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Vuelta España Stages 17-18: Castilla y León, The Land of Perpetual Extremes

In our next installment of La Vuelta a España (check out the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4rth and 5th installments), we enter Castilla y León, the largest region in Spain, occupying 18.6% of its land mass, and consisting of 94,222 km2 (36,379.3 sq mi). Nestled against Aragon, the Basque Country and La Rioja to the east; Asturias and Cantabria to the north; Madrid, Castille-La Mancha and Extremadura to the south; and Portugal and Galicia to the west, it’s a massive chunk of land and to summarize its wine and gastronomy in one article is simply impossible, but we can highlight its essence, culture and cuisine.

Castilla y León is also known as “Old Castile”; when the two kingdoms of Castilla y León were united in 1230. Ferdinand III of Castile conquered León from his half-sisters, Sancha and Dulce, whereby adjoining the regions. Ferdinand’s son, Alfonso X later established Castilian as the language of culture and learning; and consequently, laid the groundwork for its recognition as the dominant language of Spain – much to the chagrin of many neighboring regions in years to come. (Flickr photo by trommer)

Castilla y León roughly coincides with the Spanish part of the Douro River basin, on the northern half of the Meseta Central, an immense plateau in the middle of the Iberian Peninsula. It also extends to some adjoining valleys, such as El Bierzo (León) and many secluded mountain valleys including Laciana (León), Valle de Mena (Burgos), and Valle del Tiétar (Ávila). The handful oaks and junipers now found on the Castilian-Leonese plains are ghostly remnants of forests that once covered these lands. It is said throughout Spain that a squirrel could travel among the lush, green canopy of trees that at one time extended from one side of the Peninsula to another. Today, those forests are long gone, but in its place, vines have taken root in Castilla y León,  providing us with some of the finest wines in Spain.

So let’s begin in the internationally famed region of Ribera del Duero, where we encounter primarily red wine made with Tinta Fino, the regionally specific name for Tempranillo. Unlike its neighbor La Rioja, Tempranillo here shows equal structure and body, but tends to express a bit more acidity and mulberry fruit. And when paired with Cochinillo Asado, roasted suckling pig – severed, not with a knife, but a plate, as the meat is juicy and incredibly tender – your knees will buckle in enjoyment.  (Photo by andrescanedo)

If we travel farther to the west we arrive to Tierra del Vino Zamora, a region that is has featured some stellar examples of Verdejo, Malvasia and Godello. These three white grapes, along with the occasional featured performance from Palomino and Albillo, have placed Castilla y Leon on the map for fashioning both young and barrel-aged white wines with incredible personality and amazing quality. As for pairing options, I personally would dive into their wide range of soups, such as Sopa de Ajo, made with eggs, paprika, garlic and bread. It’s absolutely delicious, and the perfect recipe to make on crisp, fall days. And if Martha Stewart can whip it up, so can you! I would also try the Bacalao a la Tranca (a traditional cod dish) and el Pulpo a la Sanabresa (equally traditional octopus dish). And if you can get your hands on the honey from Sanabria, you won’t regret it. Pour a little over some local sheep’s cheese, while taking a respite from touring the 24 Romanesque churches, and you’ll be in heaven.

As for nature, I would highly suggest making your way a little north to check out the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Las Médulas. Located near the town of Ponferrada, in the region of El Bierzo, this area is absolutely priceless to behold! At one time it was considered the most important gold mine in the Roman Empire, a place where water was drawn from the Sierra de la Cabrera mountains to Las Médulas by a system of 7+ parallel aqueducts over 100 km long. And when you sit staring over the various orange and red hues emanating from the sharp, protruding rocks, you’ll notice the indentations made from the aqueducts, creating an alien like terrain that is both memorizing and enchanting.

Now let’s check in with our Iberian sports correspondent, Bill Bennett; however, please note that this post was supposed to go up a few days ago, but do to technical difficulties we’re putting it up today.

Previewing Stages 17 and 18 La Vuelta a Espana

With a wonderful performance on the Cotobello on Monday, Joaquin Rodriguez reclaimed the Jersey Rojo for his native Spain, with a 33 second margin over Vicenzo Nibali. Coming out of the final rest day of this year’s Vuelta , Rodriguez has high hopes of claiming victory in Madrid this coming Sunday. Standing in his way is Nibali, one of the top time trialists in the peloton, and clearly superior to Rodriguez in the discipline. As we have seen in the past, riding in the last (leaders) position of the day has a way of motivating riders, even those of modest time trialing skills. It is anticipated that Nibali will finish the time trial with 1:30 to 2 minute lead. If Rodriguez is able to ride the TT of his career, he will have one more opportunity to make up the time on Stage 20, which features six climbs, including two ascensions to Navacerrada, including the final summit finish of the Vuelta.

Stage 17: Peñafiel – Individual Time Trial
Date: Wednesday, September 15
Distance: 46 km

Wine Pairing: Legaris Reserva 2004

The long, flat power course traces the vineyards of the Duero Valley and the victor will be awarded a fine bottle of vino tinto for their efforts. Peñafiel, the start and finish host, is a small town in central part of the Castilla y León region. The TT route is a narrow loop through the valley heading west towards Valladolid, the Castilla y León capital city. This area is part of the central plateau and there are hills in the area but the TT course avoids them. There aren’t many turns on this course either. This course is all about technique, strength and endurance. Fabian Cancellara has got to be the favorite to the win the stage.

Stage 18: Valladolid → Salamanca
Date: Thursday, September 16
Distance: 153 km

Wine Pairing: Mocén Verdejo 2004

Today is a day where the sprinters´ teams have one more opportunity to shine in La Vuelta 2010. It is also a day where Team Katusha and Liquigas can´t ride too relaxed, as the wind is always the enemy of the peloton in the Castillian region. Not to mention stage stealing breakaway artists.

This relatively short stage, at 153 km, is a transition between the time trial in Peñafiel and the final mountaintop finish near Madrid. It is also a tribute to two cities that have hosted the Vuelta many times, beginning with Valladolid, the first city which hosted a finish of the Vuelta in 1935. A nice gift for celebrating the 75th Vuelta’s anniversary. This is another opportunity to watch Cavendish and Farrar battle it out in another memorable sprint finish.

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz

Also check out these related posts:

Toro: A Spanish Wine Region of Guts and Glory
Prieto Picudo: Tough Love for an Iberian wine grape
I Love Verdejo: Enticing Spanish White Varieties
D.O. Arribes: Where the Legendary Tormes and Duero River Meet
Castilla y León: A Rather Unsuspecting White Wine RegionThe Gastronomical Bounty in Castilla y León: Asados, Embutidos, Quesos and MoreA 4 Day Whirlwind Wine Adventure Through Castilla y León