This is my submission to the #MWWC25, a friendly competition for wine writers (https://thedrunkencyclist.com/2016/05/31/mwwc25-time-to-vote/). This month’s theme is Travel. I think I’ve missed the deadline, but it’s okay, I’ll be on time next month – maybe! Here goes …
About ten years ago I was struggling in the wake of a nasty divorce and had recently suffered through a health crisis. Not a lot to rejoice about, I’ll tell you. It was mid-summer and as I sat at my desk slogging away at my uninspiring job, I stared out the window, wishing for better days. Then my phone rang, startling me back to reality. My mom.
We chatted for a few minutes, mostly about nothing, before she sprang her plan on me. “I’m going to Spain at the end of August and I think you should come.” This was news. My mom seldom ventured far from home, and Spain was very, very far from home.
“Your sister and I are going over together. We’re going to stay with Aunt Jane and Uncle Joe. They’ve rented a villa on the beach. You should come, too. It would be good for you.”
I thought about it for a minute and realized I hadn’t been anywhere since my last trip to Paris with my ex, which felt like a million years ago (although the scars were still fresh.) Without thinking too much about it, I decided, “Hell yes, I’ll go!” A few weeks later I was on my way to Madrid, where I had decided to meander around for a couple of days before catching a flight to Málaga, then hopping aboard a shuttle bus to the village of Nerja on the Costa del Sol, some 35 miles to the east.
Fran, the bus driver, served as my introduction to the people of Andalucía: folks who went out of their way to welcome me, always offering tips on places to go, things to do. As I was the only passenger, I sat up front with him, trying out my beginner’s Spanish and deciphering his attempts at English. Somehow we managed. We traveled eastward through rolling hills dotted with olive and almond trees, even a vineyard or two. Fran explained that the local wine based on the Moscatel grape was a signature of the region and something I needed to try.
When we pulled up at the door to the villa, Fran dragged my suitcase from the back of the bus and told me he would be right back. I watched him run down the street to a small market and duck inside. In a flash he was back, carrying a plastic jug full of an amber-colored liquid. “Vino de Frigiliana,” he said proudly, handing the jug to me. Wine made in Frigiliana, one of Andalucía’s famous White Towns. Jug in one hand, suitcase in the other, I climbed up the steps and knocked on the door. Aunt Jane ushered me into a hallway with another mountain of steps. I dragged myself to the top, raised my head, and caught my first glimpse of the glittering, blue Mediterranean Sea. Yes, this was going to be okay.
The villa looked like part of a movie set, perched as it was atop the tall rocks that hugged the beach. Its open-air dining room looked out to sea and sky, and was sure to be where we’d all gather at the end of each day to share tapas, wine, and tales. Aunt Jane showed me where to put my bags, then pointed to yet another set of stairs and said, “Let’s go up to the roof.” Good thing she had a bottle of white wine tucked under her arm: this stair-climbing was thirsty work. Before I reached the top, I heard my mom’s voice and my sister’s laugh, both indications that this indeed was a happy place. A good omen for the week ahead.
We exchanged hugs all around, and Uncle Joe poured me a glass of pale white wine from his favorite source, Antonio Barbadillo. Anyone who has spent time in Spain should be familiar with this basic white table wine (not to be confused with their Sherry.) There was nothing glamorous about it, but it sure tasted divine from that rooftop overlooking the Mediterranean! We would drink a lot of AB over the next week, regardless of what we were eating.
While my mom, my sis and I chatted excitedly about being in Spain, what we wanted to do, where we wanted to go, Aunt Jane was downstairs performing her magic in the kitchen. Apparently a dinner party was in the making and, in typical Spanish fashion, guests were expected to arrive at 9:00 pm, with dinner served sometime around 10:00. I loved the idea of making the most of a long, sun-filled summer day, then sitting down to a delicious meal that could last past midnight. My heart, I decided, was Spanish.
My aunt and uncle, who had been vacationing in Nerja for years, had lots of friends in town. Many of them came to dinner that night, bringing with them bottles of wine, platters heaped with paper-thin slices of jamón ibérico and, for later, wonderfully fantastic stories. Our meal stretched into the early hours of the morning and, when we had run out of wine, I ran into the kitchen and brought out my plastic jug of Vino de Frigiliana. I filled small cups for everyone, and we all toasted to our good fortune to be in Spain together. The wine was raisiny and sweet, tasting of sunlight and happiness. Now this was something I needed in my fridge at home. But I was pretty sure it wouldn’t taste the same anywhere else.
The next day, we walked to Burriana Beach, where one can pass the day sunning in a lounge chair or scarfing up tasty treats at one of the chiringuitos that line the sand, a stone’s throw from the sea. In these tent-like cafés, the specials were always the same: seafood paella and fresh sardines on the grill. And large carafes overflowing with magenta-hued Rosado wine, the flirtier and fruitier cousin to Provence’s Rosé. Like the Antonio Barbadillo white, Rosado by the Carafe may not be a wine for deep contemplation, but it’s hard to imagine anything that bespeaks a particular place more than Rosado in the Costa del Sol. Served with a plate of Sardinas à la Plancha, it’s pretty much a genius pairing.
At the end of our week, my mom and sister reluctantly packed their bags and got on the bus to go back to Málaga for their flight home. I, on the other hand, chose to reschedule my flight and stay another week. And then another, and another. I went to Spanish classes for four hours every morning, and continued my graduate-level study of Tapas and Wine every evening. I’ll never forget how perfect it was, to be in magical Andalucía, enchanted by its beauty and warmth. And the local color provided by Antonio Barbadillo, sweet wine in a jug, and bright pink Rosado.