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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...

An Introduction to Spanish Red Wines
27 April 2021

Different types of vine have been peppered across large areas of Spain for centuries. Their fruit provides excellent quality wines that achieve prestige far beyond their humble beginnings. Wine growers’ good practices have helped create a catalogue of wines that now place Spain as a global leader for quality in this field.

Viniculture has come a long way to reach the position it is in today. There is no consensus on where the first vines were cultivated within Spain. Some theories claim that the first vineyards would have been on the Andalusian coast, a region that has some of the oldest vines in the country.

The Romans extended wine production throughout the peninsula, as well as introducing particular preparation methods. The use of clay pots for crianza ageing led to a revolution in wine making, as this technique produced different textures, tastes and aromas.

According to data from the Ministry for Agriculture, Food and Environment, the total surface area in Spain dedicated to vineyards is approximately 950,000 hectares. Great wines can be sampled in each of the autonomous communities and farmers make great efforts to create exceptional products.

So to help you choose the right wine and understand what you are buying here is a description of each type of Red wine.  In my next post I will explain the different white wines available.

 

'Gran Reserva' :

These wines are oak-aged for a minimum of 24 months, followed by a bottle-ageing period of at least 36 months, the time needed for these robust and noble wines to take on the characteristics that make them unique.
Much of what has been said about Reserva wines is true for Gran Reserva wines in terms of organoleptic properties. These wines are robust, broad, warm and have a noble distinction.
Changes in the aroma and the colour clearly reveal the ageing process of Gran Reserva red wines.
Their distinctive features are the most pronounced on the palate and finish. The Gran Reserva winemaking renders a more complex yet elegant wine.
Once a Gran Reserva red reaches its point of maturity or peak, it will start to decay. When it will reach this point is difficult to detect and especially to predict.

 

'Reserva' :

Wines are considered Reserva wines in Spain when they have been in oak and bottle-aged for a minimum of 36 months, with a period of oak-ageing of at least 12 months.
Reserva wines are more complex and sophisticated that Crianza wines. Their colour evolves, losing the bright red tones while they take on ochre and brick red tones. The loss of the natural red pigment in favour of more yellow hues is an indication that the wine has aged.
The same thing happens with the aroma; the young, primary and secondary fragrances become lost and give way to the aromas of preservation or tertiary aromas. The floral and fruity hints give way to  notes of wood, resin, spices and truffle that are unique to red Reserva wines.

In addition, they now take on what is referred to as a bouquet which is by definition the aroma of aged wines.

On the palate, Reserva wines become robust, broad and warm, with velvety tannins and a noble disposition. They have a longer and more satisfying finish that produces, in general, greater pleasure.


'Crianza' :

These are the most-consumed wines in Spain. The ageing process gives these highly regarded wines a softness and perfects their characteristics.
Crianza wines are probably so successful because they are in the best stage of their lives. It is the point where the wines take on their best colour and aroma, and their body and structure become smooth and stable. They are also accessible in terms of price.
Only in Spain are Crianza wines regulated in terms of ageing time. In other countries this term is equivalent to the ageing and start of the preservation process and the development of the wine.

Crianza wines are made from grape varieties that allow the wine to evolve well over time. The grapes that lend themselves to this are the Tempranillo, Graciano, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache.

The best and most common Crianza is made in Bordeaux barriques-style barrels that hold 225 litres made of American, French or Central European oak. The process will be reflected in the wine type and in the choice of wine experts. It is also carried out with a careful control over temperature, humidity and oxidation and with the best timing.

Basic changes made during the ageing process are noted in the colour. Red wine loses its violet and bluish tones and takes on burgundy and maroon red tones. In white wines, which can also be Crianza wines, the lemon yellow turns to a pale straw gold yellow and in rosés the strawberry red turns to orange.

The aromas lose their floral and fruity notes and evolve towards hints of spice, wood or minerals. The mouthfeel of Crianza reds improve in terms of tannins and the wines become well rounded.

Once the oak-ageing of the wines is finished, they soften in the bottle once they have been clarified and sometimes filtered, stabilised and bottled.

 

'Joven' :

The most valuable feature of young red wines is the fact that they preserve the characteristics of the raw ingredients. Their colour, aroma, acidity and the juiciness of the tannins are what stand out the most.
The juice and solids of red and teinturier grapes ferment together during the winemaking process. Once the grapes are gathered, the whole stems are ground and fermented. Then the wine (liquid) is separated from the solids that have fermented.
Reds undergo a second process known as malolactic fermentation, transforming the green malic acid into lactic acid, which is much more pleasing to the palate. Once this process has finished, the usual technical processes are carried out until the wine is bottled.

Although as a general rule, young reds are not oaked, sometimes they are in brief contact with the wood, ranging from two to four months.

These young reds manifest an intense red to violet colour. They have fruity aromas with hints of fresh red berries and floral notes. Their youth makes them more jubilant wines that are lightly acidic on the palate and meaty and flavourful.

The soil and climate in Spain are ideal for producing young red wines based on native grape varieties such as the Tempranillo, Mencía or Grenache grapes. Recently, exotic grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah have been used, which are perfectly adapted to Spanish winemaking.

 

'Roble' :

'Oaked' red wines are usually very tasty and sweet wines. Their notes of fruit and barrel give them elegance, consistency and allow for a longer life.
These are wines that usually age between three and six months in barrel. To this period, a time of bottle ageing is added. This turns them into half-way wines, they are neither young nor aged.
The first Designation of Origin to use the “oaked” classification was Ribera del Duero, then it extended throughout Spain.

Oaked red wines receive different names: semicrianza (barrelled for three months), tinto roble (oaked red), joven con barrica (young with barrel), although sometimes none of these classifications are on the label for regulation purposes of the designations of origin.

These wines are in increasingly high demand because they are easy to drink, besides offering great versatility and a good price-quality ratio.



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An Introduction to Spanish White Wines
27 April 2021

When we talk about Spanish wines, it’s easy to think only of its reds — the flagship tempranillos of the Rioja region, the august wines of Ribera del Duero, the trendy new offerings from Priorat.

But we must add Spanish whites to our mental wine lists. Spain makes fabulous whites, from the steely, floral albarino wines of the northeastern Galicia region to the crisp, high-plains verdejos of heartlands Rueda.

People who are accustomed to chardonnay and sauvignon blanc often know little of Spain’s whites. They’re worth learning about. They tend to be light, dry, crisp and mineral-scented, so they go as well with the same foods as the world’s sauvignon blancs.

In Spain, these wines have grown up for centuries with the country’s varied local cuisines, and it’s cliche but true that “what grows together goes together.”

Albarino, from Spain’s northwestern Galicia region, is a steely, floral white wine that goes well with seafood, fish and really just about anything. It is a fantastic white wine to drink just on its own and has quickly become the flagship white wine of Spain. Amongst  my favorites are Martin Codax and Val Do Sosego (both Albariño)

Verdejo, is similar to Italy’s pinot grigio, with the crisp minerality and citrus tang from the cold, high plains of Rueda, north of Madrid. It’s great with roasted poultry and roast suckling pig.

Here is a description of the different types of white wine available in Spain

 

Dry White Wines

 

Balance, acidity and alcohol are the main characteristics of these wines. To experience all of their finesse, these wines should be consumed within their first two years.

They are more structured than aromatic white wines. The properties unique to natural dry wines make them take longer to evolve and age. But when they do, they sometimes lose a little of their elegance.

Only in rare cases do they age well, and thus they should be consumed during the first two years following their production.
In Spain, natural dry white wines are made from different native grape varieties. Grapes from Albariño, Godello, Macabeo, Treixadura or Airén are just a few examples.
Exotic grapes that are spread throughout the entire Spanish wine country are also drawn upon, in this case Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon blanc or Viognier which are used to make natural dry white wines.


Oaked Dry White Wines

A white wine becomes dry when it has spent an extensive period of time in contact with wood, particularly oak.
The contact between the white wine and the wood can be implemented during the entire fermentation process or only during part of the process.

The containers used to mingle wine and wood are varied. The most common barrels are the Bordeaux barriques style ones which hold 225 litres, but there are also barrels that hold 500 litres or more. Depending on their capacity, they are made out of different types of wood. The most frequently used wood is French oak but barrels made of American or Central European oak are also manufactured and are very popular nowadays.

The time that the wine remains in the wood varies. It depends on the type of grape and the  winemaking techniques used.

But any oaked dry wine can be distinguished from other white wines by its personality, reflecting a blending of the characteristics of the area and the grape with the properties of the wood.

White wine that has been oaked will take on a distinct visual appearance, aroma and palate. A more intense colour, bordering on golden, is the first clue. The nose retains the aromas of the grapes themselves melded with the aromas that are typical of the wood used. Not all grape varieties are adequate for making this type of wine. The best ones include:  Chardonnay and Aligote, and for Spanish grapes, Verdejo, Albariño and Godello.

The nuances of the grape variety are added to the aromas that are inherent in the wood – mainly the aroma of vanilla and spices.

The mouthfeel of these white wines is intense with more body, structure and volume and with a personality that is very different from other white wines. They can be kept for longer.


Sweet White Wines

This category of sweet wines is comprised of all wines with a high amount of sugar, whether residual or derived from the procedures to add alcohol to the unfermented grape juice.
This category also includes wines with a low alcohol content that are enhanced with sugars derived from various procedures such as the freezing of grapes on the vine or a later grape harvest.
In Spain, there are three main groups that are among the most prized: Muscat, Malvasia and Pedro Ximénez wines.

Muscat wines are made from different varieties of Muscat grapes. In Spain the ones made in Andalucía, the Levante and Navarre are the most distinguished, although the areas of production and the different types of grapes used in the production process of these wines provide different flavour nuances (Muscat from Málaga, Moscatel Romano, Muscat of Alexandria, etc.). The golden and shiny colour, the fruity aromas and the crisp and sweet palate are consistent across these wines. (It is worthwhile to note the differences among these wines by geographical region, grape variety, harvesting seasons and processes)

Malvasia wines are made from a very particular yet common grape. The varietal should be discussed where Canarian Malvasia can be highlighted. The grape is left to mature on the vine and is harvested when the concentration of sugar is very high or it has dried in the sun. It is used as a varietal for natural sweet wines with an alcohol content of 16%. The result is a high-quality wine that is typical of Lanzarote. The Malvasía sweet wines from the Canary Islands are a toasted golden yellow colour with mineral aromas and flavours and with lots of body.

Finally, Pedro Ximénez wines come from a white grape of the same name. They are Andalusian wines that are also distinguished by their high sugar content. The harvested grapes are turned to rasins and to do so are put in the sun for 4 to 15 days, placed upon wide areas of ground on top of esparto fabric. This dehydration process makes fermentation very difficult, which is offset by adding distilled spirit. Finally, they are subject to a single ageing process in a criadera and solera barrel system.

These wines have a high sugar content and a variable alcohol content – between 8% and 15%. They are very dense and concentrated with a colour that can vary from chestnut tones to dark brown or almost black with a golden glow.


Young Aromatic White wines

These wines preserve the aromatic qualities and characteristics of the raw ingredients used. They are labelled as light and acidic with floral and fruity aromas.

Just like all white wines, young whites are obtained from white grapes or red ones without a coloured pulp. The grape juice is allowed to ferment without the grape solids or the stems, which are elements that colour the wine. Once the fermentation is complete, the wine is clarified, filtered, stabilised and bottled for sale.
It retains the characteristics of a young wine in terms of acidity, lightness, its floral and fruity aroma, temperament and warmth.

In order to achieve the desired results in making young white wines, the grapes that will be used are painstakingly selected. Generally, aromatic grapes are selected such as Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Riesling, Macabeo or Parellada grapes.

The winemaking process is also carefully conducted, controlling the fermentation temperature and other parameters.

By extension, today white wines that are made in such as way as to preserve the aromatic properties and characteristics of the raw ingredients to the greatest extent possible are included in this group.

 

 



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At the races...in Toledo
20 April 2021

While most of Toledo’s historic structures are within the fine city walls, just outside is a real treasure dating back to the Roman occupation of Spain, a full-scale chariot racing stadium. 

The Roman circus, built to host entertainment events like horse and chariot races, was likely constructed sometime in the first century, possibly under orders from Emperor Augustus, and was one of the largest of its time. 

These events were typically held on special days and sometimes were organized under the patronage of noblemen, who wanted to commemorate events in their own lives. A stone inscription found records a day of games that was paid for by a resident to celebrate his elevation to the status of Sevirate or priest of high stature. 

The oblong rectangular stadium was around 1388 feet long and 330 feet wide and could hold around 13,000 spectators, all gathered to watch the gripping races, which were often dangerous for the participants. It is thought that the circus at Toletum was used until around the 4th or 5th century, after which it was mostly abandoned, save for its sporadic use as a cemetery and a potter’s colony. The site was excavated in the early 20th century and is well-preserved.

 


Most of the ruins can now be seen in a tree-covered public park on Avenida Carlos III. The presence of trees means one cannot get the same overview as one can get of Circus Maximus in Rome but there is much more to see since a lot of the infrastructure like the foundations, passages, and archways are exposed. The park represents just over half of the original circus. On the other side of Avenida Carlos III, in a former parking lot alongside Paseo Circo Romano, is another significant section of the circus which has just been excavated, but has much less remaining material. Information boards are provided and about 75 per cent of the original structure is now accessible to the public. This is what it supposedly looked like originally:

 



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Spain produces the only coffee in Europe
13 April 2021

 

 

To get to know the only coffee grown in Europe, you have to go to the Agaete valley, where a few producers make one of the most gourmet coffees in the world. Coffee is obtained from the roasted seeds of the coffee tree fruits, which are usually grown in countries with a tropical or subtropical climate. It is also one of the most consumed beverages in the world, although not everything that you find under that name in a cup, deserves to be called coffee.

Agaete is a quiet town in the northeast of the island of Gran Canaria, and at the foot of the cliffs of Tamadaba where a valley opens and is home to truly gastronomic gems. Under the shade of orange, mango, avocado and guava trees and other tropical fruits that grow in volcanic soils, a treasure native to Africa is secretly harvested: coffee. There are records of the existence of coffee plantations in the Canary Islands since the 18th century but it is still little known to the general public.

 

 

The Canary archipelago has always been an important point for the entry and exit of goods from all over the world. Coffee plantations began to be cultivated on the island of Tenerife, where its Botanical Garden of La Orotava (founded in 1788) was a benchmark in the dissemination of new exotic plants because there the plants were acclimatised. Apparently, the maritime trade between Tenerife and Agaete facilitated the entry of coffee into the region.

Today the coffee tradition is guarded by about 30 small and medium producers, who take care of the Arabica coffee plants of the Typica variety. This is a variety native to Ethiopia, which has fallen into disuse in most producing countries since coffee trees have a small yield and are also prone to many pests. On the other hand, Typica coffee is special for its flavour and aroma. Despite being a vulnerable variety, in Agaete it finds optimal growing conditions, thanks to the fact that the thermometers rarely drop below 17 or 18º. Coffee is grown there at an altitude of only 400 meters, while in other parts of the world they need 800 to 1,300 meters.

 


Agaete's coffee production barely exceeds 2,500 kg. per year and are grown in small coffee plantations or even in home gardens. The plants receive almost no human intervention: few producers prune the trees and the soil fertilizer is associated with the fruit plants in the environment. That is why the cultivation of this coffee is completely natural.

In the recovery of coffee plantations and maintenance of the crops, the Agroagaete Association and its program to enhance the value of coffee has played a crucial role. The entire organisation is self-managed and they have a small community area to process the coffee and roast it where, those who want to, can also package it for marketing purposes.

 

 

After collecting the red fruits of the coffee one by one and manually, in May they begin to make it. Plants need at least three years to bear fruit, and every seven kilos of fresh beans can only extract one kilo of roasted coffee. Normally in the market, 90% of the coffee profits are in the hands of distributors and coffee shops. This means that farmers get no more than 10% of what they produce. Since 2002, Agroagaete has tried to reverse this unfair profit logic, seeking a fair price for those who care for the coffee plantations and maintaining complete traceability of the coffee. All this gives the final product a guarantee of the highest quality.

Typica coffee from Agaete is very aromatic, smooth and enveloping. One finds aromas of chocolate, liquorice, fruits, a touch of citrus and tobacco. The flavour in the mouth is surprisingly long-lasting, while the acidity is medium but not overpowering. This coffee has less caffeine than, for example, the Robusta variety (one of the most consumed in Spain). 

The coffee that is produced in the Agaete Valley is not only used for self-consumption or its commercialisation, but it is also a tourist attraction for the area. The larger farms organise guided tours of the coffee plantations and offer tastings. 

Finca La Laja is one of the most important farms on the island that grow and make coffee, as well as oranges (of the Navel variety) and tropical fruits, which they pamper over their 12 hectares of farmland. It was also featured in Masterchef Spain.

Finca La Laja has a pleasant surprise though: tropical wines made in the "Los Berrazales" winery. Its wines are produced with varieties of Listán negro and Tintilla grapes, planted and cultivated by hand by the family. They also make a naturally sweet muscatel wine with malvasia, matured in French oak barrels and a semi-dry, with muscatel and malvasia varieties ((Gold Medal in the Agrocanarias 2010 regional competition), which is an explosion of aromas.

Finca La Laja is one of the most important farms and has a pleasant surprise: tropical wines made in the Los Berrazales winery. Its wines are produced with strains of Listán negro and Tintilla, planted and cultivated by hand by the family. They also make a natural sweet muscatel wine with malvasia, passed through French oak barrels and a semi-dry, with muscatel and malvasia varieties (Gold Medal in the Agrocanarias 2010 regional competition), which is an explosion of aromas.

Unlike wines, it is difficult to find Agaete coffee in shops (except in the town). Agaete coffee is a product that cannot be found anywhere. It is a rather special type of coffee, which does not have an annual harvest, not many kilos are produced each harvest, which makes it a scarce product that few places are able to offer. However, on the island, there are some establishments where you can buy this unique coffee.

Obviously, Finca La Laja as mentioned earlier (also known as the Finca de Los Berrazales), is the epicentre where Agaete coffee is sold.  you can get Agaete coffee in its purest form, in grain or ground from the farm itself.

You can also buy Agaete coffee in the Corte Ingles in its Gourmet section, however, be aware that they do not have it in stock that often, so if you see it grab it!

http://www.bodegalosberrazales.com



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An Underground Museum
06 April 2021

Beautiful calcareous formations and 4,000-year-old graves are concealed under the village of Prádena de la Sierra in the province of Segovia. Discovered in 1932, the cave of Los Enebralejos has more than 3.5 kilometres of underground galleries that were used as a necropolis since the late Neolithic period.

 

 

In 1995, around 500 meters were made user-friendly and visitors can now go inside and contemplate wonders such as the Wall of Colors. The most interesting part, however, are the numerous graves containing ceramic vases, bone tools and food offerings, as well as drawings and schematic engravings that were discovered inside the Burial and Sanctuary rooms. Outside the cave, there is a recreation of a prehistoric settlement complete with mud and wooden huts.

 

 

Another highlight close by is a circular six-kilometre walking trail that goes through the largest forest of holly in the Central System mountain range. And in between the nearby municipalities of Sigueruelo and Arcones, there lies one of Spain’s best-preserved forests of sabinas, a type of juniper: the Enebra de Sigueruelo.

 

 



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The price of wine affects how much you enjoy it
01 April 2021

We all probably shared this intuition and a study carried out by the University of Basel (Switzerland) has corroborated it: the price of wine influences, as much as we imagined, in the perception of the taste of consumers.

This is due to a simple mix between marketing and psychology: After paying, for example, 100 euros for a bottle of wine, would we be willing to say that it is not good? The study carried out by a team of psychologists led by Christoph Patrick Werner has shown that when it comes to wine tasting - an activity aimed at pleasing the senses, especially when we talk about taste and smell- the tasting experience is influenced by many more factors than just these two senses. The good taste of wine could be more related than we thought to the price it is believed to have.

For the purposes of the study, a tasting was carried out with 140 people. The participants had to give a grade to three wines of different prices (cheap, medium and expensive). They were required to assess the taste, intensity, aroma and how much they actually "liked" them. They repeated tasting in three different situations: seeing the real price on the bottle, seeing a false price, and no price.

The meeting at the University of Basel in Switzerland started like any other. As soon as the participants began to arrive, they were placed at individual tables and asked not to speak with their neighbours, so that their opinions on the wines to be tasted did not influence each other.

When testing the taste-intensity ratings for the samples of real, fake, or no-priced wines, the most expensive wines were rated as having the most intense flavour. However, although the ratings for "liking" did not differ for wines with a real price or those that did not indicate a price, the false price increase for cheap wines had a significant influence on the ratings for "liking". However, in the opposite case, fake discounted prices for premium wines had no effect on the "liking" ratings.

According to the researchers, their results coincided with similar studies carried out previously in which it was observed that the levels of "liking" expressed with respect to a particular wine were much more related to its price than we had believed.

On the other hand, other studies indicate that the appreciation of its intensity remained stable and generally did not change - even when they tried to influence it through prices. In order to unify these results, the team measured both variables. Here, too, their results coincided and showed that the subjective appreciation of a wine's flavour depends not only on its intrinsic qualities but also on information or external stimuli, such as the price that it is said to have.

Werner's team has thus shown how effective the marketing technique is known as 'price signal' is. Knowing the price of things influences the consumer experience differently and that is also true for wine!



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