Wine Tasting for Dummies: An Afternoon with With Locals in Spain

“Wine snobbery is ruining the pure pleasure of a nice glass of wine,” Adolfo remarked as he poured us a young Verdejo from Northern Spain. “You like what you like, period.”

We studied the color of the pale yellow liquid before sloshing it around a tasting glass and lifting it to our noses. I don’t pretend to be a wine snob or even to know much about it, but after spending the afternoon sampling wine in Adolfo’s living room, I was convinced that I never would be nor need to be a wine snob.

Wine Tasting for Dummies

Adolfo’s three-hour introduction to wine paired with tapas – plus a short tour around the center of quaint Utrera – was part of the WithLocals experience I was invited to attend. An initiative that began in Asian countries before expanding to Spain and now Italy, WithLocals connects travelers with locals in tourist destinations with the aim of providing organic experiences, from cooking lessons to hikes to excursions from big cities.

In the spirit of full discolsure: I was skeptical about paying someone to spend a few hours with me, especially having been approached as a potential host. But peer-to-peer platforms like AirBnB, BlaBla Car and Couchsurfing have become some of my go-tos for saving money while traveling as well as a way to forge connections with locals, plus learning about wine is something I’d spring to experience (and pay for!) in another country. I have become increasingly disillusioned with tours and operators, but wanted to give wine (and a company in its infant stages in Spain) its fair chance.

how to open a wine bottle correctly

Adolfo called to us from his balcony, which looked over a street appropriately named for a type of regional wine. Part of the WithLocals philosophy dictates that events be held in hosts’ homes whenever possible, so a table was set with three tasting glasses, a few tapas and the tools of the trade were set in his living room. I brought along my friend Hayley, a wine drinker far more experienced than myself in the grape and its magical properties (magic, as in, turning sugar into alcohol, of course).

I’ve been to a few tastings – in family-run bodegas that sell al granel in DO Jumilla, in world famous wineries in La Rioja and even in a fancy wine shop in Seville, but I’d rarely learned much past the three-step tasting process. See, smell, sip and repeat until your brain’s a bit hazy and it’s time for a tapa.

verdejo wines Spain

Adolfo changed all of that: as an apasionado for wine whose hobby has become a lifestyle and job, Hayley and I fired off questions about soil conditions, favorite denominaciones de origen and how to find a decent bottle in a supermarket without knowing about that year’s harvest. Our host knew more than the number of ‘sommeliers’ and winemakers I’d drank wine with, but was quick to tell us his dismay for people using wine as a status symbol (to which I snuff, ponme otra cervecita, por favor). 

The Verdejo was crisp and, though I couldn’t snuff out the banana peel undertones in the smell, refreshing. We snacked on salty anchovies with avocado and onion puree between sips. What struck me was that we could have a normal conversation as friends once we’d sipped the first glass and discussed the mechanics of the fermentation process, how to tell when wine has lost its quality and why some bottles slope and others don’t. We were one glass in, and I’d already learned more than my brain could hold. 

tasting wine with locals in Spain

Spain still pits Rioja against Ribera as far as favorites, much in the way it does with fútbol, so Adolfo skipped the vino heavyweights in favor of a crianza from a little-known region tucked between Alicante and La Mancha, Utiel-Requeña. I’d never even heard of it, much less tried it.

Plates of chorizo, cheese and salchichón appeared as the cork was popped, revealing a faded crimson ring. The glug, glug and slight ring of the liquid against the glass preceded a sip and slosh around our palates, and I went so far as to try and gargle like the sommeliers do (it sounds weird, but the bubbling reveals even more tastes buried deep in the mouthful!).

Typical Spanish Charcuterie

We’d then try a grandaddy Rioja and compare the two tintos in color, smell and taste. I began to smell the earthy wood undertones and hint of black pepper as my sinus cavity cleared up and reminded my brain of the properties of a strong wine that had been aged for two years and then bottled for two more before entering the market. 

In the wake of turning 30, my mom reminded me that age is like fine wine, and Adolfo had saved the best for us to drink with duck paté and strawberry jam: a wine he’d inherited from his uncle from 2002. Even though wines depreciate depending on their aging process, the murky brown liquid still tasted amazing.

Three hours later, we sipped a sweet Pedro Ximénez from nearby Jerez, brains as full as our bellies.

How to Taste Wine:

Most everyone knows that wine tastings have three parts: first you check out the color, then provide a preview for your tastebuds by sniffing inside the glass before finally tasting the wine. But I’ll go further:

tasting wine with With Locals in Spain

Open the bottle correctly. Some restaurants will cut the aluminum cap that protects the cork right near the top, but you should do so under the lip of the bottle. Better yet, press firmly on the cap to pull the aluminum upwards in one piece.

Pour less than one fluid ounce into a proper tasting glass. Glasses should grow thinner at the top to help aromas reach your nose, and while stemless glasses are gorgeous, your hand can heat the wine and distorte its properties slightly.

Remember that red wines have varying properties, so know the differences between joven, crianza, and reserva when tasting Spanish varieties. Everything from the color to the depreciation and especially the taste will vary. Joven wines are very rarely aged in oak barrels, whereas crianzas will have spent 6 months in barrel of its two years aging. Reserva are aged longer in both bottle and barrel. So, the 2010 reserva we tried had spent two years in barrel and two more in bottle before being labelled for sale, but the joven we tried wasn’t half bad because it came from a reputable bodega.

Wine Tasting with Plus Vino Sevilla

The olfactory phase is the most important, Adolfo tells us, because our tastebuds can only perceive sweet, sour, salty and acidic. The nose can sense the nuances of flavors are snuffed out at this phase, and this is why you’re encouraged to move the liquid around in the glass. Take your time.

When you’re ready to taste, don’t swallow right away. Slosh the wine around in your mouth the get the full sensory experience.

If you’re trying more than one wine, pour 15-20 milliliters of the next wine you’ll be trying into the used glass, swirl it around and dump into a recipient.

Most importantly – don’t get snobby about wine. Everything about wine – from the soil from which the grapes grow to the content of the cork – is a science, so just open a bottle you like and enjoy it!

With Locals invited Hayley and me to be guests for the WithLocals wine experience in Utrera. All opinions expressed are my own – I like my opinions as pure as my vinate. Be sure to check out With Locals’s page for more inspiration, as well as Adolfo’s YouTube channel about everything in the Mundo de Vino.

What’s your favorite Spanish wine, and where do you buy it? Sound off in the comments below, and I’ll get down to the task.

Photo Post of Carmona: The Perfect Little Day Trip from Seville

Nothing says long weekend like a roadtrip, a quick stop in a village and the mass migration of people during the sacred puente. Not wanting to go too far, I settled on taking a day trip to Carmona, one of the province highlights that is often shadowed by Seville (even though, in my opinion, the province doesn’t offer too much by way of historical sites). 

Rain was on the forecast, but it didn’t matter – Phyllis and I grabbed Pequeño Monty and took the A-4 all the way into town. My first trip to Carmona was five years ago on a similar, drizzly morning – I’ve been aching to return since (particularly because that was one of my poorest points of expat life – we didn’t pay to see anything and split two plates of food between five of us).

Most visitors to the city arrive to the Plaza del Estatuto, known to locals as the Plaza de Abajo. The oblong plaza is lined with old man bars. I swooned immediately.

This small city, perched on a hill above acres of wheat and olives, has seen traces of Bronze Age settlers, Roman emperors, Visigoth Kings and the Moors before its conquest in the 13th Century. In pounding the pavement, I felt like we were on the tails of history.

The old center winds up from the Puerta de Sevilla and its imposing city walls and onto Plaza San Fernando towards Calle Prim, called the Plaza de Abajo by locals. Hidden within the gradually steep walls that stretch to the Iglesia de Santiago and the Puerte de Córdoba are tucked-away plazas, convents, grandiose cathedrals and stately palaces. Many alleyways are so slim, you can touch both sides of the walls.

There was little car traffic (it seemed the whole town was either sleeping off the Carnival celebrations or at a wedding at the Priory of Santa María), and we practically had the whole place to ourselves.

Ending the day at the Necrópolis de Carmona (which is free, so you have no excuse to not go), we had gone from lavish renaissance palaces to the ruins of an ancient burial ground by just driving to the other part of town. Laying along the Via Augusta, Carmona has been attracting tourists for millennia.  We were just two unassuming guiris still amazed that such old stuff exists.

Have you been to Carmona? What are you favorite villages in the Sevilla province? I’d recommend the following:

Estepa, Ciudad del Mantecado

Itálica and its Roman Ruins

San Nicolás del Puerto

Seville: Perfect for a Fall City Break

Earlier this week, my friend Mar and I were enjoying a light breakfast (read: an entera with Iberian ham and tomatoes) in a small plaza right of Constitución. Our bare arms caught the morning chill as we chowed down, surrendering to the fact that Autumn has snuck up on us.

photo by kelly m. holland

Fall is one of my favorite times in Seville – expat celebrations, the return to school and snuggling on chilly mornings for just a few minutes more (dios I sound like an abuela). When friends talk about coming to visit, I tell them that Seville is perfect for a holiday city break during this season:

Cheaper Accommodation and Flights

Look up any flight to Seville come October and want to hug your computer. I mean it. Not only is it cheaper to get to Southern Spain (or anywhere in Europe), but the hotels are a bargain, too. Using sites like Hotel Scan will net you savings of about 30-40% on average, making Seville a bargain for a long Fall weekend.

Do be aware that October 12th is Día de la Hispanidad (Spain’s take on Columbus Day when the Catholic Kings get most of the glory) and November 1st is Día de Todos los Santos Difuntos (don’t forget to eat your huesos de santos!), so hotels typically up their prices a weeeee bit.

A Multitude of Festivals

Seville and the surrounding cities hosts several different fairs during this time, including the Feria de Jamón in Aracena (Huelva), the Salon International del Caballo in tribute to the Andalusian horse breed and the biannual Flamenco celebration.

You can also take great hikes around the province, gather mushrooms and acorns in the Sierra Norte and Aracena and escape to the beaches without all of the crowds.

Less tourists, less lines

For whatever reason, there’s always loads of tourists in Seville when the weather is at its hottest. They flock the central part of town and fill the bars near the cathedral, but these tourists have also made the city one of the top destinations in Spain. This is great news for the local economy, but it also means you’ll wait in line at the bank and the Corte Inglés and even eating out can mean a wait for a table.

Opening hours are typically shortened in the afternoons, so take advantage of the early hours for sightseeing, and then use the afternoon to stroll off a huge lunch. Sandra of Seville Traveler made a perfect itinerary that’s catered towards the non-touristy months in the city.

Um, it’s not sweltering anymore, either.

Yeah, that’s the other thing – you can actually enjoy roaming the streets around Santa Cruz and Triana while still dining outdoors or having a drink at a terrace bar. temperatures are, on average, around 22 degrees in October by midday, cooling off in both the shade and at night so that you can actually sleep and not waste hours tossing and turning because it’s so freaking hot.

Fall is perfect in Seville, and even as I began to love and understand the rhythms of my new city, my friends warned me: if you love Seville in the Autumn, you’ll really fall for it in the Spring.

Have you ever visited Seville off-season? I’m psyched that Alex of Ifs, Ands & Butts, Trevor of a Texan in Spain and Julia of Nowhere to go But Everywhere will be here in the coming weeks and I get to show Seville off to them! If you’re ever in town, look me up!

Seville Snapshots: The Village of Osuna

There’s nothing like the open road and the feel of torque under your feet (feet, because I drive stick shift now!) and a new destination to tick off your must-sees list. Hayley, my Spanish media naranja, and I agreed to meet halfway in between our respected cities for lunch in Osuna and a bit of Saturday sight-seeing.

Que Dios bendiga las girlfriends.

The village of Osuna lies midway between Seville and Antequera, a little burp of civilization built upon a lone hill. Fun fact: its flag and coat of arms bears, well, two bears along with a topless woman. This pueblo and I would get along fine, even though it’s better known for being the last place where Julius Caesar fought in person (and the town’s name comes from Urso, ‘bear’ in Latin).

The whitewashed town, crowned by an old university and sprawling church, was sleepy for a warm Saturday, but perfect for a few hours’ lunch over Camino and business plans. It’s not hard on the eyes, either.

Oh, and here’s a bonus one of me and my car, El Pequeño Monty, a 2002 Peugeot 307. Bought my first coche at the ripe old age of 27-and-three-quarters!

Love your little rinconcito of Spain? Sunshine and Siestas is looking for guest bloggers for the busy summer months of late June – mid August while Cat is galivanting in Galicia at summer camp and walking the Camino de Santiago for charity. If you’re interested, send an email to sunshineandsiestas[at]gmail[dot]com with your ideas, photos and stories.

Seville Snapshots: Domingo de Romería

“The hilly encinas are my office,” said Jose, not looking away from his ham leg, from which he took thin cuts and arranged them neatly onto a plate for us. I’d been eating since arriving to the Ermita de San Diego in teeny San Nicolás del Puerto, my favorite village in Spain, and my stomach could only hold so much.

Springtime in Andalucia is all about a healthy mix of hedonism and religion (which surprisingly go hand-in-hand). Holy Week revelers pay a somber penitence to the cruxifiction and resurrection, then sherry is drunk by the bucketfull during ferias all over Andalucía, and concludes with romerías in nearly all of the pueblos from late April until September.

I’ve mentioned San Nicolás del Puerto, a tiny dot of a town on Andalucia’s map. At 700 people and seven bars (seven more than in my hometown of 55,000), the city is the source of the Hueznár River, part of the Vía Verde and the birthplace of San Diego de Alcalá. Nearly all of the town’s festivities revolve around the poor man’s saint, including the Romería de San Diego, held the second Sunday of May each year.

For a small village, San Nicolás throws a big party for the romería, which is like one-part religious procession, one part tailgate. Everyone brings their coolers full of food – chacina, tortilla de papas, filetes empanados, and homemade cakes – and finds a shady spot in the hills near the hemitage for setting up their picnic. They’re often reserved by parking cars, using a fruit crate for a makeshft sign, or by tradition – I always know where Rafalín and the Novio´s father will be with their own portapotty.

At noon, the saint comes dancing in, carried on the shoulders of locals and preceeded by a brass band from the nearby Alanís de la Sierra. It’s kind of like a homecoming, and I can almost imagine my high school’s fight song instead of the paso doble that accompanies the saint before mass. Diego bobs up and down as partygoers watch on horseback, some dressed in flamenco dresses and trajes cortos. The Novio and I watched from afar, busy kicking back a few bottles of beer and helping ourselves to everyone else’s food, lest it go to waste.

Have you ever been to a Romería? Spain’s biggest and most popular, El Rocío of Almonte (Huelva) is this coming Sunday. Read about my experience at last year’s fair here.

Places with Encanto: Almohalla 51, Casa Rural and Guest House in Archidona, Malaga

Sending special thanks to the dozens of you who participated in my giveaway with Your Spain Hostel for a 30€ voucher. I’m thrilled to announce that the special winner is Revati!! Please get in touch, guapa, and I’ll relay all of the details! Speaking of staying in Spain…

If only the walls of Almohalla 51, an ancient rural house cum gorgeous boutique hotel in Archidona, Spain, could talk.

“The whole place was decrepit, you see,” David tells us on the quick ride over from Antequera, where he’s met us at the train station. “Just absolutely uninhabitable.”

David and his partner, Myles, bought the house – which hadn’t been lived in for fifty years – and the one adjacent to it, merging the two into a five-bedroom hotel. The 14-person family who sold them the houses were true archidoneses, and the house had the original beams intact. The place is steeped in Andalusian charm.

Upon entering the cozy entrance hallway, David offers us a glass of Mahou beer and some salty olives. “You know,” he starts, topping off his own cerveza, “Myles’s family had been coming down for years and living on the Costa del Sol. There’s this great picture of his mother dancing with the wife of the owner of Mahou before the family sold the company to San Miguel.” Like many British expatriates I’ve met in Spain, there is always some kind of story, some legend, anchoring them to Spain. Myles summered in Estepona during his youth before he and David decided to relocate to Spain permanently, choosing picturesque Archidona as their new home.

Collecting our beer glasses as Lana del Rey crooned from the nearby reading nook, replete with books and old editions of magazines in both Spanish and English, David and Myles offer to show us the rest of the property. Passing through a small courtyard just behind the entrance hall and up a set of stairs, a small but inviting pool was the focal point of another patio and small bar.

“We operate on an honesty policy,” Myles explained. At any hour of the day, guests are invited to help themselves to refreshments, tea or coffee. My guest, Hayley, duly noted that the sweeping views of the nearby mountains and a dip in the immaculately kept pool would be worth coming back for in the summer.

I curiously notice a wrought iron Osborne bull nestled next to a small olive tree just in front of the pool. David, sensing my curiosity, tells me that the tree had actually been brought over from London when they moved to Archidona 18 months ago.

“Does it fruit?”

“Yeah, yeah. But the birds enjoy it more than we do.”

Inside, we are shown to our room. Wood beams stand out against the whitewashed walls, and Andalusian hallmark. Two fluffy twin beds with linens brought in from Mumbai stand next to one another and a weathered wardrobe. A private bathroom features smooth, gorgeous tiles and modern fixtures. Setting down our bags, we continue through to the other guest rooms.

The duo enjoy pointing out each part of the house that had been left over by its previous owners –antique headboards adorning the beds where they’d been born,  an interior patio where horses had been led – as well as the treasures Myles’s mother had found in antique stores and estate sales around England. The other bedrooms each have their own charm, like a split-level with a cavernous shower or a crystal chandelier. I suddenly can’t wait to dive into bed and relax with a book, convinced that the fresh air and sleepy midday would lend to a gorgeous rest.

After lunch in town at Bar Central, we join guests Mary and Thomas, an infinitely friendly and interesting Irish couple, near the fire. Their first trip to Spain, they recount us their tribulations driving on the other side of the road and trying to understand the bullfighting museum in Antequera.

“Dinner’s at half eight girls, but come round earlier for a cocktail.”

Squashing any girlish desires, we refrain from jumping on the small mountain of bed and instead rest up for the evening. The last light of the day is streaming in from the skylight as we read in bed. I drift off for over an hour, lost in the soft mattress and heaps of blankets.

Aperitifs are served promptly at eight, and we all sit round the fire chatting about whatever comes to mind – travels in Spain, language blunders, Mary and Thomas’s work as anthropologists, David and Myles’s favorite scenes as the resident guiris in Archidona. As sweet smells waft from the hallway we are ushered into the dining room.

“Yep, well several of the sisters claim to have been born in this very room,” David had told us earlier, but now the room is crowned by a gorgeous hutch with carvings related to the city of Granada – pomegranates and a knight – and a rustic wooden table whose legs were the originals. While doing the work on the house, Myles used local artisans to give the house a makeover rooted in both old and new.

What follows is one of those epic meals where your wine glass is never empty, your belly is full and the conversation and company can’t be bettered. We had a chutney made of local pears with warm goat cheese and puff pastry, followed by succulent lamb, steamed broccoli and papas a lo pobre. After nearly five hours, a rehashing of Catalonian independence and the draw of the Camino de Santiago (which Hayley and I are walking this summer), and a coffee and gin tonic, Hayley and I barrel into the beautiful Plaza Ochavada for a drink.

The next morning, David and Myles serve the four of us breakfast in the dining room, as rain had hampered plans of having breakfast on the terrace. I dig into coffee, fresh orange juice, natural yougurt with honey and cinnamon, fruit and toast with fig jam and cheese. David invites us to walk up the hill to the bastions and hermitage, affording us the views of the surrounding countryside. From this vantage point, one can see the nearby provinces of Sevilla and Cordoba, as Archidona is practically in the geographic center of Spain and just 45 minutes from Malaga’s international airport.

David comments on the city’s raucous festivals, from a bullfight in the oval of Ochavada to the pedigree dog shows. Their own dog, Ronny, barrels up and down the hill, bounding around the hermitage where faithful crawl on their knees during Holy Week and to the city walls at the top of the mountain. These walls can talk on their own, too, of course – of the Moorish Reconquista and the rebuilding of one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.

And we’re listening.

If you go: Almohalla 51 is located in the village of Archidona (Malaga), near the geographical center of Andalusia and the A-92 motorway. Its five bedrooms are charged based on high and low season, and include breakfast, housekeeping and all local taxes. Guests under age 14 are not permitted.

 My stay at Almohalla 51 was graciously provided by David and Myles. All opinions, as always, are entirely my own. If you stay, tell them I sent you!

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