The Rioja region takes its name from the province and is located one and a half hours south of San Sebastian. The country is beautiful and mountainous, the main grape is Tempranillo together with Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo.
Some of the main bodegas are Cvne, Berceo, Faustino, Frederco Paternina,
Muga, Martinez Lacuesta and Ramon Bilbao. The three main
types of wines are:
Crianza: 12 months aging in cask and 6 months in bottle.
Reserva: 12 months ageing in cask and 24 months in bottle.
Gran Reserva: 24 months in cask and 36 months in bottle.
This is the time that the wines have to be aged before being released – quite an investment for the bodegas!
One of the main bodegas, Marqués de Riscal has built a hotel restaurant complex in Elciego which is a mini-Guggenheim by the same architect, Frank Gehry.
Their white wine now comes from Rueda, a region near the town of Valladolid.
The white wines from Rueda are very aromatic and are made from the Verdejo grape. They remind one of French Sauvignon blanc with good balance of fruit, acidity and crispness.
As with most inexpensive white wines they should be consumed young during the year following the harvest.
Ribera del Duero:
Situated on the river Duero, this is the same river as the Douro which goes into the Atlantic at Porto (or Oporto as called by the Brits).
Now competing with Rioja as the top bracket Spanish red wines. Again the Tempranillo grape but the wines do not need to be aged so long as local regulations do not require the wines to spend as much time in cask.
Vineyards are at 750/800m altitude giving hot temperatures during the day and cool at night.
This is the home of Vega Sicilia, the most famous wine of the area and perhaps of all Spain. The main town is Aranda de Duero.
This is the region due south of Pamplona, the town made famous by Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises with the encierro or running of the bulls during the San Fermín festival.
For a long time Navarra was better known than Rioja as in the 11th century The Kingdom of Navarra extended across the present region and the Basque country but also included the Basque provinces of France, much of La Rioja and parts of Old Castile.
Navarra wines now play second fiddle to Rioja although the new-wave wines are gaining in popularity. Grapes are Garnacha in majority but also Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graciano.
If you are travelling from Pamplona to Zaragoza there plenty of wine villages/towns to stop at including Tafalla, Olite, Tudela, Murchante, Cascante. The best bodegas are Ochoa, Chivite and Senorio de Sarria.
Málaga is not only a city you escape from once you have picked up the rent-a-car at the airport. It is very pleasant and certainly more authentically Spanish than most of the resorts up and down the coast.
There is the Picasso Museum and the house where he was born, in front of which there is a bench with a statue of Picasso sitting on it with room for you to sit next to him and have your picture taken. A bit corny you may say but it’s not every day you get to sit next to the great man!
The best chiringuitos are to be found on the El Palo and Pedregalejo beaches, the former fishermen’s hamlets. It is here you can enjoy espetos; sardines threaded onto bamboo skewers and cooked in front of fires on the sand. You can wash this down with a caña of draught beer or a glass of Málaga.
Málaga, or Mountain wine, was perfected by the Moors who inhabited the region for eight centuries (until 1492). The Koran forbade the consumption of alcohol but this dessert wine was so luscious that it became known as Xarabe al Malaqui or Málaga Syrup, to be taken for medicinal purposes only! This super-sweet wine is made from Moscatel grapes laid out in the sun to ripen and shrivel before pressing and fermentation. Whether you have a sweet tooth or not this is a very fine product. There exists a dry version using Pedro Ximinez grapes.
The Málaga wine region extends to Sayalonga, Torrox, Competa and Frigiliana. Moscatel grapes are still cultivated by dedicated growers but generally many of the vineyards have been abandoned as these steeply terraced, schistose slopes must rank amongst the most labour intensive in the world as they have to be worked by man and donkey, as no tractor could negotiate the steep and crumbling slopes.