Spain & France Trip Itinerary

Old Feb 22nd, 2021, 10:39 AM
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As a side comment, while Bordeaux wine area is divided into well known subzones, each producing a particular type of wine based on the land, the sun, the humidity,..and so on, it seems that everyone talks about Rioja as just one wine region. Rioja wine region should not be mistaken (as it commonly is) with La Rioja community (Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities, kind of "States" in the US). Funny enough, La Rioja only grows wine in the northern area and most of its territory is not for wine making, but fruit.

Rioja DOC (Denominación de Origen Calificada, or Qualified Designation of Origin, similar to the AOC in France), is -together with Priorat in Catalonia- the only two qualified DOs in Spain (meaning that the harvests are categorized by an official Regulation Board) and quality requisites are far more strict than in other areas. It is divided into Rioja Alavesa (the Basque part of Rioja), that includes Laguardia (and not LaGuardia) as the main town, but also, Labastida, Elciego, Páganos, Navaridas...; then Rioja Alta, Haro being its capital, just across the river Ebro that separates the Basque Country and La Rioja; and finally Rioja Oriental (or Eastern Rioja, formerly Rioja Baja) and extending also into a small part of Navarra (Navarre). Each area has its own personality and in the Basque part itīs common to see many bottles labelled as Rioja Alavesa (thereīs a movement within many wine producers on this area to form their own DOC, separated from Rioja, which is -rather oddly- identified with cheap wine in markets such as the UK and Russia). Each subzone has its own climate (more humid for Rioja Alavesa, much drier in Oriental), terroir, sun hours, orientation, even ways to make wine. To me, as a local Basque, itīs basic to know what Rioja wine Iīm drinking, where it comes from and how itīs been produced.

Rioja is also known for a wine but few foreigners know, because itīs not exported, and itīs the most widely produced and most iconic in the area: the "maceración carbónica" wine, or carbonic maceration, where the stems "boil" (ferment) together with the grapes and their skins, as itīs always been the way before the French discovered the oak barrels. Itīs considered as the real, traditional wine, no foreign influence of any wood as itīs not kept in barrels, itīs just pure fermented grapes, and all bars offer it. Cheap but excellent, mainly for locals to enjoy it at home or in their socializing in bars (I always have several bottles at home), full of fruity flavors and so different to those (also excellent) wines matured in barrels (which are much more expensive and therefore offered in wine tastings as standard and for sale in the most famous wineries).

Hope the above helps to discover the real Rioja!

Last edited by mikelg; Feb 22nd, 2021 at 10:48 AM.
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Old Feb 23rd, 2021, 03:08 AM
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<<The funiest evening was at what passes for in France a "spud you like". But being France the potatoe was the size of a man's head. Imagine our surprise when 4 ladies who lunch came and sat next to Mrs B and me wolfing down the carbs. The ladies looked at the menu, both sides, twice and tried to order something that wasn't going straight to the hips. Finally they ordered the child's burger menu each with one bag of chips/fries to share.

Gamely they worked their way through a half burger each before hiding the un-eaten half under a lettuce, while leaving some of the chips.>>

You have to wonder what they were doing there in the first place, Bilbo.

<<Rioja is also known for a wine but few foreigners know, because itīs not exported, and itīs the most widely produced and most iconic in the area: the "maceración carbónica" wine, or carbonic maceration, where the stems "boil" (ferment) together with the grapes and their skins, as itīs always been the way before the French discovered the oak barrels. Itīs considered as the real, traditional wine, no foreign influence of any wood as itīs not kept in barrels, itīs just pure fermented grapes, and all bars offer it. Cheap but excellent, mainly for locals to enjoy it at home or in their socializing in bars (I always have several bottles at home), full of fruity flavors and so different to those (also excellent) wines matured in barrels (which are much more expensive and therefore offered in wine tastings as standard and for sale in the most famous wineries).>>

What is that most excellent sounding wine called, mikelg? I still harbour hopes that the trip to northern Spain that I was looking forward to this time last year may still materialise in some form or other in the next few years, so it would be nice to know what to ask for!


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Old Feb 23rd, 2021, 04:11 AM
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"What is that most excellent sounding wine called, mikelg? I still harbour hopes that the trip to northern Spain that I was looking forward to this time last year may still materialise in some form or other in the next few years, so it would be nice to know what to ask for!"

This is the wine that most winemakers will ask for at bars during their daily errands with friends, because thatīs what they call "wine". Itīs a year wine, harvested in October and sold and drunk the year after, which is made putting all the bunches of grapes with stems and grapes. The colour is vivid purple and the taste is...fruit, grape, soil. Not for every palate if used to "crianza" or mature wines, but itīs what theyīve been making for generations before the French changed (almost) everything after the filoxera. Itīs called "maceración carbónica" wine, the one I have at home is https://alutizvinos.com/en/comprar-v...ion-carbonica/, normal price of a bottle ranges from 3 to 6 eur. At a bar ask for a "cosechero" or "vino de aņo". Due to its short conservation time, itīs not exported.

As you may know, we order our wines at bars based not on the brand, not on the grape either, but on the age and maturity of the wine. In Rioja DOC, a red "crianza" has been 12 months in the barrel and another 12 in the bottle, minimum; a "reserva" has been at least 36 months maturing, of which 12 months minimum in a barrel, and we order them by that name, the name of the winery may follow the name "crianza", but normally itīs enough with that. A bar that serves bad wine will close in a very short time, thatīs a truth!!

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Old Feb 23rd, 2021, 08:24 AM
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carbonic maceration makes the purplish wine that you will find all across these regions including France. It is a standard method to make a "jammy" wine so think young Beaujolais. It gets a lot of colour extract for only a short period next to the skins (the juice stays in the skins) and it is refreshing if a little simple. But no oak so fine at lunch with water. mikelg knows his stuff.

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Old Feb 23rd, 2021, 08:33 AM
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Originally Posted by juanpe View Post
It's great!

I love the places you have named, although I prefer Bilbao to San Sebastian, you could take time out of San Sebastian to try to visit Bilbao because it is much more worthwhile.
Iīm biased as I was born in Bilbao and thereīs a high degree of (friendly) rivalry between these two cities: Donostia-San Sebastian being the jewel of the northern coast of Spain and in a beautiful bay; Bilbao as the center of power and industry (now gone and under a huge transformation into a friendly, clean, livable and monumental city). Pintxos are found all over the Basque Country and itīs not an exclusivity of Donostia-SS, restaurants are equally good but Bilbao is normally cheaper in terms of lodging and food. But credit must be given to SS for being the center of the wonderful Basque gastronomy. SS can be seen and enjoyed in a maximum of two days; Bilbao may deserve the same time. In any case, both are safe, friendly, walkable, livable and food meccas.
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Old Feb 23rd, 2021, 12:28 PM
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Sounds nice (your trip)

Your plans sound really nice. I've been to Paris, great culture, museums, etc. Didnt get to go to any vineyards Went to Cannes and Nice.
Loved Barcelona, nice city.
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Old Feb 24th, 2021, 11:54 AM
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Thanks everyone for your replies. Special thanks to MichelleY- convinced me to rent a car from Barcelona. Also mikelg for your wine advice and Bilbao enthusiasm, and to Bilbo for all your wine advice and laughs. Have adjusted my itinerary slightly. Will rent a car in Barcelona for the Rioja/Northern Spain portion. Drive to Logrono, Haro, Santander, Bilbao and San Sebastian (in that order). Drop the car in San Sebastion and train to Bordeaux. In Bordeaux I am leaning towards not having a car and using public transport and maybe a day trip to St. Emillion for tastings. Will also add at least 1 extra day in Paris which will make the trip about 28 days.
Please keep the replies and advice coming.
Thanks again
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Old Feb 25th, 2021, 01:10 AM
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In St Emilion donīt miss (tickets well in advance) the impressive monolithic church at the center of town, a huge church excavated on the rock right beneath the town. Well worth the visit. The wines or the visits did not impress me much, but thatīs my problem with French wines . Santander will not impress you much, its old quarter burnt down in the 50s and itīs been substituted by standard houses. Nice beaches and walks (take into account that northern Spain is VERY rainy, being San Sebastian and Santiago de Compostela the rainiest cities in Spain with an average of 185 days a year) , but thatīs basically it (unless itīs a starting point to places nearby).

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Old Feb 25th, 2021, 02:47 AM
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Bilbao (from whence comes Bilbo) is, of course, an extraordinary visit. The best sights are along the river. These start with the Travelator Bridge a fine piece of engineering to the west of town. The old industrial haunts along the river in the centre have been turned into a large walking area with the Guggenheim in prime position,and the river is worth a good walk with snacks and coffee. The Funicular is a nice trip.

I think the best visit is the Fine Art Museum which really does show what the Basques have to give.
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