénécal was forgetting a lot of scandals." – Sentimental Education, Gustave Flaubert, whose work was greatly influenced by Cervantes's Don Quixote.

Gerry Dawes at Marisquería Rafa in Madrid.
Photo by John Sconzo, Docsconz: Musings on Food & Life

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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Traveller in Wines - Prologue: Monterey, California to Southern Spain

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Roberto (l) from La Alameda de Hercules and his army buddies (and my wine drinking and flamenco buddies) on the train from Sevilla to El Puerto de Santa Maria (my stop) and San Fernando (their stop).  Photo by Gerry Dawes 1969.
Before I was stationed in Spain in the United States Navy, my experience with wine—except for plying girlfriends back in Illinois with the occasional bottle of pink “Champagne”—came in California in the mid-1960s. On weekends on the mystical white beach at Carmel, with my buddies—all of us students at the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey—and I shared the jugs of cheap California wines, along with bread and cheese from the Mediterranean Market in the village. 

One night under Monterey’s decaying old wharf, I helped two others polish off a gallon jug of Mountain Red—with miserable results. And once in a while on a payday weekend, I would splurge on abalone and a bottle of Almaden Emerald Riesling or some such at a restaurant on Monterey’s then-not-so-touristy Fisherman’s Wharf or have spaghetti and a wicker-wrapped, aptly-named fiasco of Chianti on Cannery Row, which at that time still had vestiges and whiffs of John Steinbeck’s time.

And, one August weekend in 1967, surrounded by a bristling, rifle-armed, weekend warriors of soon-to-be-sent-home National Guard Troop (for a rock concert?), we watched and listened in wine-soaked and pot-infused reverie at the Monterey Pop Festival as Janis Joplin, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Canned Heat and Otis Redding became international stars right before our mesmerized eyes and passed into legend.

At Southern Illinois University I had sporadically pursued a journalism major until 1965, when the Lyndon Baines Johnson-led United States government—opting first, or course, for those “who had not worked continuously towards a degree”— decided that they needed even more carrion candidates for Vietnam. I volunteered for the Navy as soon as I felt the hot breath of my local draft board breathing down my neck. To avoid the possibility of two years of infantry duty and possible death (certain in my mind), I enlisted for four years of life in the Navy, astutely calculating that aircraft carriers didn’t normally invade Vietnamese rice paddies. 

Ironically, I damned near died from a bout with spinal meningitis that I contracted during basic training at Great Lakes Naval Station, where recruits were allowed some four hours sleep a night, which greatly contributed to a meningitis epidemic among them during that epoch. (In the middle of the night, we took turns guarding a laundry room, just in case, we surmised, the Viet Cong somehow managed to penetrate the heartland in the dead of a Lake Michigan winter to stage a surprise laundry raid). 
After a four-month stay in the hospital--during which I saw El Cid (ironically, my first important brush with Spain)--on the telephone I pestered the Navy bureaucrats in Washington until they sent me to the Defense Language Institute at Monterey, California, where I miraculously graduated as a poor-to-mediocre linguist. I left Monterey barely conversant in pidgin military Russian, but did learn to sing a transliterated version of “Dixie.”  

After graduation, we were transferred for several months to Defense Department’s Top Secret Security School in San Angelo, Texas, a training assignment made memorable by a monumentally ignorant Chief Botswain’s Mate, who lined up a mostly college-educated crew of linguists and threatened to charge us for mutiny for failing to show up for a useless meeting after an all-night class. He punctuated his blustering by proclaiming the “ignorance in Botswain’s Mates went out with the sailing ships,” which caused the incredulous officers watching this absurd, worthy-of-a-M.A.S.H.- episode performance to stifle guffaws. The mutiny squelched, we survived to graduate. 

Just before we graduated, one day in class when my field assignment was announced as Spain, someone blurted, “You lucky bastard!” As it turned out, life’s lottery had handed me a winning ticket. As soon as class was over, I went straight to the base library and checked out the few books I could find on Spain. 

Rota, January, 1969.  Photo by Gerry Dawes.

 Rota in January 2018.

Because of the military’s infinite wisdom and logic-defying precision, I, as a Russian linguist, was assigned for two years to the Rota Naval Base in Andalucía, from which periodically I was sent out riding the plane captain’s seat of antiquated, 1950s’ vintage, un-armed airplanes, including the great swept-wing hog, the A-3 Skywarrior, a converted fighter-bomber. Staging out of Greece and West Germany, we flew on electronic eavesdropping missions off the coasts of Egypt, Libya, East Germany, Poland, and Russia. It was my job to listen on a radio receiver and tape Russian military conversations. The first time I heard a MIG on our tail pretending to lock on with a missile, which would have turned us to toast in just a few seconds, I momentarily longed even for a rice paddy. Nevertheless, during my two-year tour of duty in Rota, between flying missions, I had time to begin discovering Spain and I began to develop an afición, a passion, for the country that has continued to grow for more than 50 years. 

I was glad, deliriously glad, to be in Europe and not in Vietnam. By August of 1968, a year after that momentous Monterey Pop Festival, I found myself in a steamy second class train car rattling south through Andalucía towards El Puerto de Santa María with a group of Spanish conscripts, who would become my friends over the course of that summer as we traveled back-and-forth between our respective military assignments in Cádiz province and weekend R & R in their beautiful, mystical Sevilla, the quintessential city of southern Spain, which was rapidly becoming my adopted hometown. 

On that slow rocking train in southern Spain, Roberto, one of my new Spanish soldier friends—most of whom came from La Alameda de Hércules, a Sevilla working class barrio—taught me how to cut a V-shaped wedge out of either side of a cork pulled from the label-less bottles of coarse, ice-cold, red vino corriente that I would purchase at station when the train stopped in heat-baked Utrera, south of Sevilla. Roberto would shove the cork back in the bottle and pass the wine around for all to share bota-style, each in turn tilting up the bottle and allowing the wine to flow in a stream into the drinker’s mouth without allowing the bottle to touch his lips. 

During the summer of 1968, I nearly mastered the art of hitting my mouth with a stream of red wine while standing in the passageway at the end of the swaying train car, through whose open doors warm air gushed, considerably increasing the degree of difficulty.


Wine-stained shirts and few bottles of wine were a small price to pay for many hours of the conviviality of these fun-loving Spanish soldiers. In addition to learning a modicum of unorthodox wine-drinking etiquette from Roberto and his friends, I picked up some Spanish by osmosis and was treated to impromptu flamenco singing accompanied by the staccato rhythms of my friends clapping palmas (which they also taught me). I was also given a share of Roberto's mother's superb tortillas españolas (Spain's classic potato omelettes that are sliced into wedges and eaten cold—then a traveller's staple in Spain). 

Each week, when we arrived in Sevilla, Roberto and his friends told me which train they would be taking back to their base in San Fernando. No matter what shape we were in after drinking multiple bottles of wine on the two-hour train ride, my new amigos always made sure I got off at El Puerto de Santa María, the great sherry town on the bay of Cádiz, where I would catch the shiny little local train to nearby Rota. There were big abrazos (embraces), waves, and good wishes from my new-found friends as I dis-embarked, then they were back to clapping and singing flamenco as their train creaked to life and rolled on to San Fernando, two stops down the line. 

The sharp, metallic, chilled wine--which tasted far better with the good tortilla, Spanish olives, and rough country bread--was never more than poor to mediocre, but it was the camaraderie and conviviality of Roberto and his Sevillano friends sharing their food, songs, jokes, and stories with me that made those train trips so memorable and the ordinary wine and food a feast. On those wonderful “wild and weary” train rides through tawny summertime Spain, I also learned an indispensable rule about drinking vino—the most important thing about any bottle of wine is the people surrounding it. And in the process I developed a passion for Spain, Spaniards, and Spanish wine and food that has endured to this day. 

My experiences with those Spanish soldiers set the tone for the stories that follow.

Gerry Dawes©2018

Introduction to A Traveller in Wines

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From Cervantes's Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; the writings on Spain of Alexandre Dumas père; the marvelous English Murray Guides writer, Richard Ford; and the late Americans, James A. Michener, and Donn Pohren, a little-known, but important, American expert on things Spanish, I learned to approach Spain and its wines, food, history, and culture with an adventurous and inquisitive spirit.

In 1972, Pohren, who lived in Spain for decades and is one of the world’s greatest flamenco experts, published his idiosyncratic underground classic, Adventures in Taste: The Wines and Folk Food of Spain. Pohren wandered around the Iberian Peninsula exploring some of Spain's 4,000,000 acres of vineyard lands, the largest wine acreage of any country in the world, and tasting wines. He would pop into a village bar, ask for a glass of the local vino, then casually ask who made the best wine in town. On several occasions, Pohren would find himself being offered several samples as one vintner after another showed up at the bar with his wines to prove to this foreigner that his vino was the best in the village.

In Adventures in Taste, Pohren described encounter after encounter with artisan winemakers who were making good country wines, many of which were unknown to the outside world in those days. Although Pohren was relatively unsophisticated as a gourmet, he chronicled his food adventures as well, ferreting out great regional restaurants, back-country inns and taverns, and tapas bars all over the country. He wrote about the best places for great roast lamb in Castile; the superb mountain hams from acorn-fed, free-range Iberian pata negra pigs of southern and western Spain; great fish and shellfish along both the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts; garlic chicken in Madrid; and such esoteric specialties as baby goat livers in lemon sauce in the mountains of Malaga, and. Pohren not only wrote about the food, wine, customs, and fiestas, each year he ran several specialized tours, in which he introduced a handful of privileged travellers to his secret places in back country Spain.

During the eight years I lived in Spain, I traveled with Pohren’s book and with James A. Michener’s Iberia (my copy of Iberia is signed by more than 20 of the characters about which Michener wrote). I often drove many kilometers out of my way to find Pohren’s culinary and wine treasures and to search out the people and places about which Michener had so persuasively written. While following in the footsteps of these predecessors, I naturally had my own adventures. I began to uncover exceptional wines, experience my own unique gastronomic epiphanies, meet unforgettable people, and discover places about which neither Michener nor Pohren had written.

The writings of Richard Ford, an Englishman, who covered much of Spain on horseback during the 1840s also inspired me. Ford wrote one of the most well-written and witty travel guides I have ever read, A Handbook for Travellers in Spain and Readers at Home (ironically republished by my home university’s Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, Illinois; ©Centaur Press, Ltd. 1966). Ford’s frontispiece further billed the book as “Describing the Country and Cities, the Natives and Their Manners; The Antiquities, Religion, Legends, Fine Arts, Literature, Sports, and Gastronomy with notices On Spanish History.”

Ford described his travels in Spain pithily, provided his readers with often humorous insights about Spaniards, many of which still hold true, and imbued his writing with a sense of adventure that has long inspired me to continue embarking on what he called, “those wild and weary rides through tawny Spain.”

Wine and food are the threads that will bind the tapestry of A Traveller in Wines: Fifty Years of Adventures on the Food & Wine Roads of Spain, but I intend for the book to have a much broader appeal. Although I plan to concentrate on wine and gastronomy adventures, like Ford, Michener, and Pohren, I will draw from the broader spectrum of Spain’s rich heritage, history, and culture to make A Traveller in Wines a great read about the country, its people (and, like Michener, sometimes the foreigners who love it), its vineyards and wineries, its tapas bars and restaurants, and its winemakers and chefs.

I am fond of quoting two passages about Spain—one from Richard Ford and the other from Alexandre Dumas père—which are in the spirit of the approach I want to bring to my book. Ford’s passage is about the philosophy of travel and life; Dumas’s is evocative description.

In A Handbook for Travellers in Spain, Ford wrote his philosophy on traveling in Spain: “The search for the excellent is the high road to excellence . . . The refining effort and habit teaches the mind to think; from long pondering the beautiful world without, snatches are caught of the beautiful world within, and a glimpse is granted to the chosen few, of glories hidden from the vulgar many. They indeed have eyes, but see not . . .”

It will be my task in A Traveller in Wines to share those glimpses with those who may not have been able to see Spain for themselves and provide deeper insights for those who have been to Spain.

Alexandre Dumas wrote some fine descriptive passages about his travels in Spain in From Paris to Cadiz, including this quote, which is one of my favorites, “People talk of the glorious dreams of opium-smokers, the frenzied exhilaration that hashish can give, but I, who have studied both, assure you that neither can for a moment compare with the delirious joy of fifty or sixty Spaniards applauding a dancer in the upper room of a café in Seville!”

Dumas’s quote alludes to the duende that Lorca wrote about, a magical quality in the Spanish spirit that I have been lucky enough to encounter on numerous occasions in my travels.

Gerry Dawes©2018

Monday, April 16, 2018

Barcelona's La Boquería: My Favorite Pueblo is a Gastronomer’s Paradise

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Boquería Gourmand
English edition, published by Viena Edicions (

La Boquería:  My Favorite Pueblo is a Gastronomer’s Paradise
(Foreword includes additional paragraphs not in the published version.)

By Gerry Dawes©2018

Premio Nacional de Gastronomía 2003
(Stay tuned for many more photographs of La Boquería.)

El Mercat de San Josep, La Boquería. 
Photo: Gerry Dawes©2018 /
“I felt dizzy with the idea that I was part of that paradise of food. It was, and still is, a petit poble (small village) inside the big city.” - - Quim Marquéz, Chef-owner, Quim de la Boquería, Parada 606 (location), El Mercat de La Boquería. 

Quim Marquéz, Chef-owner, Quim de la Boquería
Photo: Gerry Dawes©2011 /

For forty years I have been traveling in the patrias chicas of the Iberian Peninsula.  I lived for eight years in Andalucía and have repeatedly crisscrossed El País Vasco, Galicia, Valencia, Navarra, Aragón, La Rioja, Asturias, Extremadura, the lands of Castilla y León, and all of the other provinces of Iberia, including Catalunya.  Over these decades of travel, I have come to love many "pueblos" across the vast, wonderful and exotic Iberian landscape-Sanlúcar de Barrameda (where my soul resides) and Ronda in Andalucía: Chinchón just outside Madrid; Covarrubias (Burgos); Burguete (Navarra); Haro (La Rioja), Cangas de Onís (Asturias), Gratallops (Tarragona) and Cadaqués (Girona), among many. 
Gerry Dawes, Juanito Bayen and Juli Soler at Pinotxo Bar, Barcelona, Jan. 14, 2014. 
 / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest. Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS30 43-86mm f3.3 – f6.4.
 Photo courtesy of Gerry Dawes©2014 /
As much as I long to return to such places for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is a multitude of friends and memories, few have quite the compelling attraction of Barcelona's El Mercat de San Josep, La Boquería market, which as Quim Marquéz put it so well, "still is a petit poble (small village) inside the big city" and is literally one of my favorite pueblos in the world.

Ever since I spent six weeks in Barcelona in 1970--first working as an extra on the American movie, The Great White Hope (many of the boxing scenes were filmed on Montjuic) and having anecdotal quality adventures off the set with the actor, James Earl Jones--this exciting city has occupied a favored spot in my heart.  While working on the movie, I stayed in a steeply discounted small room in the Hotel Ritz, then I moved to a very modest pensión, ironically on the calle de la Boquería.  Each day, I lived the rich Bohemian life of the legendary pedestrian artery,  Les Rambles, and the narrow, labyrinthine streets of the Barri Goti, el Raval and Born, incessantly taking photographs, including a memorable Sunday when I captured soulful images of Catalan sardana dancing in front of the Cathedral.  

Caren (from Argentina), Winged Victory. Les Rambles, Barcelona.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2008 /

In those early days, I was not yet the gourmet and gourmand that I would become as a writer-photographer specializing in the gastronomy of Spain--in 1997, Food Arts magazine (,4041,387,00.html) published my article on  Ferran Adrià, the first major article in the U.S. on elBulli's superstar chef.   I wandered into La Boquería on occasion (and returned there periodically on subsequent trips), but then usually I went on to explore Barcelona's other attractions - Les Rambles, the Barri Gotic, Montjuic, La Barceloneta and Antoni Gaudi's architecture.  

Lovers in Antoni Gaudí's Parque Güell, Barcelona. 
Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2010 /

It was not until 1992 that I was properly introduced to La Boquería on a pre-Olympic, gastronomic scouting trip with two major American journalists, Bryan Miller of The New York Times and William Rice of The Chicago Tribune.  With us was Spanish expatriate restaurateur, Gabino Sotelino from Chicago, who seemed to know everyone.  On our first day in Barcelona, we had an incredible breakfast in La Boquería at Bar Pinotxo, where Juanito Bayen held court and posed for his famous trademark thumbs-up photographs.  Catalan culinary luminaries, American chef Jonathan Waxman and writer Colman Andrews (author of Catalan Cuisine), both stopped by to say "bon día" to Juanito and see what he and his battery of cooks were serving that morning.

Juanito Bayen, owner of Pinotxo in La Boquería, Barcelona. 
Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2008. Contact:

There were egg dishes, mongetes (little white beans prized here as fesols de Sant Pau) and butifarra blanca (Catalan sausages), grilled asparagus and more, all washed down with lots of glasses of cava (Catulunya's fine sparkling wine), then carajillos, brandy-spiked espresso with the naughty name.   Later, we went with Isidre Gironés, owner of the legendary Ca L'Isidre restaurant, to Petras's mushroom stall, where I photographed Isidre with a large box of truffles.

Breakfast of Champions, calamarsets saltats amb fesols  de Sant Pau, beans with tiny squid dressed with a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar, with beer or cava (Catalan Champagne), Pinotxo Bar, La Boquería, Barcelona, Jan. 11, 2014.  Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest. Canon 5D Mark III / Tokina 17-35mm f/4.


After Pinotxo and my "first breakfast"-- now served to me by my friend, Jordi Asín (l).  Sadly his co-chef and a great friend of mine, brother Albert (r) died in February 2011.

Everywhere in La Boquería there is color. Artistically arranged in tiers are red, green, yellow and orange peppers; yellow-and-blush pink peaches, red, yellow and green apples, oranges, lemons and limes; shiny black or purple eggplant; green zucchini squash, green and white asparagus, artichokes and chirmoyas (custard apples); little baskets of red raspberries and currants; red and red-green tomatoes; white and red radishes, hanging strings of garlic and dried dark red ñora peppers.  Around a corner, a stand sells a dozen varieties of cured green, black and purple olives, pickled cucumbers, pickled onions, garbanzos, etc.  And another specializes in a Catalan staple, bacalao, salt cod in small stacks or in trays soaking in water, being de-salinated before cooking.

Eduard Soley, Vice President of La Boquería Owners Association bags a purchase at his stand in la Boquería. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2010 /

Jordi Mas's (co-author of Boquería Gourmand) family establishment, Mas Gourmets de L'Embotit (five stalls in La Boquería), specializes in Spanish hams and a variety of traditional and innovative embotits (cured meats and sausages).  Hanging from hooks attached to metal rods suspended from the ceiling are a dozen types of jamónes Ibéricos de bellota--exquisite pink-to-wine red, streaked with ethereal white-yellow fat hams from free-range pata negra (black hoof breed) pigs fattened on acorns-specially selected from three separate denominaciones de origen in western Spain.  

 Jordi Mas at on of his five Mas Embotits stands at la Boqueria market in Barcelona.
 Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest.

And, in La Boquería, a variety of butcher shops offer everything from steaks and pork chops to whole lamb, suckling pig, goat, rabbit and game birds.  Some specialize in offal--brains, livers, hearts, mounds of snow white tripe and "off" parts, pigs' trotters, lambs' heads, etc.

Another stall offers a wide range of imported and local cows', ewes' and goats' milk cheeses from Catalan Garrotxa to Extremaduran torta del Casar to French Vacherin Mont d'Or. A number of bakeries sell a wide variety of breads, pastries and pa coca, the original Catalana version of pizza.  A favorite photo opportunity is Ous de Calaf, which specializes in an impressive array of eggs from hens (organically raised), bantams, turkeys, ducks, pheasants, partridge, quail, ostrich and even emu!!  

And, at Avinova Ous i Caça (Eggs and Game), my friend Salvador Capdevila, depending upon the season, will have rows of rabbits, partridge, ducks, geese and other game, including venison, hanging in his cases to be hand dressed or cut according to the needs of his customers, which include some of the top restaurants in Catalunya.

 Salvador Capdevila, owner of Avinova, and Catalan food writer and personality Xavi Agulló at Bar Pinotxo, Barcelona.  Photo by Gerry Dawes©2010 /
Another major attraction is the seafood purveyors selling a stunning selection of fresh fish (all arranged on beds of ice) from both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, interspersed with  a wide variety of shellfish--pink gambas (shrimp) from Denia and Pálamos on the Mediterranean, carbineros (bright scarlet prawns) from Huelva, red or blue-green llagostas (lobsters), walnut-colored, razor-case shaped navalles (razor clams) and white-pink cigalas (Dublin Bay prawns) from Galicia (many so fresh they are still alive!). These colorful market stalls bustle with constant movement with fishmongers.  

Gemma Bosch Roca at her great seafood stand in La Boquería. 
 Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest. Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS30 43-86mm f3.3 – f6.4.

For years I have always stopped to photograph my friend, the lovely Gemma Bosch Roca, always stylishly dressed, like many women in La Boquería, wearing an elegantly embroidered bodice and looking gorgeous, all the while bagging mariscos (exquisite crustaceans and mollusks), cutting up fish, wrapping slices and filets, passing them to customers and taking payment.  Many of the women of La Boquería go to work dressed like they are going after work to attend a performance at the nearby Gran Teatre de Liceu (on Les Rambles), Barcelona's equivalent of Milano's La Scala.  (Years ago, one such well-dressed woman in a Boquería butcher's shop--before the health authorities made everyone wear gloves--spread open the carcass of a goat hanging in her stall for me to photograph with her carefully manicured, bright carmine-lacquered fingernails and the gold ring with diamonds she was wearing juxtaposed against the pink flesh of the freshly butchered animal.) 

At the back of the market, I always return to the famous stall of Bolets Petras, which even though my friend owner Llorenç Petràs has retired and left the business in the capable hands of his son, Xavier, still sells a multitude of mushrooms in season, along with truffles like the ones in the box that Isidre Gironés of Ca L'Isidre held for me to photograph twenty years ago.  

 The legendary mushroom-and-truffle guru, Llorenç Petràs, now-retired, but who just happened to be at his Petras stand in Barcelona’s Mercat de La Boquería that day (the stand is now run by his son) and showed the chefs a pile of prime black truffles.Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest. Canon EOS 6D / Tokina 17-35mm f/4.
I always finish my tour of la Boquería at Quím de la Boquería, another legendary market bar, whose slogan is "El Arte de Comer en Un Taburete" (The Art of Eating on a Barstool). I
f he is not crazy busy, I get a thumbs-up and a big abrazo from Quím Marquéz, the owner. From a small stove in impossibly tight quarters his sauteé pans flame and his plancha grill sizzles as Quím and his crew prepare some of the best food in food-crazy Barcelona.  For my "second breakfast"-- the first was at Pinotxo-knowing that I am going to be fed like a king I put myself in Quím's hands, like he did with me when I took him and his two young sons to New York City's Chinatown a few years ago.  

 Quím Marquéz, legendary market bar, whose slogan is "El Arte de Comer en Un Taburete" (The Art of Eating on a Barstool). 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest. Canon EOS 6D / Tokina 17-35mm f/4.

Quím may make me a bowl of steaming beberechos (cockles); a plate of grilled asparagus or deep-fried artichoke hearts; an exquisite dish of shrimp with the heads still on; my beloved mongetes with butifarra and aioli; then a perfectly cooked slab of foie gras with crispy fried leeks, all accompanied by glasses of cava rosat (rosé), Catalan Champagne. 

At Quím de la Boquería, I usually meet my old friend, Salvador Capdevila, owner of Avinova and now President of La Boquería owner's association.  Sometimes Salvador, then Vice President, would come with the amiable and highly regarded Manel Ripoll, who was President of La Boquería and who also became a friend.  (Sadly, Manel and two other friends of mine, the three-star Catalan chef Santi Santamaría and Pinotxo's Albert Asín, all died early in 2011).  And during the course of the hour I may spend at Quím de la Boquería, I sometimes see some of the most famous names in Catalan gastronomy such as my dear friend, (the late) Juli Soler (Ferran Adrià's partner at elBulli); Ferran's brother, Albert, chef-owner of Tickets; and Christian Escribà, Barcelona's supremely talented pastry maestro and event planner. 

My late great friend Juli Soler and I in front of a photo of Christian Escribà at Escribà on Les Rambles, next to La Boquería Market, Barcelona, Jan. 11, 2014. 
Photo by a friend of Juli Soler, Hubert Wiese Tornoe, Montblanc Iberia, SLU.

But, regardless of who shows up, when I return to this gastronomic paradise that is La Boquería, I always feel like I have come home to the pueblo of my dreams.

About Gerry Dawes   

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 

Trailer for a proposed reality television series  
on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Late Great Donn Pohren and His Significance: "Embedded in me like a memory chip is the spirit of Donn Pohren and his book."

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Madrid, Spain - American writer and well-known Flamencologist Donn Pohren died in Las Rozas [a Madrid suburb] on November 5, 2007. His wife, Luisa Maravillas provided a brief statement: "I regret to inform you all that Donn passed away the 5th of November, during the night. Sometime in the near future I intend to organize a gathering of friends and aficionados in Las Rozas."  - - Contributed by: WMC_News_Dept.  11/07/2007 08:35AM

Donn Pohren was regarded as one of the leading experts in Flamenco in the English language and wrote several influential books about the subject. 

"Donn Pohren's book was the first thing I bought when arriving in Andalucía, before I even knew how much my life would be involved with and changed by flamenco. It helped me understand a lot that was to come," says British expatriate Kate Edbrooke, who runs a recording studio in Granada and has produced several Flamenco recordings by local artists.

The Significance of Flamencologist Donn Pohren
and His Impact on Spanish Wine & Food
Que descansa en una juerga de “pura ma're” with a copita in front of him
and Diego del Gastor playing alongside him.

Copyright by Gerry Dawes 2017. 

In 1972, Donn Pohren, a Minneapolis-born American who lived in Spain for decades and was the world's greatest foreign expert on flamenco, published his idiosyncratic underground classic, Adventures in Taste: The Wines and Folk Food of Spain

I was living in southern Spain when I first encountered Pohrens's book (privately printed in Spain) soon after it was published and it had a profound effect on me. In the early years, I never traveled without it. At first, I merely wanted to have some of the wine and food experiences that he had described. Soon, I was having new experiences of my own, experiences that would eventually lead to my becoming a widely published writer on Spanish wine and food and a recognized authority in the field.
My copy of Donn Pohren's Adventures in Taste: The Wines and Folk Food of Spain

Adventures in Taste, self-published by Pohren in 1972.

Pohren wandered around the Iberian Peninsula in the 1960s exploring the nooks and crannies of Spain's 4,000,000 acres of vineyard lands, the largest acreage of any country in the world. He would pop into a village bar, ask for a glass of the local vino, then casually ask who made the best wine in town. On many occasions, Pohren would soon find himself being offered several samples as one vintner after another vied to show this foreigner that his wine was the best in the village. 

In his book, Pohren described encounter after encounter with artisan winemakers who were making excellent wines, many of which were unknown to the outside world in those days.

Pohren's Map of the Wine Regions of North Central
 (He did not cover Galicia!)

However, many of the wines Pohren described were wines whose charm in those days soon faded if anyone tried to transport them beyond the boundaries of their home region. 

The winemaking techniques were often primitive. In many places the grapes were still crushed by treading, then fermented in open stone or cement vats, and aged in less than meticulously cared for barrels. The result was a flawed wine, which often tasted good with the local food, but was simply not stable enough to "travel" and was not the stuff to thrill sophisticated wine connoisseurs. Still, Don Pohren swore by the inherent quality of many of these Spanish wines and he was right.

His experiences have always been in the back of my mind and have served me well on numerous occasions, such as an encounter on my first trip to then unknown Priorat in 1988. Firmly in Pohren's shoes, I entered an old-fashioned, untidy cellar, where I was given a flawed wine to taste, but the underlying base wine was clearly very good. I judged the prospects for this region to be so promising that I came back wrote the first major article about the potential of Priorat. 

Alvaro Palacios and crew arrived in Priorat the next year and began to make history.  In Ribeira Sacra, 15 years ago I encountered some flawed wines (less with every pasing year), just as a did in Priorat nearly 15 years earlier.  Tasting "underneath" the sometimes inexperienced wine making techniques, I found enormous potential.  I know Donn would have as well.

What Pohren tasted in those wines while researching his book forty years ago was the materia prima (raw material; grapes, soil and climate), the exceptional juice from grapes which often came from old vines, whose average yield of wine per acre of vines was less than half that allowed by the best appellations of Burgundy and Bordeaux.  

Even backward winemaking techniques couldn't keep the underlying quality from showing through; Pohren's Spanish wines were diamonds in the rough.

In the years since Donn Pohren wrote his book, exciting things have happened which promise an incredible future for both Spain's traditional wines and those of emerging wine regions.  

Spain's four decade-old democracy has been the catalyst for a modern renaissance in fashion, art, literature, cinema, and gastronomy and it has ushered in a technological revolution in wine making as well. A key element in this was Spain's acceptance in 1992 as a member of the European Economic Community, the Common Market (now the European Union), which posed a special challenge to Spanish wine producers: compete on a quality level with the other wines of Europe or enter the over-saturated European wine "lake," and be lost in the crowd.

Fortunately, Spain opted for quality. Many forward looking people in the Spanish wine trade began to see Spain's entry into the European Union as both a new challenge and a new opportunity for their wines. These challenges and opportunities would require a reassessment of their positions in both the domestic and export markets, an upgrading of their winemaking technology, and consistent quality in their wines. Emile Peynaud, Alexis Lichine, and other consultants were brought in from France to advise winemakers in the Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Rueda. 

The best eonologists from Rioja, Penedes, and Navarra traveled to other regions share their expertise. Young Spanish winemakers trained in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and at the University of California - Davis. Miguel Torres Riera, the maestro of Catalan winemaking, and Jose Peñin, Spain's foremost wine authority, wrote important books about Spain's future in the wine world. New wine books, periodicals, and gourmet journals proliferated. Seminars, international wine symposiums, and wine competitions began to be conducted on a regular basis. And, importantly, wine clubs and societies were formed as an increasingly affluent and growing middle class in Spain began to appreciate the wines of its own country.

During the past three decades, investments in new wine making technology (especially in the area of fermentation control), better barrels (although accompanied by a lot of oak abuse!), experiments with new grape varietals, and the replanting of vineyards in some areas have begun to have a geometric effect on the overall quality level of Spanish wines. This progress in winemaking technique in Spain would not in itself account for such a dramatic effect–in fact, it is now often a detriment to authenticity--if it were not for the fact that Spain is a splendid natural vineyard endowed with many areas whose grape varietals have become perfectly acclimated over centuries to the micro-climate and soil in which they grow. 

All that was needed in many cases were winemakers dedicated to quality and the technology to achieve it. The grapes produced in the best wine areas of Spain–Rioja, Jerez, Cataluña, Ribera del Duero, Navarra, Rueda, Ribera Sacra, Valdeorras and in many up and coming regions–have shown they are capable of producing wines which can stand alongside the best of France, Italy, and California. The Tempranillo of the Rioja and Ribera del Duero, for example, is coming to be recognized as a grape which can produce wines to rival those made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Pinot Noir.  And the Galician white wine variety Godello in Valdeorras and red wine grape Mencía in Ribeira Sacra, especially, make astoundingly good, world-class wines.

The established, classic wine regions of Spain like Rioja and Jerez, while refining the techniques and polishing the skills which made them famous, also created exciting new areas of interest with small estates like Remelluri and Contino in Rioja and the emergence of such high-quality wines as the almacenista sherries of Emilio Lustau and the late harvest Navarra moscatels from Julián Chivite, Ochoa and Viña Aliaga. Other areas whose wines were once underground legends in Spain, like those described by Donn Pohren, but whose viticulture was based on tiny artisan producers and ill-equipped cooperatives, began to realize their potential for making great wines.

Ribera del Duero, home of Vega Sicilia, Pesquera, Mauro, and Viña Pedrosa; Navarra, the producer of perhaps the world's finest rosés (from the Spanish native grape Garnacha); Priorato (Cataluña) and Toro (Castilla-León), whose rich, concentrated, blockbuster red wines have drawn international attention (but are too alcoholic for my tastes); Rueda, a surprising white wine region producing the native Verdejo and foreign Sauvignon Blanc; and Rías Baixas, whose Albariños now count the U.S. as its most important export market, are just the most visible of the emerging wine regions capable of making first rate wine from native grapes. There are many more to come. 

Previously unknown regions–some of which unknown to Donn Pohren–such as Bierzo, Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and Monterrei, along with Jumilla and many others–have either jumped onto the world wine stage or are just in the wings awaiting their call to stardom. P roducers like Miguel Torres in Penedes, Julián Chivite in Navarra, Carlos Falcó at Dominio de Valdepusa and Codorniu's Raimat estate, just to name a few examples, have achieved new heights with foreign varietals, though even the best examples often fall short of the intriguing, delicious, uniquely Spanish wines made from indigenous varieties–the kinds of wines that Donn Pohren loved.

Embedded in me like a memory chip is the spirit of Donn Pohren and his book. Following his example, I still ferret out little known producers and drive many kilometers out-of-the-way just to eat a dish in a little-known regional restaurant and, like Don, look beyond rusticity (or fancy trappings in some places) to find the core of something that is undeniably wonderful and unique to Spain. Only adventurers and indefatigable travelers can do what Donn Pohren did.  I can attest to how indefatigable and adventurous he was from averaging six trips a year to Spain for a six year period (and eight per year for five years).

Without Don Pohren’s book (and to a great degree, James A. Michener’s Iberia) I may have never caught the spirit of the Spanish road that has sustained me now for more than 40 years.  

For that I owe Donn a now un-redeemable debt of gratitude and so do people such as Steve Metzler, who built a great and exemplary Spanish wine importing company, Classical Wines, based on his Pohren-inspired wine travels. Because of Donn, Metzler was inspired to find not only Pesquera and make Alejandro Fernandez's wine world famous, he even met his wife, Almudena. 

Neither of us saw Don Pohren as much as we would have liked to over the years, but fortunately several years ago in Madrid, I had an opportunity to let Donn know just how much his work meant to me and to the many who carry Spain in their hearts.

Pohren visited my late former wife Diana and I for lunch at our house in Mijas (Málaga) in 1974.  
Donn autographed Adventures in Taste to us.

I will miss the fact that Donn is no longer with us in body, but he will never die in the spirits and hearts of those who followed his incredible Quixotesque passion for Spain, flamenco, Spanish wine and traditional food and all things Spanish. (Quixote may have been a dreamer, but not a madman; those windmills he was tilting at were brought from the low countries and represented the domination of the foreign House of Austria, a powerful, inquisition wielding force that crushed those who dissented like Don Quixote after his encounter with the windmill sails.)

Donn Pohren was a dreamer and he may have seemed like a madman when he lived his life like a candle in the wind during his awesome flamenco juerga years, but to me Donn Pohren was a profound inspiration and he always will be. 

Vaya con Dios, Don Donn. I will raise a copita to you often in my journeys. I can see the angels lining up now for a juerga--a Spanish wine, food and flamenco party--the likes of which even heaven hasn’t seen.

The End

Gerry Dawes©2017

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

La Rioja: R. López de Heredia, The Wines of Yesterday

* * * * *

From A Traveller in Wines 
(A work-in-progress.)
by Gerry Dawes

“The 1947 Bosconia is the best red wine I have ever drunk.”

La Rioja: The Wines of Yesterday, the 19th Century bodega of R. López de Heredia 
in Haro, the wine capital of La Rioja Alta.   
Photo by Gerry Dawes, copyright 2008 /

R. López de Heredia Slideshow
Double click on the slide show, then when the Google album comes up, 
click on slideshow link to the right and go to a full screen view.

During the 1970s when I lived in southern Spain, the northern wine district of Rioja came to represent an oasis to me during the hot, rainless summers of Andalucia, my spiritual home. By early July, the heat settles in over a large portion of Spain. The sun bears down relentlessly, especially in the Mediterranean portions of the country, driving millions of Spaniards to the beaches and cool mountain resorts. Coinciding with this time of year was our annual, much anticipated trek to Pamplona, where Hemingway's inveterate lost souls come from all over the world to see the sun rise on yet another Fiesta de San Fermín, which he immortalized in The Sun Also Rises. Since my former wife Diana and I counted ourselves among the admirers of the venerable Don Ernesto's fiesta, we too joined the migration each year.

We always set out at least a week before the commencement of festivities at Pamplona, so we could explore the Spanish countryside along the way. On one of these trips, we discovered the Rioja and it became our favorite place to pass some quiet time before surrendering to the wild, week-long festivities at Pamplona, where peace, tranquillity, and sleep are rare commodities and not even particularly desirable ones at that. We looked forward to the Rioja country, where we could taste fine wines in cool bodegas, sample superb country cuisine, and enjoy the scenery, history, and milder climate of this high mountain valley.

These were the days long before modern super highways were built across Spain and before most cars, including our magnificent Volkswagen sedan, Rocinante, had air-conditioning, so to avoid some of the scorching road heat of summertime Spain, in late afternoon we would leave Mijas, our pueblo on a mountain overlooking the Costa del Sol. We would drive into the wee hours of morning to escape the steady daytime flow of North African workers and their families, who once released on their month-long holiday from Northern European factories, maniacally pushed their lumbering, overloaded cars and vans down through Spain, hell-bent on reaching the beaches and homeward-bound ferries of the southern coast. Apart from diminishing our chances of being maimed by a Peugeot or a Mercedes van, the night offered some relief from being stuck behind the long queues of laboring Spanish trucks belching noxious black exhaust.

After stopping for a brief sleep at a Valdepeñas pensión, we would drive on through Madrid in the early morning hours to reach the ancient Castilian capital of Burgos–the city of El Cid–by midday. There we headed East towards the Rioja. In less than an hour, as the road climbed, the vegetation became increasingly verdant, the air fresher and cooler. The greener landscape, now showing some vineyards, soothes the soul as well as the body as the heavy layers of oppressive road heat peel away. The promise of a thundershower bringing the cool, night breezes of the Rioja would soon put the dust of the southern summer behind us.

We had arranged for two old friends, Alice Hall, the dowager empress of American bullfight aficionados of Milledgeville, Georgia and Carolyn Moyer of Davis, California to join us in a tour of the Rioja on our way to Pamplona. On this occasion, in 1973, we had written the firm of R. López de Heredia at Haro, the wine capital of La Rioja Alta, letting them know that we again wished to visit their bodega. The reply had come in the charming, graceful Spanish of a more genteel age. It went something like, "...We cannot tell you what joy the news of your imminent visit has produced in our bodega. It would be our great pleasure to receive you." 

By 10:00 on the morning of our visit, after a breakfast of rolls and café con leche, the four of us were down in the bodegas of R. López de Heredia for our "second breakfast" - - a wine tasting. Here, in surroundings as incredible as any I have known in the world of wine, Sr. Anastasio Gútierrez Angulo, the firm's export manager, let us taste some of his twenty-year old reservas–wines made in the style of a different era–wines of yesterday.

The 19th Century bodega of R. López de Heredia 
in Haro, the wine capital of La Rioja Alta.   
Photo by Gerry Dawes, copyright 2008 /

The bodega had all the trappings of a nineteenth-century operation patterned on the chais of Bordeaux (and in 2008, still does). The winery workers even wear blue coveralls as many of the staff at French chateaux still do. In time-honored fashion, barrels are still crafted in the winery's own cooperage. We saw workers cracking eggs from the firm's chicken farm to get fresh egg whites for fining the wines. Other employees laboriously filled bottles with reserva wines by hand and corked them with a hand-operated corking device. 

The cooperage at the 19th Century bodega (f. 1877) of R. López de Heredia.
Photo by Gerry Dawes, copyright 2008 /

Anastasio led us through a man-made maze of cool, barrel-filled limestone caves to the deepest part of the bodega - the room known at R. Lopez de Heredia as the cementerio - the cemetery. The cementerio is the resting place of the old vintage reservas dating from the founding of the firm in 1877. This cellar gets its name from the storage bins lining its walls, which very much resemble the burial niches in the Roman-plan cemeteries of Spain. Bin after bin is filled with dusty bottles from the greatest vintages of the past. At one end of the room is a large round wooden table whose centerpiece is a huge, gnarled, cobweb-covered old grapevine surrounded by bottles of wine. 

Barrel being rolled to another location at the 19th Century bodega (f. 1877) of R. López de Heredia. 

Our host, Anastasio, had selected two gran reservas from the fine 1954 vintage for us to taste. The first was Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva, a lovely, elegant Bordeaux-style wine of breed and complexity. The second wine was a more intense, dark ruby wine in a burgundy bottle, Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva, which was showing signs of evolving into a big, warm, rich wine - aterciopelado (velvety), as the Spaniards call it. The Viña Bosconia had a particularly beautiful nose, one which reminded me of a wonderful phrase that Michael Wigram, a wealthy Englishman who lives in Madrid and is and one of the world’s foremost bullfight aficionados, had used to describe another 1954 reserva at a luncheon during the Feria de Sevilla in 1973, "Gets a nice bloom on it after nineteen years, don't you think?"

These wines did indeed have "a nice bloom" on them. They were wines to be enjoyed, not merely tasted and spit on the floor of the bodega, so we sipped them while Anastasio gave us the most charming description of Rioja winemaking I have ever heard. First he described the normal processes of vinification, barrel aging, bottling, and so forth for the bodega's "bread and butter" - the table wines made to sell in the fourth, fifth, and sixth years after the vintage. Then, when he came to the subject of gran reservas, the classic Rioja reservas from exceptional vintages, he began to speak of the wine as a living thing. In this place called the cemetery, he brought his wines to life. Speaking softly, but with passion in his beautifully enunciated Castilian Spanish, he described the wine's "education."

"You see," he began, "in the beginning, a gran reserva is like a young man. Here in the bodega, he gets a proper `education,' then is bottled and becomes a young caballero. At about 25 years he reaches the peak of his youth, then he mellows out to about the age of, say, 35-40, when he gradually begins to tail off. However, some of these fellows do well even after fifty. A few years ago the owners allowed three bottles of the 1914s to be opened for a celebration. The second bottle was in fine condition."

It would be a day to remember - Anastasio's wonderful analogy and his beautiful wines were just the beginning. We were four good friends glowing with wine and in the mood for fiesta. At Merendero Toni in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, we lingered over one of those wonderful Spanish lunches: a simple salad of garden-ripened tomatoes, lettuce, and onions at the peak of their flavor, succulent baby lamb chops al sarmiento (grilled over grapevine prunings), crisp fried potatoes, and lots of vino tinto de la Rioja.

After lunch, with a tape playing jotas, the folk songs of Navarra, La Rioja and Aragón, we took the breathtaking drive up to the Balcon de la Rioja for splendid views of the entire Rioja valley. Diana and Alice, euphoric from the wine, the food, and the splendor of the day, danced the jota on the mountain as a Spanish family stared incredulously at two foreigners–Alice a septuagenarian at that–performing the lively regional dance of northern Spain in their own private fiesta.

Over the years, I drank many bottles of López de Heredia’s wines including the 1942 Viña Bosconia and 1947 Viña Bosconia, which at the time I thought were two of the greatest red wine I had ever drunk. I also visited López de Heredia several times and became friends with Anastasio Gútierrez and Pepe Osses, who succeeded him. 

One day Anastasio and I were touring the bodega. We had just come out of the firm’s picturesque cooper’s shop, which has always reminded me of Diego Velasquez’s Vulcan’s Forge in the Prado. Suddenly, there in front of us was an old man in a wheelchair. He wore a black beret, wore a sweater and had a terribly swollen, bare foot that looked like a encrusted stump.

“¿Ya sabes quien es (you know who this is)?” Anastasio asked me. It was Don Rafael López de Heredia–the son and namesake of the bodega’s founder of the bodega–who, from the looks of his foot, was in the twilight of his life. He still made the rounds of the bodega every day though, coming down from his office in the winery‘s marvelous red-trimmed, landmark arte nouveau tower via the elevator that had been built especially for him. 

Rafael López de Heredia, founder of the bodega. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes, copyright 2008 /

Anastasio introduced me to him and we shook hands. I was excited to finally meet a family member after half a dozen visits to the winery. I asked him if he minded if I photographed him. He didn’t and I took several color slides. When I put the camera aside, he asked me, “Well, if you took my photograph, you surely won’t mind if I take yours.” He pulled out a camera that he always carried with him and took my picture. I was astounded that this bright, but dying, old man loved photography as much as I did.

Before the encounter with Don Rafael, Anastasio and I had been tasting several of López de Heredia’s wonderful wines in the cementerio and, as I described on my first visit, they were not wines to spit on the floor, nor did I. Perhaps that led to my confusing the two cameras that I was carrying. Don Rafael left and, since the roll in one camera was finished, I rewound it. As I was talking to Anastasio, I started to reload the camera. To my horror, I opened the camera in which the roll was not finished, the one with the photographs of Don Rafael on it. I soon as I saw what I had done, I snapped the back shut and rewound the film. When I returned to New York, I had the film developed. There was the image of Don Rafael, clear and bright, but with rays from the light flashing on the film all around. They were strange pictures, ruined for publication, but I kept them, perhaps to use if I ever needed to describe him in detail. Later I would discover that those photographs were the last ones ever taken of Don Rafael. Shortly after my visit, he died.

Years later, I visited Anastasio at the bodega again and took several photographs of him. It was clear that he was near retirement. In the late 1980s, I was visiting López de Heredia in the company of Pepe Osses and I asked him about Anastasio. Pepe told me that Anastasio had retired and had been ill, but he had told him I was coming and that I wanted to see him. I telephoned Anastasio from the bodega to let him know that I had arrived and he said he would come down. “I have something for you.”

Pepe and I were tasting a fine old vintage of Viña Tondonia when Anastasio arrived. We embraced and I felt how frail he was. I had know him almost fifteen years by then. He had a folder with him and he pulled a photograph from it. “I thought you might want this,” he said, and handed me a photograph of myself, taken by Don Rafael López de Heredia during that chance encounter several years earlier. Tears came to my eyes. I was overwhelmed. I hugged Anastasio again and thanked him, then raised my glass of Tondonia and toasted him, “Mil gracias, mí viejo amigo, mil gracias.” It was a fabulous and thoughtful present from an old friend.

It was the last time I ever saw Anastasio. He died shortly after my visit, but I still visit , because it is one of the world’s most wonderful, picturesque, and traditional bodegas. Now I stop in to see my old friend, Pepe Osses; the current director, Pedro López de Heredia; Pedro’s thirty-something daughters Maria Jésus and Mercedes; and son-in-law, Carlos, all of whom help carry on the tradition.

María Jésus López de Heredia in El Cementerio
Photo by Gerry Dawes, copyright 2008 /

During a visit in 2002, just a year short of the 20th anniversary of my first visit to López de Heredia, I was invited to dinner at the winery with some thirty other Spanish and foreign wine writers who were attending a three-day tasting session of Rioja wines called Los Grandes de la Rioja. Formal dining tables were set up inside one of the most spectacular naves of the bodega. We were surrounded by huge 50,000-liter wooden vats that have been used to ferment and store wines here for more than a century. The subdued lighting, from old style, low-wattage and flickering candles created a fantastic ambience. I was seated next to María Jésus López de Heredia, with whom I had become friends in recent years. As we were chatting during dinner, I told her about my experiences with the 1947 Viña Bosconia in the mid-1870s and told her that I still believed after more than 30 years of drinking Spanish wines and 20 years selling the best wines of France, Italia and the United States to the top restaurants in New York, the 1947 Bosconia was still the best red wine I had ever drunk.

“Have you tasted it recently?” I asked.

“No, but, if you think it is that good, there we are going to taste it now. Just don’t tell anyone else,” she answered.

Maria Jésus called a bodega worker over and had a brief discreet discussion. The man left the room and ten minutes later returned with two bottles from the cementerio, one of which he opened on an empty station table between two of the wine vats, the other was a backup bottle in case the first bottle was flawed. It was the 1947 Bosconia, now 57 years old. It had been one of Anastasio’s young lads of 27 when I last drank it in 1974. Now, even with another 29 years tacked on, the wine was still magnificent. I was gratified to find that it every bit as stupendous as had I imagined it to be all these years. It was easily a 100-point wine, even coming on the heels of the great 1964 Viña Tondonia and 1964 Viña Bosconia–itself a 98-point maravilla– that we had drunk earlier at the dinner. No fading rose, the 1947 Bosconia still had a deep black ruby color and fabulous deep, ripe nose. The great acidity was in perfect balance with delicious fruit and still firm tannins, which needed food to soften them up. 

R. López de Heredia, Barro de la Estacion, Haro (La Rioja). 
Photo by Gerry Dawes, copyright 2008 /

Even though Maria Jésus had sworn us the secrecy, the wine caused quite a stir at our table. We attracted the attention of her sister, Mercedes, who upon quizzing Maria Jésus, demanded that the other bottle of 1947 Bosconia be opened for her table. I called Paul White, an American wine writer who lives in New Zealand, aside and shared some of my glass with him. He, too, was astounded by the quality of this nearly 60-year old perfectly preserved museum piece that has stood the test of time and represents the pinnacle of quality that La Rioja is capable of obtaining–wines that do indeed still have a beautiful “bloom” to them even decades after the wines were made.

During the early part of the millenium, denigrating the traditional wine houses of La Rioja became a significant national pastime among Spanish wine writers, many of whom would have us believe that truly great wines must be dark as ink, overripe, above 14% alcohol and infused with enough new oak flavor to evoke visions of a sawmill.  The time-honored house of R. López de Heredia, who has been making fine wines for more than 125 years came under attack as colorless, flavorless wines made by antiquated methods. I feared that they would have to dramatically change their philosophy and the style of their wines to survive. It has been heartening in the past few years to see young sommeliers from the United States and other countries embrace these wines for what they are: the unique, finely crafted, wonderfully drinkable wines of another era.  I call them the wines of yesterday.

– The End –

About Gerry Dawes

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià.

Dawes was awarded the Food Arts Silver Spoon Award in a profile written by José Andrés, The James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Chef in America 2011

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts

 Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel
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