On August 29th, the Vuelta España (the Spanish equivalent of the Tour de France) begins its three week journey in the oddest of places: Holland. After briefly passing through Germany and enjoying a stage finish in Belgium, the race enters its home country for its final two weeks, passing through many wine regions and providing us with plenty of excuses to drink the local wines. While the racers will have to cover 2,040 miles, including five mountain-top finishes and three individual time trials, we thought we would just drink seven bottles. Are you fit enough to join us?
Since neither of us are particularly fast starters, we have decided to wait until Stage 4 on September 1st to begin the festivities. This stage spans three countries and is the longest of the whole race at 224 km. The finish is Liege, and the course through the Ardennes promises to be similar to a spring classic. We will be drinking the local beer, La Chouffe Belgian Ale (750ml $9.99) and eating moules frites with mayo while taking in the action on the short, sharp climbs.
We start the Spanish wine drinking in earnest for Stage 5 on September 3rd when the riders hit the first mountains of the race. We’ll have the 2007 Viñedos de Ithaca “Akyles” Priorat ($21.99) from vineyards just outside the idyllic, highly perched town of Gratallops, one of the centers of production for Priorat. A blend of Garnacha Negra, Garnacha Peluda (translated as “hairy garnacha”—don't worry this unusual grape variety is actually quite delicious) and a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine boasts incredible balance at nearly 15% alcohol (only Joseph Swan Zinfandel comes to mind as a wine that is so simultaneously fruit forward, rich and finessed at once).
The riders tackle the Valencia Formula 1 circuit with a 30k individual time trial for Stage 7 on September 5th. While each rider suffers alone against the clock, we’ll drink a bottle of the 2005 Celler la Muntanya Almoroig (Was $29.99; Now $14.99), which shares a similarly fruity yet balanced flavor profile with the aforementioned Priorat, perhaps with a bit more oak influence. Supple, fruit forward, and a lot of wine for las pesetas—ay perdona—los euros.
On Stage 10, September 8th, the riders will hit the Cresta del Gallo climb and many of the main contenders are tipped to show their cards on this famous ascent. We’ll be rooting for an old school rider to win (maybe Valverde?) while we enjoy the old school charm of the 2003 Primitivo Quiles “Raspay” Tinto Alicante, Spain ($22.99) from the oldest producer of wine in the Alicante region. This winery dates back to the late 18th century! If you enjoy old school Rioja, you will surely enjoy this slightly richer, more oxidative, but wonderfully original, take on classic Spanish winemaking. Braised lamb or short ribs, as well as aged cheeses, would be a perfect match for this incomparable staff favorite.
Another three passes are on the menu for the riders on the 191km Stage 11 on September 9th, including the Collado Bermejo, which has never been scaled in the race before. They will also tackle the 3,600 foot Moratalla climb with only 18km to go, setting up an exciting descent to the finish. We’ll have the 2007 Bodegas Olivares Altos de la Hoya, Jumilla ($10.99), a wine from the cooler Jumilla sub-zone of Las Hoyas de Santa Ana, a distinction that shows in the marked minerality and red fruited character of this Monastrell from old, ungrafted vines.
The Vuelta eases up for Stage 15 on September 14th, with only a couple of smaller climbs early in the 170km stage. This will likely be a bunch finish, but we will hope for a breakaway. While the riders battle out the stage we will contemplate the complexities of the 1979 Albala Don PX Gran Reserva (375ml $29.99), a gloriously sweet wine made from Pedro Ximenez grapes that have been dried on mats and aged in earthen amphorae for all of these years. This very rich wine is a great match for a big plate of Spanish cheese. The adventurous should try a full throttle spicy and sweet wine versus a spicy and rich cheese pairing by buying a chunk of Valdeón or Cabrales, both top-notch Spanish blue cheeses.
For the final mountain contest of the Vuelta, Stage 19 on September 18th, the race covers four brutal mountain passes over 174 grueling kilometers. This will be the last chance for the pure climbers to press an advantage over the better time trialists in the race. Watching a stage this hard makes us a bit parched, so we’ll be refreshing ourselves with the 2008 Vidal Soblechero “Viña Clavidor” Verdejo, Rueda, Spain ($12.99), a wine that manages to quench your thirst as well as impress your palate with its focused white peach, melon and mineral flavors from 50- to 80-year-old vines outside the tiny winemaking town of La Seca.
Joe Manekin & Gary Westby