Category Archives: Spanish Lifestyle and History

Jumilla September 2013

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Our September 2013 wine trip was blessed with blue skies and warm sunshine.   Jumilla is one of the oldest DOs in Spain registered in 1966.  After a comfortable coach journey our first call was at Bodegas Casa de la Ermita which was founded in 1999.  It is situated 700 meters above sea level and has as its symbol the two hundred year old olive tree growing at the doors to the cellars.  The soil is dry and rocky, as we experienced when invited to pick and taste the grapes, their summers are hot and sunny and winters cold with little rainfall.  During our visit the harvest was being gathered by hand and loaded into tractors for transport to the presses.

Here, with mid morning tapas, we tasted a Viognier 2012 Blanco, an Ecológico Monastrell 2011 Tinto, a Monastrell  and Petit Verdot 2011 Tinto Roble and a delicious desert wine Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Tinto Crianza.

From here we made our way to Hotel Monreal in the centre of town and after a light lunch set off for Bodegas Bleda.  Monastrell forms the base of their red wines blended with Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah.  98% of their 1 million litres production is for export.

Their right to use the Castillo de Jumilla brand goes back to 1950, and from this range we tasted,

Sauvignon Blanc, Macabeo and Airén 2012 Blanco, Monastrell-Tempranillo 2012 tinto, Monastrell-Tempranillo 2010 Tinto Crianza, and Monastrell-Tempranillo 2010 Tinto Reserva.  We found all these wines pleasing and extremely good value for money.

The wine is aged in French, American and Hungarian oak and in the barrel rooms we could smell the wood.  This bodega was the first in Jumilla to bottle wine, before 1930 the area’s total production was sold by tanker to France.  Such is the quality of the vines, the bottling and export industry has grown into the largest part of the area’s economy.  We were interested to learn that the gold net on some of the bottles at one time denoted a wine produced for nobility.  Traditional Spanish produced cork is used for the bottling unless screw top is requested by customers.

That evening we were treated to a reception and sumptuous dinner at the Salón de Celebraciones of the Monreal Hotel.  The staff had skilfully arranged the large room so that we didn’t feel lost in it.

The following day we visited Jumilla Castle and were met by our local guide.  The coach took us almost to the top of the 600 meter mount and clear skies afforded us panoramic views.   The mount was fortified in the Iberian, Roman and Islamic periods, but the present layout was constructed by the Marquis of Villena in 1461 during the conflict between Aragon and Castile.  The castle was abandoned for many years until restoration began in 1971, the completion of the project and laying of a tarmac road to the summit was completed in 2010. Today it is open to the public at weekends and holidays and concerts are performed there on special occasions.

Our last visit was to Bodegas Luzón whose roots date back to the region’s union of grape growers and wine producers in 1916. The last century saw much expansion and modernization and by the year 2000 it reached its current size.  In 2005 the Fuertes Group acquired it and undertook major refurbishment.  A very impressive and spacious building was added to the original cellars.  Here too the harvest was underway and we watched as the grapes were being sorted by hand on a moving belt, any damaged by birds or insects were removed.  The sorted grapes were then put into cold storage for the wine maker to decide on the process.  After the tour of the production area we were shown the old cellars, an impressive area storing barrels and millions of bottles of wine stacked by hand.  The Sanctuary is where the best wines are stored and the Cathedral is the oldest part of the cellar with row upon row of arches all full of barrels.

We tasted Macabeo 2012 Blanco, Luzón Roble 2011 Tinto, Castillo de Luzón 2010 Tinto Crianza and Portú 2005 Tinto in their impressive tasting room.

Then we were treated to more excellence with lunch:

Luzón 2012 and Altos de Luzón 2009 Tinto with the extensive and delicious entradas,

and finally Alma de Luzón 2007 Tinto with the main course of paella or game gazpacho.

During the lull between the main course and sweet (a succulent coconut sponge with whipped cream) the shop was open and at a leisurely pace we were able to order and pay for our choices, so when coffee had been drunk the coach was loaded with our purchases.  We enjoyed a peaceful siesta on the way back and arrived at Javea exactly on time.  Perfect.

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Trip report and photos by Christine Felton aka Tigerbrite

Midsummer Fires

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Bonfires of Saint John

consume Fogueres tonight

fun and fireworks

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Tonight is the burning of the Fogueres in the picture.  This elaborate art is displayed for a week before the burning.  Each year they depict a protest about local politics, this year they complain about the high cost of the IBI or rates and the lack of service provided for the money.

In the early hours of the morning the pyrotechnic will light a string of hundreds of fire crackers and set it alight.  The party will go on all night.

For Carpe Diem prompt – Fireworks

Photo by Tigerbrite

La Mancha

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Our May 2013 trip took us to La Mancha, the largest DO of wine producers in Europe.   After a comfortable journey to Alcazar de San Juan, we found the Hotel  Intur extremely well appointed.   After a group welcome reception on the courtyard terrace to mingle with our fellow travellers we moved on to their relaxing dining room for dinner.

The following day we visited Bodega El Vinculo whose wines all score 90s in the Guia Peñin.  Their Pesquera is rated as one of the five best reds in the world and the Haza is also world famous.  Here we tasted four wines.  An oaked and complex white Alejairen 2010, Tinto Crianza 2006, Tinto Reserva 2005 followed by the magnificent Tinto Gran Reserva 2003 14% matured in french oak, it was a real treat and rated by everyone as superb.  Despite its price of 20.00€ a bottle, a good  number of bottles found their way onto the coach.  All Bodega El Vinculo’s wines are produced by natural process without added chemicals and should be decanted to allow the flavour and persistence to develop.  They use only the highest quality cork so that the wines can breathe in the bottle whilst maturing before labelling and capping.

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Suitably fortified we made our way to the Sierra de los Molinos, Campo de Criptana to see the famous windmills of Don Quixote.  This, by far the most famous book in Spanish literature, was originally intended by Cervantes as a skit on traditional popular ballads, but he also parodied the romances of chivalry.  He wrote one of the most enduring adventure stories of all time and created in Don Quixote and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, two of the greatest characters in fiction.  When he died in 1615 his book was already famous in both French and English.

At Campo de Criptana we were warmly welcomed by the local guides and their pupils who were so pleased to entertain us and practice their English.

Today there are 10 windmills, although in Don Quixote’s time there were 30 to 40 of them which he was convinced were giants and proceeded to engage them in ‘fierce and unequal battle’.  Unfortunately he got the worst of it when the wind turned as he punctured one of the sails with his lance and he was thrown from his horse.

One of the mills is fully restored and is worked on the first Sunday of each month to grind flour for bread making.  We went right inside the mill and climbed to the very top where the wheel turns.  Around the circumference are 12 small windows so the miller can test the wind to judge in which direction to point the sails.   When the direction of the wind is assessed the pole reaching the ground is hauled into the correct position.  The sail frames are covered with heavy linen similar to the sails of a boat.

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There were various museums to see.  One of the mills houses the memorabilia of the Spanish singer and actress Sara Montiel born in 1928.  In the village we saw the tiny rooms of a typical miller’s home which had been hewn out of the rock.

Wine Trip May 2013 050Another museum showed work from local artists.  Here we see two items from Eloy Teno sculpted in used iron.  A backlit view of the village and a bust of Don Quixote.

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We  enjoyed a superb lunch at restaurant Las Musas who presented a series of local
tapas for starters which included an empanadilla made from locally ground flour.

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The next morning we visited Bodegas y Viñedos Verum a family owned and run business in Tomelloso.   We descended steps to the most amazing man made cave under the bodega which covers 80,000 sq ft.  It is possibly the largest cave in Europe without artificial support.  Here the ageing process takes place.  Amongst the wine are barrels of cognac and, you will see in the picture, a moveable rack to store sparkling wine, this turns all the bottles at once saving the manpower of turning them all individually.

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We were introduced to square oak ageing barrels.  This new invention allows the barrels to be stacked higher and they are more easily moved with a fork lift truck.  The traditional barrel was made in the rounded shape so that they could be rolled by hand.  The square storage
vessel also provides an increase in the liquid to wood contact surface of about 13%.  The structure is recyclable with new oak panels and they can be transported in flat pack to outside purchasers. The Bodega has the European patent for this product and some of these vessels have already been sold to a whisky producer in Scotland.

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Here we tasted Verum Blanco 2012, Verum Rosado 2012 and Verum Tinto 2010

After a light lunch by Lagunas de Ruidera we visited Castillo de Peñarroya and its Ermita overlooking the dam and reservoir.

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Our next Bodega was Vinicola de Tomelloso a huge winery of originally 28 families of wine growers who formed a co-operative in 1986 and kept their individual wine in the cellars of their family homes.  In 1989 they began construction of a new winery which now has 63 members and 2,500 hectares of vineyards producing about 7 million litres of white wine and 4 million litres of red.  There are a range of 21 wines, 15 of which are in the Guia Peñin with points from 82 to 87.  There we tasted Añil Blanco 2012, Gazate Sauvignon Blanc 2012. Gazate Merlot 2012 and Torre de Gazate Tinto roble 2010.

 That evening we visited El Convento Santa Clara which was built in the 16th century and was the home of the order of Poor Clares until 1868.  A beautiful old building restored with taste and there we were served with an excellent dinner.

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On our return journey we visited Bodegas Lahoz in Tomelloso, a family owned and run business which produced its first harvest in 2004.  The stunning building takes on the atmosphere of a monastery with complete peace and cleanliness.  The entrance reminded me of the Alhambra.

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The Guia Peñin has rated their wines 85-87 points.  We tasted an oaked Recato Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Vego Córcoles Rosado 2011 (a fresh young wine suitable for summer drinking) Vega órcoles Tempranillo 2007 roble and Abado de Soto Tinto 2007 which had a rich mature flavour.

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We enjoyed a tasty and well presented lunch at Restaurante El Tollo, Alto San Augustin before the last leg of the journey to Javea.  The weather forecast for this trip had promised heavy rain, but we were fortunate to make all our outside visits without getting wet and were delighted that  our visit to the windmills was bathed in sunshine.  This was a most excellent trip enjoyed by all.

Cruel Corner

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Eighty years of emptiness echo in this place.

Untouched by time since that terrible conflict,

incestuous hate and inhumanity to man.

Families spilled blood brother against brother.

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A padlocked door, windows shuttered and barred.

Ghostly and grim stands the once beautiful baroque.

Smoke and blood still stain its walls within.

Without it cringes unnoticed in a busy square.

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Back then the church too was burned of its baroque.

The priests murdered until there was no one to bury the dead.

Even now no one can speak of the unspeakable.

Will it heal when there is no one left to remember ?

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This is the true story of a real house that still stands empty in our town square.  Who knows what horrors went on inside during the Spanish Civil War.  Even today no one enters there, the terrible past is etched into the tosca stone of the once beautiful building.

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For dVerse after reading Beth’s post on Garcia Lorca

Balaguer Wine Trip

Our 3 May 2011 Wine Trip took us to Catalonia and the province of Lerida where we enjoyed good weather.  On our way we called at Bodega Clos Mont Blanc DO Conca de Barberà, there we were treated to a tasting of their excellent Chardonnay 2010 a creamy and delicious wine which whetted our appetites to try the wonderful spread they had prepared for us. 

All the ingredients were there for Catalan Bread.  Toasted slices of loaf lay waiting with cut fresh garlic to spread, halved tomatoes ready to rub on and their own vintage olive oil to drizzle over.  Delicious!  Homemade tortilla , cold cuts and almond nuts too.

We tasted their Tempranillo and Merlot Premium.  Also Proyecto Cu4tro 2007, aptly named as it is a project wine for the USA made from Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Merlot.

The climate here is excellent for the wine grape having cold winters and hot summers with balanced rainfall.  The swing between day and night temperatures allows the vines to mature slowly, and the grapes are harvested at night.  The wines are kept only a short time in the barrel so that the wood never dominates the fine flavour of the fruit.

The tasting room is used to hang local artists.  This is an example which reminded me of the Cheshire Cat!

Hotel Sanctuari where we stayed in Balaguer belongs to the church.  It is situated within the old city wall and overlooks the new town on the other side of the river.  On their wonderful terrace that evening we were served with what seemed like endless tapas including the local speciality dish of snails.  These were followed by a layered tower of beef or sea bass and a postre of crema catalan.

Balaguer old town is enchanting, with narrow streets and arches where you find charming shops and cafes.  

The town has the oldest medieval square in Catalonia where the local market has been held each Saturday since the reconquest.

On Tuesday morning we visited Celler Cercavins a small bodega with a capacity of 150,000 litres, their first harvest was produced in 2003.  The wines are sold mainly to the local Catalan market and score between 86 and 90 in the Guía Peñin.  However, most of us found them too high in tannin for our taste.

The countryside hereabouts was coloured with seas of poppies.

Our next bodega was Castell de Remei which has its origins in 1780 and is the largest producer of quality wines in Catalonia.  Here we tasted some truly outstanding wines scoring 90s in the Guía Peñin, 1780 Dosmils 2005 tinto and Cervoles Negre 2007 Tinto.    This bodega is a delight, an historic estate with its own castle, unfortunately in disrepair, it has the potential for an hotel and spa, but with the economic climate the restoration has been deferred.

In their tasting room are paintings and sculptures.

The oldest part of the winery is used to age the wine in French oak barrels.

In their excellent restaurant we were served with a delicious lunch accompanied by Plannell Blanc 2009 and Gotim Bru 2008 Tinto.  The postre was photogenic and flavourful.

The next day we visited Monestir de les Avellanes, a wonderful old monastery now an hotel and eco-resort used for conferences and retreats. 

Situated at the foot of the Sierra del Montsec in the territory of the Count of Urgell, it is a unique place of tranquillity dating back to the 12 century.

In these beautiful surroundings we were served lunch in a bright and airy marquee dining room.  The food proved excellent and was accompanied by their Rosado wine of 14°, strong, fruity and rich.

Then we visited Bodegas Coster del Sio.  Another estate kept in perfection.  A 40 Million euro investment of wine making featuring underground storage which they call the ‘artificial mountain’ where the wine is aged in oak barrels. 

The area with the vats was spotless.

That evening we were treated to a superb dinner in Balaguer new town just across the river from the hotel.

On our way back home on Friday we visited Raimat who, as well as their many excellent vintages of wine, also produce the grape for the Cordeniu brand of Cava.  This huge wine maker is a family business dating back to 1914. The earliest part of the building was designed by a pupil of Gaudi.

The chimney in the distance of the picture has a stork’s nest on it.  We saw other nests on our travels, one of them on the top of a mobile phone mast.

This is the inside of the cathedral type structure, it was the first concrete building in Spain.  Another example of similar concrete architecture being the Fisherman’s church in Javea.

 

This room they called the cemetery, it is where the bottles are laid before labelling.

 

For the tasting we moved on to the new building constructed in 1988.  This was a unique experience and beautifully presented.  All four wines were lined up ready for us with our own individual spittoon!  The highlight of the tasting was the 2010 Chardonnay which was fruity, aromatic and delicious.

To round off this super trip we lunched at the graceful modern restaurant of Club de Golf Aiguesverds near Reus.

Blog and photos copyright Tigerbrite

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