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Max Abroad : The Best of Spain

Quite simply writing about the best things Spain has to offer and anything that might crop up along the way. Spain is a lot more than just sun, sand and sea...

How wine is made and the most popular varieties in Spain
Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The process of converting grapes into wine is divided into three general stages:   pre-fermentation, fermentation and post-fermentation.   More specifically, we can refer to the mechanical operations for processing the grapes, correction of the must, vatting, separation of the wine, and lastly, the final fermentation. Historically, vinification has been a heterogeneous process that varied according to the areas in which it was performed or the type of wine to be made.   Currently, this process is becoming standardised for white, rosé, claret and red wines, and is moving towards a much more homogeneous vinification. 



To transform grapes into white wine, the first step in the vinification process is pressing, in which the must is extracted by exerting pressure on the grapes.   

Once the must is obtained, the next operation is called clarification and involves cleaning the must so it is fresher and lighter. This step must be carried out before fermentation begins. 

If necessary, the vintage is corrected to modify the colour of the must, by means of intense aeration and the use of charcoal to discolour it. 

The must is then placed in tanks or wooden casks in a process known as vatting. Next is fermentation, carried out at low temperatures so as to convert the sugars into alcohol. If a dry white wine is desired, fermentation is carried out spontaneously; in other instances, it is necessary to interrupt fermentation by various methods such as heating or chilling. The last two stages are de-vatting, which separates the wine from other solid materials just after fermentation is completed, and finally racking, transferring the wine from one tank to another by decanting it. 


The vinification process for rosé wines is very similar to that for white wines. Both white and red grapes are used to make rosé, but it is the red grapes that are indispensable for the colouration of the wine. The first step consists of placing the grapes in a vat. The volume of the grapes crushes the harvest to release the coloured must, which ferments after a few hours. From then on, the same processes are followed as for white wine.



Red grapes are predominantly used in red wines because their skin is necessary for the wine colouration process to have the proper results. This vinification process can be done in two ways. The most typical is the industrial or winery method, and the other is the classic method, also known as carbonic maceration. 

In the industrial method, the bunches of grapes are transferred to tanks and from there pass to a crusher/de-stemmer to press the grapes. The fruits and the must, while still mixed together, are then transferred through a pipe to large fermentation tanks.   

When this fermentation is completed, the "free-run wine" is extracted through the lower part of the tank and is racked to different tanks where it will have to be decanted to eliminate sediments. 

Finally, the second fermentation, called malolactic fermentation, proceeds with the help of heat to block lactic bacteria. These bacteria trigger the fermentation of malic acid, which is transformed into lactic and carbonic acid. Lactic acid is an important factor in the finish of red wines. 

If the wine is for immediate consumption, the processes followed are very similar to those followed for rosés and white wines: racking, clarification, filtering, etc. 


Sparkling wines all have a high carbon-dioxide content, which is obtained naturally by means of a second fermentation. It can also be obtained artificially, but this is done in a minority of cases.
Cava is the name by which the most exalted sparkling wines are known in Spain. This type of wine has been made for more than one hundred years, predominantly in the Penedés region, and its difference with respect to French champagne is the type of grape permitted by the respective regulating boards. 

A good wine with an acidity of between 7 and 8 grams is indispensable for making a good Cava. It is bottled in traditional dark green bottles to protect it from sunlight, and the bottles are made of very thick glass to withstand the pressure that develops inside them. Sugar and yeast are added to the wine to produce the second fermentation. 

Once the bottles are closed, they are stacked on their sides and allowed to rest for a minimum of nine months in order to earn the right to the name of Cava. Cava Gran Reserva, for example, must rest for thirty months to earn this classification.
While the wine is resting or en rima, as it is known in the wine-grower's slang, the second fermentation occurs in the bottle. In this process, the sediment, or lees, will accumulate on one side of the bottle. The next step is to transfer the bottles to tilted wine racks with the goal of collecting the sediment at the edge of the stopper. 

The vintner then proceeds to disgorge the wine, freezing the neck of the bottle where the sediment is. When the stopper is removed, the carbon dioxide gas in the Cava causes the frozen plug to fly out, taking the impurities with it. 

In this step, the bottle loses liquid, which is re-added with the dosage or Licor de expedición, simply a mixture of brandy, wine and sugar in the proportions each Cava maker thinks best. The flavour of each Cava is defined by this mixture. Finally, the bottles pass through the corking machine to be stopped with a cork, which is marked on the inside with a four-pointed star as a sign of distinction. The wire, also known as morrión, holds the cork in place. 



ALBARIÑO: Produced under the Rías Baixas Designation of Origin with small, sweet berries, producing high-quality white wines.   This type of grape is native to Galicia.   In recent years it has become much more widely used, having been also introduced to the north of Portugal.  
ALBILLO: A variety of white grape that has a slightly sweet taste due to its high glycerol content The berries are golden yellow, and have a very characteristic aroma. . It is also known under the name of Castellano, Pardillo and Uva Perruna, among others. 

AIRÉN: Originally from La Mancha.   It is the most widely planted variety in Spain.   It occupies 30% of the vine-planted surface in the world, making it the most cultivated variety. 

CHARDONNAY: Considered to be the queen of white grapes.   The most highly prized examples are found in the region of Burgundy.   No Chardonnay is the same as any other, as they differ according to the area of cultivation.   It is an aristocratic grape, very delicate with attractive aromas.   It offers excellent results with only a little ageing in casks.   It is used in the production of champagnes and Cavas. 

GODELLO: Native to Galicia and listed under the Valdeorras Designation of Origin, as well as being one of the main varieties for Bierzo.   It is characterised by its great quality and its aromatic strength. 

MACABEO: Also known as Viura, this variety is present in many wines from Catalonia, La Rioja, Aragon and Badajoz. 

MALVASIA: Originally from Asia Minor, it has a long tradition in Spain.   This type of grape produces a lot of must, which is bittersweet, but at the same time pleasant.   In Catalonia, it is called Subirat Parent and has the Calatayud Designation of Origin. 

MOSCATEL: A sweet grape, with smooth, round berries, that can be white or purple.   It has the Malaga and Valencia Designations of Origin, and may originally come from Alexandria.   It is a very common dessert grape, and is abundant in Spain. 

PEDRO XIMENEZ: Much used in Spain in the production of table wine. It is a variety of the muscatel grape. The grape is round, with fine, delicate skin and it is sensitive to humid climates.   It needs special production conditions and the resulting wines are of high quality. 

SAUVIGNON: This grape is considered to be one of the most select varieties among white grapes.   Originally from France, and mainly cultivated in Castile and Leon and Catalonia. With an aromatic sensuality and exceptional palate, it produces elegant, dry, acidic wines. 


BOBAL: A variety of red grape, with red, juicy berries rich in colourants. The wine it produces is of an intense cherry colour with low alcohol content. 

CABERNET FRANC: It produces wines of a notable smoothness. Much used in France, in Spain it is found above all in Galicia and Castile, and its use is limited.    

CABERNET SAUVIGNON: This is the most international grape due to its adaptation to all kinds of climate.   The wines it produces are elegant, austere and sensual. Very common in Catalonia, Navarre and the Ribera del Duero. 

CARIÑENA: This grape predominates in Catalan red wines as well as those from La Rioja, although France is where it is found in abundance. The must this type of grape produces is of abundant colour and acidity, hard, and with little aroma. 

GARNACHA TINTA: A Mediterranean variety with sweet, oval, berries that are purple in colour.   Rustic and resistant to drought, plagues and diseases, it is the most widely cultivated Mediterranean grape in the world. It tends to be overly criticised by those who are unaware of its potential. 

GARNACHA TINTORERA: One of the principal characteristics of this type of grape is its coloured pulp. The wines it produces are attractive.   It has the Almansa Designation of Origin, and it has reached other regions such as Albacete, Alicante and Galicia. 

JUAN GARCIA: A type of Spanish grape, specifically from Los Arribes del Duero and very difficult to find in other areas.   It is also known by the name Malvasía Negra. It provides wines with low alcohol content.   

MALBEC: Native to Bordeaux. It produces wine with complex aromas and is long-lasting on the palate.   It was introduced to the Ribera del Duero, among other areas in the peninsula, many years ago. 

MENCIA: One of the first varieties to be introduced in the peninsula, it has thick skin, a colourless juice and a neutral taste. It produces fruity wines and is widespread in Leon, Zamora, Lugo and Orense. Bierzo and Valdeorras Designations of Origin.   

MERLOT: Native to Bordeaux. With an enviable smoothness and lightness. Present in Catalonia, 

Navarre, Ribera del Duero, Ribera del Guadiana and Somontano. 

MONASTRELL: A variety that is widespread everywhere, and the second most important red grape in Spain. It has a small, round berry which is sweet and very productive.  
MORISTEL: Abundant in Huesca and Zaragoza.   It is one of the principal varieties used in the Somontano Designation of Origin.   

PRIETO PICUDO: It comes from Leon and Zamora. Wines from the Bierzo Designation of Origin are produced with this grape. They are very aromatic and light in colour. 

TEMPRANILLO: Native to La Rioja. It is susceptible to blights and diseases, but in spite of that, it is considered to be the best Spanish red variety. The must this grape produces is balanced in sugar, colour and acidity, and it is also very aromatic.  



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A 2000 Year Old Monument in Madrid
Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Even in a cosmopolitan city like Madrid, we can still be surprised by what is hidden in the Cuartel de la Montaña park: the Temple of Debod, a monument that is over two thousand years old, which was brought to Spain from Egypt, stone by stone and carefully reconstructed in the capital.

The sanctuary, which was located on the shores of the Nile, was threatened by the construction of the Aswan High Dam, so UNESCO launched a call to save the endangered monuments. Spain was one of the destinations of these architectural works in gratitude for its collaboration in saving Abu Simbel.

 In Egypt

The Temple of Debod, open to the public since 1972, is one of the few monuments of its kind that can be seen outside Egypt, but when it was moved to Spain, its original orientation, in other words, east to west, was retained. Models, videos and audio-visual projections are exhibited on the walls to help understand the meaning of the location of the splendid building, its decorative motives and to discover its history. In this way, all onlookers will be captivated by the charm of this millenary culture.



One of the sovereigns of the kingdom of Meroe, in modern-day Sudan, which dominated the Valley of the Nile for centuries, was the first builder of Debod. His name was Adijalamani and the chapel was built during his reign; this was the original heart of the temple, called the Chapel of the Reliefs where epigraphic references are made to an “Ammon de Debod”. Many changes have occurred since its creation. Pharaohs from subsequent reigns added rooms until it took on the appearance that can be seen today, and the cult of the Ammon of Debod was replaced with the cult of the goddess Isis.



Almost two thousand years ago, the temple of Debod started its magical-religious work with each New Year. At the start of each year, on 15th June according to our Gregorian calendar, when the star Sirius appeared at dawn, Egyptian priests interpreted that the goddess Isis was announcing the start of the flooding of the Nile. On this date, the priests of Debod marched the statue of the deity in a procession up to the centre of the chapel of Osiris to charge it with energy for the rest of the year.

Initially, this centre of pilgrimage, one of the most important ones in Egypt, was dedicated to the gods Ammon and Isis, which can be seen in the reliefs and bas-reliefs that decorate the inside of the sanctuary. Many of the images that decorated the temple disappeared due to being underwater for nine months after the first Aswan dam was built. The remodelling effort was not able to fully recover the iconography of this place of worship, which was built for the deity and which only the priests could access. Today, thousands of visitors have been allowed to access this small part of Egypt and return for a moment to the year 2000 B.C.

The beautiful surroundings of the Temple and the fact that entrance is free are extra motivations for visiting this great place. If, in addition, you want to get to know the sanctuary properly, guided tours can be arranged with a prior appointment. 


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The Cradle of Spanish Witchcraft
Wednesday, November 10, 2021

The town of Zugarramurdi on the Basque border in northern Spain may be small but during the 17th century Spanish Inquisition the rural settlement was the focus of one of the largest witch trials in history which ended in the deaths of countless innocents and it is the folk beliefs and lives of these victims that are remembered in the Zugarramurdi Witch Museum.


During the Spanish Inquisition, a wide variety of non-believers and accused heretics were punished and one of the centers of this persecution was the small town of Zugarramurdi which contains a large series of caves said to be home to all manner of witchcraft and sorcery. The caves themselves were carved by the Olabidea stream which is said to originate in Hell itself, which may be where the stories of witchcraft began. However the haunting space could easily be taken for a hotbed of black magic via its atmosphere alone.

According to popular belief, during the 17th century (and before) these wide rock enclosures were witness to bonfires, wild parties, and other generally pagan festivities staged by the town locals.  Whether true or not, the caves and the town of Zugarramurdi caught the attention of the Spanish Inquisition's witch hunters who investigated the area. After identifying the area to be rife with supposed witches, the Inquisition rounded up the accused and tried them in nearby Logroño in the largest trial of its kind in history. In the end, over 7,000 individual cases were tried, mainly focusing on female accused, although a great deal of men and children were included as well.

Ever since the trials, Zugarramurdi has been associated with witchcraft and today the town embraces their pagan heritage with such sites as the witch museum. The museum, which is housed in the town's former hospital, was established in 2007 and features a number of displays illustrating both the reality and myth surrounding the local witches. There are "floating" dresses and cauldrons and goats heads on display, giving the proper due to the folk beliefs of the area and also the misconceptions of the witches. In contrast there are also displays exploring the role of the female herbalist which was most often associated with witchcraft. There is also a film explaining the process behind the 1610 trials.


The Zugarramurdi Witch Museum also takes part in the annual celebration of the summer solstice held in the nearby caves. The town seems to have taken back its identity not by distancing itself from its historic tragedy, but by embracing its legacy, warts and all.   


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Wine from the "Spanish Switzerland"
Wednesday, November 3, 2021


El Bierzo, located in the North-West of Spain, is a mountainous region crossed by the Road to Santiago (Way of Saint James) which the pilgrims used to call the “Spanish Switzerland”. This extreme mountain feature is what makes it, together with its climate and soil, one of the ideal regions worldwide to grow vineyards.

The Mencía grape is the main variety of El Bierzo. This variety, scorned until very recently, has managed in the last few years to seduce the best enologists and wine producers in Spain, who have slowly gone looking for it in their territory, even highlighting it as one of the Spanish varietal jewels. They have understood it contains enormous potential and the challenge of bringing out all the possibilities it conceals to make great wines with character. Wines full of subtleties, with a good aging capability, and deep expressiveness of the history-laden terroir they grow in.

The origin of Mencía is lost in time, but there are many signs indicating it could be one of the first grape stocks introduced in the Iberian Peninsula. Already in ancient times, the areas where Mencía now rules were famous for the coming and going of Roman legions which planted the first vines and built presses, and since then these areas have had a deep wine-producing tradition. Supposedly through the Roman Road, the wine produced in these lands was transported to Imperial Rome, to be enjoyed by the emperors. References to the vines of the region of El Bierzo and Valdeorras already appeared two thousand years ago cited by the Roman Pliny. With the fall of the Empire, the vines also declined.

Their rebirth and greater expansion came with the growth of medieval monasteries, for which wine was not only an element of worship, but also an essential food product. Monks introduced new growing and production techniques. In addition to the splendour of the monasteries was the brilliance of the Road to Santiago, which encouraged the spread of vines, bestowing wine with a special significance. The first pilgrims to Santiago already spoke of the excellence of the wines produced along the way. On the road, wine became a precious asset, an element of barter, to pay taxes and also to pay the saints of the area for their miracles.
At the end of the 19th century, however, the phylloxera changed the picture, destroying many of the vines and leading to a major economic crisis that forced many to emigrate. Aside from people, it meant also the loss of many native Spanish varieties, which were not recovered until very recently. 

Vine growing was re-established in the first half of the 20th century, but the consequences of the Spanish Civil War between 1936 -1939 plunged many wine producers into absolute poverty, which forced them to emigrate, leading once again to the neglect of many vineyards.

Mencía generates wines of a deep raspberry colour, intense fruit aromas, but also delicate flower ones, good alcohol doses, proper acidity and aging possibility. Until recently, reds made of Mencía were rather light wines, ready to drink, with low alcohol content. Gradually they have changed, especially in El Bierzo, into wines that seek to bring out their full potential, the expressiveness of their soil, and the good aging capacity Mencía is showing, adding ever-longer aging periods in wood. This has resulted in the rebirth of this stock, which recent studies liken greatly to Cabernet Franc, which is why some link its origin to Bordeaux and the pilgrims coming from France for centuries following the Road to Santiago. 

A very sensitive grape, the Mencía crop stands out predominantly in mountain regions, which is why its ripening has much to do with the sun orientation and altitude of the vineyards. El Bierzo is the Spanish designation with the most French characteristics. Its geography features major geographical contrasts, deep river basins, mountainous ranges and marked differences between its high and low lands, all of which is reflected in its wines. Mineral slate soils, but also clay-muddy ones, stand out in the territory of Mencía. The substratum marks the wine’s minerality, and also underscores the various fruit expressions and concentrations.


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