What better way to fête the 2020 holiday season than by reliving the festivities of years past, when it was possible to travel? And, as the wine region of Rías Baixas encourages us to celebrate Twelve Days of Albariño, I’m flashing back to three of my favorite trips to Spain, all of which happened at Christmastime.
I’m pairing my revelries with three lovely bottles of Albariño, the white wine made from the grape of the same name; it’s the specialty of the region of Galicia, in far northwestern Spain.
Note: I received the three wines featured in this post as complimentary media samples. Thoughts, opinions, and pairings are all my own.
Flashback #1: Madrid, Christmas 2007
After spending part of the summer in Nerja, in the southern region of Andalucía, I longed to return to Spain for more of – well, everything! So, one evening (probably after a few glasses of wine) I had the grand idea of making a solo trip to Madrid for Christmas. A few sips later I had booked my flight and reserved a room. What could possibly go wrong?
As departure day got closer, I started to have a little angst about my plans: how would it feel to spend Christmas in a new city, by myself? When I boarded the plane in Miami, that angst grew louder and larger; by the time we landed in Madrid the next morning, I was full of remorse. A glance out the window heightened that sense: gray skies, harsh winds, and chilly temperatures had me wishing for the familiar comforts of home.
I shouldn’t have worried, though. There was plenty to keep me busy: from the galleries of the Prado Museum to the brightly-decorated streets, each jaunt around the city boosted my spirits and made me thankful for the gifts this solo trip had brought.
A few tips for those contemplating a similar holiday abroad:
- If you’ll be there for Christmas Eve, it’s better to stay in a hotel that has a dining room. Most everything is closed that night, and it might otherwise be hard to rustle up a meal.
- Plan your itinerary so that you’re busy all the time. It helps keep the blues away and has the side benefit of making sure you visit all the places you want to see.
- Keep a journal of each day’s activities. Great for identifying the hundreds of pictures you’ve taken (which is much harder to do a few weeks later!)
Wine #1: 2019 Adega Condes de Albarei Albariño (about $18 retail)
This is textbook Albariño, with ripe stone fruit aromas of peach and apricot mingled with lemon and orange. Crisp acidity tightens things up on the palate, which is racy and full of citrus zest. There is no better happy hour wine than this one: serve it along with sliced jamón, a heap of green olives, and some smoked almonds. A perfect combo for the holidays, whether you’re entertaining family or just yourself!
Flashback #2: Madrid, Christmas 2008
My first trip to Madrid was so magical that I decided to repeat the experience. This time I rented an apartment, and looked forward to meeting my godparents for the holiday. They travel to Spain often, and have friends all over; we ended up having a few dinner parties and restaurant outings with them. Very different from 2007 but another heart-warming week all the same.
Wine #2: 2019 Bodegas La Val Albariño ($16.99 retail)
Grapes for this wine were grown in two different vineyards: Finca Taboexa, at high altitude on sandy, granitic soils; and Finca Avantei, which is mostly clay. Both lie at the confluence of the Mino River and the Atlantic Ocean, bringing salty sea breezes to the vines. The aromas are an intriguing mix of floral, citrus, and herbal notes; acidity is tart enough to balance the blend of stone fruit (white peach, nectarine) on the palate. Overall, it’s refreshing as an apéritif or as an accompaniment with seafood dishes. My recommendation is this swordfish recipe from Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan, which is both easy to prepare and quite delicious!
Flashback #3: Madrid, Christmas 2010
A few months before I set off on my third Christmas voyage to Madrid, something happened: I met Gabe! We crossed paths while I was in New York City on a work trip. I was having dinner at the bar of a charming French restaurant (Artisanal, now defunct); he was at the bar with a few clients, waiting for their table.
We chatted for a few minutes, and the rest, as they say, is history.
That was in July. By December we had been navigating a long-distance romance, seeing each other when I’d come to the Big Apple on business. We never talked about the holidays and I expected he’d be doing family stuff. Gabe comes from a big Italian family that takes Christmas seriously. I thought I would do my own thing (Madrid) and we’d carry on in the new year.
As it turned out, he was more interested in discovering Madrid. He booked a flight, and we planned to meet at the Westin Palace Hotel on December 23rd.
The rest of the trip was a little more complicated.
On travel day, my flight from Fort Lauderdale was delayed; that caused me to miss my connection in Atlanta. The airport was a disaster because of a snowstorm in Europe. Flights were canceled; people were stranded. I called Gabe and gave him the hotel reservation info. In all likelihood he would arrive in Madrid long before I did.
In the end, the Delta Airlines rep worked her magic and got me on a plane for Paris. From there I’d catch another flight to Madrid, which arrived late afternoon. I was so grateful that I was leaving at all! But I worried a bit that Gabe would be on his own in a strange city; also, the hotel reservation was in my name. What could go wrong?
Well, nothing, as far as Gabe was concerned. By the time I walked into the Westin Palace, he had made himself comfortable, found the best place to have coffee in the neighborhood, and done some shopping. But the travel gods hadn’t quite finished with me. My bag didn’t make it to Madrid, so I had no clothes or toiletries beyond what was on my back or in my tote bag.
All’s well that ends well, though, and this trip was no exception. I bought a few things to tide me over (my bag never did arrive) and the two of us had a splendid mini-vacation. Spain remains our favorite travel destination and we’re eager to go back as soon as it’s permitted.
Speaking of Spain, we returned the next summer for two weeks in the southern region of Andalucía. It’s a trip we’ll never forget, mostly because Gabe proposed to me at a seaside restaurant there. Que bueno!
Wine #3: Attis Bodegas y Vinedos Lías Finas Albariño ($18.99 retail)
Grapes for this complex Albariño were grown on west-facing slopes near the Atlantic, which definitely comes through in the wine’s mineral/saline profile. Add in the ripe tropical fruit (pineapple), medley of citrus, and the influence of six months of lees aging, and you’ve got quite a serious sipper in your glass. Pair this with just about anything seafood-related, or lighter dishes that are salty-savory in nature. As Gabe and I trimmed our Christmas tree, we delighted in the Attis Albariño, enjoying a kick-ass charcuterie platter from local restaurant Casa Tua. A pairing I would look forward to any day!
More on the 12 Days of Albariño
Here is a brochure featuring a dozen ways to welcome the white wines of Rías Baixas into your holiday festivities. It highlights suggested food pairings and gives a glimpse into Spanish Christmas traditions. Hey, until we can travel there in person, it’s the best way to experience Spain and all of her enchantments.
Best wishes for a safe and happy season!