Lambs live dangerously in Ribera del Duero


A few days in to our trip along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, we have left Rioja (which I will write about next time I have wifi) and headed south-east. This morning, driving into Ribera del Duero, the landscape was awe inspiring. The golden fields of wheat, the hills, the walnut trees, a backdrop of grey mountains in the distance and sun beating down. By the time we saw the little scattered plots of gnarly, bush-trained tempranillo vines, I was at peace with the world. Occasional bouts of squealing from the rolling roads which we were taking at stomach-churning speed.

We (the group including Masters of Wine Justin Knock and Tim Wildman as well as sommelier Donald Edwards and two photographers) were meeting Amelia and Oscar, brother and sister running the Cillar de Silos. Amelia, sweet as she is, had come down from her home in London and arranged for a succulent little lamb to be slowly roasted for us for lunch. (I think the good words from MW-student Lenka Sedlackova, who knows Amelia well, had much to do with this hospitality.) These are the days I’m happy I’m not a vegetarian. First, however, we took a tour of the winery and the vineyards. The winery is newly built and modern, but a few hundred meters away they have cellars from the 1600s, including the cool feature of little rock towers (overground) acting as ventilation. You don’t really need ventilation for most cellars, but since these caves were originally used for fermentation (which releases carbon dioxide) as well, they were an ancient necessity. Take a look at the photo and tell me if you don’t think Gaudì found some inspiration here?

In the vineyards, the wine-lover-nerd-moment was seeing their pre-phylloxera vineyards. On a plot of sandy soils, the wine louse never managed to survive and thus the vines survived the plague that wiped out the rest of Europe’s vineyards. Amelia knew no exact age, but 130 years is a good guess. It is quite unique to have these vines in Europe and they really should communicate that this goes into their top cuvée Torresilo. The only other pre-phylloxera vines I have seen in Europe are the Vieilles Vignes Francais at Bollinger.

(Sorry, had to take a break from typing, Oscar showed me how to use a porrón which means I currently have red wine all over my dress. Fun though. Stay tuned for the video.)

Out of all the wines we tried, from their simple red Joven to the full-bodied four vintages (2000, 2004, 2005, 2008) of Torresilos, the Vina de Amalio was my favorite with its perfumed elegance. A Ribera del Duero wine with a touch of Graves. With the lamb, it was divine. Power and delicacy in one. It also happens to be the favorite wine of Amelia’s father (Amalio, who must indeed have good taste). Even if they have owned some vines in the area for quite a while,

The leftover juicy lamb with the latest vintage of Torresilo, Ken Kaban in the back.

Amalio was the person in the family who expanded the vineyards and started growing commercially. Amelia and her four brothers were the ones to turn it into a medium-sized commercial winery with a range from young, easy-drinking white and red to ambitious wines that are coming into their own and will make a great name for the winery.

The rosé was a great food wine, made by the saignée method and quite deep in color. My twitter friend, food blogger Graeme Taylor loves this as a summer rosé, so if you live in the UK check if you can’t find it through Naked Wine. Their main markets now are Puerto Rico, UK, and Switzerland but I think the wines would work great with Scandinavian winter fare. Fingers crossed they hit the shelves of Systembolaget in the coming years. I’m thinking that a slow-roasted chunk of lamb with these wines can get a lot of us poor Swedes through the dark months…

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