“Travel far enough you meet yourself.” — David Mitchell
Two years ago, my family and I settled into the Spanish hill town of Arcos de la Frontera for the start of a sabbatical holiday. Located on the western edge of the Route of the White Hill Towns in Andalucía, near Jerez and the Sherry Triangle, Arcos is an old town with a traditional Spanish soul. In the mornings, we’d wake with the late rising sun and walk down the steep, narrow road to the diner in the center of town. The local men stood lining the counter and filled the outdoor tables, despite the crisp January air, smoking their cigarettes and sipping Sherry before venturing off to work. Initially too intimidated to order at the counter, we’d sit at the corner table where we could observe and take our coffee. The counter was for the silent, brooding cowboy types, while the outdoor tables were where the raucous debates took place. I felt as though in a Hemingway novel, and often half expected to see him walk through the door.
As the men departed, we would hike back up the hill, jumping into doorways to dodge speeding cars and passing moms walking their skipping children to school. The older women were moving about too, sweeping their doorsteps in dusters not unlike the kind I remember my grandmother wearing in the late 1970s. The women would always stop to smile and pat our children on their heads. This became our daily morning ritual.
While we easily stood out as foreigners at first, by the end of our stay, we were part of the Arcos fabric. We had originally expected to use Arcos as a midway launching point for travels to nearby Sevilla, Cordoba, Jerez and Granada; instead, we were hypnotized by its charm, warmth and passionate soul, and decided instead to make it our home (albeit for a month). Our Arcos life was simple. Between work and studies, we hiked the hills, shopped at the local market, cooked Spanish meals, hung our clothes on the rooftop lines and mingled with families in the taverns as we ate tapas and sipped local wines. We spent our evenings in the town square sitting along the stone wall with other families, marveling as our children jumped into fútbol games with only gestures, smiles and actions to communicate, and we’d return home to a meal, wine and a fire. We were thousands of miles from home, decades away from present day (or so it seemed), and yet, we were also very much at home and very much in the moment.
RELATED: A Wine Lover’s Guide to Exploring Spain’s Basque Country
It was here in our comfortable, brief Spanish life that I discovered the wines of Huerta de Albalá and the words of Vicente Taberner Carsi, its founder and president:
“We live and work to produce one of the finest red wines in Spain; a wine with the character, goodness and strength of the pilgrim who devotes each day to preparing his spirit for its culminating moment, because uncorking a great wine is like reaching Plaza del Obradoiro in Santiago de Compostela for the pilgrim. So before sipping those last drops, you cast your mind back and realise that the best thing was not getting there but the whole journey: every day, every supplication, every friend made along the way, every bottle of wine.”
Uncorking Huerta de Albalá
Huerta de Albalá was a short drive from Arcos, through the countryside, not unlike the high deserts of Washington’s wine region. With the mountains of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park in the distance we arrived to the winery, a French Chateau-style structure seamlessly blending into the surrounding landscape. Tours and tastings are by appointment only, but easy to arrange and your personal host will provide you with a tour of the winemaking facilities as well as masterfully convey the family’s passion, principles, values and vision.
Not surprisingly, the grapes grown on the 91-hectare estate are similar to those found in Washington: Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. However, unlike Washington, among the 225,000 vines at Huerta de Albalá, the native grapes of Tintilla de Rota can also be found. The winery also produces white wines from 160 hectares of vineyards in nearby Jerez de la Frontera. Combining cutting-edge technology with artisanal winemaking techniques, the producers here harvest by hand, and depending on the wine, ferment in either stainless steel tanks, or 5,000-liter French Allier oak wine vats. The six wines made at Huerta de Albalá include:
- Barbazul White, 100% Chardonnay
- Barbazul Rosé, 100% Syrah
- Barbazul Red, a six-month barrel aged blend of Tintilla de Rota, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon
- Taberner, an 18-month barrel aged Syrah
- Taberner No. 1, aged 24 months, blend depends on the vintage
- Taberner No. 1 Syrah, aged 24-months (limited edition)
Each wine is distinctive and highly representative of the local Andalucían terroir with the Taberner No. 1’s as the showcase wines. The higher price-point of these bottles is reflective of the hand selection of not only the grape bunch, but individual grapes, as well as the fermentation process. Fermentation takes place in tapered wine barrels and without any mechanical pump overs or filtration. Rather these wines are manually punched down every two hours for a period of two weeks and then barrel aged in Allier oak barriques chosen after years of extensive research from specific French cooperages. The Taberner No. 1’s are big, aromatic reds with deep complexity and maturity. Much like a visit to Huerta de Albalá, they are not soon forgotten.
Wine is an art and tasting wine is a sensory experience, one that is highly personal and in which any number of things can influence the perception. I can certainly attest that tasting these wines both alongside the passionate team at the winery and while sitting quietly on the balcony of our hill top abode, places them among the more memorable wines I’ve experienced. And while I can’t recreate the encounter in my suburban home, I suspect that upon opening the Taberner No. 1 aging in my cellar years from now, the Arcos spirit will drift through the wine and I’ll find myself once again in my Spanish home in a dimension of time all its own.
“…each bottle contains a little part of the sentiments, the dreams and soul of all the people who made this possible….This is the essence of our wines….not to lose the soul that one day we poured into a dream called Huerta de Albalá.” — Vicente Taberner Carsi