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Jonathan Turner - The Cycling Sommelier: Spain North to South

I was encouraged by Rebecca to do a “mini blog” about my recent trip through Spain. Always a good tactic to blame the tutor…..

So, like Joanne in my TheRLWS L3 group (The Revelling Levellers Autumn 2021), I also visited Spain 🇪🇸 this last month. In fact, together with some friends, we cycled the length and the country, north to south (always good to go downhill!!), starting in Gijon and ending in Gibraltar (odd place in the extreme). 1,350km in 10 days with 17,000m of climbing.

The route was perfectly planned by the tour leader to avoid any of the major wine routes - I even double checked with Rebecca in advance to see if I had misunderstood the regions - which made my role on the team as the official “cycling sommelier” a bit more challenging.

We did briefly stop in Toro which is a DO making rich, powerful, high tannin wines typically 14.5-15.5% alcohol from the Tinta de Toro grape. This is related to but distinct from Temperanillo. According to Decanter: “Tempranillo and Tinta de Toro share a genotype [the genetic code], but differ in their phenotype [the way that code is expressed physically”.

Whilst in the town itself we only managed to enjoy a coffee and a delicious savoury snack (see photo - Spanish “pig in blanket”?) but did indulge that evening only to find the high alcohol levels didn’t translate to good leg strength the next day….

With a little digging around, we managed to find some local wines most evenings, including trying new grapes such as Albarin Blanco (not a Level 3 grape, I believe) in Castilla y León - similar name to Albariño but genetically distinct. And then we also enjoyed better known wines such, as Ribera del Duero, throughout the trip.

But it took the best part of 7 days cycling and 1,000km to come across our first vines in Ribera del Fresno, part of the Ribera del Guadiana DO Wine Route in the Extremadura region (western part of Spain). The vines, both trellised and stand alone bush, were interspersed with olive trees and mostly irrigated, albeit the photograph doesn’t show that (I was seriously castigated by the team for wanting to stop to take photographs of vines, which reduced our average speed for the day massively!!)

Renowned for Jamón Ibérico, Extremadura is also Spain’s 4th largest wine producing region. Btw, Extermadura roughly translates to “extreme and hard” which I can vouch for having cycled through the region for many hours….

This was one of the finds of the trip for me with wines made from both local and international varieties. The Hablo del Silencio is a good example with a mix of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. It had the simplicity to appeal to all palates on the team but the complexity to match well with the different foods we experienced around the table.

But the true highlight of the trip was befriending the sommelier in a wonderful restaurant in Trujillo and unearthing this magnum of 2009 Rioja Tondonia in their cellar. Truth be told, we probably didn’t enjoy it at its full potential as I only discovered it half way through our tasting menu, but you can see my joy in the photo at being able to share the experience with my friends and that’s what wine is all about, isn’t it? Albeit you can see the trepidation in the face of the chap behind me…..

On Day 10, we finally made it to Gibraltar 🇬🇮 and all the bunting was up in preparation for the Platinum Jubilee. And the only appropriate way to celebrate the achievement of riding the length of Spain was with a beer, much like when I finished my Level 3 exam!


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