Yak's Home Page
Introducing Yak
Yak's Rating Scale
Yak's Burgundy Primer
Tasting Notes Archive
Wine & Food Adventures

PICTURES * All highlighted text has pictures "behind" it!! * PICTURES

The Andalusian Experience


During the second part of June 1998 we spent a week of 'hard-labor' traveling and sightseeing in the southern part of Spain. The culturally and historically rich Andalusia (and the British controlled Gibraltar) offers so much to do and see that one week is far too short to do justice to the region.
We flew from Tel-Aviv to Malaga, picked a car, and did about a thousand miles visiting Malaga, Gibraltar, Cadiz, Sevilla, Cordoba and a few other places.
Lively towns, amazing Moorish (and later - Christian) architecture, fantastic food, wonderful wines and the most beautiful and interesting hotels we stayed in - all combined to add pleasure to this fascinating week.
As usual, we tried to sample the best local cuisine in the best restaurants available. As for wines, we decided to drink only Spanish wine during our trip. Except for one grand bottle of 1970 Vega Sicilia Unico and a couple of ugly Rioja that are imported to Israel, I have had no experience with Spanish wines. I did equip myself with a vintage-card and a couple of famous names, but as yours truly have learned over the years - when in doubt go for the expensive items. Statistically at least that is one's best chance.

Malaga - The main sea-side town of the Costa del Sol where we spent the first and the last day of our trip. Both nights we stayed in the Gibralfaro Parador. An ancient palace turned into a hotel, overlooking the town and its bay from the top of the steep hill.
For the uninitiated: There are about 80 'Paradores' in Spain. Most are renovated old palaces or castles that have very few rooms and require reservation long time in advance. By nature of their former function, most Paradores are strategically (i.e superbly) situated and provide a unique experience.
Malaga itself, though perhaps less rich in historical monuments than the likes of Sevilla and Cordoba, is nevertheless a charming and lively town with many walk-only streets and alleys. Shops and markets of every kind with people bustling around, sitting outside in coffee houses and restaurants. Great atmosphere!
We took a light lunch on the Parador's veranda, where we had our first taste of the region's unique (sherry-like) style. Manzanilla, the lightweight dry sherry accompanied 'Gambas al Pil Pil' (a chili and olive-oil stew of prawns) and a plate of assorted smoked fish.
On our first night we dined at the Parador's restaurant which, as we soon learned, is the best restaurant in town.
We started with Traginiro for aperitif. A demi-sec Malaga (sherry-like) wine. Sweetish, full-bodied and very tasty. Served with chicken dice in rosemary.
The menu had many interesting items. We decided to take Tapas for two and perhaps one or two other things. When we said so to the head waiter, he gave us a bad eye and said that he will come back to us after the Tapas to see if we really want more food. Well, here is what we got. And no, we did not order anything else after that feast for kings...

Assortment of dark looking meats and sausages
Sweetish giant shrimps in their shell
Strange looking (but very tasty) mussels
Freshly smoked tuna
Thinly sliced octopus in garlic
Prawns al Pil Pil (yes, again)
Stuffed Sea Urchin gratined
Tiny green beans
Small clams in a sauce

Elciego, Rioja Riserva 1987, Conde de la Salceda - Dark color. Wonderfully forward nose, complex but not fruity. Smooth silky mature and multi-flavored taste. Good acidity and soft tannins.
Excellent-plus! MARK 17.5/20.

On the last day of our trip we returned to Malaga. This time we dined in 'El Cenachero', a local fish restaurant in the town itself. Not a word of English there but the food... Some four different Tapas for starters, then a super-duper seafood Paella.

Major de Mandoza, Albarino - White wine with no indication of the vintage. Profoundly fruity and pleasure-giving nose that reminded me of Alsatian Riesling. Pleasant on the palate but lacks concentration. Weak body, totally devoid of acidity.
Good. MARK 15/20.

Gibraltar - We drove some six hours from Malaga, leaving the main costal road to visit the interesting hill town of Ronda and then driving thru small and winding country roads to reach Gibraltar, that huge rock that almost kisses Africa from the European side and forms the gateway from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean sea.
We stayed two days in this strange mixture of a small mountainous 1930s England in the southernmost tip of Spain. "The Rock" is a magnificent old-world stylish hotel from the days when the sun never dawned on the British empire. If it was good enough for the likes of Noel Conrad, Churchill and the Queen - it was good enough for us... Our room was more like a suite. Two small decanters - one with whiskey and the other with sherry - awaiting us on the 'living room' table, a large ceiling-ventilator (in addition to the airconditioning) slowly turning above the huge bed, etc.
Driving up the narrow winding streets to the top of the cliff offers incredible views. There, at the 'Upper Rock', there is a kind of nature reserve where among other things one can see the Berbery Apes, the only wild monkeys living in Europe.
But the climax of Gib (that's how they call it) for us was an amazing four-hour 'Dolphin Safari' boat trip we took. There, in the straits of Gibraltar, there is a large population of dolphins and whales. These are not your zoo-type dolphins, and there is no guarantee you'll see one. But we were plenty lucky :)
Apparently, this time of the year is the best, as there are large flocks of fish coming in and out of the Mediterranean. Our skipper followed congregations of feeding sea-gulls on the sea and soon enough we started to spot the dolphins. These playful intelligent creatures kept swimming, diving and jumping up into the air while escorting our mid-sized boat. By the time we got back I think we saw - at close quarters - more than 200 dolphins. An unforgettable experience!
Now for nourishment. Both evenings we dined in the grill-room of our hotel, "The Rock". This gave us the opportunity to order two bottles of wine - white and red - and ask them to keep half of both for our second night.
First evening:
Salad of lightly smoked shrimps
Scallops and Zuccini in yellow butter-sauce
Prawn soup (bisque style)
Berbery Duck with fruits in brown sauce
Grilled Langoustines

Second evening
Confit of Duck in Mandarin
Mussels in yellow butter-sauce
Welsh Lamb ribs, coated with bread-crumbs in sweetish brown sauce
Lightly gratined Lobster

Don Pedro de Soutomaior, Albarino 1997, Adegas Galegas - A white wine from Galicia in the northwestern part of Spain. Very light in color, a tiny bit 'spritzy'. Well developed aromatic nose. Delicate dry taste yet very fruity. Very much reminding of a good dry Alsatian Riesling. Medium body and superb acidity.
Excellent! MARK: 17/20.

Vina Ardanza, Rioja Riserva 1989, Bodegas de la Rioja Alta - Quite dark in color, clearing a bit around the rim. A fantastic combination of 'Bourgogne Nose' and 'Rhone Nose'. Pretty developed aromas with essence of dry fruit. Soft and velvety on the palate, mouthfilling and full of delicate flavors. Immense length though far from blockbuster.
Superb-plus!! MARK: 18.5/20.

Carmona - From Gibraltar we drove to the Atlantic port town of Cadiz, where we looked around a bit and had a simple Tapas lunch. From there to Sevilla, the capital of Andalusia. Actually, our hotel - the Parador de Carmona - is in the beautiful old small town of Carmona, some 20 miles east of Sevilla.
This Parador is really something! Strategically situated at the top of the hill, this Alcazar, the ancient palace of Pedro I, was renovated and turned into the most beautiful hotel where the looks and atmosphere of the old palace has been masterfully preserved.

We stayed three nights at the Parador, from where we ventured on full-day trips to both Sevilla and Cordoba. Too tired to do anything else, on the first evening we naturally dined at the Parador.

Stuffed calamari in their own ink sauce on a bed of rice
Three Andalusian cold soups (gazpacho, almonds, avocado)
Thick assorted-seafood stew
Deer chunks in brown sauce with wonderful mushrooms
Caramel Cream, pine-seeds cake, figs and cherries

Torremilanos, Ribera del Duero 1990, Bodega Penalba Lopez - Impressive blackish-red color. Weak fruit nose with plenty of wood. Pleasant, smooth taste without much concentration or complexity. Reasonably balanced. A nice wine
Very-good. MARK: 16/20.
Sevilla - We spent some 12 hours in the proud (and unbearably hot!) capital of Andalusia. The main focal points are the Alcazar - a magnificent architectural feast from the Arabic golden age - and the Cathedral, the third largest in the world after St. Pietro in the Vatican and London's St. James. If for no other reason, these two deserve a special trip to Sevilla. In the early evening we went to see a flamenco show which - in spite of being a purely touristic spectacle - was nevertheless extremely exciting and superbly performed.
For dinner we sampled the restaurant in Sevilla (at least according to the concierge at our hotel) - "Oriza", situated just beyond the Alcazar gardens.

Ox-tail soup
Anchovies in salt and onions with thick gazpacho and croutons
King Prawns and gratined Scallops
Suckling Lamb kidneys
Orange-chocolate cream

Vina Arana, Rioja Riserva 1991, Bodegas de la Rioja Alta - Medium dark-red, slightly paler at the rim. Nose-full of fresh cherries and some vanilla. Reminded me of a young and fruity (B). Multi-flavored on the palate with plenty of winyness and concentration. Impressive length, good acidity and excellent balance. Very young, will certainly become even better in years!
Superb!! MARK: 18/20.
Cordoba - Some 60 miles east of Carmona lies this gem of a city. Slightly less hot than Sevilla, Cordoba boasts both a lively modern center and an unsurpassed old part with the magnificent Mesquita (Mosque turned Cathedral) and its adjacent Juderia - The ancient Jewish quarter.
The Mesquita is simply breathtaking. The huge moorish Mosque with its thousand(!) two-colors granite and alabaster columns was augmented with Gothic and Baroque elements to become an amazing multi-style cathedral. Even more impressive (IMHO) than the Alcazar and Cathedral of Sevilla!
The Juderia, a crowded maze of narrow alleys and streets serves today as charming tourist-trap of small shops offering the usual "local" souvenirs.
As an Israeli and a Jew I was somewhat moved to find a "Yehuda Ha'Levi Plaza" and a statue of "Maimonides" standing on such named plaza (In Malaga we saw a "Ibn Gabirol" monument). To all you 'Goyim' out there: These three men were great Jewish poets doctors and scientists who lived in Andalusia at the height of the Arab Golden Age.
We took lunch in "El Churrase" a simple, locally crowded, restaurant that was recommended to us as the best in town.

Boiled and salted fresh King Prawns
Cordoban-style Sea-bass
Hearty Ox-tail stew
Caramel Cream

Beronia, Rioja Riserva 1991 - The better Rioja they had on the menu, cost all of $10! Strong assertive color. Light aromas on the nose with noticeable wood. Light and pleasant on the palate but not lacking in concentration. Extremely tasty. Great bargain!
Very-good-plus. MARK: 16.5/20.

Reach Me? yak@yakshaya.com

Yak's Home Page
Introducing Yak
Yak's Rating Scale
Yak's Burgundy Primer
Tasting Notes Archive
Wine & Food Adventures

Copyright 1996-2003.
Jacob "Yak" Shaya.