Posts Tagged ‘Bierzo’

 

Not to be too much of a hedonist here, but in the world we live in, sometimes it is better to enjoy a nice wine than to try to change people who do not want to change. So let us talk about wine.

My dad enjoyed a good glass of wine. He knew many growers and vintners, so growing up I was spoiled by trying wonderful wines. Having said that, they were mostly solid, serious, dry, old school Riojas and the occasional Ribera del Duero, ok and a glass of bone dry sherry before lunch, oh, and nice Champagne at celebrations!

So I come by my hobby honestly. I started enjoying a glass, ok, or a bottle, seriously in college. I learnt a lot from my french classmates and other budding enthusiasts, but, like most, could not enjoy a solid bottle for pecuniary reasons. That is until I got my first job after university and then things got serious. My palate was used to those heavy, dry Riojas, so when one of my summers in university I went on an internship to Bordeaux I was baffled by the awesome flavor of those much lighter wines – that is why Bordeaux used to be called Claret (for clear). Through time I slowly discovered more and more wine regions and could, never mind identify, but more importantly, enjoy different wines.

As I got older I fell in love with different regions, producers, even specific bottles. Here are some of my faves:

Any “old school” Rioja Reserva or Gran Reserva: Marques de Caceres, Ygay, Muga, CUNE, Marques de Riscal… It is a long list, but if I had to pick a couple, they might be Remirez de Ganuza and LAN.

With the Ribera del Duero I am a bit more picky. Real Riberas have very high tannins and only the older, aged, wines have “tamed” those tannins. So my favorites there are Alejandro Fernandez’s Pesquera Reserva – this was a long love of mine. (It’s little brother Condado de Haza is pretty good as well).

I have been lucky to meet and visit a few growers myself, and that makes all the difference, as you get a much better understanding of the wine making process, the land – terroir, the whole shebang!

One such visit was to the Marques de Griñon in Toledo. He is a lovely fellow and clearly loves each and every single grape he grows! While there I tasted his Syrah (Shiraz, you say potato…) and it was love, sorry, taste at first sight! While I have enjoyed many great Syrahs over the years, that one was a spectacular moment.

Another love story might be with Pinot Noir, but not just any Pinot. You see I was never really impressed with this grape, until one good day not too long ago I had a California Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, and it changed my life: light, but packing a whole lot of deliciousness. These are normally tricky (and expensive) to find, as the region is quite small, so good luck!

This summer while doing the Camino de Santiago I crossed the Bierzo region, which until recently was only known in Spain. Well, some of those wines really blew my mind!!

But my fave non-Spanish wine region is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, yes I know I am not very original, but I love the full bodied goodness of these guys!!

Given a choice I drink red, but if I have to pick a white, it usually is an Albariño, followed by a Verdejo, after that I’m not all that interested.

There you have it, a short but sweet list of my favorite wines, without getting all pedantic with technical bits, but still making myself a wine snob/nerd.

Since I ended my Camino last year I was itching to get back to my pilgrimage. It did not disappoint. Exactly a year to the day, I boarded a bus to Astorga, the city where I finished last year. Four hours later, I arrived. I did not want to spend the night in a place that only had sad memories and heartbreak for me. So I walked to Murias, the first village out. It was a gorgeous evening walk on one of the longest days of the year. I passed by the obligatory tiny chapel and yellow arrows. The small Albergue was a repurposed, old, one classroom schoolhouse. Just about everyone inside was already dozing. But I walked to the local restaurant for a quiet dinner with a glass of wine. Then crawled into bed after a quick shower.

My Camino proper started, like last year, on my Dad’s birthday. It is a tiny, silly way for me to honor him and to celebrate with him, walking with his old walking stick. Right out of Murias there is a small detour to one of the prettiest villages in Spain: Castrillo de los Polvazares. An ancient, untouched stone village. Stone homes, stone streets, stone church, stone everything. I made the detour because I remember driving there with my father in his massive Mercedes and being so awestruck by the beauty of the village. My morning walk is always my favorite. The dew on my legs, the silence, loneliness, the cool.

The path was a slow but steady climb to the second highest peak of the route, past Rabanal del Camino, where I stopped to chat with a Benedictine Monk in his monastery, and Foncebadon, to Cruz de Fierro, the site of an ancient Roman temple. It is a tiny iron cross on a massive wooden post. Pilgrims are supposed to drop off a stone picked up at the base, but with the accumulation of stones, they are now suggesting leaving flowers. I had a pebble I had been carrying since Navarra.

After cresting for five odd km. the descent is very technical, putting a lot of pressure on feet, shins, and knees. I was out of the Maragateria area and into El Bierzo, a previously forgotten region of Spain that is now on the map since their wines became noticed some years ago. I eventually stopped at Acebo a lovely village of stone homes with slate roofs.

There are three basic types of albergues a pilgrim can stay in. The municipal or public ones, the parochial or church affiliated ones and private ones. I normally chose my albergues in this order. In Acebo the options were parochial or private, I stayed at the parochial, run by a wonderful American couple that had left the US because of President Trump (they can hardly be blamed).

My walk the next morning led me by a wonderful 18th C. altar in one of the tiny chapels along the way. I always stop and chat with the attendant, while I get my official stamp to prove my visit, which I will need in Santiago. Breakfast was at the gorgeous village of Molinaseca. And the walk continues past fields and vineyards to Cacabelos. The Albergue at Cacabelos is paradise for me. It is set up along the inside wall of an 18th C. neoclassical church, right up my alley! The next day I end up at Herrerias, the base of the third highest climb of the route. There is only a couple of private albergues and the one I choose is super cute. The bedroom only has 8 beds so it is very quiet. There is a neo-Hippy project next door called Project Brigid where they do music workshops, and they lend you their kitchen. I signed up for their yoga class in a small clearing, surrounded by high trees, next to a lovely stream. It was by far the best yoga session of my life.

The climb to Cebreiro is the third highest in the Camino, but in the early morning, it is a breeze. A stop at the great bar El Arbol in La Faba provides great fuel to keep climbing. The view of the hills of Galicia from the top is awesome and the town of Cebreiro is really cute, with a fantastic, intimate church where I spend some time. I keep walking downhill to Triacastelas. The albergue is in rooms of four. I room with a Mexican girl, a South African fellow and Go from Japan, who will become my new friend.

I walk to the Benedictine Monastery at Samos in one gorgeous chestnut tree forest crisscrossing  gurgling streams. At Sarria I enjoy a wonderful empanada, the local pie, stuffed with tuna. The Camino now is a bit more crowded with busses full of “pilgrims” who only walk the last 100 km. in order to earn the coveted Compostela, the traditional forgiveness of sins for doing the Camino. These mostly Spanish folks can afford to do the walk with only a day pack – or just some water – as their bus will carry their kit from village to village. I must confess it does distract from the purity of the Camino, but they must be equally accepted as they are also pilgrims, even if all they are wearing is a bikini and a water bottle, as I saw one girl doing.

Galicia is a magical region of Spain, it’s ancient hills covered with chestnut and eucalyptus forests, streams and tiny agricultural plots. The food is delicious and the people are wonderful. My last two days’ walk is in the company of awesome Aussie Bec and our Japanese friend Go. After a good night’s sleep at a gorgeous little hotel, the walk into Santiago is an easy 9 km, just in time for the Pilgrim’s mass with the fabled Botafumeiro incense burner that somehow uncorks all my emotions as it swings across the naves of the cathedral. I only have time to get my Compostela before jumping on a train home, I’ve got a busy summer ahead!