Wine tourism in Spain is considered by many to be a trip to La Rioja, and whilst it cannot be denied that this mighty wine region has a lot to offer, many of the smaller wine regions in Spain present unique and special experiences off the beaten track. Kathy Abell has lived in Northern Spain with her family for five years and has a background in tourism. She teaches vocational English courses for people working in the wine industry and also translates wine related texts into English. From her website you can download a useful dictionary of English-Spanish wine terms. Kathy says, “Living on the doorstep of the spectacular wine region of Somontano is a privilege that I try not to take for granted, and has opened my eyes to what constitutes an attractive wine destination.” We’re delighted that Kathy has chosen to share some of her passion for the region here.
For those unfamiliar with the Spanish wine scene, the very name of Somontano (meaning ‘at the foot of the mountains’) may provide a clue to the location of this young Denominación de Origen (DO) referring to its enviable position in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Framed by majestic mountains and the mighty River Vero, the landscape is peppered with vineyards, olive groves and almond trees and winding roads pass small villages that offer visitors charm and tranquillity.
With 13 authorised grape varieties, Somontano produces wines that are distinctive and contemporary. The range boasts several signature wines and a few organic wines, and a couple of the wineries are committed to resurrecting the almost extinct indigenous varieties of Alcañon and Parraleta with the specific aim of producing unique wines that reflect the true terroir of the region. Fresh and fruity, both red and white wines have good acidity and are ideally suited to local cuisine that includes locally raised lamb, cured pork products, hand-made cheese and wonderfully fresh vegetables from the River Vero basin.
Wineries range from traditional, small, family-run bodegas to modern, avant-garde buildings that care as much about their image as they do about their wine. There are 33 wineries dotted across 4,700 hectares of pre-Pyrenean terrain and thanks to the pro-active nature of the DO council and the Ruta del Vino – a non-profit organisation charged with the promotion of the region – around half of these wineries welcome visitors.
The following are two of my favourite winery visits – in both cases English is spoken, visits must be pre-booked and there is a small charge for tasting.
This is one of my favourites as it certainly has the wow factor – an impressive, family-run winery boasting views of rolling vineyards and Pyrenean peaks. Visitors are warmly welcomed and given interesting information in the wine production areas and cellars before moving to the light and airy tasting area to sample a couple of Olvena’s exquisite wines. The red ‘Hache’ is a personal favourite and comes from a vineyard in the shape of an H, hence the name of the wine; ‘hache’ is how the letter H is pronounced in Spanish.
VIÑAS DEL VERO
One of the biggest wineries in Somontano, yet a visit here feels special thanks to the warmth and friendliness of the staff. An added bonus is a visit to the Viñas del Vero boutique winery of Blecua, which is housed in a beautifully renovated 19th century house with an impressive wine cellar. Well made wines to suit all tastes – my personal favourite is the delightfully aromatic Gewürztraminer.
For a meal after your visit try the Casa Samper. This striking restaurant is housed in the refurbished wine cellars of a beautiful, old house tucked away in the tiny village of Salas Altas, yet easy to reach from the wineries mentioned. The modern decor provides a sharp contrast to the traditional architecture but the real attraction is the marvellous food and the genuine friendliness of the owners. A set menu costs just €12 with a la carte around €35 per person. There is an English menu available and English is spoken even though the website is only in Spanish.
Cosy rural accommodation with views of rolling vineyards and mountain peaks is a strong feature of the tourism offer and to enhance their wine experience, Somontano delivers with a range of cultural, natural and historical highlights. The magnificent scenery of the Sierra de Guara National Park with its dramatic gorges and diverse birdlife; visitor centres proudly exhibiting the culture and history of the region; UNESCO protected, pre-historic cave art and the impressive medieval village of Alquézar, perched precariously above the River Vero canyon, are just a few attractions that can easily be visited. The close proximity to the Pyrenees and the spectacular Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park provide an added bonus.
The Somontano Festival in early August is enjoying increasing success and has seen stars such as Julio Iglesias and Joe Cocker perform in recent years as visitors enjoy fine wine and local tapas. But, whatever the season, Somontano is worth considering for a short break or as part of a longer holiday, to take in the beautiful scenery, warm welcome and relatively unknown wines.
Visit the Ruta del Vino Somontano website for more information about the area, including accommodation, winery visits and how to get there and the official DO website for more about the region’s wines.