Áine and I drove into Valladolid excited for our upcoming adventure. There was only one problem—we were starving and had arrived at prime siesta time. Most restaurants and bars in this city two hours north of Madrid were closed for a brief respite. Fortunately, we were staying in the city center, which helped our chances.
After a quick check in at the hotel, we pounded the pavement for food. And wine. We weren’t in a major Spanish wine region to enjoy its water.
One promising find quickly turned south when we realized the café only had seating outside. It was February, and there weren’t enough heat lamps to keep us warm. Two doors down, we spotted a number of people in a small, nondescript bar. Our stomachs led us through the door.
The bartender looked like she belonged in a biker bar, but the edgy look belied a warm and charming hostess. She quickly reviewed the limited food options, mostly versions of the ubiquitous and extremely tasty tortilla de patatas—a deep, flat egg and potato omelet. We ordered a slice each with a vino tinto. The tortilla was hearty, seasoned just right, and delicious. The red wine offered just the right balance of fruit and complexity. Our stomachs were overjoyed. She had given us the biggest slices imaginable, so we just had to order a second glass of wine.
When we finished, we realized we hadn’t asked for the cost of anything. We had no clue what to expect. Her answer: 10 Euros and 40 cents. Each?! We thought we had struck gold. But we were wrong. It was the total! Two humongous pieces of tortilla de patatas and four glasses of red wine: 10 Euros and 40 cents.
So began our unexpected love affair with the Ribera del Duero.
I say “unexpected” because the trip planning was less than smooth. Having been to almost 260 wineries or tasting rooms around the world, I have a little experience when it comes to planning a wine tasting adventure. The Ribera del Duero proved challenging. I felt like the region was teasing me—taunting me. “Yes, we have great wine, but do you have what it takes to come and get it?”
Ribera was playing hard to get, but she had met her match. Little did she know she was dealing with a redhead. And a wine-loving one at that.
The final Thursday-Sunday itinerary comprised four winery visits and lots of amazing wine and food. Similar to Italy, you simply had to order “vino tinto” in restaurants—basically the house red wine—and it’s fantastic, it pairs well with the food, and it’s inexpensive. A wine holy trinity. Or a hat trick.
Based on a local’s recommendation, we ate lunch in between two winery visits at a nearby restaurant. We’re so glad we did! Our starters were Ibérico ham and white asparagus. Then we had incredibly tender beef in a savory sauce and a salad. With Ribera del Duero wine, of course.
All other times, we found places for fresh and delicious tapas and more incredible wine. The good stuff just never stopped.
There’s so much to love about the Ribera del Duero, but overall the region isn’t set up well for English-language or even non-Spanish tourism. Yet. There are some wineries that are doing it well…and some that are trying but could get a little better. There are many that don’t seem to bother…or just don’t respond to e-mail. Maybe it was the off-season, or maybe the region has a long way to go before it’s ready for any wine tourism onslaught. That is, if it wants it.
The wine, though, is totally ready. Try a Ribera del Duero, and you’ll see what I mean.