July 11th, 2012
We all know a glass of red wine is good for you – I said one glass!
Here where I live in Las Alpujarras, history tells us that local wine made up a good portion of the daily calorific intake during the Años del Hambre- the Hungry Years when ration cards were distributed to the Spanish population. The wine boosted energy levels, and allowed people to continue to work and farm their land, although probably mostly through blurred eyes – some of the local wine here - Vino de la Tierra – is extremely strong.
What other Spanish brews are also said to act as healing elixirs? Are there any for everlasting youth I wonder?!
Hmmm, Let´s see…
Anis de Pepino is your man…or rather answer. This odd Cucumber Liqueur is made by placing a glass jar or bottle over a flowering cucumber plant. When the cucumber is fully grown the stem is sliced through and the bottle or jar turned upside down. With the cucumber still inside, Anis is added and it´s ready to treat those colicky pains after 40 days standing – the bottle, not you! – just don´t treat the baby!
Don´t panic – you are allowed a drink here these days but if you´re in Pamplona for the bull run it´s probably best to go easy! Back in the days of the late 18th century things were a little different. Parliament banned any drinks with a high alcoholic percentage – unless they were strictly for medicinal use. So, guess what? Yes – suddenly the whole place fell foul of coughs and colds and had to be treated!
Ever sat at a Spanish bar and wondered what the tall iced amber coloured drink that all the locals have was?
It´s delicious! Pancharán from Navarra is made from Sloes and claims to help - in moderation! – stomach pains, the nervous system, and is useful in preventing heart attacks…quite a claim!
I can also help with research – and confirm to you that a lot of it packs a punch!
The sloes are Pancharanes in Spanish – from the Blackthorn tree – and when picked by Pancharaneros in the warm days of late Summer are then immersed in Spirit. Cinnamon sticks are added to flavour it up before it´s left for up to 4 months to work its magic.
The crop used in Navarra used to be supplied from just the wild Blackthorn bushes – but today it´s on an industrial scale – look at the top shelf in the bar to find the well known brands of Zoco, Alaiz, Basarana, amongst others….
I blame the church. Nuns and Monks have for years been the forerunners in making alcoholic concoctions, using herbs and spices to produce all sorts of wonderful elixirs. Are you doing the Camino de Santiago at the moment? Stop… and catch your breath at Leyre where you´ll find the Monastery there will supply you with a cocktail of a liqueur that is made from no less than 30 different herbs…you can stagger the rest of the route to the finish line…
I always remember my Grandmother giving me a thimbleful of Buckfast as a pick-me-up. if only she knew what she had started!
The first glorious drops were matured in La Rioja back in the late 1800´s. Today, La Rioja is the undisputed Spanish King of viticulture.
Take a good look at your bottle of Tempranillo and you´ll see that´s it´s probably from La Rioja – it´s the most popular grape to be fattened into a juicy fruit up here under the Spanish sun.
Traditional methods are still popularly used here, despite the huge demand for the great wine. Hand picking from low bushes, and families start the back breaking work in September, keeping the machines out and the quality high.
We have done our own fair share of it down here in Andalucía where the rolling Contraviesa hills produce grapes sweet enough so that no sugar at all is added to the fermentation. It is back breaking work – but the full tank in my house via my wine making neighbour is worth it!….and as a bonus I can always eat while I pick!
Just a small sherry…
Did you just think it was a drink for your Granny?! As an aperitif, as a digestif, as a cool drink with a little tapas on the side – Sherry is one of those drinks that retains a classic fashionable level.
Francis Drake attacked the city of Cadiz, the old scoundrel, and robbed a hefty 3000 barrels of Sherry. The English loved it and changed the unpronounceable Scherisch to the simpler Sherry – as it is known there today.
Oloroso, Amontillado, Manzanilla, or Fino…what´s your favourite?
And it´s healthy too? Yes! Studies show a decrease in cholesterol and heart healthy benefits are all available by ordering the odd glass of Spanish Sherry…so cheers!
Staying with Jerez – Brandy matters!
Palest golden or richest magonany brown depending on the barrel used for maturing before that drop of Brandy made its way to swirl around your glass…
We´re back in Jerez, Andalucía – have a browse through some Jerez places to stay here - and giving thanks to the Arabs who brought us the first Stills which turned – not water into wine (that was the Catholics later on of course!) - but wine into strong spirits. And originally, wine was distilled to make something with a little more punch – but we´re not at the Brandy stage just yet….
As the best things sometimes are, it was all made quite by accident.
A customer who decided against picking up his wine alcohol order and the whole lot was tipped into barrels which had previously held Sherry. Forgotten about, and left a long time to develop, one day it was tasted- but someone wondering what was in those barrels – and so we had Brandy for the first time.
And health wise? A single shot has the same antioxidant levels as 90mg of Vitamin C.
More cardio – vascular good news, the distillation in Oak barrels develops an anti platelet function and scientists are convinced it can apparently be used to help Thrombosis.
And the best one…? It helps you to sleep! I bet it does! Don´t overdo that Vitamin C!