Friday’s stage moves us to the northwest, toward the Atlantic coast. The race route cuts through Jerez, birthplace of the solera system and sherry and, surprisingly enough, home to quite a few cattle and horse ranches. Inland, the terrain is rugged and mountainous but, closer to the coast it flattens and cools, thanks to the ocean breezes. And our destination city, Tomares, sits just outside of Sevilla, capital of the region of Andalucía and the only river port in Spain.
We begin Stage 13 in Coín, built along the valley of the Rio Grande. Throughout its history Coín has always been a center of trade: fertile soils were a reliable source of fruit and vegetables, and the nearby quarries supplied marble and iron ore to builders all over Spain. According to some accounts, Hadrian, a future emperor of Rome, was born just outside the city’s border. It’s possible: historians agree that he was indeed, born in Spain; in exactly which city, however, is up for debate. But for purposes of this post, we’ll go with it!
After the Romans, Coín was ruled by Visigoths, who eventually abandoned the town and left it in ruins; then by the Moors, who rebuilt and revitalized it. But it was all for nothing: during the Reconquista, Christians laid siege to the city, bringing it under Spanish rule. Local legend has it that Christopher Columbus took part in the battle, helping deliver the city to his benefactors.
But regardless of who was ruling the city, there is no denying that Coín was enchantingly beautiful. Captain S.E. Cook, of Britain’s Royal Navy, visited the city in 1829 and recalled it this way in his book, Sketches of Spain:
These villages are on rising ground above the river and in beauty of situation and cultivation cannot be excelled. They afford a specimen of the whole country when possessed by the Moors, being surrounded by gardens with orange, lemon and palm trees and abounding in all the fine as well as the more common fruits.
Don’t you just want to go there right now?
The Condado de Huelva DO
Founded in 1964, this DO officially includes white wines only, most of which are sweet. For years, growers in this region sold their wines to producers in nearby Jerez, where they were anonymously blended into the solera systems used to make sherry. The dominant grapes are Zalema, a native species making neutral white wine, and Palomino, famous for its role in neighboring Jerez. According to the Consejo Regulador, four styles of wine may be made in compliance with DO rules:
- Condado Pálido – similar in style to Fino Sherry, this wine is made in a solera system and matured under flor, a blanket of yeast that develops atop the base wine and imparts unique flavors to it.
- Condado Viejo – made in a deliberately oxidative style, this solera wine calls to mind the more familiar Oloroso Sherries.
- Vino Naranja – the only aromatized wine attached to a DO in Spain, this unique wine macerates with bitter orange peel before bottling.
- Vino Joven – translating to “young wine,” this category includes unfortified, dry white wines (about half of all production.)
That said, producers here tend to look askance at the rule book, planting whichever grape varieties strike their fancy. Monastrell is big here, as are Syrah, Chardonnay, and Moscatel.
The Wines of Bodegas Oliveros
Dating back to 1940, the Oliveros family has pioneered a more modern winemaking style in Condado de Huelva. While still making the traditional sweet wines embedded in the region’s culture, Bodegas Oliveros has worked to improve vinification techniques for dry wines. They were the first to champion temperature-controlled facilities, an absolute necessity for making fresh, white wines in the hot, local climate. Looking ahead, they also saw the opportunity inherent in wine tourism. Spain already has a huge influx of visitors each year; why not invite them to tour the winery and vineyards, and allow them to experience the wines?
The Bodegas Oliveros portfolio offers the full array of DO-approved wines, as well as a few others (including a wine vinegar that has been awarded DO status as well.) There are dry red wines based on Tempranillo and Syrah; dry and semi-dry white wines from Zalema and Colombard; sweet wines made with Pedro Ximénez, Zalema, and Moscatel; and the traditional fortified wines (called generoso in Spanish.) The wines steeped in bitter orange peel sound like the perfect antidote to the scorching Andalucían sun. Or perhaps a glass of the Bodega’s vermouth or sangria?
I love the way they’ve embraced the DO rules, continuing to make traditional wines from traditional grapes. But I really dig how they haven’t stopped experimenting with other styles and varieties. Makes me wonder what’s next . . . .
Thanks for traveling along with me on Stage 13. Saturday the peloton climbs back into the mountains for what is shaping up to be a long, stifling trek. While they suffer, we can sip, and I’ll be back to give you some tips on what to look for. Cheers!