Summer is in its peak. It is a time of harvest, growth and a bit of spiritual retreat. We give salutations to Spain with this pilgrimage through our Spanish selections in honor of our many friends that live in Spain and walked the El Camino de Santiago:
The El Camino de Santiago or the St. James Trail travels through the northern border Pyrenees mountain range between France and Spain. Travelers walk this path for personal and spiritual growth. Imagine if you were on that journey. You finish your day at St. James in Santiago in the most North Western coastal corner of Spain and begin your journey through the wine regions of Spain. The journey begins in the northwest coastal areas of Spain across the northeast coastal then down to the center of Spain in La Mancha.
From Santiago, you will travel to Rias Baixas. The calmest coastal area on the Atlantic coast, it is one of the exclusive areas to harvest sea life. It is also known for refreshing Albariño and with rich pine and eucalyptus landscapes. The lush maritime area of the North West Spain is where the sea rules cuisine and industry. Our producer, Bodegas as Laxas has been producing Albariño since 1975. A refreshing wine, with a glyceric finish, it lingers on the palate with exacting acidity. Pairing with this would be a hearty ceviche halibut salad tossed with fresh pimentos, oranges and crisp jicama.
Though as hard as it may be to extract oneself from the coastal winds and scents, we continue to move forward to dive deep into the heart of Spain to find red varietals. On to the plateaus of the Iberian Peninsula, we travel to Castilla y León. Nestled together and surrounded by Cantabrian mountains to the north, Zamora mountains to the south, and Sistma Iberico mountains to the south east, the Meseta plateau is at a higher elevation providing hotter days and cool evenings. These landscapes protect the vineyards from the coastal influences we just experienced in Rias Baixas. Here, the Duoro River begins and travels east through Portugal to the Atlantic Ocean.
Bodega Casto Pequeño cultivates its Tempranillo here in these dynamic conditions. With vineyards in Castilla y Leon, Rueda and Toro, Bodega Casto Pequeño produces complex wines, with suppleness and structure and rich cherry and strawberry driven wines. Classic regional pairings would be Judias del Barco con chorizo (sausage and bean soup), Morcilla de León (blood sausage) and Cangrejos de río con tomate (Crabs Rio in tomato).
Due east in the area of Spain in the in Ribera del Duero region, Bodegas Rauda produces Tempranillo in a more refined modern fashion with ample fruit and elegance. Pairings with these wines would be similar however preferred favorites are braised hen with saffron and tomato or Manchego cheese with roasted peppers and mushrooms!
Crossing over plateaus to the Ebro River, we will head due east to the Navarra and Rioja regions directly under the Cantabrian Mountains. The transition from the dry plateau climate with Atlantic coastal influence to the continental plateau climate with mountain winds highlights the varietals distinctness and shows how they thrive in different environments. It is here that a stronger prominence of other varietals are grown, such as Garnacha, as well as a stronger use of French varietals (including Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) in conjunction with the traditional Tempranillo.
Navarra is nestled north east of Rioja, and is part of the Way to St. James if one walks through the vineyards of Valdizarbe. It is a historic area, more noted for tradition than wine, and secretly one of my favorite regions in Spain. Marques de Montecierzo is rich in culture almost as much as the pilgrimage to St James. Limestone clay soils and tunnels underneath an ancient mill house, the family cultivates the vineyard in sustainable practices.
Rioja, southwest of Navarra, has grown dramatically in popularity. Driven primarily by Tempranillo and Garnacha, the French influence is still strong with notes of French oak rather than American oak. Our friends at Zuazo Gaston are located near the village of Oyón (pictured above), and they highly recommend the nearby town of Logroño for local cuisine. Alberto Anoz, our contact at Zuazo Gaston says that a typical local menu would be: “Menestra de Verduras” (vegetable stew) or “Patatas a la Riojana” (potatoes with Spanish sausage) with “Chuletillas al Sarmiento” (baby lamb chops grilled with vine branches, pictured below). He recommends the following local restaurants: En Ascuas (where they make very nice grilled meats, including Chuletillas al Sarmiento) & Cachetero.
Traveling to the north eastern part of Spain, sitting on the Mediterranean coast is the Catalonia region (pictured below). Here we enter Spain’s most cultivated and modernized wine region, but even with growth and investment, they cherish their traditions and have stayed close to their roots.
Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine, hails from this area and is produced with the varietals Macabeo, Parellada, Xarello, methode tradionale. The bubbles are sassy and vivacious with lush textures on the palette. Bodegas Maset has taken great care in executing an elegant and voluptuous Cava. They are also known for their production of exciting reds with varietals such as Cariñena and Garnache. Pairings for Catalan regions are influenced with Mediterranean coast (olive oils, vegetables, legume, pastas), lamb, cheese, anchovy, tuna and cod.
For a special local dish, our friends at Bodegas Maset recommend Pollo asado con chalotas, ciruelas y piñones (roast chicken with shallots, prunes and pine nuts). Their dear friends Sandra & Xavi (who live in Barcelona less than an hour due east of the winery) write a cooking blog, Els fogons de la Bordeta, where you can find this recipe!
Into the heat and depths of Spain, we find La Mancha. Low density and difficult living conditions due to the arid temperatures, however wind mills and agriculture thrive. This intensity produces some thrilling Tempranillo and Syrah. Bodegas y Vinedos Tavera blends their Cendal with a touch of Syrah which is able to withstand the hot days and chilly nights. In Valdepeñas and Tierra de Castillo, the Bodegas Juan Ramirez family stands firm with tradition and makes their wines with 100% Tempranillo (vineyards pictured below). Pairings in this region would be Cocido Madrileño (meats, sausage and garbanzo beans), garlic soup and pisto (vegetables of squash, tomato and peppers).
Time restricts our travels but journeys never have to end, Spain can be limitless. Hearty in its wine, food, tradition and culture, each region is represented through and noted through its specific nuances from its agriculture, culture and growth throughout the centuries. Spain is an exploration of the senses and a heartwarming reminder that tradition is a foundation not a decal. A pilgrimage for the spirit as is many times found through sharing with good friends at the table from a vineyard and the land.
Guest Wine Writer, Sommelier & Dining Room Manager at Volterra in the historic neighborhood of Ballard in Seattle, WA
Interested in taking a wine tour of Spain? All the wines mentioned above as excellent examples from their respective regions are available at Portalis Wine Shop:
Rias Baixas | As Laxas Outon
Castilla y León | Bodega Casto Pequeño
Ribera del Duero | Bodegas Rauda
Navarra | Marques de Montecierzo
Rioja | Zuazo Gaston
Catalonia | Bodegas Maset
La Mancha | Bodegas Tavera
Valdepeñas | Bodegas Juan Ramirez