Here we are cruising towards more normality and Level 3. For some, it has been four weeks of far more intense than usual work, for others it’s been how to fill in all this extra time. It’s amazing how quickly the time can be filled in with new recipes, zoom chats and online classes from Tabata and hip hop to French and creative writing. We can run around and be just as fully occupied in the confines (or comfort) of our own homes if we want to. This raises the interesting axes of work versus leisure and boredom versus activity. People who are usually bored at work, are now bored at home, while those who weren’t bored in the first place have found new things to keep them occupied.
Andalucía in Southern Spain, recognisably one of the most beautiful regions in Spain, is frequently the butt of jokes for its long lunches, afternoon siestas, and general enjoyment of life. The tapas are legendary (a bar with 100 different tuna tapas, anyone?), the people are fun, and they genuinely seem to be living in the moment. Is the rest of Spain envious of the way they seem to have it figured out? The jokes about the Andalusian´s lack of productivity make you wonder. A friend from Jaén in Andalusia who lives in New Zealand pointed out that the rest of Spain only gets half the story. “We’re sleeping at 3pm,” she said, “because many of us have been up since 3am to pick the olives before it gets too hot.” Meanwhile, Catalunya, the Basque Country and Madrid complain about Andalucía’s chilled out nature while pouring their olive oil on toast.
When people think of Spain and wine, they often go straight to Rioja. Nothing wrong with that. But in lockdown, would you want to have lasagne every single night? After you’ve finished your Pinot Noir, tried a token bottle of Rioja, then gone back to your ‘safe’ wine that you know is reliable, but is failing to light your fire - what’s left? How about Andalucía? Wait – don’t they just make sherry? No, they don’t. This region is currently producing some of the finest, most elegant, and unique wines in Spain. Their climate is distinctive, it lends itself to different varieties, and they have had to work harder than most to prove the doubters. The resulting wines are exciting. When we found one, we thought it was the exception. Then we kept finding more. Now, we are completely won over and there’s no turning back. If you’ve had enough of your wine equivalent of lasagne, it’s worth checking out some of these.
Cortijo los Aguilares, Ronda, Sierra de Málaga
To the west of Granada lies picturesque Ronda, a village that straddles a 100m high ravine by an ancient Roman bridge. Just 6km from here lie the whitewashed buildings of Cortijo los Aguilares (Estate of the Eagles). Pigs feast on acorns under the olive trees, and the vines bask in a perfect climate of sunshine and rainfall in equal amounts. Cortijo los Aguilares is one of the select few Grandes Pagos de España, or Single Vineyard producers in Spain.
Pago el Espino Petit Verdot (70%), Syrah (20%), Tempranillo (10%). 12 months in premium French oak, smooth yet structured. Cherries and woodsmoke, thyme and vanilla. Hand harvested, grapes chilled to 2 degrees before pressing to preserve the freshness and aromatics, wine moved by gravity to avoid pumping.
Huerta de Albalá, Cádiz
Thirty minutes east of sherry central Cádiz, in the lee of the Sierra de Grazalema natural park, lies Huerta de Albalá (the Garden of Albalá). Benefitting from the warmth of the plains, the rain of the mountains, and the diurnal temperature changes, this estate produces some of the region’s most sit-up-and-take-notice reds.
Barbazul Syrah (60%) Cabernet (20%) Merlot (10%), Tintilla de Rota (10%). 8 months in French oak. Savoury with brambly dark berries and a hint of leather.
Taberner 100% Syrah. 1-year of French oak. Rich, inky Syrah to inspire writing a masterpiece.
Contreras Ruíz, Condado de Huelva
The wetlands of Huelva are famous for their varied birdlife and impassable swamps, the sailing of Christopher Columbus from here to the new world, and the spring romería (pilgrimage) of the virgin of Rocío. Near here, we find Contreras Ruíz, a low key winery producing anything but low key wine.
Edalo Syrah (100% Syrah). Bright doris plums and berries, a solid backbone, good body, truly remarkable value. Unoaked but you almost couldn’t pick it.
Bodegas Alvear, Montilla-Moriles, Córdoba
The whitewashed estate of Bodegas Alvear, perched on a hill among the dry rolling fields and date palms south of Córdoba, is a chapter in itself. It is still owned by the same family 300 years after being founded, with 50 cousins as shareholders and currently managed by Fernando Alvear. This dignified and humble estate is a must-visit on your way to or from the majestic city of Córdoba. Rather than a winemaker, they have a “cellarmaster” who oversees the making of the wines. It implies knowledge and experience while deferring to tradition. All of the wines both dry and sweet are made from Pedro Ximénez.
Fino CB – dry sherry, drink with salted fried marcona almonds and a dish of olives.
Carlos VII Amontillado – drink chilled with seafood.
Oloroso Asunción – slow cooked meat dishes or tasty cheeses
Pedro Ximénez Solera 1927 – on its own, with buñuelos (cinnamon doughnuts), or pour over fig ice-cream. Also good with freshly sliced oranges sprinkled with cinnamon
Pedro Ximénez 2015 – with fruit tarts or pecan pie
Brandy Presidente – brandy aged for 15 years in Pedro Ximénez barrels. Look out cognac.
So Andalucía – work ethic – tick. Stunning landscapes – tick. Know how to have fun – definitely tick. Wines – tick tick tick. Finding the balance between work and play, downtime and industriousness will always be a finely tuned juggling act for everyone, but this region seems to be on the right track.
Enjoy the gradual return to normality and be selective about when to speed up once the rush starts up and traffic once again clogs the motorway. Those new skills of slowing down to make homemade focaccia with olive oil are just as useful.