Sierras, Smugglers, and Sunshine: Welcome to Andalucía and Stage 12 of #Vuelta2017

 

Nerja View
Night Sky in Nerja, Spain

Thursday, we trade the shimmering rocky beaches of the Costa Blanca for the seaside resorts of the Costa del Sol. The peloton will spend the next few days in the southern reaches of Spain, specifically Andalucía. It’s a large region, home to such diverse cities as Jerez, Seville, Málaga, and Granada. A stronghold of Moorish rule, Andalucía remained under their control long after they had been driven from the other parts of Spain. Depending on where you’re sitting, the landscape might offer snow-topped mountains, gentle slopes dotted with olive trees, or bright white beaches populated by fishermen and tourists, alike. Siestas are pretty popular, too.

 

Siesta at Burriana 2011
¡Que Buena la Siesta! Nerja, Spain

I have a special place in my heart for Southern Spain, for it was here that I first set foot on Spanish soil. So when the riders cycle past Nerja, about 100 kilometers into Stage 12, I will be with them in spirit, remembering the warmth of the people, the sapphire shine of the Mediterranean, and the fresh-caught sardines (grilled right on the beach) that I ate almost every day.

Fishing Boats on Burriana 2011
Burriana Beach; Nerja, Spain

And there is a wide variety of wine to drink here, as well. The far southeast corner is Sherry country, famous for the salty Finos and Manzanillas that make perfect partners with a plate of local almonds and olives. Heading east, we verge upon Málaga, home to traditional sweet wines and, more recently, some excellent dry wines sourced from grapes grown at higher, cooler elevations.

Wines of the Málaga DO

Established in 1933, the Málaga DO covers white, sweet wines usually made from either Moscatel or Pedro Ximénez grapes. Sweetness can come from either sun-drying the grapes (and therefore concentrating the sugars) or by fortification, which arrests fermentation before natural sugars have been depleted. These wines found great favor throughout Europe centuries ago, and are still popular in local markets today.

More recently, however, winemakers have forged into new territory: growing grapes at higher altitudes and using modern vinification techniques to craft high-quality, dry table wines from grapes like Tempranillo. Many of these wineries lie within the newly-created Serranía de Ronda denomination, a sub-region of the Sierras de Málaga DO, and named for the mountain town cleaved in two by a massive gorge. It’s a stunning place, with an improbably large stone bridge connecting the original town center with the more modern section.

Ronda Bridge 2011
Spanning the Ronda Gorge; Ronda, Spain

While not far from the sea, Ronda is not easily accessed. Driving up the narrow, winding roads is not for the faint of heart, but the payoff is well-worth the effort. Smugglers thought so, too, back in the day. They would bring their illicit goods to the coast under cover of night, where they would drag their treasure ashore. Accomplices with horses would distribute the load, weighing each horse down with as much as it could bear. Then they would escape into the hills, ascending invisible paths to safety, atop the gorge in Ronda.

Ronda Old Town 2011
“Old Town” Ronda, Spain

From Italy to Spain – F. Schatz Winery

With roots in the Südtirol (in northeastern Italy) and Baden in southern Germany, the Schatz family has made wine since 1641. In the 1980s, Friedrich Schatz relocated to Spain, in search of the perfect place to make wines meant to express a unique terroir, using a wide variety of grapes. He settled on the area now known as Serranía de Ronda, where vines would have the advantage of elevation and proximity to the mountains – important in moderating the hot, dry climate in southern Spain.

Today, Schatz has been joined by other winemakers who foresaw the potential to make dry table wines of high quality here. The sub-region now boasts 23 bodegas (wineries) and about 250 hectares of vineyards.

Rooster F Schatz Ronda
A helper in the vineyard (F. Schatz Winery)

Farming methods at Schatz are organic and biodynamic and include the planting of cover crops to help replenish nitrogen levels in the soil. Peas, garbanzo beans, and clover flourish between the vines, providing protection against erosion as well. It looks like they raise chickens, too.

Yields are aggressively managed, and careful attention is paid to disease and pest prevention. A high, loose canopy that allows air circulation promotes ripening; it also ensures that precipitation (higher here than elsewhere in the region) dries out before problems can start.

Vineyards F Schatz Ronda
Elevation is a plus in southern Spain (F. Schatz Winery)

The Wine Line-Up

Currently, F. Schatz offers six different wines – some familiar to lovers of Spanish libations, others less so. For starters, there’s varietal Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Petit Verdot; and Finca Sanguijuela, a red blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Then add in a Rosado made from Moscatel Negra – a clear nod to the traditional winemaking history in this region. Now for the cherry on top: Acinipo, a varietal Lemburger wine named after the winery’s home city of Ronda, originally called Acinipo (City of Wine) by the Romans.

While I haven’t yet tried the wines, I look forward to doing so very soon – hopefully in person, with the magnificent Ronda gorge in front of me. You can read more about the innovative winemaking process at F. Schatz Premium Wines here.

On Friday the peloton heads west, toward Sherry country. I’ll be back tomorrow with some wine ideas for you! In the meantime, enjoy the charms of sexy, southern Spain – even if it’s vicariously, as you watch the race.

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