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The Wine Guys: Way of St. James Passes Through Spain's Wine Country

Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr

Every July hundreds of thousands of people make a pilgrimage from the Pyrenees on France’s border to Santiago de Compostela on Spain’s northwest coast. The passage is historically known as the El Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James, a route taken by pilgrims who were delivering the remains of St James for burial. Alas, the good apostle was beheaded during the Middle Ages for preaching the gospel in Spain.

Theoretically, to finish the 1,500-mile trek is penance for one’s sins, but many people make it for the heck of it. Fortunately for the weary, most routes conveniently pass through Spain’s wine country where one's thirst can be sinfully slaked. There’s nothing like slugging down some wine on the way to confession.

We like to walk, but pounding the asphalt for absolution and wine isn’t on our bucket lists. We're good for looking at a map, however, and pretending.

Much of the northern route passes through Basque Country, La Rioja, Navarra and Galicia. The latter is home to Rias Baixas, which produces some refreshing albarinos after those long walks. Albarino is a great match to seafood and shellfish and is one of our favorite apertifs for spring.

Here are wines to pour while poring over the map:

  • Camino Txacoli 2015 ($16). From Basque Country, this wine made from hondurrabi zuri grapes has a nice fizz typical of the region. It puts a spin on classic grapefruit and melon notes. Good way to start your fantasy trek.

  • Bodegas de la Marques Valserrano Reserva Rioja 2011 ($20). If you are looking for a reasonably priced rioja to age for 5-10 years, this is a good deal. Sturdy tannins give it great body, but sweet blackberry and cherry fruit give it big, forward flavors with a good dose of oak.

  • Bodegas Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordon Grand Reserva 2005 ($15). The blend in this price-worthy rioja is tempranillo (80 percent), garnacha, mazuelo and graciano. Wow, huge and ripe dark berry flavors with a dash of spice, oak and vanilla.

  • Castilla y Leon Granza Tempranillo 2015 ($15). From the Ribera del Duero region, this tempranillo has ripe dark berry flavors with a cranberry and earthy aroma, soft texture and lingering complexity.

  • Pazo das Bruxas Albarino 2015 $16). This reasonably priced white wine from Rias Baixas has refreshing acidity, simplicity and elegance and with peach, lime aromas. This is a nice aperitif in warmer weather.

  • Vinas del Vero La Miranda de Secastilla Garnarcha Blanca 2013 ($15). From Somotano in the Navarra region, this is very different. Made from garnacha blanca grapes is incredibly aromatic with peach and tropical fruit notes. Different is good!

  • Condes de Albarei Albarino 2015 ($15). White peach and apple flavors dominate this aromatic and round albarino.

  • Terras Gauda Badía de San Campio Albarino 2015 ($20). We like the tangerine and orange flavors of this delicious, refreshing and soft albarino.


  • Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley 2013 ($27). This zesty blend of all five Bordeaux grapes sang when we served it alongside grilled steak. Deep and dark with rich cherry/berry flavors and scents. Ready to drink now or age 3-5 years.

  • Dutcher Crossing Taylor Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($48). New to us, this Dry Creek Valley producer impressed us with all its wines. The cabernet is a killer for those who like a fruit-forward style that hits 10 on the delicious scale and that is thanks in part to the syrah that makes up 20 percent of the blend. Ripe blackberry and spice aromas with richly textured blackberry and spice flavors. You will enjoy Dutcher Crossing's flavorful Maple Vineyard zinfandel too.

  • Beringer The Waymaker Red Wine Paso Robles 2014 ($28). This mélange of mostly syrah and cabernet along with petite sirah, malbec, mourvedre, petite verdot and tannat produces a abundantly rich and elegant red wine. Effusive blueberry and blackberry nose. In the mouth cherry, blueberry and cherry flavors are accented by delightful spicy elements. This is a terrific effort by Beringer and well worth the price. Awesome!

  • Grove Mill Pinot Noir Wairau Valley Marlborough New Zealand 2013 ($20). This pinot noir from New Zealand will give you some insight about the increasing interest in this finicky grape grown in the southern hemisphere. Spice and cherry elements dominate the nose and palate in a thirst-quenching package. Very well balanced and easy to drink.

  • Joseph Drouhin Côte De Beaune-Villages 2014 ($29). This red burgundy made from 100 percent pinot noir would be a terrific introduction to those readers not familiar with this appellation. A typical expressive cherry accented pinot noir nose with cranberry and cherry flavors with some spice elements. Not complicated just pleasing to drink and at a decent price for a burgundy.

  • Concannon Vineyard Petite Sirah 2014 ($20). For decades we have enjoyed this delicious petite sirah from the Livermore Valley. Very rich texture with intense, focused blackberry and blueberry fruit flavors. Concannon specializes in this grape variety and there are even better, single-vineyard versions, albeit for more money.

  • Ron Rubin Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2013 ($40). This unique region of the Russian River Valley produces some interesting wines. The Rubin pinot noir has bright cherry and plum flavors with a good dose of spice and cocoa. Fermented in stainless steel, it's profile is clean and medium bodied.

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