Southern Comfort

Southern Comfort

As we trailed in last week’s newsletter, we’ve been down south, or more accurately south-east this week visiting the Costa Blanca. Simply Spanish Wine may be an online business, but we know how important it is to get out and about and meet people in the flesh to explain what we do and hear our customers’ thoughts and suggestions.

So, after a quick and painless couple of hours on the train, we settled ourselves into our AirBnB base in Alicante before setting out for a quick explore of the city’s gastro delights. I’m sure lots of the Simply Spanish Wine community know the city far better than we could hope to in 48 hours and will have their own favourite haunts, but we managed to sniff out a handful of places worth mentioning.

For a relaxing pre-dinner drink in stylish surroundings, you could do a lot worse than Bar Manero. Part of a chain – we plonked ourselves down in the one in Calle Balmis – the Manero group aims to recreate the Spanish bar de toda la vida and we have to say it makes a pretty good fist of it. Of course, those of us who’ve been here for a while can actually remember what the original zinc-topped bars of yesteryear looked, felt….and even smelt like, and perhaps just wish some of them were still open with the same waiters behind the bar! But of course, time moves on and the Manero team looked after us admirably with an impressive range of by-the-glass Monastrell – the famous Casa Castillo winery does a private label bottling for them which is well worth a try – and some delicious, if a tad stingy (!) tapas.

Time for some sit-down grub so we headed up to the eastern end of Calle San Fernando to La Taberna del Gourmet. The wine list looked impressive but it was the sommelier’s night off and the waiters weren’t much help. Still, we took the "when in Rome" approach and opted for another local Monastrell, this time Borrasca from Bodegas Monovar which is about 50km inland from Alicante. Nice red fruit and touch of pepper and spice but not quite as ¨complex and profound¨ perhaps as the winemaker claimed. Still, it paired nicely with my monkfish (rape in Spanish) and chips, while Ben made a good job of his secreto ibérico. (Before you ask, that’s not an "Iberian Secret", but a deliciously tender, nicely marbled cut taken from the side of the neck of the pata negra pig.)

Hauling ourselves out of bed the next day we set off to explore. First stop, the fascinating little town of Alfàs del Pi and its large and active Scandinavian population. We popped into the Club Escandinavo for a lovely chat with President Stefan and wife Eva, met some of the team just round the corner at the Club Nordico and spent an enjoyable half hour driving round the Colonia Escandinavia. We had no idea of Alfàs’s long history as a place of refuge and winter sun for thousands of Scandinavians fleeing the cold and the dark in northern Europe. We shall be back soon!

Next stop, the golf club at Altea where we chatted over a very reasonably-priced menu del dia in the Jacaranda Restaurant with another Swede, Maria Dahl, a relative newcomer to the area who runs a brilliant wine-tasting business , taking her sommelier training into people’s homes and helping them discover new wines and brilliant local food pairings. Then it was back in the car and up the N332 through the dramatic Cañón del Mascarat gorge to Calpe (or Calp to give it its local, Valenciano name).

Over coffee with Dorothy Watson, President of the local branch (I think the correct word might be 'chapters', but that makes them sound a bit like Hell’s Angels!) of the University of the Third Age, or U3A, we learnt about all the brilliant work this global organisation does to bring communities together to share skills and promote learning. We explored what we might do together in the future on the wine front with the U3A, so if you’re not a member yet, find your local branch and get signed up!

Calpe is also home for Gina Marks, the driving force behind the yearly Homes, Gardens & Lifestyle show which is now in its twelfth year. This year’s event will be taking place at the Suitopia Hotel on 10-11 May, and we hope Simply Spanish Wine will be there with a stand to meet all the local residents and pour you a glass of something delicious from our range.

After another tasty dinner in Alicante at the excellent Chico Calla – small plates at the bar washed down with a bottle of the excellent El Sequé from top Rioja producer Juan Carlos López de Lacalle’s local Alicante winery – we got a bit of shut eye before whizzing inland to the Alenda Golf Club. Again, a chance to discover another hidden (for us at least) corner of the province, with lots of different nationalities living side by side and enjoying the wonderful climate and spectacular mountain views.

To round off the trip we headed across the spectacular Salinas de Santa Pola salt flats and down to Torrevieja, to find out more about another brilliant, international outreach organization with branches in Spain, the Swedish Women’s Educational Association (SWEA). The organization was founded in Los Angeles in 1979 to provide a network for Swedish women living and working outside Sweden, and now has over 6,000 members in 70 branches across 30 countries! We spoke to the Costa Blanca President, Anki Lindfors, and explored whether we might run some SSW wine-related events with the group in the coming months. Again, watch this space!

So, there we are, a whistle-stop tour of a fascinating area which is home to lots of Simply Spanish Wine customers. Thanks to the new, fast and economical train services from companies like Ouigo, it’s now easier than ever for us to make the trip down from Madrid so we’ll be back again soon I’m sure.

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