Spain is world famous for its bright and festive atmosphere, a place where terraces are filled with laughter and plazas are brimming with children playing, guitars strumming and people clapping to the traditional flamenco beat. But nowhere on the peninsula can this cultural heritage be more amply experienced than in the searing hot southern region of Andalusia.
Andalusia is extraordinarily unique for several reasons. First, the Guadalquivir Valley, which passes through Cordoba and Sevilla, has experienced the highest temperatures recorded in Europe, reaching 46.6 °C (115.9 °F). Now that’s hot! It occupies a little less than 20% of Spain, with a surface area of 87,597 square kilometers, making it the second largest region in Spain. Finally, it has widely diverse and varied terrain, as it touches the Mediterranean Sea to the east; the Atlantic Ocean to the west; to the north, the Sierra Morena mountains separate Andalusia from the plains of Extremadura and Castile-La Mancha on Spain’s Meseta Central; and to the south, the Strait of Gibraltar offers a gentle divide from Africa.
This year’s Vuelta de España will begin today in Sevilla, and during the first 4 stages, the cyclists will wind their way through a wine appellation that produces some of Spain’s greatest, and most difficult, wines to sell. With consumers craving simple wines that are easy to understand from the very first sip, the wines of Andalucia – Sherry being its most famous – take time and patience to fall in love with. These wines vary dramatically from bone dry Finos and Manzanillas to rich and nutty Olorosos, all made with the Palomino Fino grape. Dessert wines, on the other hand, are also made from Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel grapes.
What’s interesting to note is that you’ll find the Palomino Fino grape growing in a fine, bright white soil called, Albariza, that consists of primarily chalk, followed by various amounts of limestone, clay and sand. What makes this soil so essential in the creation of Sherry is that it preserves moisture during the scorching summer months. Now this isn’t the only soil that Sherry grapes are grown in, but 40% of the grapes are required to come from this absolutely stunning soil.
The cyclists will also pass through the town, and municipality, of Malaga, near to the famous seaside hamlet of Marbella; which is renowned for its sweet wines that are both ethereal and godlike, no matter which god you choose. Moscatel de Alejandria from Malaga can be a boring, glorified sugar water at its worst to wines with insane acidity to sugar ratio as you climb higher into the surrounding foothills.
But if we were roadside cheerleaders, as the bikers sped by on their way to the finish line, we would be sipping upon Rebujitos, Fino/Mazanilla Sherry with Casera – a sugary sparkling water. It’s refreshing, thirst quenching, and has just enough pick-me-up that the fortified wine doesn’t knock you out in the late summer sun. It’s a drink made to invigorate and fortify the spirit.
As for food, think seafood! This is the land of fried fish, battered and delicious. You can also find a wide range of mussels, shrimp, squid, large prawns, calamari and sardines. And let’s not forget one of our favorite Andalusian dishes, salmorejo, a creamy, cold soup – similar to gazpacho – consisting of tomatoes, bread, oil, garlic and vinegar (preferably PX). And for the garnish, you’ll find small bowls brimming with Jamon Serrano and diced hard-boiled eggs. It’s incredible, especially when paired with with a glass of sherry.
Regarding the race, we’ve asked our bike crazy friend Bill Bennett to help us out. Please let us know what you think, and we’ll make sure to include more as we go along!
Previewing Stages 1 – 4 of the 2010 Vuelta a Espana
This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the first race in 1935. Along with the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia, it is considered one of the three “Grand Tours” of professional cycling. This year’s Vuelta should be very exciting. The organizers have designed an extremely difficult, 3,352 km, route with a total of eight mountain stages, six of which include summit finishes. In a seemingly prescient moment, they have also scheduled the first stage, a 13k team time trial, or TTT, at10 PM to moderate the late August heat of Sevilla.
Spaniards following the Vuelta may lament the absence Alberto Contador, three time winner of the Tour de France, including the past two years in a row. However, 2008 Tour winner Carlos Sastre, with two seconds and a third in his home country’s crown jewel, will lineup with hopes of finally getting over the top. Other prime contenders include Andy and Frank Schleck as well as two-time winner DennisMenchov. Both Andy Schleck and Menchov finished this year’s TdF on the podium behind Contador.
Workers have been busily erecting over 1000 temporary spotlights around the TTT circuit in Sevilla. The winning time should be under 15 minutes on the pan-flat course that loops around Sevilla’s historic district. Other than a half-dozen corners, the route is wide open and straight, with few technical sections to slow down the power riders. The start ramp is right in front of Sevilla’s famous bullring – Real Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza – and ends 13kmlater at the Torre del Oro, a 13th century watch tower. The route crosses the Guadalquiver River and passes through Sevilla’s Triana neighborhood, birthplace of many of Spain’s famous flamenco singers and dancers, and traces the river’s edge for 4.6km. The route then loops around Sevilla’s historic district, skirting the narrow alleyways of the Santa Cruz neighborhood,before doubling back at the Parque de Maria Luisa with a tight, 180-degree right-hander. From there, it’s straight for 2.2 km to the finish line.The time is taken at the fifth rider across the line and any stragglers will be designated with their real time.Favorites for the stage are Garmin-Transitions, Liquigas, HTC-Columbia and Saxo Bank. Temperatures are expected to cool down slightly in the coming days as a new front blows in from the west, but riders can expect hellish conditions in Sunday’s 173.4km second stage from Alcalá de Guadaíra to Marbella.
Stage 2: Alcalá de Guadaíra → Marbella Date: Sunday, August 29 Distance: 173 km
Wine Pairing: Dry Moscatel Botani
Starting just east of Sevilla in Alcalá de Guadaíra, stage 2 will head south across the hot Andalusian Plain and then gradually climb over the southwest end of the Sistema Penibético. There is one cat 3 at km 68 followed by 60 km of stepped climbing to the high point on the stage at 1050m where no KOM points will be awarded. The day will end with a 30 km descent to the southern coast and the flat finish in Marbella. Even with the climbing, it is predicted the peloton will come together for a sprint finish.
Stage 3: Marbella → Málaga Date: Monday, August 30 Distance: 156 km
Wine Pairing: Sweet Moscatel de Alejandria something from Bodegas Bentomiz
Starting from the stage 2 finish in Marbella, we’ll immediately head up the cat 2 Alto de Ojén on a day that follows the foothills of the Sistema Penibético northeast to the finish in Málaga. The peloton will do two passes through Málaga where the long Puerto del Leon, north of the city, will be used to trim the ranks of the peloton before the flat and then uphill finish near the Málaga beaches. This is the first (and probably the easiest) of eight mountain stages at this year’s Vuelta and a stage that suits a decent climber who also packs the punch needed to win the 1.75 km 6% uphill finish. I like Andy Schleck in this stage, trying to put his early stamp on the race.
Stage 4: Málaga → Valdepeñas de Jaén Date: Tuesday, August 31 Distance: 177 km
Wine Pairing: Alvear Fino en Rama
Stage 4 is considered a medium mountain stage, departing from Malaga, birthplace of Picasso, and ending in Valdepeñas de Jaén, considered the world capital of Olive Oil. The stage begins at sea level, with an 1120m, 40k climb starting about 40km into the race. The remainder of the stage is a roller coaster of short climbs and descents culminating at the finish in Jaen. Look for Andalusia Caja Sur to try for a podium finish in their home province. All-in-all, the first four stages should provide for some exciting racing. Whoever is in the Red Jersey at the end of this stage will likely have it for at least the next three flat stages.
We hope you found this fun, and stay tuned as we attempt to bring you 7 more updates with a bit about the lands of the Vuelta de España!
Ryan and Gabriella Opaz
Additionally, here is a list of resources we highly suggest you peruse!
The Source of Pedro Ximénez: D.O. Montilla-Moriles
Palo Cortado, a Different Kind of Sherry
Sherry 101 – Basics of this Noble Wine!
Kalimotxo – Tinto de Verano – Spritzers and other Wine drinks
The Fear of Sherry
Perfect Summer Combination: Manzanilla and Gazpacho!
Pedro Ximenez: A Wine to Savour Over a Candlelit Dinner
Los Rebujitos: Mixed Drinks Traditionally Savored during the Andalusian Festival, Feria del Caballo
Sherry House: Emilio Hidalgo, And Ways to Change Future Generations into Sherry Lovers