We started our winery tour beside one of the vineyards on the side of the building near the area where the wines are fermented. Of course it was pretty much given in Spanish with a little translating here and there, but fortunately I know a little about the process of grapes becoming wine and that helped me to be able to follow much of it despite my pitiful grasp of the language. In the area where the wine is fermented there are large steel tanks on one side where the must spends its first thirty days and then huge concrete vats where it spends its next stage. I learned that they use the concrete because it allows for better temperature control of the developing wine. Afterward the wine is put into oak barrels and moved into storage in a different area. Before bottling the wine will be returned to the concrete to be reblended so that all of the bottles will be consistent in taste and character and then put back into the barrels. After touring the facility we went up to the tasting room to try the wines. (The full account of the Bodega visit can be found in the wine blog.)
From Comenge we drove back across the Duero River to the town of Peñafiel (barely a few miles) to have lunch at the traditional Castillian restaurant Molino De Palacios. The cobblestone streets in most of these little towns were paved long before cars were ever thought of and are extremely narrow. They seem barely wide enough for walking let alone vehicle traffic. Turns are often quite sharp and you feel as though you are passing through private little allies were never meant for even a wagon or carriage to pass through and in most cases there is almost nowhere even to park a car.
To get to the entrance for the restaurant you have to pass through a sort of tunnel-like covered walkway that starts from the street above the building and leads downward and to the right, wrapping around the building past a body of water, which thanks to the restaurant's website and Google Translate I have since learned is the river Duratón.
The restaurant, which seems to have once been an old mill from the 1800s (and possibly a grammar school?) is fairly large with dining areas up and downstairs (you enter downstairs). None of the cuisine was even remotely familiar but I decided to try the menestras de verduras, which turned out to be a sort of vegetable stew made from zucchini, carrots, large green beans, cabbage and garlic, and the carpacchio de bacalao. (Bacalao is Spanish for Cod.) The carpacchio seemed smoked and was served with what seemed to be a sundried tomato ailoli or relish. It was all tasty, though mild in flavor. (I also had an ensalada verde which consisted mostly of iceberg lettuce.) I picked up a business card on the way out, though I did not notice until just a little while ago that there was a wine guide on back rating the wines of the Bierzo, Cigales, Ribeira del Duero, Rueda and Toro regions by vintage year (based on harvest quality).
After lunch we headed for the Museo Provincial del Vino (Provincial Wine Museum) which is housed in a very old restored castle (the origins of which reportedly date as far back as the ninth century). It was only a short distance away from the restaurant to the museum and I was able to get a great photo of it from the road below. There are many old castles dotting the landscape across Spain and a number of them have been restored and put to modern use like this one.
My first glimpse of Castle Peñafiel had been from the road on the way to the town of Curiel. At that time though I had been more concerned with finding the hotel, checking in and making it to the appointment at Comenge on time. I could actually see Castle Peñafiel in the distance from the Comenge vineyards in Curiel, which is where I first heard that it housed the museum (see the very first photo above) and, of course, any institution devoted completely to the art of wine was a place I definitely wanted to visit.
It was fairly late in the afternoon when we arrived at the Museo Provincial. Once again we had to take a winding road up a steep-ish hill in order to get there. We had only been inside long enough to look at jsut a few of the exhibits on the first level (there are three levels total) when someone came in and told us that we should go back outside in order to take part in what was more than likely going to be the last tour of the day of the other parts of the castle.
You have to climb up (and down) a series of very narrow and very steep steps to get to the various other areas of the castle where, at least on the upper levels, you are eventually rewarded with an incredible panoramic view of the surrounding area, including the two rivers.
Originally constructed in the early part of the tenth century the structure measures over 200 meters in length (almost 230 yards - or 690 feet) and has several sections. It was either renovated or expanded in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (my fact checking has been significantly inhibited by my poor grasp of the Spanish language) and those efforts contribute to its current appearance.
After the castle tour we were allowed to re-enter the museum area and resume viewing the exhibitions, one of which was a series of essences for you to smell like the ones you would find in a wine aroma kit. After going through all of them I finally understood the grapefruit connection with Sauvignon Blanc. Of course I took way too many pictures (mostly in the castle section) to post in these few paragraphs so look for a slide show or even a separate blog entry on the castle in the not too distant future. Just to whet your appetite though, here is a short video I shot from the "roof" of one of the sections:
I had a little trouble uploading the video so I cut out the middle section to just show the view from two opposite ends. The second video below is a little shaky from me walking to the other side and not as sharp once I get there because of the zoom but that only lasts a few seconds. When it zooms out and pans downward you will be looking at the museum entrance.
When we left the museum it was around 7:00 PM but somehow it seemed more like 5:00, maybe because of the light (position of the sun overhead). We rode around for a bit looking for other bodegas to visit but most were closed or they were not accepting visitors (reservations are a must!) and the idea of possibly having to find the way back to the hotel in the dark did not appeal to me so we turned back. We took a brief look around the town of Curiel via car and then went back up the hill to the hotel.
Dinner that night was ok except for my fish which had too many little bones and kind of a weird texture. It almost seemed as if it weren't completly cooked. The only real drawback of the experience for me though had been the fact that by the time we were nearly done with the meal there were at least three or four people smoking in the dining room. As it was, when we'd arrived there had been a man smoking a cigar and we'd had to move across the room to get away from it. With the arrival of the other smokers it had become a lost cause. At this point my sinuses were already giving me some trouble after Madrid and my throat was still a little irritated. It was beginning to look like I was not going to be able to breathe freely and enjoy the rest of my time in Spain do to the smoke. I am happy to say that things didn't turn out in such a way for that to be the case.
By the time the sun had started to set on Castillo de Curiel the jet lag had started to affect me and I knew I was not going to be in a hurry to get up and go anyplace right away in the morning.