Wine & Travel

Snooth User: Richard Foxall

Vuelta begins... Wine and bicycling again

Posted by Richard Foxall, Aug 19, 2011.

As many of you know, vellovino has a blog that combines cycling and wine.  And I happen to think the best way to see any wine country is on a bike--whether that takes one day or many.  So we're teaming up to cover the wine territory of the Spanish Vuelta, probably the third most important stage race in cycling.  (TdF and Giro d'Italia being the tops.)

This year's Tour de France was a bit disappointing, except that the deserving Cadel Evans, from the vinously outstanding region of Australia (there you go, StephenHarvey!) won. The best wine region the race traveled through was the Piemonte in Italy. 

The most recent stage race was the Tour of Utah and, as for wine, enough said, although I think there might be some potential for Tempranillo there.  But nothing to write home about yet.  If you want the secret history of beer brewing and the Mormons, just send me a private message, but wine is not in the Deseret DNA.

Thankfully, the Vuelta a Espana begins tomorrow.  I'll cover the first week or so, and vellovino will pick it up from there.  We've both tried to cover an entire race by ourselves, and it's a huge labor, so we've come up with a shared plan.  I'll get back on the post and we'll switch off after that.  Or so we've planned.  Meanwhile, he'll also be posting his WA state v. Spanish head-to-heads on his blog, LuchaVino ( And I'm planning a guest spot there--look out for ringers! Anyway, think of me as the equipe--this is vellovino's territory that I am encroaching on.

So the first stage is a team time trial in Benidorm.  Not a place familiar to a lot of wine drinkers, but definitely to the warm beer drinkers of Britain.  It's a tourism town for "fun in the sun" for folks from less balmy climates. Known for its prevalence in package tours of the sort parodied in Monty Python's "Travel Agent" sketch.  Here's a link to the amazing live version at the Hollywood Bowl: So maybe we should give in and drink a Watney's Red Barrel beer.  Which was a favorite of mine when I was 18, and my recollection is that it's not half bad.  But there is a winery in the area, which is also called Marina Baixa: They seem to make wines for "sharing with family in the Marina Baixa tradition."  I'm paraphrasing, but the funny thing is the varieties are non-traditional, international varieties like Merlot, Chardonnay, Shiraz, and Cabernet.  Well, it's worth a try. 

Good news is the next few days are going to take us through some much better wine territory, with wines I've tried and really like.  Believe me, the nightly quaff for the riders could be a lot better in Spain than France this year. Maybe we'll even drag an expert in Spanish wine into this.  GregT, ready to saddle up? 


Reply by Lucha Vino, Aug 20, 2011.

The Team Time Trial (TTT) is happening right now.  If you have Universal Sports on your TV you can watch.  There are lots of other Internet Video Streaming feeds too.  Check out It is a good source for streaming video.

Today the racers are near the Alicante region featuring the red variety Monastrell - which seems to be the predominant grape in SE Spain.  I wonder what type of "recovery drink" the racers will enjoy tonight?

The first Vuelta Espana Lucha Vino matchup will feature Bodetas Castano Hecula Monestrell v. McCrea Mourvedre since the race treks through the South East of Spain in the first week.  I should have the match results up on my blog Sunday night.  It is hooked in to the RSS feed for the Wine Press so you should see it show up there.

Hop on the Vuelta train with me and Foxall.  It is going to be a great ride!

Reply by Richard Foxall, Aug 20, 2011.

Right there with Vello.  This race is definitely going to feature a lot of mourvedre aka Monastrell.  I've been reading Oz Clarke's updated Grapes and Wines since I bought it at Powell's in Oregon last month and really enjoyed his discussion of the grape.  As threads here have pointed out, it can be "barnyardy."  Seems to either mimic or actually harbor brettanomyces which gives it some of that smell, but even the cleanest versions have a whiff of it. 

Cancellara (Fabian, if you aren't a big fan of cycling) led his Leopard team to victory in today's TTT (team time trial).  The cycling press says he's not looking to win the GC, although he's one of the strongest racers in the pack. He's also the world champion at time trialing. No top 10 finisher from the TdF is in the race, although Denis Menchov, whose team was not invited to TdF, is in the race, and his teammate Carlos Sastre is the 2008 TdF champ.  Menchov has won the Vuelta twice and has finished in the top five at TdF three times.  His team, GEOX, didn't do well, but the difficulty is not insurmountable.  Menchov and Sastre are 34 and 36, so this is the last chance for them to win a grand tour, most likely.

But on to the second stage and the wines involved.  We're heading into Jumilla and Yecla territory. But I'm holding back a little, because this stage, from La Nucia to Playas de Orihuela, stays close to the Costa Blanca, the beaches.  We'll go right through the uplands next.  But the Costa Brava does have wineries, and they produce everything from Muscat to internationalist blends with cabernet sauvignon in them.  You can get a glimpse at this merchant:

Lots of choices, and monastrell (mourvedre, or mataro if you like) figures in a lot of them, but there's tempranillo, too.  After this relatively flat stage the lads can wash down the training meal with anything that suits them.  The stage will likely end in a sprint, and the GC favorites will just try to stay safe.  But over the next few stages, I'll have some favorites of my own to talk about--the wines of Yecla and Jumilla.  If you think of Menchov and Sastre as Gran Reservas of the Rioja variety, these regions are striving to become the "best young riders."


Reply by Richard Foxall, Aug 22, 2011.

Okay, Stage Three is over, sorry I didn't preview it, but we're having a little trouble connecting from work.  (Snooth, I'm using an outdated version of IE, but our IT department won't approve an update.) This stage took us from Petrer to Totana, through Murcia.  Don't confuse this with Mencia. There are three DOs here, Yecla, Jumilla and Bullas.  I'm going to hit on Yecla first. 

Long a region with low respect, it's producing some good wines these days.  Yecla is Monastrell country, with some Garnacha mixed in.  The wines used to be the over-hot, alcoholic wines that many outside Spain wanted nothing to do with.  The winemakers are reining it in and I've had a couple good wines from the region. 

Pablo Lastra won today's stage, and a trend is emerging:  Gran Reservas are the order of the day.  He's 35, so the age is already on him and he's ready for release. This puts him in the leader's red jersey (fitting, for a country known for aged reds) for now.  But it's still early.

Tomorrow's stage four takes us from Baza to Sierra Nevada.  Not a renowned wine area, so far as I can tell.  But this site talks about the food and says you wash it down with the local wine:

So let's go back and pick up the Jumilla wines from today.  Juan Gil makes a highly regarded Monastrell, better in some vintages than others.  (WS put it pretty high in the top 100 a couple years ago, if that's your thing.)  I'm a fan, to be sure. 

This stage is hilly and should separate the pack further.  It's pretty clear that someone is going to make his name soon, and it won't be one of the names or early favorites. 

After stage four, it's back to wine country with some plentiful, if not highly regarded, plonk. 

Reply by spikedc, Aug 23, 2011.

Fox, nice coverage so far.

My Mother is from the Murcia region (Cartegena) so i have had Monastrell a few times mainly Santa Ana Monastrell, Jumilla, always enjoyed it but not as much as Rioja.

Reply by dmcker, Aug 23, 2011.

Fox, I don't know anyone who still uses IE, and I'm including people up at Redmond. Firefox, at least (hey, you must appreciate the name), or Chrome. Or even Safari if you get enlightened and help Apple's bottom line further. ;-)

And the Bullas?

Reply by Richard Foxall, Aug 25, 2011.

d: We'll stay on topic here and not get into relative market shares of browsers, but my big problem lately has been that I have been posting at work--my evening hours have been more hectic than my professional life--and my employer, a government agency,  tightly controls anything ending in .exe.  But today I did download Firefox (which we use at home along with a more recent IE) and things are better.  So far the program police have not come and arrested me.

Now, back to the race.  Stage 4 put Sylvain Chavanel in the lead.  The big story was that Daniel Moreno poured it on in the last 400 meters to win the stage and grab second.  But Moreno doesn't expect to win the GC.  Lastras faded badly, and Igor Anton, a pre-race favorite, cracked.  Pre-race favorites don't always win, of course, but this is early for him to be dropped. Mark Cavendish left the race--there's another big name gone-- and former TdF champ Carlos Sastre is losing time--in more ways than one.

Today it was onto Stage Five, and the Vuelta went to Valdepenas.  In California, there's a grape called Valdepenas, It's probably really Tempranillo or something else that was brought from Spain.  But there's alsoa DO in Spain of that name.  And guess what the red wine grape is? Tempranillo.  The Vuelta may not be getting the riders, but even without going to the best regions right off the bat, there's some decent wines from good varieties.  Valdepenas is almost surrounded by La Mancha, so you can throw those in the mix.  The white grapes are mostly Airen, possibly the world's most planted grape by area.  But not very exciting.  Stick with the red even though it's hot. Oh, but on those labels, it could be called Cencibel, the local name for Tempranillo.  I've had a couple pleasant bottles from the area. 

Moreno's team leader, Joaquin Rodriguez, took this stage for his country and team. He was assisted by Moreno, who is still in second overall.  Chavanel is still in the lead. Fuglsang, the Day 1 leader, is right off the top, and another one I am watching is Luis Leonel Sanchez, who showed some mettle at the TdF.  He's a minute back.

Now it's onto Cordoba for Stage Six.  Think Montilla-Moriles, where the expression Amontillado comes from.  But they can't use it on their own wines anymore, apparently.  Still, most of the Pedro Ximenez used in sherry is apparently shipped from there.  So drink some sherry and eat some manchego and marcona almonds while you read this.  We can expect an ending sprint, as the race is relatively flat, so maybe the leaders will stay out of the fray. With Cavendish out, who is going to be the sprinter to watch? 

Reply by Richard Foxall, Aug 26, 2011.

Oh, boy, my counting is off, that was Stage 7 I was supposed to write about.  Which ended the race for Tyler Farrar, who was a favorite to win the sprint and instead got boxed in and crashed. 


Stage 6 ended with Chavanel still in the lead, and, once again, a team in dissent on the way into Cordoba.  The Vuelta course (ignoring the wine connections for now) has been pretty interesting and a bit treacherous, with Stage Six breaking apart during a descent.  Descents are where riders get hurt from crashes, and it's not possible generally to use superior descending skills to win unless you are already separated from the pack.  Landis's amazing comeback stage win in the TdF (and the one that revealed his doping) was based on breaking away from the peleton in a race with many steep downhills.  Doping or no, he had amazing descending skills, probably from his training as a mountain biker.  Of course, one feature of steroid and testosterone use is fearlessness, but, as someone said about Barry Bonds, you've still got to hit the ball.  Stage 6 had a group descent, which is even more treacherous. 

But Stage 7 did end in a sprint, an ill fated one, as Farrar and others crashed at speed.  Ouch.  The race went from Almaden to Talavera del Reina; Almaden was an early brand of wine in California, and continues to exist as boxed wine.  But the town in Spain (like the one in California) are better known for the mines, in Spain's case a mercury mine.  Don't drink anything grown in that soil!  Talavera was a major city in the Moorish era.  Not much of a wine history that I can find.  We're still in Castile-La Mancha, so I am going to recommend an inexpensive quaffer as you watch the end of the stage on your DVR, to ease your pain as you watch the crash.  Protocolo is a good place to start any exploration of Spanish wine, at about $6-9 bottle.  Juicy, berry bright Tempranillo.  Not a huge Gran Reserva from Rioja, but respectable and a terrific bargain.  I'll even ditch my opposition to line drawings of castles at this kind of QPR.


Stage 8 on Saturday gets us back to the mountains. In perhaps a tribute to Allen Meadows, it goes through Burgohondo.  We're still in the center of the country, but the race will move to the west in Stage 8.  Try Numanthia Termes for the Stage 8 wine--and let me know how this recently trendy wine from Toro is.  It's about as close as I can get to that area.


Stage 9 heads for the border with Portugal on Sunday.  Another mountain stage, and now I'm going to give in to my desire to drink wines from Ribera del Duero, one of my favorite DOs. You could spend money on Vega Sicilia Unico--invite me over for a glass if you do--but even modest RdD can be good.  Not as cheap as it was, but still some eye openers at daily drinking prices.  Creta is a wine you might find that has grapes sourced from an estate that does not want it known their fruit's in such a reasonable bottle.  I'm still trying to find out where it's from, but it more than stands on its own.  We'll get really close to the Duero, like right on it, but the wine is so good, I say give it two days of your time.  And I'll get more specific on the second day.



Reply by Lucha Vino, Aug 28, 2011.

As Foxall noted the Vuelta passed through La Mancha.  As luck would have it, I had a bottle from this region in my cellar so I popped it open this weekend.  A 2000 Gran Riserva that is a Tempranillo & Cab blend - 65/35 according to the wineries website.  And aged for 24 months in American and French Oak and another 36 months in bottle.  The oak definitely shows through in the character of this wine.  I was surprised as it was a bit light for a Tempranillo/Cab blend.  Here are my notes.

My choice for the Lucha Vino matchup was also a Ribera del Duero.  Great minds think alike Foxall!!

El Purito lost his leader's red jersey today on the first big mountain finish of the Vuelta.  He is only down by 1 second and there is plenty more racing to come with an Individual Time Trial on tap for tomorrow and then a rest day.

Watch for Bradley Wiggins from the UK to take over the leader's jersey after the Time Trial.  The skinny climbing specialists will not be able to generate the power that Wiggins does and he is only 1 minute off the General Classification lead after today.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Aug 30, 2011.

Okay, that was almost a perfect call, VV--Wiggins got off to a flaming start, but he's not quite there.  And it's not going to get easier for him now.  I'll have a post tomorrow and a couple more before handing off the baton for a week.  And keep your eyes open for the guest shot on VV's great "Lucha Vino" blog at coming up soon. I've found two contenders but this time, it could be a three way match-up!

Chavanel is toast, but Moreno might still have something left. Seems like he has emerged as the new hope of Katusha.  Once again, a team goes through changes in Cordoba.

And what of Fuglsang?  He hung right in there. Menchov can't be counted out among the names, but maybe it's not going to be about the big names this race, this year. 

Reply by Lucha Vino, Aug 31, 2011.

Another big uphill finish today and Wiggins managed to hang in and finish in the first big chase group 3 minutes and change down to the stage winner David Moncoutie.  With that finish Wiggins earned the Red leader's Jersey.  He should hold it for at least another stage since the race tomorrow only has a few gentle hills before three finishing circuites in Pontevedra.

An interesting note for today - Aug 31 marks the one year anniversary of the passing of Laurent Fignon He won the Tour de France twic, but may be best known for "losing" the Tour de France by 8 seconds to Greg Lemond in 1986.  He was a great French hero and that may have inspired Moncoutie to go for the victory today.

Following the peleton I am enjoying a Albarino from the Rias Baixas D.O. tonight.  Here are my tasting notes.

There are plenty more mountain stages to come.  It will be interesting to see if Wiggins can defend the red jersey all the way to Madrid.  Vincenzo Nibali is only 11 seconds behind, in third place on the General Classification.  I expect to see Nibali take the red jersey as the road turns up again Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Arriba, Arriba, Arriba!!

Reply by Lucha Vino, Sep 3, 2011.

Well, well, well.  Bradley Wiggins is defying the expert opinion makers and gravity.  He is showing some serious uphill prowess by way of applying steady high watt power like he does in the Time Trials.  He put time into all the main rivals today.  I was surprised to see that Nibali lost more than a minute.

The stage on Sunday ends with an 8 mile climb that averages more than 10% and hits some spots over 20% grade!  This could be the last chance for the climbers to move back up on the General Classification and possibly into the Red Jersey.

Ride along with the racers by enjoying a Rioja this weekend.


Reply by Lucha Vino, Sep 7, 2011.

Big shake up and a great ride by J.J. Cobo to move into the leader's jersey on Sunday.  With Froome in second and Wiggins sagging back into third Team Sky has two riders that could still threaten for the overall victory.  The real surprise was how Nibali wasn't able to respond to the attacks on the final climb.  He is sitting in 8th place and not much of a chance to make much of a dent in Cobo's race lead.

After a rest day we had another J.J. win today - Juan Jose Haedo won a strange sprint finish when Leopard's lead out man took a wrong turn at a round-a-bout within about 500 meters of the finish.

The race is lingering in the Rioja region with Stage 17 providing some of the last opportunities for the climbing specialists to show their stuff.

I will post some Rioja tasting notes tomorrow.

Reply by Lucha Vino, Sep 9, 2011.

Three more stages.  Will anybody overtake Cobo?  Can he hang on to that 13 second lead over Froome?  And Wiggins is still lurking one minute and 41 seconds back.  He isn't likely to move up, but he has a pretty safe position on the podium.

There are still time bonuses to be earned for finishing position and intermediate sprints.  Froome could take more than 13 seconds in time bonuses and move into the leader's Red Jersey.  Not likely, but it could happen.

The tour is starting to head South and will end in Madrid on Sunday.  Enjoy a wine from one of these regions for the very far North of Spain:

  1. Txacoli de Álava - Arabako Txakolina DO (Chacolí de Álava)
  2. Txakoli de Bizkaia - Bizkaiko Txakolina DO (Chacolí de Vizcaya)

I had a nice Rioja over the weekend from R. Lopez  The weather has finally warmed up in the Pacific Northwest so I opened a Rose from the same Winery.  I will post those notes tomorrow.

Reply by Lucha Vino, Sep 12, 2011.

JJ Cobo defended the Red Jersey through the Basque Country and in to Madrid.  He wone the overall General Classification by 13 seconds.  The final stage finished with several circuits around Madrid and ended with a bunch sprint won by Peter Sagan of the Italian team Liquigas.  The irony in that is that Sagan is Slovakian and beat two much more well known Italian Sprinters - Alessandro Petacchi and Daniele Benatti.

This year's Vuelta passed through many more interesting wine regions than the Tour de France and provided much more interesting racing.  Often times, the Vuelta is considered #3 in the three Grand Tours behind the Giro d' Italia and the Tour de France.  The racing in this year's Vuelta definitely surpassed the Giro and the Tour.  Congratulations to all the racers that took honors in the race and to all the finishers as well.

Until next year...  Cheers!

Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 12, 2011.

And here we are at the end of the Vuelta.  I fell off the bike again (lots of great wine adventures this summer, but somehow no time to write about them) only to get back just in time for the finale.  Wiggins was unable to hold his lead--thanks for all the updates, VV, and Cobo came on... Cobo?  Was he even mentioned?  Go back to the beginning of the post and see what we were saying about Sastre and Menchov, his teammates.  Great words:

The 30-year-old Cobo began the race with the job of riding in support of former champion Denis Menchov and Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre and could not hide his joy at the finish line.

“I thought I’d be working for Denis and Carlos throughout the Vuelta, and I’ve ended up winning,” said Cobo.

“It’s incredible, I would never have entertained such thoughts before the start of the race.”

That's from VeloNews, which was my main source of information on the race. Coverage has been spotty in the US, as it is for every race except TdF, pretty much.  But VeloNews has been great.

It's great that a Spaniard won the race. Now, when is a Frenchman going to win the TdF?

Snoothers will see to thre right that Bodegas Juan Gil Monastrell is showing up under "Related Popular Wines," even before this plug for them.  So, while Cobo is drinking Cava to celebrate, I am heading over to VelloVino's blog to guest write.


Reply by Lucha Vino, Sep 13, 2011.

Suspense, Mystery, Masked Luchadors - The Foxall Guest Posting is up on the Lucha Vino blog.  Check it out!

Reply by dmcker, Sep 13, 2011.

Where he even compares his wife to Ava Gardner!  ;-)

And expresses sentiments about a Cline label that parallel mine with other of their offerings....

Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 13, 2011.

D: wasn't even thinking about the movie, that's a hoot.  My wife is great and amazing and beautiful, but I wouldn't compare her to Ava Gardner except that Ava is a brunette. Otherwise, very different types, and I strongly suspect my wife will be married only once.  I was actually thinking of the book, which I read in college so many years ago.  Whatever picture I have in my mind of Lady Brett (Brett/Mourvedre being a natural pairing), I was inspired by VV's earlier comparison of Spanish wine to a bullfighter.

Overall, gotta say the Cline Mourvedre was a tad disappointing--because I have enjoyed the Syrah as a reliable and easy to find quaff at a very low price (everyone who vacations outside the Bay Area or, heaven forbid, lives outside the Bay Area or a few other major metro areas, needs a list of these), and because I usually really like Monastrell/Mourvedre.  I have about half a bottle of each left in the fridge and will try them again tonight (should they have a grudge match, VV?) and see what's happened. The Gil carried the day, but, again, was not as good as past vintages.

Anyway, I'm flattered that dmcker and I came to the same conclusions about Cline.  I really want to visit the winery, which I hear is beautiful, and I have a lot of curiosity about their business side:  They are still apparently independent and family owned but they are pretty widely distributed.  Fred Cline has deep pockets, but he's gotta make a living off this, too--which fewer independents are doing at that scale and these prices.

Next year, I am going to plan ahead and get some WA tempranillo shipped down here, if VV will have me back for the Vuelta.  I have a suspicion a third fighter will enter the ring as well...

Reply by Lucha Vino, Sep 14, 2011.

Interesting on the Cline.  I had a bottle of the Syrah sitting in my cellar for a couple of years.  I picked it up at Cost Plus and then a few (well a whole lot) of other wines struck my fancy and I sort of forgot about it.  I opened it a couple of weekends ago and it went way beyond my expectations.  I will agree with Foxall, the Syrah is a good inexpensive bottle.

Grudge matches are always encouraged and all Luchadors are welcome back in the ring any time!

Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 14, 2011.

VV: Drank the Cline and Gil last night.  I'll post on your blog in the comments later. 

Definitely the Syrah from Cline is the bargain.  The Mourvedre and Four Reds all come from the original family land in Oakley, in Contra Costa County.  I think there was definitely more thought when they moved the winery to Carneros and that probably has something to do with it.  Old vines are not always the best vines, especially with what we know about clones.  It's likely that the Oakley vines are not grafted, since the soil is sandy, but the clones used were probably not chosen but just whatever was available. The Cashmere is okay, but in that GSM range, Bill Easton's wines from Terre Rouge and the old Jade Mountain La Provencale (if you can find it) were better and, in the case of the Jade, less expensive.  The Terre Rouge isn't much more and can hold its own against a $30+ CdP, as it has shown in two "bouts."  (We actually do mask our wines, either by decanting or by wrapping the bottles in paper wine bags.)

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