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An Introduction to
Spanish Wine & Gastronomy

There are few wine producing countries that can boast such a diversity of landscapes, wine styles and gastronomy as Spain.

The Celtic north -western region of Galicia, with its delightful, fresh white Albariño wines and drizzly weather, starkly contrasts with the lusty, velvety red wines being made in the flat, hot Castillian plains of Ribera del Duero. The delicious cold garlic soups, freshly caught seafood and zippy “Fino” style wines of Andalucía have virtually nothing in common with the wonderful (and heavy) meat dishes, winter vegetable stews and luscious, full bodied red wines of Castilla y Leon. Thanks to its diversity and quality, Spain is a fascinating and rewarding destination for the gourmet traveller.

You could roughly separate the regions of Spain into: North, Central, Mediterranean, South, and the islands. The north encompasses the green valleys, ancient monasteries, dolmens and bagpipes of Galicia; the lovely Cider producing area of Asturias, with its quaint fishing villages; the ancient cave paintings and elegant coastal resort towns of Cantabria; Gourmet Basque country, including the two important cities of San Sebastian and Bilbao; picturesque Navarra, famed for its Rosado wines and exciting experimenting with French varietals for the reds; and of course the world famous wine producing area of La Rioja. La Rioja is spiritually part of the Basque country, but is its own autonomous region, politically. The wines are usually red, full bodied and aged in American and French oak barrels, giving the wines distinct nuances like vanilla, cedar and tobacco.

The wines in Galicia and Basque Country are light, usually white and accompany the abundant, fantastic seafood perfectly. Wines include Albariño (Martin Codax, is great and widely available), Valdeorras (light reds similar to Chinon, and fresh whites) and Txacoli (Basque white wine, a bit obscure and slightly sparkling). The other great wine areas are Navarra and La Rioja. Navarra was once only known for its Rose wines, but is now regarded as an excellent source for good value reds (top producers are Chivite, Ochoa and Guelbenzu). La Rioja has numerous outstanding producers, our favourites being: Marqués de Murrieta, Martinez Bujanda and Marqués de Riscal. Basque country is particularly famous for its cuisine and has some of the most famous restaurants in the country, including Michelin starred Arzak, in San Sebastian. The gastronomy from the north is famed for its tender Galician beef, spicy peppers from Navarra, seafood from the Atlantic coastline and a host of artisan cheeses.

In between the Atlantic coast and the Mediterranean, you hit the Pyrenees Mountains. There are a few wine producing areas in this beautiful region, most famously Somontano and Costers del Segre. The wineries in the area, including Enate, Castell del Remei, Bodegas Pirineos and Viñas del Vero, are world class and making some of the Best wines from the country. The local cuisine is exactly as you would expect from an Alpine region, based on cheese and meat dishes, washed down with luscious red wines.

Mediterranean Spain includes Catalonia, Tarragona, Valencia and Murcia. The most important wine regions are Penedés (famous for its Cava, traditional method sparkling wine, and also for excellent still reds and whites) and Priorat (famous for its elegant, expensive red wines). North of Barcelona is a tiny appellation called “Alella”, where Bodegas Parxet produce a wonderful, zesty white wine under the Marqués de Alella brand. Penedés is renowned internationally for its quality and innovation. The region’s winemakers are also spearheading the fashionable Organic Wine campaign, with Albet I Noia, a fantastic winery, leading the way. Other great producers are Freixenet, Juve y Camps, Codorniu and Carmenet (for Cava) and Miguel Torres & Jean Leon (for still reds and whites). Priorat is most famous for a certain winemaker named Alvaro Palacios, known for his family’s roots in la Rioja. His wines have met loud applause internationally, particularly in America. The food in the Mediterranean is famous worldwide, for its health value. The olive oils, bright vegetables, pasta, seafood and red wine common in the “Med Diet”, are said by doctors to contribute to longevity. There are many celebrity chefs in the area, the most famous (or infamous) being Ferran Adria at El Bulli restaurant in the Costa Brava.

The central area of Spain is a massive flat plain, full of crusader castles and Unesco world heritage towns. The earth is quite dry, the seasons marked by freezing winters and punishing summers. Luckily for winemakers, there are many microclimates and the lifeblood of the Duero River, enabling quality wine to be produced. “Denominaciones de Origin” (The Spanish equivalent to the French Appellation quality control system) include Ribera del Duero (well known for rich reds, and class wineries like Vega Sicilia, La Pesquera and Emilio Moro), Rueda (a fabulous source of delicious white wines made with the local Verdejo grape and frequently blended with Sauvignon Blanc) Toro (coined, “the new Ribera del Duero”, offering good value reds), La Mancha (historically a bulk wine area, but receiving millions of euros in investment, with a fantastic new winery called “Finca Antigua” owned by the Martinez Bujanda group) and Valdepeñas (again, known for its rather cheap red “vino de la casa” type wines, but receiving much investment and quality improvements, with a great new winery called “Vega Ibor”). The gastronomy from this massive area is meat based, domestic and game, particularly wild boar, pheasant, and venison. Manchego cheese and Saffron are other unique products from the region.

The south of Spain, Andalucía, is known for its fortified wines, Sherry, Montilla and Malaga styles, and for its diverse gastronomy. The main wine areas are Sherry (based around the town of Jerez de la Frontera, with styles ranging from dry Manzanilla to sweet Amontillados), Montilla-Moriles (next to the Moorish town of Cordoba, making sherry style wines, aged in Ali Baba clay amphorae called “tinajas”) and Malaga (sweet wines, waning in demand). Most of the wineries in Sherry Country were founded in the 1800’s, by English and Irishmen. Many of the cellars are absolutely beautiful with decorative vaults. The gastronomy in the south includes delicious fried fish, “Gazpacho”, prawns cooked in garlic and a multitude of fish dishes.

The islands of Spain include the Mediterranean Balearics, and the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa. The Balearics, including Mallorca, Ibiza and Formentera, have a similar style of cooking to Catalonia. Recently, many new wine grape varietals have been discovered in Mallorca, where a lot of research is being carried out. The DO is Binissalem, with mainly red wines being made. The Best local grape is called Manto Negro, often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. Our favorite winery, producing surprisingly elegant wines, is Finca Son Bordils. The Canary Islands have more in common with Latin America than Spain. The accent resembles a Cuban accent, and the cooking includes many Caribbean dishes like fried plantains and spicy sauces. The most famous sauce is a fabulous piquant sauce called “Mojo Picon”, always served with potatoes, called “Papas”, as in Latin America. The most famous wine is a light, dry white wine made in Lanzarote, called “El Grifo”, with the Malvasia grape.

No matter which part of Spain you are heading to, it will be an exciting food and wine experience!

Read about Tempranillo, Spain’s Noble Grape - in Part 2.

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