April 25, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

Camel races are a good time, to be sure, but after a trip to relatively alcohol-free Dubai, my mother and I needed to follow up with some wine. What better place to do the trick than a couple of days in Spanish wine country?

Truth is, though, that pretty much all of Spain is wine country — head in any direction and you’ll end up in one of the 62 (!) official Spanish wine regions (called denominaciones de origen, or DO’s). But on this trip we had our sights set on undoubtedly the nation’s most famous wine region, la Rioja, and, more precisely, a return to one of the country’s – and the world’s – most prestigious hotels, Marqués de Riscal.

Do you recognize it? Unless you’ve been under an architecture rock (totally possible), the structure’s undulating steel panels might seem a little familiar. Perhaps they remind you of the artsy exterior of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, or maybe the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, just to name a few.

Designed by revered architect Frank Gehry, the Marqués de Riscal Hotel was built in 2006 as an addition to its namesake winery, located in the miniature pueblo of Elciego. Its goal: to raise awareness around wine and the region, and also of course to increase visits to the winery itself. And oh boy, has it ever worked: Annual visits have surged from a humble 5,000 (pre-hotel) to over 60,000. It worked for me too, I guess, as I’ve stayed there twice now and can only hope that we’ll go back again one day (fingers crossed!).

Apart from lounging around in our rad hotel room while spying the Elciego Cathedral from a cushy bed, we also went on a tour of the winery’s bodegas, and even ventured outside of town to some of our other favorite La Rioja spots.

First was the pueblo of Laguardia, which sits precariously on a maze of bodegas and, as such, cars aren’t permitted to traverse the fragile, walled city.

Then we headed to the village of Ezcaray to do a little shopping (undoubtedly my mother’s favorite pastime). There, we stopped by the Mantas Ezcaray workshop to peruse its shelves, which bulge with rainbow-hued scarves and fuzzy blankets (many of which are exported around the world and sold at much higher prices!).

On my last visit to Ezcaray, I stayed at Casa Masip (pictured above) and dined at Michelin-star-rated Echaurren — both recommended, especially the restaurant, which is one of my favorites in Spain.

And that was my mom’s trip to Spain (and beyond, really): Dubai, La Rioja, and even quick visits to Segovia and La Granja. Next up: My father will be making his second and much-anticipated visit to Europe. Stay tuned for more family adventures, but next time — I’m guessing — without the camels.

December 20, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Spain, Travel

I knew l’d like my latest guest poster, Lauren. After all, she hails from the US, is married to a Spaniard, and loves Spanish food with the same unconditional passion as yours truly. With that in mind, she and I decided to swap guest posts this week, waxing poetic about none other than our not-so-secret love affair with our adopted cuisine. Once you’re done working up your appetite here, be sure to stop by her blog, Spanish Sabores, to read my post about holiday foods you should plan to pig out when visiting Spain during the winter.

As Christmas draws near, I once again find myself struggling to buy last minute gifts for friends and family. After traveling back and forth from Spain for almost three years now, the pretty fans, colorful ceramics, and cute flamenco aprons just won’t cut it anymore. So what do you do when you run out of gift ideas but your loved ones expect something Spanish? Resort to food gifts– and trust me, no one will complain!

Spain is full of potential food souvenirs. In fact, Spaniards themselves often bring a famed food from their town or region when visiting family and friends. Whether it is a homemade blood sausage, some marinated olives, or cookies and pastries made by the nuns in the local convent, Spaniards love giving food gifts.

So what can a visitor to Spain take back as a gift? Here are my five suggestions for delicious food gifts that will have friends and family wanting to hop the next flight to Spain!

Note: Unfortunately, as an American, my list cannot include any of Spain’s delicious pork products. Individuals are currently not allowed to transport sausage, ham, or other meat products into the United States. For more information about what you can and cannot bring into the US see this page.

5 Delicious Food Gifts from Spain

1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Did you know that Spain is the number one producer of olive oil in the world? Every year the country produces a variety of different olive oils that vary in taste and texture. Pop in to any supermarket and be prepared to see a wide selection.

2. Pimentón de la Vera: Pimentón is the Spanish word for paprika, and the most famous comes from La Vera in Cáceres, Spain. But if Cáceres is not a part of your itinerary, don’t worry, most supermarkets and specialty shops carry this coveted spice. Pimentón de la Vera comes in three types: sweet, semi-sweet, and hot. It adds an amazing smoky flavor and a nice orange-red color to Spanish dishes.

3. Artisan Honey: I never realized how many honey varieties there were until I came to Spain. Here you can find flavors like rosemary, thyme, lemon and orange. There is creamed honey, honey with nuts inside, and honeycomb. Different regions compete each year to be called the best honey in Spain.

4. Marzipan Sweets: Marzipan sweets are made primarily of almonds and sugar. They are most famous in Toledo, where each shop has its own special recipe, but you can find them sold all over Spain. A box of marzipan makes a delicious gift, and the sweets are also quite beautiful to look at!

5. Red Wine: Spain is the third largest producer of wine in the world and has several excellent wine regions. My favorite is the Ribera del Duero region in Castile and León. A good bottle of Spanish wine can be found for around 10€, making it worth your while to bring back a few bottles.

So forget about the shot glasses and T-shirts you were planning to buy and try the supermarket or (even better) local market instead. You’ll have some great, unique gifts and your family and friends will get a real taste of Spain!

February 2, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain, Video

Back in December, I wished so hard NOT to go scuba diving that all flights in Spain were cancelled. Yeah, it was kind of a bummer, but we turned our sour grapes into vino by taking a trip to Spanish wine country. Here’s a little look back at the exotic trip to the Canary Islands that got replaced by a chilly journey around Ribera del Duero.

If you are having trouble viewing this video, please click here.

April 12, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine

Every two weeks (give or take) for the last couple of years, Jacobo and I have been going to wine tastings at one of our favorite restaurants in Madrid, Rubaiyat. At these tastings we usually try five to six wines, usually all from Spain. Sometimes the wines all come from one bodega or sometimes there is a theme (Riojas, for example), and usually the wine is presented by a sommelier, or an expert from either the bodega or the industry. So I decided that I should share these wines with you since there is so much to discover about Spanish wine, not to mention that you can find many of them in the US at very reasonable prices.

This last week’s tasting was of Gramona wines, a 130 year old bodega located in the Penedès wine region of Barcelona and that is considered the most well known bodega in Spain for cava. What is cava you ask? Well, it’s basically like champagne – the only differences being the place the grapes are grown, the climate, and the grape varietals. The method for making cava, however, is exactly the same as champagne. All of the wines we tried were quite good, my favorite being the fifth – the Gramona Argent. Now let me tease you by telling you about each of them.

    Gessamí 2009. This white wine, made from Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon blanc grapes, was described as a walk through a garden – the perfect wine for spring. It smells of white flowers and seeded fruit such as apricots. In the mouth there is a balance of sweetness and acidity, which makes it particularly refreshing. This is a wine typically best consumed within a year or so of its vintage.
    Gramona Sauvignon Blanc 2008 has been aged three months in the barrel. It smells of fruit and wood and has a denseness to it that makes it a great pairing with a fatty fish. It would also pair well with shellfish or a salad with tropical fruit. This wine can age up to a couple of years before drinking.
    Gramona Rosado Pinot Noir is a Rosé which has just a tinge of pinkish-brown and is made only using Pinot noir grapes, which is entirely unique to this bodega. It has a strangely familiar scent of sweet red fruit and is creamy in the mouth, with a subtle, light bubble. The wine would pair well with appetizers (think Spanish-style appetizers).
    Gramona Imperial 2006 was voted best cava in Spain for that same year. It smells of toast, cookies, nuts and even a touch of apple and is creamy in the mouth. With its fine bubbles, it is easy to drink. It’s versatile and would go well with lunch or with appetizers.
    Gramona Argent 1998, my favorite, is a cava made with Chardonnay grapes and aged 36 months in the barrel. It’s a wine with more volume in the mouth and flavors of toasted hazelnut (which I love!), bread crust, and pastry. Like the others, it would pair well with appetizers, or in my opinion, nothing at all – I could be perfectly happy drinking it all night long just by itself!
    Vi de gel Gewürztraminer, our final wine, is an ice wine made with 100% Gewürztraminer grapes. An ice wine is a dessert wine made from grapes that are still frozen on the vine. The idea is that the grapes are full of frozen water, but the sugars and other solids remain unfrozen so that when the grapes are pressed you end up with a more concentrated amount of sweet wine. This wine in particular smells of flowers and honey. With a nice balance of sweetness and acidity, it would pair well with a blue cheese, foie gras, or chocolate cake (oh that sounds just horrible doesn’t it!?!!).

Now, don’t you think it’s time to try some Spanish wine?

March 3, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travels in Spain

I can’t even really begin to explain what a wonderful weekend I had! Saturday morning Jacob and I left for Elciego – the “City of Wine” and home to the bodega Marques de Riscal and its famous hotel designed by Frank Gehry. Jacob and I had passed by the hotel back in November when we were visiting the La Rioja wine region and had vowed that we would come back and stay there.

Arriving at the hotel you encounter gates that allow only guests past – the exquisite up close view, while coveted by all visitors to Elciego, is only reserved for those residing in the exclusive 40 room hotel. Up close, the hotel is brilliant with its different shades of titanium reflecting the sun. The colors mimic those of wine and grapes such that the very modern architecture seems to blend in naturally with its surroundings. The design itself is meant to be an abstract version of a grape vine with its three base pillars and vertically flowing waves of titanium. It’s stunning and nothing short of eye candy. We arrived a bit early (actually stopping by the cathedral in Burgos on the way) and treated ourselves to a glass of wine at the bar while we waited for our room to be available. And the room – wow! The room and bathroom were basically bigger than our flat in Madrid! And the view was just remarkable – the windows filled the entire length of the one wall (and nearly the entire height as well) giving us a near 180 degree view of the hotel on the left and then the entire hillside of Elciego including its cathedral. It was breathtaking. Oh, and there was another bottle of wine waiting for us there too, so we continued the “tasting”.

One tasting lead to another – but this time it was an actual tasting, as well as a tour. We spent an hour and half on a tour of the bodega, seeing their modern cellars as well as the old ones which contain wines as old as the 1870s! The tour was capped off with a few more wine tastings before we headed back to the hotel for a five course lunch….and more wine. After our heavenly lunch we siesta-ed Spanish style while gazing at the view of the cathedral….all the way into the evening when the cathedral lit up along with the rest of the small village. The perfect afternoon!

That evening we drove to another local pueblo, Laguardia, where we walked around the tiny little Basque village. We were mesmerized by its charming small streets and sweet little terrazas. The entire city has no cars due to the fact that beneath are nothing but fragile wine bodegas….well, that and I am fairly positive that no car (eh hem, except maybe my Smart!) would fit on such small streets. We had dinner at a quaint restaurant owned by an old women who insisted on giving the philosophical background of Jacobo’s name and also that we try wine from her husband’s bodega. It was a perfect La Rioja dinner.

Following dinner we returned to the hotel to visit the library to have drinks (yes – the library, located on the top floor of the building with views all around). While there, we received a text message from one of Jacob’s friends telling us that another couple (friend’s of ours) were indeed at the hotel as well! So, we called them up, and sure enough they were downstairs just finishing dinner and were heading up to join us for a drink! It was such a nice surprise to spend our Saturday nightcap enjoying a drink, wine to be exact, with friends.

The next day we spent the day at the famed Caudelie spa at the hotel. I’ve been to spas before, but wow, this one was incredible. The views of the vineyards coupled with the grape/wine based spa products completely put me in the zone. After a hot bath, massage and facial, I couldn’t have been more relaxed!

To finish off our adventure we headed back to Laguardia – the city just seemed too precious by night to miss by day. The city was even more darling in daylight with breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys as well as the tremendous mountain ranges. And the air smelled of bodega! It was incredible! Both the hotel we stayed in and the city of Laguardia were built on bodegas, so we could truly smell the wine lingering in the air wherever we went!

Our trip concluded with the three-plus hour drive home. It was just the most incredibly relaxing weekend ever. I can promise it won’t be my last visit there either!

In other exciting news, I will be coming home to SF in less than a week! I need to go to the consulate and pick up my visa!! I hope that I can visit with everyone then.