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36. Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel gerrydawesspain.com

"My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life. . .” - - Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019; Chef-partner of Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards, New York 2019

7/05/2020

Hemingway's Burguete & Mythical Feasts in the Mists of the Historical Pass of Roncesvalles in Navarra: Scenes from Homage to Iberia by Gerry Dawes



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Text & Photographs by Gerry Dawes©2020

  
Hostal Burguete, Burguete-Auritz (Navarra).


  
Roncesvalles.

My late former wife Diana Valenti Dawes and I spent many wonderful sanfermines, the annual fiestas at Pamplona with Alicia Hall, a spinster school teacher from Milledgeville, Georgia, who was a woman of great charm and character.  Some years we started before the Fiestas de San Fermín by driving up to Burguete in the Pyrenees mountains northeast of Pamplona for a few days. 


Alice "Alicia" Hall.

We stayed at the rustic Hostal Burguete, where Hemingway got the inspiration for the hotel  in The Sun Also Rises, where Jake Barnes and Bill Gorton stayed during their trout fishing expedition on the Irati River, which rushes down these green Navarrese-Basque mountains and offered great trout fishing. 


 Trout fishing in the Pyrenees of Navarra.

The hotel, with its heavy, dark wooden beams, big beds with warm covers, and plumbing from a by-gone era had changed little since Hemingway stayed there.  Diana, Alicia, and I loved to spend a couple of quiet relaxing days there - - reading, walking out on the road to Roncesvalles to pick wild strawberries to put on our ice cream, and having long discussions about Spain over dinner and plenty of Navarra’s country vino tinto.  

Florián and 1-year old Erica Dawes, Hostal Burguete, July 1977.

Florián, the prematurely middle-aged, but handsome daughter of the innkeeper, her mother, who often sat in the kitchen while Florián, on a big wood-fired, cast-iron cook stove prepared reasonably good Navarrese food (at these prices, a bargain): Stews of alubias (white beans) with chorizo, magras con tomate (pork slices in tomato sauce), pollo asado con patatas fritas (chicken with fried potatoes), trucha a la navarra (fried trout with a slice of ham tucked in its belly), and vainas (fresh green beans with boiled potatoes).   

 Kitchen, Hostal Burguete, Burguete (Navarra), July 1977.
 Pochas-alubias and Las Campanas Navarra Rosado.

After finishing a bottle or two of Navarra clarete (light young red wine) or rosado and, perhaps, a coffee, a Spanish brandy or Patxarán (sloe berry-infused anís) as we talked, we turned in early.  Diana and I would snuggle into the big wooden poster bed in a room that overlooked a green meadow behind the house, read a bit from The Sun Also Rises and other books on Spain and sleep next to one another soundly until morning.  Sometimes a rainstorm would come through at night, freshening the air and making it far cooler than the July calendar seemed to call for. 

The Sun Also Rises piano, Hostal Burguete, July 1977.  Photo by Gerry Dawes.


 Piano photo of the Hemingway "signature" from the internet.

In a side room, Florián showed us the upright piano that was supposedly the one that the Bill Gorton character played in The Sun Also Rises.  The piano was believable, but "E. Hemingway 25-7-1923" crudely scratched on the underside of the top of the piano was not so believable.  

 In the early 1970s, Diana Valenti Dawes during San Fermín dancing the riau-riau on the shoulders of Big Steve Lee, the "Gentle Giant," a very large friend of ours, in front of the Ayuntamiento, Pamplona.

On the morning of July 6, Alicia, Diana and I would pack up and head down the mountain roads to Pamplona, where, as Ernest Hemingway wrote about the beginning of the fiesta:  At noon of Sunday, the 6 of July, the fiesta exploded. There is no other way to describe it.”  Our tranquil days and nights in Burguete led to our surrendering to the wild, raucous days and nights of the nine-day, non-stop Fiestas de San Fermín that were to come. 

Always, during those years, about halfway through the fiesta, about the time everyone needed a break from the noise and jaleo of San Fermín, we formed a caravan of cars and headed back up into these same hills to the pass of Roncesvalles, just north of Burguete, where we had picnics that became legendary.  A couple of kilometers above the monastery of Ronscesvalles, along the road to France, I knew a splendid Brigadoon-like glade with an icy little stream that only the initiated can find. My friend John Fulton, the American Matador-and-artist, who had gone there with James Michener, who described it his Iberia:  Spanish Travels and Reflections,  and had introduced me to it during my first time at the Fiestas de San Fermín in 1970.  

 Matador John Fulton and Gerry Dawes in the plaza de toros de Pamplona 1970s.
Photo by the great Jim Hollander. 

   James Michener, Gerry Dawes and Diana Valenti Dawes at Michener's home in Austin, Texas.

In Iberia, Michener wrote about this very glade:  "I had spotted it on my pilgrimage to Santiago.  We were eight as we left Pamplona after the morning running of the bulls:  Patter (Ashcraft) and her husband; Bob Daley, long-time European sportswriter for The New York Times and his French wife, both with a sense of what makes a good picnic; Vavra ((Robert Vavra, photographer of Iberia) and Fulton; the Hemingway double (Kenneth Vanderford) and I.   We were headed north, toward the pass of Roncesvalles, that historic and mystery-laden route through the Pyrenees which Charlemagne had used in 778 for his retreat throught the mists and where he had failed to hear the battle horn of his dying Roland. . .and there in a glade so quiet, so softly green that it seemed as if defeated knights might have slept in it the evening before, we spread our blankets and prepared the meal."
    
With an odd collection of companions, each year we made the pilgrimage to this historic little valley in the pass that is haunted by the ghost of brave Roland and by the spirits of generations of pilgrims who passed this way over the centuries walking the Chemin de Saint Jacques, the great Camino de Santiago, a trek across northern Spain that from this point at Roncesvalles to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, where Saint James’s bones are said to reside, is over 600 miles. 


Sometime around July 10, Diana and I would round up a crazy band of picnickers that included the thin, but sassy, seventy-something Alicia Hall, the doyenne of foreign bullfight aficionados; Kenneth Vanderford, Ernest Hemingway's "double," a curmudgeonly university professor with long-billed ball cap, a white beard, and portly girth; and Lindsay Daen, an internationally known New Zealand sculptor.  The goateed Daen lived in Puerto Rico and Madrid, wore bush jackets and a strange looking glass device around his neck, drove a red Kharmann Ghia and showed up each year at the Bar Txoko in Pamplona with a new lady (or ladies), usually a young, impressionable art student.  

(Photo: Gerry Dawes at San Fermín 1971.)

Invariably Lindsay met these young women on his scouting forays into the Prado Museum in Madrid and just as invariably, when he showed up with one of them, we would slyly ask him, "Where did you meet Sally or Bev or Ronnie?"  I referred to these women as Lindsay's "recent acquisitions from the Prado."  One year, he arrived with a pretty young lady and claimed that he had met her when he saved her from a piece of cornice stone falling from a building in Madrid.
    
“Shocking that they have allowed the Prado to fall in such dis-repair!” was my comeback. 

In subsequent years, word of our band of Roncesvalles merry merienda makers got around and we were joined by an eclectic crew of adventurers and of the women of several nationalities who came to San Fermín with them each year.  Some of these regulars had been coming without fail for decades to the fiestas.  Many of them could best be described as the spiritual descendants of Ernest Hemingway’s Jake Barnes and other members of the Lost Generation.
    
Arriving at the hard to find spot on the eastern side of the steep road that climbed up to a pilgrim's sanctuary at the top of the pass, we unloaded the luncheon bounty from our cars.  The men helped Alicia down the steep, grassy slope to the green, mossy banks of the stream, where Diana, who had recruited some of the women to collect the food at the Pamplona mercado municipal that morning, laid out our splendid repast: Anchoas, salty anchovies cured in oil; roasted red pimientos; streaky pink slices of jamón;  garlicky red-orange chorizo; white Parmesan-like Roncal from the Pyrenees east of Roncesvalles and smoky Idiazábal ewes’ milk cheeses from a town south of San Sebastián; aceitunas, olives cured with rosemary, thyme and garlic; crusty, country bread; and fruits—blushing ripe peaches, big black picota cherries, and honeydew melons.  I put a dozen bottles of Las Campanas Navarra rosados (the same wines Hemingway carried in his car around Spain with him) and claretes (rosés and lighter red wines) and melons in the cold rushing little rivulet to cool, then dispatched a detail of volunteers for dry firewood to build a little fire.
    
The country food of Navarra is delicious, even more so in the mountain air, the wine flowed freelyand laughter came easily. Every now and then someone would step away from the group and stare out across the splendid green woods and watch the rivulet run down the valley.  They knew that back in the  frantic hustle of modern city life, these hours spent in the Garden  of Eden would ripen with age and retelling. 



  
 Birney Adams and George Semler at one of our meriendas in the magical glade of Roncesvalles, 1971.

Until some newcomers not present during the early years of these outings, decided one year by popular decree that the should move the show down out of the historical mists to an easier-to-get-to spot, thus destroying the magic, our picnic had a formula that didn't vary from the first year until the year we stopped having our picnics,   : Drink some wine, eat wonderful Navarrese food, drink some more wine, get mellow, lay down on the mossy slopes and tell jokes to a well-primed audience until the mystical fog drifts in, as it often does by mid-afternoon. The joke session began that first year, when Hemingway’s double Kenneth Vanderford, a man then in his sixties, who was sitting in a folding chair he carried in his car, began to hold court with the group sitting on the ground around him.  While stroking the arm of a attractive, flaxen-haired young model, who had worked for a Senator from California (and, with whom, I had had a mercifully short liason), Vanderford had drifted quite naturally onto the subject of sex and how, in our society, it was not easily accessible to men of his age.
    
“The only thing available to men like me,” he said, “is loneliness and masturbation.  In this society, sex seems to be forbidden to the very old and very young. ”
    
“That's not the case in all societies” the sculptor Lindsay Daen, himself obviously no stranger to the randy arts, said.  Then he told a tale of how he had once watched a five-year old girl openly masturbate on the veranda of a house in Polynesia, while he and her parents were carrying on a conversation.
    
“Her parents didn’t seem to find anything wrong with what she was doing,” Lindsay said, “and when I thought about it, I didn’t either.”
    
“Well,” I chimed in, “there’s plenty I find wrong with it.”
    
“Like what?” Daen asked.
    
“The kid could go blind, get pimples, and, if she continues masturbating, she will undoubtedly go crazy.  Look what it’s done to you and Vanderford.”
    
Any serious drift the conversation may have had disintegrated with the peals of laughter, then the jokes started.  After a few risque jokes in English got the group warmed up, a Swede had us rolling on the ground in fits by telling a particularly dirty joke in Swedish, which only the three other Swedes at the picnic, including my friend Birney Adam's wife Lotta understood.  No interpretation was necessary.  It didn’t matter, the food, the wine, the camaraderie, and the reverie of the country afternoon made these picnics the stuff of vintage nostalgia. 
The most incredible thing that ever happened during the five years we gathered for these picnics, was the near conversion of the Hemingway look-a-like, Kenneth Vanderford, a died-in-the-wool atheist and a friend of Madeleine Murray O’Hair, America’s most vociferous non-believer.


Kenneth Vanderford, "Hemingway's Double," at a picnic in Roncesvalles.
    
One year, early in the proceedings, a mist of metaphysical caliber had drifted into the upper tier of our little hidden valley.  Things were getting spooky and we were worried about Lindsay Daen, who had still not arrived.  We had already had some food and wine, when I coaxed Vanderford, a history professor, into telling us about the legend of Roland blowing his horn to summon his uncle Charlemagne's army as he fought for his life in this pass.  Vanderford ended his tale of the famous Chanson de Roland and remarked that, like lots of other religion-based legends, the popular accounts of the retreat of Roland and his death were mostly nonsense.  At that precise moment, several notes that sounded like a bugle call from Roland himself came from high in the woods.  Vanderford looked heavenward and seemed momentarily shaken by what he must have thought was a call to reckoning.  It was Lindsay blowing his bugle as he tried to locate us.  We never let Kenneth Vanderford live that day down. 

 Lindsay Daen blowing his bugle in Roncesvalles.
    
If it were not for the bullfights, for which most of us had tickets, we would have passed the whole afternoon here, immersed in the camaraderie we shared and in the reverie of this magical place.  Reluctantly, for the fight was to begin at six and Pamplona was at least an hour away, we packed up and wound our way back down the curvy mountain roads to the fiesta with another tale to add to the legends of the pass of Roncesvalles. 

- - The End - -


 

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  Shall deeds of Caesar or Napoleon ring
More true than Don Quixote's vapouring?
Hath winged Pegasus more nobly trod
Than Rocinante stumbling up to God?
 
Poem by Archer M. Huntington inscribed under the Don Quixote on his horse Rocinante bas-relief sculpture by his wife, Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington, in the courtyard of the Hispanic Society of America’s incredible museum at 613 W. 155th Street, New York City.
 ________________________________________________________________
 Gastronomy Blogs

In 2019, again ranked in the Top 50 Gastronomy Blogs and Websites for Gastronomists & Gastronomes in 2019 by Feedspot. (Last Updated Oct 23, 2019) 

"The Best Gastronomy blogs selected from thousands of Food blogs, Culture blogs and Food Science blogs in our index using search and social metrics. We’ve carefully selected these websites because they are actively working to educate, inspire, and empower their readers with frequent updates and high-quality information."  

36. Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

 
About Gerry Dawes

My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life." -- Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019

Gerry Dawes is the Producer and Program Host of Gerry Dawes & Friends, a weekly radio progam on Pawling Public Radio in Pawling, New York (streaming live and archived at www.pawlingpublicradio.org and at www.beatofthevalley.com.)

Dawes writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. In addition to being awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía(National Gastronomy Award), he was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya, Basque Country, Spain) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 


". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 
 
Pilot for a reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.
 

7/04/2020

Navarra Revisited: A Pyreneen Odyssey



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Lacha sheep grazing in the Navarran Pyrenees.
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Text & Photographs copyright 2010 by Gerry Dawes
(Contact gerrydawes@aol.com for publishing rights.)

http://www.turismo.navarra.es/fotos/mapa_rutas.gif

(Author's version of an article (without the map) that originally appeared in
The Sunday New York Times - Travel Section, June 12, 1994.)

Navarra, the northern Spanish province that shares a wild stretch of the western Pyrenees with France, has long been one of my favorite places. This fascinating region has some of Spain's most beautiful scenery, important historical sights, excellent cuisine, good wine, and a recently developed network of private lodgings that makes travel there downright cheap.

Navarra's spectacular terrain runs the gamut from snowy Pyrenean peaks soaring above wild canyons and pristine green valleys to terraced vineyards and shimmering heat-baked southern hills that overlook farms growing superb white asparagus, red peppers, and artichokes. Picturesque villages, medieval castles, and major shrines on the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrim's road to Santiago de Compostela, grace this former kingdom (from 1234-1512, Navarra included part of southern France).


Castillo de Olite (Navarra).

On my fifty-odd visits to Navarra since 1970, I often attended Pamplona's Fiestas de San Fermín, made famous by Ernest Hemingway; stayed in storybook Olite; made pilgrimages to Camino de Santiago sights--Romanesque Sangüesa, monumental Estella, and Puente la Reina's lovely 12th-century bridge; malingered in Jewish-Moorish Tudela; and photographed the harvest that produces Navarra's lovely dry rosados (roses) and sturdy reds.

Because of what must be an atavistic attraction to Spain's mountain villages, it was inevitable that I would re-explore those of Navarra, so when I read about a local network of family homes offering bed and breakfast for under $15 a night (mid-1990s prices!!; now they cost from $40-$60), I made plans to return. Many of these lodgings, called casas rurales after the stone village houses and huge stone farmhouses typical of this region, are in the heart of the Pyrenees, where cold trout rivers rush through mystical stands of beech trees into deep-green valleys sheltering some of Spain's least-spoiled villages - - Burguete in the Irati river valley, Ochagavia in the Salazar valley, and Roncal and Isaba in Roncal Valley.

To stimulate this isolated region's economy, which once depended on timber sales, sheep, and handicrafts, the Navarrese government made low interest loans to villagers willing to renovate their homes to accommodate tourists, mostly Spaniards who come here for skiing, hiking, mountain climbing, cave exploring, cycling, fishing, and hunting (wild boar, deer, partridge). Now that Spain's famous paradores have become expensive, casas rurales are Spain's lodging bargains of the 1990s.

Some casas rurales offer home-cooked meals. The Navarrese are noteworthy cooks and many families grow their own vegetables and make ewe's milk cheeses and cuajada (a delicious yogurt-like dessert). Even if meals aren't offered, most Pyrenean towns have simple restaurants serving such typical dishes as espárragos blancos (white asparagus), alubias (bean stew),  pochas (delectable, fat, cranberry bean-like white beans cooked with chorizo and, sometimes quail), pimientos rellenos (stuffed peppers), huevos revueltos (eggs scrambled with mushrooms, green garlic shoots, shrimp, etc.), fresh trucha (trout) from Pyreneen rivers, costillas de cordero (lamb chops), and cuajada (northern Spain's wonderful, yogurt-like ewe's milk dessert, complete only when you add wild mountain honey)In spring and autumn, there are dishes with exceptional native hongos (mushrooms). This good country cuisine is usually accompanied by one of Navarra's first-rate rosados (rosés) or sturdy reds. And usually, for an after-dinner drink, homemade Navarrese Patxaran, a potent anís liqueur in which sloe berries are macerated for several months, sometimes with a few coffee beans. 

Navarra rosado.

I decided to begin my trip in the spring of 1994 with a nostalgic drive up to Burguete and on to Ochagavia for the night, explore the Salazar Valley the next day, and end up in Roncal the following night. I first stopped at the Tourist Office of Navarra in Pamplona (see box), where the multi-lingual staff found rooms at casas rurales in Ochagavia and Roncal.

On the road to Burguete, I saw emerald-green pastures and tawny, fresh cut wheat fields whose straw bales would provide comfort this winter to the stocky cattle the Basque farmers raise here. I passed pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago, cyclists on mountain bikes, and fishermen heading for trout streams. I was reminded of scenes in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises when Jake Barnes rode atop a bus up these mountain roads drinking from wine skins offered by friendly Basques. Re-reading Don Ernesto’s passages, I found his descriptions still good. In some places, little has changed.

In the 1970s my late former wife Diana and I used to go to Burguete in early July with Alice Hall, the late irrepressible doyen of Spain aficionados. We would spend a quiet time in the pastoral farming villages of these verdant mountains before surrendering to the cacophonous joys of Pamplona's wild fiesta. We would read, stroll along the road to Roncesvalles picking wild strawberries, and have long talks about Spain over dinners irrigated with plenty of vino tinto.  


 Hostal Burguete, Burguete.

We stayed at Hostal Burguete, which was still much in style and comfort, or the lack of, as when Hemingway stayed there in the 1920s and made it the setting for several scenes in The Sun Also Rises– Jake Barnes and Bill Gorton came here to trout fish on the Irati, a good hike east. The hostal's owners claim the upright piano is the one mentioned in the novel. Under the lid is Don Ernesto's picture and "E. Hemingway" and the date 25-7-1923 scratched in the wood (there is reason to be skeptical about Hemingway scratching his name on the hotel piano).

Trout fishing in a Pyreneen river.

The Camino de Santiago crosses the French border 15 miles north of Burguete and winds through the hills above Roncesvalles where Charlemagne's nephew Roland was immortalized in the epic French poem, Chanson de Roland. The Roncesvalles woods are a mystical place haunted by the spirit of Roland and by the millions of Santiago-bound pilgrims who have tread this ground. Seeking a respite from the fiesta in Pamplona, every year Diana and I used to bring a group of San Fermín celebrants up here. In the deep-green mossy forest's icy rivulets, we cooled our wine, melons, and other picnic items for glorious camaraderie-filled al fresco luncheons.

The much restored 12th-century monastery of Roncesvalles, was a proud hospital and hospice for pilgrims, renowned for its hospitality - - good food, real beds, and a cobbler. Of interest here is the 13th-century Virgin of Roncesvalles, a Gothic cloister, King Sancho VII of Navarra's pantheon, and a treasury with several venerated objects of colorful heritage.

Roncevalles.

On this trip I could spend only a few moments in Burguete - - stopping for coffee at a bar, gazing wistfully at our old Hostal Burguete haunt and paying homage to Alice Hall, who had died in February at age 90. I had to press on to Ochagavia before night-fall. Driving along curvy, well-paved roads through rocky green forests, I passed pretty, bucolic Garralda; Aribe with its fine medieval bridge over the Irati; and Garayoa with its 13th-century Gothic church.

Abaurrea Baja / Abaurrepea in the Spanish Navarran Pyrenees.

High escarpments towered over the twisting roads to Puerto de Abaurrea pass (3320 feet), where I got my first glimpse of the dramatic, snow-capped Pyrenean peaks, now suffused with a lovely peach glow in the late afternoon sun. Several miles of hairpin turns led me down a dramatic valley past Ezcároz, an attractive village on the swift Salazar river just below Ochagavia, the Salazar valley's main town.

Quintessentially Pyrenean, Ochagavia is charming mountain-bound village of just under 800 inhabitants that is laid out along two sizeable streams, the Zatoya and the Anduña, which form the Salazar just south of town. A passerby showed me to Casa Osaba, a big stone house on a cobblestoned street. Gabriela Moso, the owner, led me up two flights to a plank-floored bedroom with an armoire, a big bed with warm coverlets, and a night stand with the obligatory Spanish dim-bulbed lamp. Down the hall, Señora Moso showed me a new, spotless bathroom with plenty of hot water. The family's second floor dining room/living room had a big table, a fireplace also used for cooking, a pair of armchairs, a television, and a few decorations including a herrada, a gleaming brass-and-steel inverted-cone shaped utensil - - once used to carry water - - that has now become an object of folk art. Gabriela invited me to return for dinner at 10 p.m.

I took advantage of the remaining light to explore the picturesque village and look for some tapas (hors d'oeuvres). Most of the houses are two- and three-story stone homes with white facades, tiled roofs, shuttered windows, and geranium-filled wrought iron balconies. The dates (1768, 1908, 1926) on arched stone portals above the wooden doors, speak for the durability of these homes. The rough streets are hand-paved with river stones.


I crossed a quaint stone bridge over the swift Anduña and found the Pension Auñamendi, whose upstairs restaurant offers an inexpensive menu, but alas, there were no tapas at the ground floor bar, where some men were playing cards. As I returned to Casa Osaba, wood smoke curling from the village's chimneys laced the fresh mountain air with a homey smell that sharpened my hunger. I hoped Gabriela was a cook worthy of Navarra's culinary reputation.


In the dining room, I met Gabriela's family: Her husband, daughter, grandson, and her son-in-law, who spends his days near Tudela tending a large herd of sheep. In front of the crackling fire, Gabriela and her daughter served us a fine salad of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and white asparagus; garlicky green beans and potatoes; merluza rebozada (hake in batter); pork chops grilled in the fireplace; and fresh cherries. The wine was a decent rosado, purchased in bulk at Puente la Reina.  After dinner, there was coffee and homemade patxaran, Navarra's sloe berry-anise liqueur. After the pacharán and an amiable chat about life in America, I went to bed, quickly gave up reading in the dim light, burrowed under the covers, and slept soundly until morning light. I came down to toasted pan, butter, and homemade plum jam; galletas, the snap cookies ubiquitous to Spain's breakfast tables; and good coffee. Bed and breakfast was about $12).

Pacharan Navarro, homemade in most of the rural lodgings of the Navarran Pyrenees.

From Ochagavia I followed the Salazar down the valley through fresh forests punctuated by awesome cliffs, striking rock formations, and green hills with grazing sheep. The ancient stone houses, block-tower churches, cobbled streets, and rustic bridges give this valley's fifteen villages a medieval air. Below Ezparza, a pretty, photogenic village with a three-arched Romanesque bridge, an impressive 16th-century church, and a large pisifactoria (trout farm), the scenery gets very dramatic as the road goes through spectacular gorges with falcons soaring above them. Beyond the gorges, fields of flaming-red poppies lined the road to Navascués, where I stopped to admire the 12th-century Romanesque church of Santa María del Campo, which stands in ancient solitude alongside the village cemetery southwest of town.

North of Navascués, the road to Roncal becomes much rougher, curving up steep, craggy, pine-covered hills to the pass of Las Coronas (3120 feet), where a spectacular vista overlooks the vast Valle del Roncal and its awesome backdrop of snow-covered peaks.

After nine more miles of beautiful, but twisting, steep roads, I reached Burgui, where the excellent Roncal cheese, Larra, is made from the ewe's milk of the very photogenic Lacha breed of sheep.


Burgui.

Lacha breed of sheep, whose ewe's milk is used to make Roncal cheese.

Burgui is a dramatically picturesque river town with a Romanesque bridge and a breathtaking canyon to its south.


Along the river banks here, I saw log rafts used by modern-day daredevil almadieros (rafts are called almadías), who reenact the dangerous feat when, before trucking and a downriver dam was built, each spring daring loggers used to ride such log rafts down the swollen river to the sawmills.


At Burgui the Navacués road joins the smooth main road from Pamplona that runs up the Roncal valley, following the Esca river through picturesque gorges, where dramatic bluffs rise above the road, waterfalls gush from the rocks, and suspension bridges over the river link hiking trails.
Roncal.

The Roncal valley is famous for its cheeses, bucolic villages, splendid scenery, and colorful folklore. Every year on the first Sunday in July, the Roncalese dress in colorful regional costumes for a romería (pilgrimage cum picnic) at the mountain hermitage of Idoya near Isaba. On July 13, the mayors of Roncal valley's seven villages turn out in typical costumes to receive the Tribute of the Three Cows offered by their French neighbors from the Baretous (Bearn) valley. The event, dating to the Middle Ages, annually draws thousands to a site near the French border.

Roncalese houses, like those of Ochagavia, are of the same stout stone and timber construction, but richer Roncal has more distinctive architecture. Like most towns here, Roncal's interior streets are paved with river stones, which are like walking on a washboard and require sturdy footwear. At Roncal's northern edge, the Esca runs by a trout farm just across a small bridge from a park with picnic tables and fine views of Roncal's massive church.

Tenor Julián Gayarre (1844-1890), the greatest Spanish opera singer of his epoch, was from Roncal. Gayarre's funeral monument in the village cemetery is by Mariano Benlliure (1862-1947), the Valencian sculptor who did the equestrian statue of Alfonso XII in Madrid's Retiro Park and torero Joselito's funeral monument in Sevilla. Gayarre's home is now a museum displaying momentos from his illustrious career.

Roncal's excellent sheep's cheese, queso Roncal, somewhat reminiscent of Italian Parmesan, but milder and softer, was the first Spanish cheese to earn an official denominación de origen (like wine). Once an artisan cheese, much of today's queso Roncal is produced in a local factory and can be purchased in markets or shops all over Navarra. If you want a homemade cheese, look for signs that say "Queso Roncal del Pastor" (shepherd's cheese).

Queso Roncal, a ewe's milk cheese that is the pride of the Navarran Pyrenees.

At Roncal's southern edge, on a hill overlooking the town, I found Casa Indiano, the charming two-story fieldstone home of Ana Maria Donazar, a grandmother who dotes, with equal amounts of cariño, or tender loving care, on her young grandson and her casa's rustic pine-timbered interior. The living quarters, including a kitchen with spectacular valley views, were on the second floor. Señora Donazar put me in a small room with a double bed, a dresser, and an armoire, just across from a clean, modern bathroom.


For lunch, on the main road just below Casa Indiano, I found Restaurante Begoña, a small cafe on Hostal Zaltua's second floor overlooking the river, where fishermen cast for trout. On the wall was a "celebrity" photograph of a man wearing a huge Basque boina (beret) and displaying several trophies - - Roncal's 1991 trout fishing champ. When I asked for trout, Begoña, who answers the jangling telephone, waits tables, and cooks, informed me, "If you had told me ahead of time, I would have had trout." I settled for a salad; red beans and chorizo with guindillas (hot peppers); superb revueltos con ajos y gambas (eggs scrambled with garlic shoots and shrimp); and queso Roncal. When I ordered a bottle of rosado, Begoña handed me the corkscrew and returned to the kitchen. The bill was about $10.

Pochas con guindilla.

North of Roncal is beautiful Isaba, a village in a lush green valley below the rugged peaks culminating in the Mesa de los Tres Reyes (Three Kings' Table), Navarra's highest mountain (7984 feet). Saving a more thorough inspection of Isaba for evening, I headed north toward the high gray-stone peaks that poke up through the surrounding forests like giant teeth. On the way I saw fishermen working the picturesque Belagua, a trout stream criss-crossed by rustic stone bridges. On the high plain below the peaks were verdant pastures where herds of sheep grazed with bleating newborn lambs and mares nursed wobbly-legged foals. Signs on farmhouses offered homemade Roncal cheeses.

Beyond the plain the road climbs steeply for several miles to the heights of Belagua with its stunning views down the valley towards Isaba. Incredibly, I encountered cyclists pedaling all the way to the summit; Miguel Unduráin, the Navarrese cyclist who won the Tour de France, trains here. On the way up the mountain is the rustic Venta de Juan Pito. In the rock-and-timber dining room, one can sit in front a big fireplace and lunch on migas ("shepherd's crouton's") and grilled lamb chops.

At Belagua is a ski refuge with spectacular cross country and downhill trails, but no lifts. With the temperature in the 70s in Roncal, I was in shirt sleeves, but it was cold at these heights, where there was still snow in the high crevasses. The road climbs through increasingly rugged terrain, where lovely little clumps of intensely blue wild flowers were a strikingly juxtaposed against the rocks and snow. Finally, the road ran level through a pass where I got breath-taking airplane views of France before heading back down to Isaba.

That evening, I explored the picturesque streets of Isaba, admiring the streets and houses that seem to be made of the same rectanagular-shaped stones; the flower-festooned balconies; and quaint doorways. After inquiring, I was directed to the gift and ski rental shop at Hotel Isaba where I purchased a herrada, like the one I had seen at Casa Osaba in Ochagavia, for $130.

Since Roncal has few places to eat, I decided to stay in Isaba for dinner. Isaba has several choices including upscale Hotel Isaba's reasonably priced, Restaurante Leyre, which offers good regional fare. I chose Isaba's popular Hostal Lola restaurant, where pimientos rellenos (piquant peppers stuffed with salt cod puree), trout cooked with cured ham, superb cuajada, a bottle of rosado, and coffee came to about $20.

Back in Roncal I found a lively bar that served homemade pacharán. The place was packed with young people eating, drinking, and listening to music. A sign on the wall, translated, said "If bullfighting is art, cannibalism is gastronomy."

Tired, but exhilarated from my day in the mountains, I returned to Casa Indiano and spent a restful night. The next morning, Señora Donazar and her husband, with "help" from their grandson, gave me a breakfast of cafe con leche, pan tostado with homemade mermelada (jam), and galletas (thin Spanish cookies). I paid my bill, which was about $14 with breakfast. As I was loading my car, I saw the little boy and his grandmother waving from an upstairs window. I waved back and reluctantly began the day-long drive out of these splendid mountains to Madrid and the plane ride back to New York.

- - End - -

* * * * *
  Shall deeds of Caesar or Napoleon ring
More true than Don Quixote's vapouring?
Hath winged Pegasus more nobly trod
Than Rocinante stumbling up to God?
 
Poem by Archer M. Huntington inscribed under the Don Quixote on his horse Rocinante bas-relief sculpture by his wife, Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington,
in the courtyard of the Hispanic Society of America’s incredible museum at 613 W. 155th Street, New York City.
 ____________________________________________________________________________________
 Gastronomy Blogs

In 2019, again ranked in the Top 50 Gastronomy Blogs and Websites for Gastronomists & Gastronomes in 2019 by Feedspot. (Last Updated Oct 23, 2019) 

"The Best Gastronomy blogs selected from thousands of Food blogs, Culture blogs and Food Science blogs in our index using search and social metrics. We’ve carefully selected these websites because they are actively working to educate, inspire, and empower their readers with frequent updates and high-quality information."  

36. Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel


 
About Gerry Dawes

My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life." -- Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019


Gerry Dawes is the Producer and Program Host of Gerry Dawes & Friends, a weekly radio progam on Pawling Public Radio in Pawling, New York (streaming live and archived at www.pawlingpublicradio.org and at www.beatofthevalley.com.)

Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 


". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 
 
Pilot for a reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.
 

6/11/2020

Sunset in a Glass: The Magic of Drinking Manzanilla Sherry at the Source


* * * * *



Sunset in a glass, Manzanilla sherry along the Guadalquivir River at Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
Gerry Dawes©2008 / gerrydawes@aol.com

In Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which along with Jerez de la Frontera and Puerto de Santa Maria, is one of Spain’s three great sherry producing towns, Javier Hidalgo, producer of La Gitana manzanilla and an old friend, once told me, “If you ever have a glass of manzanilla at sunset on Bajo de Guía beach, you will never have another glass of manzanilla anywhere in the world without seeing the Sanlúcar sunset in the glass.” 

That sounds like a zealous public relations invention until you have actually seen a Sanlúcar sunset with a glass of manzanilla in your hand. Picture yourself on Bajo de Guía beach at the western edge of Sanlúcar. The main part of town, where most of the sherry bodegas are located, is perhaps a kilometer behind you. Before you is a broad river, the Guadalquiver, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, a vista which stretches to the horizon. On the far bank of the river is the Coto Doñana, one of the greatest wildlife preserves and bird sanctuaries left in Europe and it is pristine, except for a small guard building on the shore and the remnants of a picnic carelessly left behind, which has drawn a wild boar down to the beach to forage. In the foreground, fishing boats roll in the gently lapping waves. A pair of old beached boats and several overturned fisherman’s dinghies, which make could seats for the viewing the sunset, are scattered along the beach. 



Langostinos de Sanlúcar with La Gitana manzanilla, in the evening, 
Bajo de Guía beach on the Guadalquívir River, Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
 Gerry Dawes©2008 / gerrydawes@aol.com


Just before sunset, I usually purchase a couple of ice-cold half bottles of manzanilla, a plate of the famous langostinos de Sanlúcar (spectacular prawns), and some olives from Bigote, Casa Juan, or Mirador de Doñana, just three of more than a half dozen quality seafood restaurants facing the beach. 

I convince the owners that I will indeed return their catavinos, sherry glasses, and traipse across the sand with my culinary booty, the borrowed glasses, and my companion or companions (I once did this with a gourmet crowd of fifty people, including Chefs Allen Susser, Mark Miller, Jimmy Schmidt, and Robert del Grande) to one of the fisherman’s dinghies, preferably one with a flat bottom to serve as a table. 

I stake my claim to primo viewing rights, pull the tapón (stopper) from one of the bottles, pour a glass of manzanilla, and toast those who are going to watch today’s version of one of nature’s finer miracles with me. I never forget to toast my own good fortune at being in Sanlúcar de Barrameda at sunset once again.



La Gitana Manzanilla, half-bottle chilled.
 

Gerry Dawes©2008 / gerrydawes@aol.com


To see a Sanlúcar sunset properly takes more than an hour and usually requires another quick sprint across the sands to replenish the stocks of cold wine, but the show is just beginning and we are on our first bottle of manzanilla as we peel and munch on those delicious prawns. 

The sun is a giant red-gold ball hanging out on the horizon and it seems to be plating the surface of the ocean with gold leaf. The fishing boats bobbing in the foreground are gradually becoming silhouettes. 

The smell of the fresh breeze off the Atlantic is echoed in the slightly salty taste of the manzanilla and the prawns, then one realizes that the greatest of wine and food matches are really wine, food, and place matches. 

I lift my glass to the sunset while the sun is still a perfect sphere above the horizon and see the whole scene repeated upside down in my glass.

As the sun begins to sink into the sea way out at what once was the far reaches of the ancient mariner’s world - - Sanlúcar is west of the straits of Gibraltar, the Pillars of Hercules, beyond whose gates lay the unknown terrors of the vast open sea - - you almost expect the water to hiss as the blazing globe sinks below the horizon. One wonders what the sailors who accompanied Columbus when he sailed from Palos just 50 kilometers west of here - - Columbus sailed from Sanlúcar on his third voyage - - must have been thinking. 

Gazing out there in the direction of that magnificent golden sphere, you can imagine all those treasure-laden ships sailing into Sanlúcar, which was the customs point where the gold and silver was counted before the ships could proceed upriver to Sevilla, yet another place for this rich lucre to change hands before eventually ending up in the hands of German bankers. 

When you also know that most of the sailors who accompanied Magellan, when he sailed from Sanlúcar in an attempt to circumnavigate the earth, died and only one crippled ship commanded by a Basque, Juan Sebastián Elkano of Getaria, came limping back here three years later, you have a palpable sense of a monumental history to go with your sunset, your manzanilla, and your succulent langostinos

The sun disappears beyond the horizon, ending another day, and its golden glow is replaced by an enchanting array of yellows, reds, blues, purples. The first bottle of manzanilla is now a soldado muerto, (a “dead soldier”) and we are into the second or third, lulled into a delicious state of reverie by the wine, the beauty of the sunset’s changing colors (now they are pastels), and the smell of the sea. The cares of the modern world have been reduced to a speck on my mind’s horizon - - a speck that soon becomes the twinkling of the evening star as it appears, growing brighter as the Technicolor background grows darker. This evening star was called lucero by the ancients who did not realize it was the same as the morning star, Venus, so they built temples to both. They say Sanlúcar’s name is derived from lucero

As the star grows brighter, so do the lights beckoning from the bars and restaurants along Bajo de Guía beach. Enticing smells of grilled seafood, garlic, and spices drift across the sands, finishing the splendid job of whetting the appetite that the maritime air and the manzanilla have already begun. We have extracted the last hues of exquisite beauty from nature’s light show and savored the last drops of our manzanilla, so we head for Casa Bigote, a favorite tapas bar and my candidate for the greatest bar on earth.

Bigote is an old-time fisherman’s tavern, a real taberna marinera so picturesque in its trappings that it could have been created by the Ministry of Tourism, except it is too authentic to have been fabricated. At the entrance to the bar, there are the ubiquitous bullfight posters, the mounted head of a fighting bull, and a number of taurine photographs of local bullfighters (the second most famous product of Sanlúcar after manzanilla), many of whom have been very successful. Inside the bar, apart from bullfight paraphernalia, the decoration - - calling it decoration is being charitable - - is nautical, maritime, (actually the stuff that fishermen have dragged up in their nets for the last several decades), authentic, raffish, unique, and utterly captivating.

Behind the bar, perched on a small upturned barrel of Barbiana Amontillado Viejo, is a small image of the Virgen del Carmen (the patroness of the fishermen) mounted in the yawning jawbone of a small shark. On the wall behind the bar is a huge tortoise shell with “Bar Bigote - Bajo de Guía” spelled out with pieces of fisherman’s rope, several starfish, all sorts of odd crustaceans, a mounted fish, a whale bone, and photographs of a whale beached at Sanlúcar. And suspended from the rafters, along with a blowfish, are amphoras, the pottery urns, which were used in the days when Spain was a part of the Roman Empire to ship wine, oil, olives, pickled fish, and other foodstuffs back to Rome. 


 
Bar Bigote,  Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
Gerry Dawes©2008 / gerrydawes@aol.com

Among the habitues of Bigote is the great Matador José Martínez “Limeño,” one of my oldest friends in Spain and the padrino of Sanlúcar’s bullfighters. Limeño gained fame as a journeyman matador, who became so good at fighting the feared Miura breed that he won the trophy as the best bullfighter in the Feria de Sevilla, one of Spain’s most prestigious taurine events, three years in a row, something not even Juan Belmonte, Manolete, or Antonio Ordoñez had accomplished. I almost never visit Sanlúcar without meeting Limeño at Bar Bigote and for over the more than 35 years I have known him, he has been proved to be the catalyst for many of my most memorable wining and dining experiences in this extraordinary town. This evening is no different. I am meeting Limeño at Bigote.


Bar Bigote, El Rocio, Guadalquivir Crossing Day
Gerry Dawes©2008 / gerrydawes@aol.com

Bigote grew spontaneously as a by-product of this legendary port. It is now the successful creation of the owners, Fernando and Paco Hermoso, and three generations of fishermen who have frequented this place since the Hermoso’s father opened it in more than fifty years ago. The Hermoso brothers’ father was a fisherman with a large bigote, a moustache. In 1951, he opened a little bar on Bajo de Guía beach, when it used to be the point where the fisherman unloaded their catch (before they moved to the new port in the little suburb of Bonanza, a couple of kilometers away). The fishermen and the owners of the boat would go to Bigote after the catch was sold to divvy up the proceeds of the day’s catch and drink manzanilla. 

Señor Hermoso ran his little bar there until 1967, when he followed the fishing fleet upriver to Bonanza, Sanlúcar’s then-new fisherman’s port and site of the afternoon fish auction, which is conducted by a reverse bidding procedure in which the ceiling price is quoted first. Fernando and Paco Hermoso stayed at the original Bigote. Soon, they added a kitchen and a coffee machine. 
 
Fernando Hermoso is the chef. He learned to cook for the crew of young fishermen with whom he worked in the local waters. He has a natural talent for the great guisos marineros, or fishermen’s stews, for which Sanlúcar is famous. Aside from Bigote’s own considerable attraction as one of the greatest places in Spain to eat seafood (and drink manzanilla), one of Fernando’s dishes - - huevo marinero - - has provoked many a gastronomic pilgrimage on its own.  Huevo marinero, is a sublime dish of monkfish and shrimp, cooked with olive oil and manzanilla in a cazuela, a ceramics baking and serving dish. When the dish is bubbling hot, it is pulled from the fire, a fresh egg is cracked on top and is the yolk is still setting up as it is served. With a copita of manzanilla and a piece of local bread to mop up the sauce, this “fisherman’s egg,” is not just food, it is a culinary epiphany. Fernando is also famous for his rape a la marinera (another monkfish cazuela dish with saffron sauce) and raya a la naranja agría (skate in a sauce made with the juice of bitter oranges, the kind used to make orange marmalade). 


Fernando Hermoso, Chef-partner, Bigote, Sanlúcar de Barrameda
Gerry Dawes©2008 / gerrydawes@aol.com

More than a decade ago, Fernando and Paco expanded into the building across a little alleyway from the bar and have formal dining rooms where they serve a maximum of 150 costumers per meal. There is usually one seating only; many people reserve two weeks in advance and start eating lunch here at 3:30 - 4:00 p.m.



Bar Bigote, Fernando Hermoso.
Gerry Dawes©2008 / gerrydawes@aol.com

Bigote serves fish and shellfish from the area around Sanlúcar. They claim they don’t use fish from the North or the Mediterranean, nor do they serve frozen fish. In stormy weather when the fishing boats are kept in port for several days, the Hermoso brothers have been known to close the restaurant and just serve drinks at the bar. They try to serve only fish from that day’s catch for dinner that evening and at lunch the next day. Fernando waits each day at 5 p.m. for the catch to arrive. They use shaved ice, nieve or “snow” they call it, to keep fish cold in wooden crates, just as they come in from the fishing boats. They leave the ice on the fish, even in the refrigerators where it is stored. Fernando says the refrigerator is just to keep the “snow” from melting. As long as the ice stays on top the fish, it does not dehydrate in the dry cold of the refrigerator.

While I am waiting for Pepe Limeño, I order another glass of manzanilla, some house-cured olives, and a tapa, or small snack, of boquerones - - small, fresh whole anchovies, battered and flash deep-fried. The skin is crisp, but the anchovies are perfectly fried,moist, not greasy. Andalucians and Bigote, in particular, have elevated frying fish to an art form. It is said that the Japanese learned the art of frying fish from Spanish and Portuguese sailors in the 16th Century.  
 
At about 9:30 p.m., Limeño appears, and there are abrazos (the friendly embrace that takes the place of a handshake amongst friends in Spain) all around. Nearly twenty years retired from the bull ring, he is still greeted by half the bar patrons before he can settle in for a manzanilla and a tapa. His appearance assures us of two things: We will dine informally, but exceptionally well, and we will consume our share of manzanilla. Limeño always seems to know which restaurant is serving the best current specialty. Sometimes we end up eating at tables outdoors along the beach, dining on tiny clams cooked in garlic, parsley, and wine sauce; another time we sample Fernando’s excellent fish-and-shellfish stews; and in an upstairs dining room down the beach, we have plates of salad followed by heaping platters of pescaito frito, perfectly fried fish - - acedías (baby sole), pijotas (small whiting fried with their tails stuck in their mouths), and calamares (fried squid). 


Pescaito frito, tortillitas de camarones, Bar Balbino, Sanlúcar de Barrameda
Gerry Dawes©2008 / gerrydawes@aol.com


Langostinos de Sanlúcar and Manzanila La Gitana at Bigote. 
Gerry Dawes©2008 / gerrydawes@aol.com

And sometime during our long, sometimes peripatetic, bar-hopping, lunches or dinners together, we have langostinos de Sanlúcar, those superb tiger prawns which can cost up to $60 per pound, depending on the season. And always, those chilled half bottles of manzanilla, sometimes Bodega Hidalgo’s La Gitana, a manzanilla fina, but just as often, the gold-tinged San León, a gutsy manzanilla pasada from Argüeso. And as we lift our glasses for yet another toast, I can still see the Sanlúcar sunset in the glass. Javier Hidalgo was right!! 



El Rocío pilgrimage, crossing the Guadalquivir at Sanlúcar de Barrameda
Gerry Dawes copyright 2008
 
Chapter Sidebar - Manzanilla

Manzanilla has become such a runaway favorite in Spain that it now outsells fino sherry by more than two to one. In fact, at last report, 70% of the dry sherry sold in Spain was manzanilla. It is the drink of choice at most fiestas in southern Spain and can now be found fresh in the bars and restaurants of Madrid and many other northern cities.

 
Catavino: Manzanilla Sherry glass at Vinicola Hidalgo. Posted by Hello
Gerry Dawes Copyright 2008

Manzanilla is a fino-type sherry, sometimes called el mas fino de los finos, the finest, the most elegant wine, of the fino family, which includes manzanillas, finos, and amontillados. It comes only from Sanlúcar de Barrameda and has its own denominación de origen, Spain’s equivalent of appellation controlée, called Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Manzanilla can be sold as sherry from Jerez, but only wine aged in Sanlúcar can be called manzanilla. Like other sherries, it is produced by the classic solera system of fractional blending.

So fickle is nature in the production of manzanilla, that not all bodegas in Sanlúcar are capable of producing it and even in some bodegas that do produce it, there are areas in those bodegas in which manzanilla can not be produced. The big, airy, above-ground bodegas in the barrio alto of Sanlúcar have a number of doors and windows which can be opened to let in air from the ocean side of the bodega or can be closed off if there is too much heat. As with finos, the best producers of manzanilla use only free-run juice. After fermentation the mosto (must) becomes mosto-vino, then alcohol is added to bring it up to 15 - 15.5%. It then goes into 500-liter botas (butts), which are filled only 2/3 full, for ageing in large, airy, high-ceiling bodegas.

The special yeast which makes sherries of the fino family possible grows on top the wine in these partially fillled barrels and is called flor, literally flower, because it resembles the white flowers that grow near the surface of streams. In actuality, it looks like cottage cheese floating on top the wine. Because Sanlúcar is on the humid Atlantic, flor, which needs humidity, grows all year round on the surface of the wine in the manzanilla bodegas, while in Jerez in mid-summer and mid-winter, yeast growth can be severely retarded and the yeast will even submerge, exposing the wine to slight oxidation.

Since the flor does not disappear from manzanilla and the wine has no contact with air, it is the finest, lightest bodied sherry, and is the palest, usually a green-tinged color not unlike that of a fine Meursault. The poniente winds, the westerlies, bring a salt-laden sea breeze and give a light touch of salinity to the wine.

Manzanillas are aged a minimum of five years, which in practice means, that since the five year aged wine is fractionally blended with older wines in the criadera system, they will be five-seven years old, in the case of manzanillas finas, 7-10 years old in the case of manzanillas maduras, and 10 years or more in the case of manzanillas pasadas. While fino sherries in Jerez in a solera may be racked, never fully, just drawn down by quantities equal to a third of the capacity of the wine, maybe five to six times before the reach the bottling stage, manzanillas may be go through 14 rackings in the same period.


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