FISH AND CHIPS

You ask anyone from Spain to name British dishes and first of all they will snigger directly in your face. Then when they have composed themselves they will almost always say ‘fish and chips’. No dish has become so entwined into the nation’s culinary heart than this one – it is Britain’s answer to the paella.

It can be, and often is, delightfully greasy Friday night takeaway food, but when cooked elegantly is perfection. A lightly battered and crispy flank of cod, plaice or haddock usually, accompanied with some chips, mushy peas and daubed liberally with malt vinegar and salt and perhaps a side of ketchup or tartare sauce. Heaven.

So what to pair with this fishy, salty, tangy, carby plate? I have chosen a crisply acidic and fairly full-bodied Godello from the region of Valdeorras. The big citrus fruit kick from the wine should sit nicely alongside the fish, whilst the acidity should help tackle the salty vinegary nature of the dish.

SHEPHERD’S PIE

The pie that isn’t really a pie. Shepherd’s Pie is a minced lamb combination of meat, peas, carrots, onions, garlic (and other bits) covered with a generous layer of fluffy mashed potato (at its best with mustard and cheese in it) and baked in the oven. The dish is at once light but also very filling with strong flavours of ‘meat’ and ‘potato’. A dish for a chilly winter evening.

So to pair with this boldly flavoured dish I have chosen a red wine that is noted both for its elegance and minerality as well as, depending on the producer or site, its spicy and fruity intensity of flavour. A bottle of red from Bierzo made from the Mencía grape. The body and power of the wine, though more restrained than some wines of Spain, should go toe to toe with this classic dish. Also works with the pork mince variation of the dish: Cottage Pie.

STEAK AND KIDNEY PIE

Another classic pie, steak and kidney; a sexy saucy thick gravy blend of chunks of beef, diced kidney, onions and spices wrapped up in a shortcrust pastry and popped into the oven. At once this dish is rich and spiced but also gentle and smooth. An intriguing blend of depth of flavour and delicateness.

To go with this dish I have chosen a fruit forward wine that can match the flavour intensity but won’t overpower it. Try it with a good quality bottle of Garnacha from the region of Campo de Borja. Pleasing red and berry fruit flavours with not too heavy body but with good acidity and a hefty level of alcohol. Should go perfectly with this staple of British cuisine.

SUNDAY ROAST

The Sunday Roast is perhaps the only dish to rival fish and chips for gastronomic fame. Roast beef or roast lamb are the two quintessential roasting meats. Not only are you going to have a big meaty flavour to deal with, but then you have the roast potatoes, parsnips, Yorkshire puddings, gravy, steamed vegetables, gravy and the accompanying condiments of spicy horseradish for beef and tangy mint sauce for lamb. It’s a busy and complex plate.

This therefore requires a complex and intense wine, but without lacking elegance. We are heading to Cataluña for a bottle of red Montsant: often Garnacha blends. These wines can take on a lot of depth and fruity darkness that should go well with the big, but almost sweet, flavours of the Sunday Roast.

HAGGIS

What wine to pair with a cooked stomach filled with offal, onions, oatmeal, suet, spices and stock? The eternal question facing the wine-loving Scot. Haggis is one of my most favourite dishes. It is an intensely spiced and meaty flavour that is often accompanied with mashed potatoes and turnips (‘neeps and tatties’) and perhaps a sensual whisky cream sauce. I love it with a cold beer or a dram of peaty whisky. But wine?

I have gone off piste for this one and chosen a heavy and alcoholic Oloroso sherry from Jerez. In Spain this fortified wine with its notes of spice, caramel, nuts and soft leather can go well with hearty stews and, more importantly, offal dishes like tripe, oxtail and pork cheeks. I think this wine with the Haggis will be the perfect Hispano-Scot pairing!

TOAD IN THE HOLE

Another stalwart classic of British cuisine with a ridiculous name, Toad in the Hole is a dish of pork sausages (of various flavours) cooked in the oven in a Yorkshire Pudding batter and served usually with onion gravy and vegetables. It is simple, hearty, but quite delicate and elegant in its flavours.

I didn’t want anything to big to overpower the soft and almost sweet flavours of the batter, the pork or the gravy, so I have opted for a dry Spanish rosé from Navarra. Spanish rosé wines are almost always dry, so forget that Californian White Zinfandel nonsense, big on booze and colour and are great food wines. Rosés have characteristics of both white and red wines, so they are some of the best food pairing wines. Try it!

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING

I personally believe that what Britain does better than the world is desserts, or ‘puddings’. A combination of hearty and gleefully unrestrained unhealthiness matched with a certain delicateness and finesse. For the most luxuriantly sweet of British desserts, I have chosen possibly the most lusciously sweet wine in the world: Pedro Ximénez (PX), also from Jerez, but whose grapes are usually grown in neighbouring Montilla-Moriles.

PX is the grape and is grown, picked, and then dried out on straw mats under the sun until they essentially become like raisins. This concentrates their flavours and their sugars and produces mind-blowingly sweet syrupy wines. This should pair well with the moist sponge cake covered in the signature toffee sauce – and with bonus custard and vanilla ice cream on top for good measure. Pure decadence.

Let no man say that Britain doesn’t have good dishes and let no other man say that all you have to go with it is beer or cider. Now you have Spanish wines at your disposal!

Salud!


I drink too much. I know this. My poor long-suffering liver knows this. Even observers both close and distant have noticed this. It’s the curse of a) being obsessed with wine, b) working in the world of wine and c) living in a country where my obsession is both high quality, readily accessible and cheap. It doesn’t help that I produce drinking videos, write blogs about booze and, clearly, have a podcast/blog dedicated to wine. But I’m no alcoholic.

I have my own rules of drinking:

  1. I never drink at home alone – unless the situation is drastic and for whatever the reason I’m having the worst day imaginable.
  2. I won’t drink for drinking’s sake – there needs to be at least some semblance of a point (and that can be as light as a sunny afternoon on a terrace).
  3. I don’t drink until I’m blind drunk and I regret the rare time’s it has happened.
  4. I try not to mix. If I’m on wine, it’s wine. If gin and tonic, then gin it is.

This got me thinking about the differences between the drinking cultures of my two homes – UK, the home of the past and Spain, the home of the now. I loved my time in Russia, but to start talking about the drinking culture there, well, we’d be here all day. I thought it would be interesting to look at the general ways the two countries drink, gazing through my own very personal and fuzzy lens.

UK

This, logically, was my first exposure to drinking. I shall precede this by saying that I never got drunk until I was 18 years old and in the first year of university.

I was never interested in drinking alcohol – I may have had the odd Bacardi Breezer at my friend Ollie’s house as a teenager – but just looking at the culture around me, what it did to people, was enough to put me off.

In the UK people – and of course I am painting with wildly broad brushstrokes here – seemed to be drinking to escape, forget, release, unleash, as opposed to really enjoying themselves. Every Friday and Saturday night, and nothing has changed, from the largest cities to the smallest towns – in my case Thames town Maidenhead – people could be seen at 1am, blind drunk; shouting, vomiting, fighting, weeping, having their backs rubbed as they sat on the curb, talking to the owners of the kebab shop as they clumsily shovelled low-grade meat and chips into their mouths, hollering at girls, hollering back at the boys.

It seemed, it seems, that a weekend evening is a failure unless you finish wobbling around with your cerebral faculties relegated to being a confused, angry or emotional gloop sloshing around your head.

I drank at university of course, but within a year had found my limits and would rarely return to the point where I wasn’t at least mostly in control of my senses.

In the second year I started to get into Port and crappy off-dry rosés. Classic gateway wines.

In the third year – abroad in Spain and Russia – I had got into beer and spirits and no longer liked sweet drinks.

In the fourth year I found both tea, coffee and wine to my taste. It became more about going to the pubs with friends and drinking local Somerset ales and ciders and being in good company. Very seldom were the times we could be bothered to go to a club or disco: noise, drunk people and dancing. The opposite of a good time.

Regarding wine, often the problem with the UK is two-fold:

  1. The way we drink – getting blitzed at the weekend. The idea of having a relaxed glass of wine for lunch is almost unimaginable.
  2. The price – the simple fact is that a lot of alcohol, especially wine, is quite expensive. So Mon-Thurs you take your foot off the gas, and then slam it down hard at the weekend to reward yourself.

Remember I’m looking at this through my not-quite-thirty-years-old goggles. My parents, indeed a lot of middle-aged and up people, tend to be more Mediterranean in their consumption.

Spain

Now, in the same way that not everyone is always going out and getting wasted in the UK, not everyone in Spain is an angel that never gets drunk. My goodness they do. But the tone is different.

I initially thought I was in paradise when I arrived in Madrid, for the simple reason that I could get bottles of very drinkable wines for the price of a glass of it in the UK. Hell, I could buy a litre of wine, though less palatable, for a euro. What was this alcoholic wizardry? I was young, surrounded by expats – teachers – and we drank. We had house parties, went out on the weekends and that was that. Cheap booze.

Quickly, via experiences as varied as eating arroz con bogavante (lobster stewed in rice) served with a crisp Martín Codax albariño in Guadalajara, a visit to Viña Tondonia in La Rioja where I was lucky to befriend the family – and to this day still receive a Christmas card from them, and drinking cold porcelain cups of Ribeiro wine in A Coruña with plates of steaming mussels, I started to love wine the way the Spanish did.

It all came down to interest and food culture. This was a country where the people drank their wine when they ate – indeed the Ministry of Agriculture officially recognises wine as a ‘food stuff’ and not a ‘booze’.

This was a country where on a Friday night if someone said ‘fancy grabbing a drink’ it didn’t mean ‘fancy getting blind drunk and vomiting in a policeman’s hat?’ It meant let’s have a drink with a nibble to go with it.

This was a country where restaurants, bars, clubs, were all open later. A place were there was no stress and social pressure to pound drinks and get as much booze in you before the inevitable ‘Last orders!’ was yelled to the ding dong of the pub bell. Here you had another drink if you wanted one, not ordering one to boost your level of inebriation.

This was a country were people got drunk, but as a choice or a bi-product of a nice time with friends. It wasn’t the aim of the night. And in over 7 years of living here, none of my friends have ever said ‘let’s get wasted’ and genuinely meant it.

It is a happier, less stressful, cheaper, tastier, slower, more social, amiable, and gratifying way of drinking. And yes, occasionally to the point where the act of walking in a straight line seems the most monumental complicated thing. And that’s how I prefer it.

Salud!


On the Spanish Wine Experience we have already covered the two stars of Spanish red wines in Meet the Grape: Tempranillo and Garnacha. They are the Premiership of red grapes if you will. However, it is within Division One that you find more and more varied grape styles.

One of my favourite grapes, that so often goes under the radar and is often criminally underrepresented, still, in the bars, is a little spicy and minerally number from the northwest: Mencía.

When people think about Spanish wine, they often think of medium to full-bodied and berry fruit-forward reds á la Rioja and Ribera del Duero. However, hiding in that top part of Spain is a grape that creates a very different style of wine. Spain’s answer to Pinot Noir, Mencía is a grape that deserves to be a superstar.

So let’s meet the damn thing!

The Grape:

  • For a long time these medium-sized red wonders were thought to have been related to Cabernet Franc – but DNA profiling has proven this not to be true.
  • In fact it appears to be one of our native varieties, although possibly introduced by the Romans.
  • It is identical to Portugal’s grape Jaen.
  • It’s also locally known, as always it seems in this country, by other names: Loureiro Tinto, Negra, Negro, Tinto Mollar. But I’ve never seen these, so just stick with Mencía!
  • The grapes are high in sugar and have good acidity.
  • In Spain its home are the northwestern regions of Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and, maybe its pinnacle area, Bierzo. Though it can also be found in Tierra de León, Arribes and Monterrei denominaciones.
  • After the Phylloxera plague ravaged the country at the turn of the 18/19th century, masses of Mencía were replanted on the high-yielding fertile plains in that part of Spain. This resulted in famously diluted, pale and aromatic wines.
  • The grapes have recently been enjoying a huge revival Spain – look up wine heroes Alvaro Palacios and Telmo Rodriguez – with winemakers rediscovering old, low-yielding hillside plots of Mencía.
  • Generally the grape grows, and grows best, on schisty hillsides which, along with the low-yield, helps give intensity to the resulting wines.
  • Mencía is occasionally blended with other local varieties of the area: Sousón, Caíño Tinto, Brencellao, Merenzao.

The Wines:

  • If the wines used to be limp and uninspiring, they are now quite the opposite. They are wonderfully complex.
  • This complexity is especially pronounced on the nose thanks to Mencía’s high levels of terpenoids.
  • Dark fruits, flowery notes like violets, earth, minerals and black pepper abound.
  • The wines generally have a rather deep colour with lovely violet hues towards the rim.
  • They usually are medium bodied with a fairly decent yet supple acidity which makes good Mencía wines both refreshing and suave.
  • That acidity also makes Mencía wines great for food pairing: grilled and smoked meats (especially with peppery sauces), roasts, stews, strong cheeses like Manchego, cooked mushroom and tomato dishes.
  • The wines take well to a touch of chill, so are great for summer if you just leave the bottle in the fridge for 10 minutes before serving.
  • Mencía takes ageing well also, as it can be a little tannic. Ageing adds vanilla, nutmeg and other sweet spices.

If Tempranillo and Garnacha are the Premiership League of Spanish red wine grapes and spicy Mencía was always stuck in Division One, then I think its about time this brilliant grape – a personal favourite – was promoted!


Now it’s all well and good banging on about this wine or that wine, and of course you can buy them in the shops, but there’s nothing quite like seeing the land where the grapes grow and, if possible, visiting wineries.

All these mini itinerary trips require hiring a car and please, if you do them, try, where possible, to have a designated driver. The SWE team doesn’t want a lawsuit against them for promoting the acquiring of DUIs.

Have a look at these 6 regional Spanish road trips, set your own timetables to fit in with the ideas, and enjoy d(r)iving in the heart of the wine-lands!

1. Navarra/Rioja – two/three days

Start of the route: Estella

End of the route: Logroño

Recommended steps:

  1. After enjoying the historic centre of pretty Estella head out southwest along the NA-1110 and visit the Santa María de Irache monastery, its bodega and the free Tempranillo wine tap there pouring out DO Navarra red.
  2. Follow the NA-1110 past vineyards and the remote villages of the Camino de Santiago such as Los Arcos, Torres del Río and Viana to arrive at Logroño.
  3. In Logroño, capital of DO La Rioja, go out for tapas in the famous bar-filled streets around Calle Laurel and Calle San Agustín.
  4. Take the N-232a to the gorgeous hilltop town of Laguardia. Eat in one of the old taverns: pochas (bean stew), steak and potatoes with red peppers.
  5. Afterwards take a trip to maybe visit the Ysios winery, designed by Santiago Calatrava, or head just south a little on the A-3210 to the village of Elciego to visit the famed Marqués de Riscal winery designed by the Guggenheim’s Frank Gehry.
  6. Drive into the wine lands again through villages like San Vicente de Sonsierra and Briones and make your way to the capital of the La Rioja wine region: Haro.
  7. A visit to one of the great bodegas is a must (CUNE, Muga etc). My favourite is Bodegas López de Heredia Viña Tondonia with its ancient and dusty subterranean wine cellars and antiquated methods of production. For a more upmarket lunch head to historic Hotel los Agustinos.

2. Manchuela/Utiel-Requena – one/two days

Start of the route: Alcalá del Júcar

End of the route: Requena

Recommended Steps:

  1. Enjoy the delirious beauty of Alcalá del Júcar: take a drink at the Cuevas de Masago cave bar and have lunch/dinner and wine at El Moli restaurant.
  2. Head west along the Júcar river on the B-5 to the Jorquera viewpoint on the AB-880.
  3. Head north in the direction of Fuentealbilla and visit the winery Finca El Molar: a biodynamic place run by a young and friendly lady called Rus.
  4. Take the CM-3207 road east driving through the wine-lands of DO Manchuela.
  5. Stop just before the fairytale village of Cofrentes on the CV-439 for one of the most startling views in the whole area.
  6. Head north along the N-330 and the high undulating vine-covered fields of DO Utiel-Requena.
  7. Visit the old centre of Requena, like an Andalusian white town lost in the Valencia region.
  8. Enjoy a cheap tasting at the wine shop on Plaza del Salvador and then have a nice traditional meal at the friendly Mesón de la Villa.

3. Ribeira Sacra – one day

Start of the route: Os Peares

End of the route: Monforte de Lemos

Recommended steps:

  1. Head to the village Os Peares and turn onto the dramatic Sil Canyon road, LU-P-4103.
  2. Rejoin at the OU-0508 and continue on to the postcard-perfect viewpoint: Mirador de Vilouxe.
  3. Take the LU-903, which heads through the verdant green depths of the DO Ribeira Sacra wine-lands. Keep your eyes peeled for the Monasterio de San Paio de Abeleda near the village of O Couto and grab a glass or a bottle of local Mencía red wine at the Adega Ponte de Boga or one of the many other bodegas that little the area.
  4. Cross the canyon at its bottom and come up the other side past high-flung Doade and the famously steep vine-covered valley walls.
  5. End your day at Monforte Lemos, a calm town famed for its giant 18th century seminary, and enjoy a well-earned meal.

4. Jerez – one day

Start of the route: Jerez

End of the route: Jerez

Recommended steps:

  1. Start off your trip by looking around the dreamy old town in Jerez and stopping in at old bars like Tabanco San Pablo, for a local tipple.
  2. Head to the town’s oldest sherry winery – Fundador, started in 1730 – and go for a tour and tasting around its fascinating complex.
  3. Head west along the pretty A-480 road. On either side, for as far as the eye can make out, you can notice the distinct dry, almost, white albariza soils: a mixture of chalk, sand and clay. Vineyards surround you as you drive to Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
  4. Enjoy the views across the sands and lazy Guadalquivir estuary to the UNESCO-protected Doñana national park on the other side of the water. Enjoy cheap drinks and some fresh fish and flamenquín at Don Viento.
  5. Stroll up to the centre of the old town, perhaps ‘forcing’ yourself to have another sherry at the adorable Plaza de Cabildo.
  6. Have a final mosey through more of those typically white and endearingly scruffy white streets – occasionally shocked with colour – to Taberna der Guerrita for a tapa and yet more sherry.
  7. Choose your designated driver and head back to Jerez past the final wine-town of El Puerto de Santa María before taking the CA-201 and visiting the beautiful Carthusian charterhouse, Cartuja de Santa María de la Defensión.

5. Cariñena/Campo de Borja – one day

Start of the route: Zaragoza

End of the route: Borja

Recommended steps:

  1. Head south from Zaragoza on the A-222 towards the eerie and Civil War-ruined ghost town of Belchite.
  2. Head west along the A-220 keeping your eyes peeled just after leaving Belchite for the odd-looking Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Pueyo up on its private hill.
  3. Drive through the rumbling plains and vineyards of DO Cariñena and make for the attractive town of Borja; home of Bodegas Borsao, which Robert Parker said in 2016 was ‘My favourite value winery not only in Spain, but in the world…’
  4. Have food at La Bóveda del Mercado and make sure to accompany it with red wine: the speciality being made from the Garnacha grape. You are now in DO Campo de Borja, the ‘Empire of Garnacha’.
  5. Follow the small road north, that rises out of the town past beautiful vineyards, to the Santuario de Misericordia. Here you can see the amusing repainting of Ecce Homo when local octogenarian Cecilia Giménez tried, and spectacularly failed, to restore the fresco.
  6. Return towards the N-122 and take the road west, coming off at the Z-372. You’re now heading into the lush and mountainous beauty of the Moncayo Natural Park.
  7. Visit the imposing and ancient-looking Monasterio de Veruela and its well-set up wine museum. Also, of course, grab a drink there!

6. Bierzo – one day

Start of the route: Ponferrada

End of the route: Villafranca del Bierzo

Recommended steps:

  1. First head east along the LE-142 and check out some of the outrageously cute slate-tiled mountain villages typical of the area: Molinaseca, El Acebo de San Miguel, Foncebadón and, slightly further off, Rabanal del Camino.
  2. Check out the Templar Castle in Ponferrada and grab tapas in the old town at El Bodegón: famed for their spicy mussels, fried calamari and patatas bravas.
  3. Head west along the LE-713 to the wine town of Cacabelos and then try to grab a tour of the Godelia winery. You’ll start to notice that you are following pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago.
  4. Past dinky Pieros, take the offshoot road CV-126-32 to the ramshackle and diminutive wine-village Valtuille de Arriba. This whole area is surrounded by smooth multicoloured hills dotted as far as the eye can see with Mencía grapevines; Spain’s answer to Pinot Noir.
  5. Follow the country roads west – best to use a GPS here – to one of Spain’s most attractive small towns: Villafranca del Bierzo. Eat at the Casa de Comidas La Pedrera, with its pretty decor and garden.

There are myriad routes through cute villages and outstanding countryside in all 70 of the country’s denominaciones. So, when you’ve finished these 6, hire a car and make your own adventure!

Salud y buen camino!


If you come to Madrid, which of course, we hope you do. If you go into a modern or classic little Spanish tapas bar, which of course, we hope you do. And if you order a wine, which of course, you should, you’ll often have limited options. You ask for a vino tinto, and will almost always be given a Tempranillo from Rioja – although these days it is common to be offered a Ribera del Duero. Ask for a vino blanco, and you’ll be proffered a goblet of Verdejo from Rueda – though, again, sometimes Albariño from Rías Baixas makes an appearance.

Across most of Castille – both Castilla y León and La Mancha – and Madrid, Extremadura, and Andalucía the most common white wine is always Verdejo. Go most other places and that exotically named grape is still there, accompanied with her productive little region of Rueda. It’s the most well-known grape and region pairing that no-one has heard of!

So today it’s time to meet Verdejo: Spain’s quiet signature grape.

The Grape:

  • The juicy green gapes were brought to Spain probably sometime in the 11th century by the Mozarabs coming from the north of Africa.
  • The first vines were planted in the small but sensationally productive region of Rueda, 175km northwest of Madrid. There are fewer than 60 bodegas in the area, but the grape has become synonymous with the area. Pure terroir.
  • It seems to be the daughter of Savagnin and Castellana Blanca.
  • The name stems from the Spanish for green, verde. The viticultural version of ‘say what you see’ as they are famed for their green-blue bloom.
  • In 2010, Australia got a taste for the grape and started to plant it.
  • The grape is ideally suited to the poor soils and harsh environment present in Rueda; a region that can drop 25 degrees celsius at nighttime.
  • The climate of the meseta is also handy, because Verdejo has a high susceptibility to Powdery mildew fungal disease. The complete dryness doesn’t allow the humidity-loving growth of the fungus.
  • It’s only really in the last 40-odd years that Verdejo from Rueda has come into its own. For a long time it was used in Spain to produce a strong Sherry-like wine.
  • It wasn’t until 70s, with the Rioja giant Marqués de Riscal seeing its potential, that Verdejo began to be used to make fresh and crisp still wines.
  • It’s a fairly venerable Spanish denominación de origen, formed in 1980.
  • The grapes, like many in hot climates, are generally harvested at night. The cooler temperatures will protect the grapes and mean they won’t start to oxidise.
  • As per usual, Verdejo has myriad other names, though generally they are not common but they are wonderful to look at: boto de gall, botón de gallo blanco, cepa de madrigal, gouvelo, verdal del país, verdeja, verdeja blanca.

The Wines:

  • Verdejo as a wine, especially when showing its full expression in Rueda, is famed for its slightly green-tinted straw colour and aromatic and almost herbaceous aroma.
  • It’s not dissimilar to Sauvignon Blanc or a big Pinot Gris. Some laurel, bitter almonds, lemons and citrus are all found on the nose. The palate is smooth and quite full and has sharp acidity.
  • Be aware Verdejo can be rather unappealing if not served chilled enough, sometimes too alcoholic and petrolly. But when chilled correctly is an utter delight.
  • Verdejo can take to ageing quite well, turning almost nutty. That being said, it is not overly common; many producers believing that you lose the intrinsic qualities that Verdejo is good for.
  • The grape, due to the similarity of the vines and name, is sometimes confused with Verdelho. They are not the same. And that’s that.
  • Verdejo is often mixed with Sauvignon Blanc or Macabeo.
  • Due to the acidity of the wines, Verdejo is almost the perfect food pairing white wine.
    • It goes very well with seafood and shellfish.
    • Salty or matured food like strong cheeses pair brilliantly.
    • Verdejo also can go toe to toe with ‘exotic’ food like Thai or Chinese and even spicy food – though, as stated prior, make sure it’s well-chilled!
  • The wines, to be called Rueda Verdejo must be 85% Verdejo. Usually, to show it off fully, producers are more likely to produce 100% wines.
  • Despite finding its spiritual home in Rueda, the largest planting of the grape is actually in Extremadura followed by Castilla La Mancha.

So, even though the boozing populace of Madrid may either a) be bored of Verdejo these days or b) take it for granted, there is no doubting or ignoring the fact that this little green juice bomb has been carrying Spain’s greatest cities, its most famous socialites, its hardy workers and its tiniest villages, into various states of inebriation for centuries.

Verdejo (and Rueda) are owed a debt of soused thanks from a lot of Spain. When all else fails and the cabinets and shelves are running dry, there’s always Verdejo, smiling down at you and saying ‘Hola, pop me in the fridge a while and then drink me!’


Nowadays there are multitudinous books about wine, which is something that makes us very, very, happy here at the Spanish Wine Experience. When we’re not out in the bars swilling too many glasses of red around our mouths, we’re thinking about wine, dreaming about wine, talking about wine and reading about wine.

From historical books to novels, and from niche topics to whimsy, there’s everything under the sun when it comes to wine literature. Indeed if you type ‘wine books’ into the Amazon UK website, you get 129,862 results! So…there’s a lot to sink your eyes into.

Given the varied nature of wine books we will drip feed you booze-fiends short lists over time, each one looking at a different aspect.

To begin? 5 general and geeky books for those of you interested in wine: processes, tastings, grapes, regions.

1. The World Atlas of Wine – Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson

Maybe my pride and joy, the World Atlas of Wine is a geography-nut’s wet dream. The first part of the book is an attractive crash course into the world of wine: history, processes, grapes and the like. The style is rather didactic and dry, but informative. Like a friendly and concise school teacher. The book really comes into its own, however, when the reader takes a joyous backseat and is taken all around the world, country by country, region by region at the hands of two of the world’s premier wine critics and educators.

Sometimes the detail is unnecessarily deep for the average Joe; often going into individual hills or plots of land within wine growing regions. But as a tome to give to an interested wine geek with a light/profound understanding of where everything is, it is unsurpassable.

As a reference or simply as an excuse for dreamy escapism, Hugh and Jancis have created a world class and defining academic book. I love it. If an OS map had had a baby with a wine guide, this would be the result.

For: wealthy wine geeks who have a real sense of terroir.

Price: £26-40

2. Grapes & Wines Oz Clarke

No list by a British booze-fiend would be complete without one of the country’s favourite wine buffs. Jolly and eloquent Mr Oz Clarke has been writing books, speaking mellifluously about wine and educating the British people for decades.

This a bouncily written in depth look into wine from the wheres to the whats. Visually the book is a little fuddy duddy and outdated compared to the sexy Wine Atlas, but if you want to learn a lot of detail down to everything like yields, massal versus clonal selection, GM vines, and the Winkler and Amerine hear summation scale, then this is the book for you. Of course it covers the general stuff to: where did wine come from, what are the grapes, where do they grow etc.

The key is Oz. He takes you by the hand and writes with middle-class aplomb. I would always advise watching him on YouTube first, just to get his voice in your head. It makes it much enjoyable when you’re reading about soils.

For: people who want a wine hero to take them into the dark depths of wine.

Price: £25

3. Wine Folly – Madeline Puckette & Justin Hammack

The diametric opposite of the first two books. Wine Folly started off as a blog/website by the plucky Madeline and friend Justin. They’ve only been going since 2011, but attracted attention for their lighthearted and original way of describing wine aromas, flavours and colours. Not only that but they have de-pretentiousafied wine (yes, I know that’s not a word) and instead have the air of two of your friends chinwagging about the stuff.

More than the words, their maps and diagrams about all parts of the drink have become famous. They have stripped wine back into colourful Venn diagrams, charts, funky maps and cutesy graphics. The complete antithesis of the Wine Atlas’ cartographic nature.

If there was a criticism it would be that sometimes their descriptions lack a bit of accuracy and their information and diagrams can sometimes drift into the arbitrary or imprecise. But for people getting their toes wet in the world of wine, there’s no better or more visually attractive book. Also, the flavour/aroma wheels are really good for helping the average consumer pair food and wine.

For: millennials and people who want a fun and friendly entry to wine. 

Price: £12-20

4. The Wine Bible – Karen MacNeil

This book is my happy place. A fireside wine book. One to curl up with and dive into with a big glass of something red at hand. This is a catch-all book. The real everything you need to know book. I mean, it is the Bible for a reason.

136 pages of semi-glossy pages take you through the introduction to wine: making wine, meeting the grapes, how to taste wine and the like. And following that, Karen takes us through the world for 800 more pages with lovely poetic and often amusing prose into what makes every region, every country tick. Her descriptions something take a turn for the too florid, verging on silly. But then, I’m always guilty of that too.

That’s not all. The book ends with some really useful information that often gets left out of many wine books, probably for its lack of sex appeal. Wine laws in various countries, a glossary, international terms and nomenclature, classification systems etc. It’s like the part of the Lonely Planet guidebook that isn’t fun to read, but is handy and might save your life.

For: the ultimate knowledge-hound wine lover. 

Price: £16.99

5. The Oxford Companion to Wine – Jancis Robinson & Julia Harding

This is my personal Bible perhaps. Well, instead of Bible, maybe I should say it’s my personal Oxford Don; there at my beck and call to answer any quibble or question I might have.

When I’m not travelling the world and dreaming of holidays with my Wine Atlas or reading Karen MacNeil’s wine Bible as if it were a bestseller on the holiday reading list, I’m trying to write blogs, plan podcasts and organise wine tasting notes. Sometimes you need to leave frippery and whimsy aside and just get the cold hard facts.

This beast of a book, the heaviest of the lot, essentially functions like an encyclopaedia. Alphabetically sectioned. Everything you need to know about wine. Want to know about GSM blends? Go to ‘G’. Shiraz? ‘S’, of course. It’s not glamorous, and there’s only a few diagrams, maps, pictograms and the like, like a science textbook, but my goodness if it isn’t useful. That being said, this is a book by Jancis and Hugh, so there’s still a little space for opinion and wry humour.

For: detailed wine-geeks who need everything a the flick of a page

Price: £26-40


Spain may be famed for its Tempranillo, but there is another, more widely-planted variety that often slips under the radar despite it being one of the most famous grapes in the world. Garnacha, or, as it is more commonly known worldwide, Grenache.

This is an old fogey of a grape, being possibly the oldest variety in the country yet its fame has been overshadowed by the elegant Rhône name-changing stylings of Grenache. However this grape is Spanish to its core, so it’s about time we shine a light on it.

Glasses at the ready!

The Grape:

  • These gorgeous dark purple orbs likely originated in the region of Aragon in Spain. There is written accounts of it as far back as the 1500s.
  • The key regions for Garnacha in Spain are Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Calatayud (all three of which are in historic Aragon), Navarra and Priorat.
  • The grape travelled north over the Pyrenees first touching down in Languedoc-Roussillon before finally making its way to the Southern Rhône where it became a superstar.
  • Garnacha is a famously brilliant blending wine. In Rioja it adds juiciness and fruitiness to Tempranillo, in France can tone down a Syrah and in Australia is part of the Holy Trinity GSM – Grenache-Syrah-Mouvèdre.
  • The grape has its own day. International Grenache Day on the 3rd Friday in September.
  • Garnacha buds quite early and needs a long growing season to fully ripen. Often the last to be harvested. This long process is what gives Garnacha wines a high booze content. More ripening = more sugar in the grapes. We see this as a good thing.
  • Apparently it’s quite a big deal in China. There are rumours of 12,000 acres of planted vine over there! Maybe we will start to see bottles of Chinese Garnacha sometime in the future.
  • In the 17th century Burgundy winemakers used to secretly add Rhône Grenache to their Pinot Noirs to make them taste better! Garnacha really is the friend of the blender.
  • In Spain and France it is a very popular grape to make rosé wines and in France is used to make fortified Port-like wines.
  • It has a couple of other cousins in Spain. The Garnacha Tintorera (internationally known by the bizarre name of Alicante Bouschet), with its dark pink flesh, and the odd nomenclature of the Garnacha Peluda – the Hairy Garnacha (named for the soft hairy texture on the bottom of the leaves.
  • Grows best on ‘old vines’ (minimum 35 years of age), which can be found in Aragon, and really wants a hot climate to ripen. We shan’t be seeing any British Grenache wines any time soon.
  • In the Old World the grape can also been found sneaking about in Italy, where it is called Cannonau, Israel, Algeria and even Morocco and Tunisia.

The Wine:

  • Being so widely-planted, the styles of Garnacha wines are incredibly varied. Generally though you get high alcohol content, full-body and a fruit-forward character.
  • Strawberries and raspberries – red fruit – are the calling cards of the Garnacha. The wines are often quite light, and are usually drunk young.
  • As well as the fruit, a touch of spice or sweet spice is quite common to find as well.
  • The wines have a propensity for oxidation so are not the greatest candidates for ageing.
  • Having said that there are some instances, when yields are kept in check, where it can produce dark and intense wines that have ageing potential.
  • Some of the Priorat wines are like this. They can be dense and dark and very rich. This is in comparison to the lighter and more jovial Aragonese wine styles.
  • Young, even slightly chilled, Garnachas from Aragon and Navarra can actually pair quite well with spicy and herby foods. The high alcohol content can help reduce the burn of spice as alcohol is a natural solvent to capsacin.
  • It is become an increasingly fashionable wine in Spain, though without the price tag. A bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape can leap into the hundreds of dollars a bottle and some cult makers in Priorat have pushed the hundreds too, but normally in Spain nice and delicious bottles of youthful Garnachas are a bargain.
  • It is so important and indicative of some regions of Spain – like Tempranillo for Rioja – that the tourism boards are getting creative to give the wines the respect they deserve. Campo de Borja has a new marketing moniker: El Imperio de la Garnacha – the Empire of Garnacha.

So next time you fancy a bottle of red and happen upon the section of the wine aisle that says ‘Spain’, try ignoring the Tempranillos for a moment. Pass up the Rioja and the Ribera del Duero reds that have become so famous. Try a Garnacha. They are affordable, juicy, crowd-pleasing and vary from place to place.

From the light and uncomplicated wines of Navarra, to the fun and delicate juice bomb fruit roll ups of the ancient Aragonese regions, to the obsessive plummy depths of Priorat, there’s a lot to try with Spanish Garnacha.

Next time someone snooty is banging on about French wines and next time that haughty nose sniffs snobbily about Grenache from the Rhône, politely inform them that you’d rather take a fun little sexy number from Spain. And that, by the way, it’s Garnacha…not Grenache.

Salud!


At Spanish Wine Experience we are in agreement about something. In this current climate of political turmoil, civil unrest, war, elected leaders who are clinically insane, natural disasters and economic downtowns there is one tragic truth that we are still struggling with; something that really pushes us to tears. When we open a bottle of wine and it has gone bad. It is a tragedy of Greek proportions.

Last year I was luxuriating in the wines on offer in VinoPremier; a wine shop-cum-bar where, as well as ordering from the menu, one can also purchase any bottle from their shop – from 3 euros to 300 euros – add on a six euro opening fee and enjoy it there and then. I spied a fairly cheap bottle from the fairly unknown region of Ribera del Júcar and thought it would be a fun little voyage into the unknown to share with a couple of colleagues.

Waiter. Bottle opener. Cut. Swivel. Turn. Pop. Glug.

We all stuck our noses in. I quite liked the nose. The others weren’t so sure.

‘It’s kind of pruney and liquorice-y. Almost sherry-like. Flavour’s a bit flat though.’

Then, slowly, judging from the expressions around the table, I realised I was in the minority here. And then I realised one thing: a young red Tempranillo wine with no oak ageing shouldn’t be this way. Then we noticed the colour of the wine drops that had fallen onto the paper napkins. They were rusty orange. I headed downstairs and, being superbly English, apologised profusely for the fact that I thought the wine was bad. The owner took one look and one sniff, said sorry and gave us a different bottle. Somewhat pleased with myself I thought ‘At least my wine qualification had some real world uses!’

But you don’t need a qualification to know what to look out for. Here’s some tips on how to know if your wine has gone bad.

What can ruin your wine?

  1. Cork taint – affected by the presence of TCA (trichloroanisole) in the cork.
  2. Oxidation – affected by unwanted contact with oxygen (maybe due to incorrect storage).
  3. Accidental secondary fermentation – unwanted bubbles due to accidental re-fermentation from too much residual sugar.
  4. Heat damage – essentially your wine is being cooked!
  5. UV light damage – over-exposed like a photo if stored by a window or in direct sun.

Cork taint and Oxidation are the most common – and to be honest they aren’t that common. Secondary fermentation is very rare these days. And, as long as the wine is stored gently and correctly, heat and UV damage shouldn’t ever bother you.

Appearance

So, before you stick your nose in just have a look at your wine. Swirl it. Tilt it. Put it against a white background or light if possible.

  • The bottle arrives and the cork itself is a little pushed out from the bottle. This is a common factor of overheated or ‘maderized’ wine. The liquid has expanded and pushed the cork out.
  • If the colour of your wine – from young and unoaked to typical styles of general aged wines (a couple of years like Rioja or Bordeaux) – is lifeless and dull and has turned browny orange, almost muddy, your wine is likely oxidised. Remember however, that long ageing adds a touch of orange to the edges of red wines. But in more everyday and younger wines this shouldn’t happen.

Aroma

Now is time to stick your nose into your glass. A lot of faults can de detected by your olfactory system. We may not be a sensitive as dogs to aromas, but there are some things that, when they jump out at you, give you a clue as to the state of your wine.

  • Like what happened with my wine: if it smells like a sherry, and isn’t a sherry, your wine has probably turned.
  • If you have a glass of ‘everyday’ wine that smells mouldy, musty or dank like a wet cellar then the likelihood is that the wine is corked.
  • Other unwanted smells to keep a nose out for are vinegar, rotten eggs, nail polish remover, sweaty gym clothes. This could mean a sulphur problem.
  • If you’ve left your wine somewhere too hot for too long you might get whiffs of old cooked raisins or overly stewed fruits. This is trickier to notice. But likely means your wine has warped.

Taste

So the time has come for you to taste it. If you’ve already worked out by now that your wine is bad, we imagine you probably won’t want to taste it. But, if you haven’t worked it out yet, or you went straight for the glug, there are a few signposts that your glass of vino is off.

  • Sweetness: you are drinking a glass of lovely aged Tempranillo from Rioja and you notice that your wine is actually sweet, you double check the label, no, it’s not a Port, it’s definitely Rioja. You’re wine has overheated and cooked a little. Pour it away.
  • Bubbles: Many sparkling wines are created with a secondary fermentation process. Still wines are not. Unless it’s a naturally slightly effervescent wine like Vinho Verde for example, there should not be bubbles in your wine. This is an unwanted property so, if you’re unsure, perhaps check with the sommelier if it is supposed to be like that. If not. Send it back with a face of contempt.
  • Vinegary: Linked with the aromas, if you’re wine tastes heavily vinegary or astringent it’s possible the wine has turned. Check with the sommelier if you’re unsure.
  • Lifeless: Perhaps the hardest one to pick as you have to somewhat know what you’re drinking. But if a wine is dull and flat and flabby, there is the possibility it may have gone a little off.

Wine is a tricky beast and, if uninitiated or untested, some wine drinkers might be put off by wines, thinking them botched, when in fact they are fine. Aged Burgundy wines can often be a little gamey, or Pinotage from South Africa can sometimes brink on the ludicrously thick and spicy. This is a style, not a problem. As stated above, if you’re not happy with the wine, or fearful it might have gone bad, just ask! They won’t mind. Any decent eatery will want their clients happy and drunk on good wine.

So, armed with this information, go out, order far more wine than is responsible, get your noses and mouths your glasses and make sure you’re drinking the real deal!


Generally when people’s minds drift towards the world of wine and those history-covered countries that form Europe’s fiery underskirt, the Mediterranean, they may well chance upon Spain. If that happens they, they being my favourite kind of people – wine-drinkers – will probably think of something potent and red.

Despite having 70 wine regions and despite making every kind of wine imaginable (red, white, rosé, fortified, aromatised, sparkling, box, sweet, orange…the list goes on), your average Joe will probably instantly think of red, maybe Rioja; rarely white.

This is a shame because there are around 15 native varieties; and we plant everything from Chardonnay to Riesling.

Today we are going to meet the cream of the crop: Albariño.

The Grape:

  • The grape grows in fat bunches of little, perfectly spherical green-orange orbs with thick protective skins. This could be Spain’s answer to Pinot Gris/Grigio.
  • Saying the grape is small is an understatement. It’s the smallest white wine grape in the world.
  • The grapes are sweet and high in glycerol making wines that are big on alcohol and acidity.
  • The grape is grown almost exclusively in Spain and Portugal, though there are grapes planted in both the US and even the UK (check out the Chapel Down winery in Kent).
  • 90% of the wine in the region of Rías Baixas – in the northwest Spanish community of Galicia – is Albariño.
  • It is thought that Albariño was brought to Iberia by Cluny monks in the 12th century. The name, Alba-Riño means ‘white wine of the Rhine’. Locally, it was thought to be a clone of Riesling, but it has also been thought to be a relative of Petit Manseng, a French grape.
  • Goes by the name Alvarinho (or Cainho Branco) in Portugal, where it is a major component of the country’s delightfully crisp and slightly effervescent Vinho Verde.
  • The grapes are grown in an unusual way: on high trellises, called parrales, so they don’t touch the ground but also get maximum sun exposure. Also, because Galicia is wet and soggy, this protects the grapes from rot and fungal infections.
  • All harvesting is done by hand.
  • Historically it was blended was other local Galician grapes such as Loureiro, Godello, Caiño, Arinto or Treixadura; but modern winemakers are realising its talent for single varietal wines.
  • Australia had, somewhat comically, been accidentally selling incorrect Albariño wines for about a decade; thinking they were helping to inject money into the Albariño market. They had been selling the French Savagnin instead!
  • In Spain it can also be found growing in Ribeiro and Valdeorras; but here it is often blended.

The Wine:

  • Albariño is famous for making very aromatic, crisp, fruity and acidic wines. They are legendary for the lemony, lime freshness as well as a punch of peaches , grapefruits, and melons plus a touch of minerality.
  • They can be light and imperceptibly sparkling, full-bodied and mouth coating and also, thanks to that acidity, aged on lees or in oak. Very versatile.
  • There is no wine in Spain that pairs better with seafood that a big, chilled glass of Albariño. The old maxim of local wines with local food works here. Atlantic seafood – prawns, octopus, clams, squid, lobster – pairs perfectly with these wines.
  • Albariño is mostly grown in the Rías Baixas DO – a windswept world of vast Scandiwegian estuaries, rumbling hills, and eucalyptus forests. The DO, though fairly small, is split up into five subzones:
    • Val do Salnés: low and wavy hills by the coast. Rocky and alluvial soils.
    • O Rosal: the banks of the Miño river. Alluvial soils.
    • Condado do Tea: the stepper sides of the Miño river valley. Alluvial soils.
    • Soutomaior: south of Pontevedra. Light, sandy and granite-covered soils.
    • Ribera de Ulla: near Santiago de Compostela. Alluvial soils.
  • Many producers carry out a slow, pre-fermentation maceration to extract complexity, colour and aromas from the grapes.
  • Full or partial malolactic fermentation is becoming more and more common. (Malolactic fermentation: where acidic malic acid is converted to creamier lactic acid.) This results in a smoother and silkier wine.
  • When ordering wine in Spain, one usually orders by the region: Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorat, etc. However, due to Albariño basically being from one region, the Spanish basically just order it by the grape. Albariño rolls off the drunken tongue more easily than Rías Baixas.

Spain has many other native white wines on offer; and if you are in the capital ordering a ‘vino blanco’ you will most likely be offered a crisp, dry tropical scented wine from the region of Rueda. So, if you are looking for a glass of Albariño, it pays to ask for it by name to see if they have it.

Part of the romance of Albariño, apart from the fact it is utterly and supremely lively and delicious, is the fact that it has a ‘home’; hiding out in the folklore-filled fjords and peaks of Celtic Galicia. A wet and windy place that offers, for our money, perhaps Spain’s most reliably brilliant white wine experience.


A couple of years ago I walked an elongated version of the Camino de Santiago. 51 days and about 1200km. The most famous route is from France in the little village of St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to the ancient holy city of Santiago de Compostela. I published a book about it called, quite originally, El Camino, and then essentially put it neatly behind me into my past. Now I recall my journey and think to myself, as well as the Camino de Santiago, it could quite easily be named the Camino de Vino. For there was a lot of wine. The Spanish have been at it, wine-making that is, since the Phoenicians and Romans.

If we focus, for the sake of brevity and sanity, on the principal and most famous route, the camino francés, we are talking about a 780km walk from east to west along a millennia-old pilgrim track. Spain has 70 denominaciones de origen (D.O.), demarcated wine regions, so statistically it makes sense that one would pass through at least a few of them.

Coming down tired and sore from the Pyrenees on day one, you enter the old kingdom of Navarra, which, handily, happens to be a D.O. It is an odd region that is as varied as it is attractive. From Swiss-style green peaks dotted with chalet toy towns with Basque names like Linzoain, Zubiri, Aurtiz, to ancient medieval cities like Pamplona, Estella and Puente la Reina, Navarra has long been the pilgrim gateway to Spain.

And, after a long walk, you want a glass of wine or five. As a region for red wine it is quite far behind a lot of the other great regions, though they are tasty, they are also rather unpolished and often a little unexciting and simple. But they do the job. Navarra’s magic lies in its rosés and is arguably the best region in Spain for reliable versions of the dark pink Spanish chilled wine.

Around the village of Cirauqui, trellised wines snake up to its little mount and at the old former Benedictine monastery of Irache there is a pilgrim wine fountain dispensing free red to walkers. Take your plastic bottle and fill it up. The tap wasn’t working when I passed by the morning of my walk so I would have to imagine how it tasted.

A few days later and the pilgrim hauls his tired frame into the old quartermaster of the Spanish wine world: La Rioja. It was rare to have a view that didn’t include kilometres and kilometres of vineyards. Spring had left the surrounding fields velvety and green with long grasses. It was almost a Spanish Tuscany without the Cyprus trees.

We wouldn’t have dreamed of ordering anything except the local wine in these towns – Navarrete, Nájera, Santo Domingo de la Calzada; all small church-filled places. But the crown was given to Logroño and its obscene number of bars. Tapas bar after tapas bar offering a full list of local producers and their wines; usually none more than a couple of euros a glass, and served with the famed speciality nibbles: potatoes cooked with peppers and chorizo, stuffed mushrooms, fried pig snouts, little sandwiches.

We rubbed our heads and in the morning blinked clear the hangovers as we approached the much-scorned yet bleak beauty and expanses of the meseta. The 200km long flat-as-a-pancake plateau. The topography had simmered down to nearly zero. There were a few soft rises and dips but not a vineyard in sight. We were walking west and shadowing another behemoth region: Ribera del Duero, which lay 85km to the south.

As compensation for this we continued to do what we did every day: get up early, walk between 20-40km, arrive at our destination, and open and drink an unhealthy amount of local wine. Fortunately, as we drifted from Burgos to Frómista, to Carrión de los Condes, to Castrojeriz, to Sahagún, this local wine happened to be those dark liquorice-filled yet smooth beasts of Ribera.

After the monument-filled and genteel old city of León, it was high time we walked through a D.O. again. This time was Bierzo, the floral wonderland of the far west part of Castilla y León. The land grow bouncy and hilly again, and then the mountains brought a new architecture; stone houses with distinctive grey slate roofs.

The vineyards of Bierzo showed off their drama as they slid over warm green slopes in the foreground as snow-tipped peaks danced in the back. Little ladies in round hats were pruning the vines around the postcard-perfect villages of Molinaseca, Villafranca del Bierzo, Valtuille de Arriba. In Bierzo, for red wines, the Mencía grape was king. It is a grape I have described before as the Pinot Noir of Spain. Elegant, floral and lighter than the bolstered Tempranillos, hot Garnachas and inky Monastrells of the rest of Spain. Here, with the moderate climate, retaining heat in summer but overall more mild in all seasons, red fruits, violets and a pleasing minerality fill these suave wines. Many fuzzy mornings were had.

Finally the world was drowned in green as I entered the mystical Celtic lands of Galicia. Here the temperatures drop and the humidity and rainfall increase. There are reds, good reds, to be had in this region, but the superstars are the whites.

At Portomarín we brushed the top of D.O. Ribeira Sacra, a fecund valley sliced in two by the Sil river; famous for its grand canyon. Here again Mencía was the dominant red. They had a different aspect to the darker wines of Bierzo, lacking the heavier fruit punch. They were dangerously drinkable, light and fruity but still had that classic minerality, poetically linked to the steep slate hillsides on which the Mencía grape grows.

And so to Santiago de Compostela I arrived. I had been lashed with rain and had sweated through shirts, been pummelled with hail storms and blown about by gales, often on the same day, but after 47 days I had finally arrived at that moss-covered religious relic where St James lay, dead as dust in his box.

However there was one more region to drink. Split into five sub-zones, D.O. Rías Baixas spreads itself out along the lower western fjord-like estuaries of Galicia. They share the space with cute Scandiweigian villages, broad sandy bays, eucalyptus forests and fishermen. They also make Spain’s best white wines using the Albariño grape.

The day after I arrived I headed north up to the shipwreck-riddled Costa da Morte, coast of death, on the vineyard-less Rías Altas, but for now, in Santiago, I could at least feel fairly close to some vineyards. There is a sub-zone – Ribera del Ulla – that creeps in land and leaves the fjords, and sits just 10km or so south of the city. So we drank our fill.

Albariño in its Galician homeland is a joy to drink; bracing acidity and fresh lemony flavours and melons and apricots too sometimes. They can be creamy if left on the lees or almost effervescently mimicking the Vinho Verdes of Portugal. And, when paired with seafood – the region’s speciality – it makes the drinker emit sounds that are best left to the privacy of one’s home.

I finished the Camino de Santiago with firmed buttocks and calf muscles, the same belly, and, probably a liver that had packed up and died in the corner of the room. St. James might be shocked if he ever came back one day to realise that his Camino de Santiago is really the Camino de Vino.