A Taste of Santa Maria

Across the shore of Cadiz is a little town know as El Puerto de Santa Maria; a beautiful hidden gem with historical treasures. At first glance, Santa Maria doesn’t seem to have too much going on, but as I share with you my experiences from today, I am sure you will see why its such an important city to the providence of Cadiz. Today we were able to explore Bodega Caballero and the Castle of San Marcos (Castile de San Marcos) and sample a bit of the wine in the end.

A “bodega” is the spanish word for a wine cellar that stores the wine as it ferments over the years before reaching your glass. Santa Maria is part of the triangle of Sherries in Andalucia, Spain. Including Santa Maria, Jerez de la Frontera, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda are the cities that support the manufacturing of wines that you are able to taste across Spain and mostly throughout Andalucia.

To begin our tour, we walked though the outside gates entrance where we discussed the history of the Sherry chain. Fun Fact 1: Outside of the main entrance was one of the three only trees left of its kind; the Dragon Tree.

“Drago” Tree

Upon entering cellar the rich odor of the fermenting grapes and yeast invites you into the magic of wine production. First Veronica, our fabulous tour guide, explained there are 3 different grapes used to make the multitudes of wines created here, we only focused on one. From that one grape, they are able to make 5 different types of wines based on the age of fermentation. They compress the grapes, transport the juices to wooden barrels, add various ingredients to help the process such as alcohol and yeast and wait. Fun fact 2: the barrels that the wine is placed in is 200 year old American Oak!

This shows the inside of the wine barrels. Top layer is the yeast layer that helps indicate if the wine is ready or not and how much alcohol may be contained.

An important part to note about this process how the wine is mixed. On the bottom level, is the oldest and the youngest is on the top. In order to make sure all the wine is the same,  1/3 of each wine is mixed with each other on the various levels. The longer they age the wine, the darker/ redder the wine becomes.

Barrels on barrels on barrels of wine. Boy did it smell like yeast!

Proceeding through the cellar, we are pointed to a street, “Bodega Los Almizcates” that once was used by inhabitants of the city before it was closed off within the storage space of the cellar.

This old street progresses to another smaller room which contained wine that fermented for 20 and 30 years. Whats special about this room is that the wines aren’t mixed from top to bottom like in first room, but rather from left to right. I thought of this room as the “royalty room” as the barrels contained the “plaques” of autonomous people.

“Vors” means 30 “Vos” means 20

Top layer has been fermenting for 30 years, middle layer for 20 years. (Bottom wasn’t mention but I would assume 10 years) as said before, the process goes from left to right. This panorama doesn’t show it clearly but this is actually a round room. Here you can also see the plaques mentioned before

Fun Fact 3: On our way to the Castle of San Marcos we saw one of the few first maps that included North America. Christopher Columbus is not only well known in America just of his “discovery” of America, but it well respected by the people around Andalucia for leaving from Spain for his more well known trips. A lot of his time was spent here in Santa Maria planning trips and receiving the funds from the queen to make his voyages to the New World.

Approaching the Castle of San Marcos looks like a picture out of the medieval times. Once you pass the entrance is when you are able to see various influences come to life in the building. To summarize what Veronica said about its history, the Castle wasn’t a castle, but a structure that changed over time with whoever was in control. Majority of the changes after the mosque was under the ruling of King Alfonso. At first, the building was a roman temple, then converted to a mosque once the Muslims ruled, then converted to a christian church, and then finally a castle. At the right of the entrance is a fountain where the muslims washed their feet and hands before entering the main room where remains of the muslim decorations still are.

Adjacent to the praying room is a sacristy which was built in the 15th century. The sacristy was the most holy room of the entire building because this is where the sacramental gift remains here most of the time. The alter of the sacristy has carvings of gargoyles to protect the house from evil spirits that may have remained from the wars and violence happening outside of the building. It was built by a prisoner who spent 7 years creating it to lessen his sentence. Unfortunately, he passed away after completing the structure.

At the end of our castle tour, we had our wine tasting. Im a newbie to the entire experience so it was quite fun to try the traditional wines of Cadiz. Sherry wine is something here in Cadiz the people take pride in having. Pretty much what they create here is the primary wine found in local restaurants to accompany the “tapas” (like appetizers, but its the meal)  served.

In total we tried 5 types of wines:

  • Fino: A very dry wine that is best with “pescado” (fish). The color is a very clear with just a tint of a yellow color. Takes 3-5 years to make
  • Oloroso: Named so because of the “olor” (odor/smell) the wine has. Its a strong smell but a little bit better taste than Fino- in my opinion. More of an orangey- red. Takes 7 years to make
  • Cream: Which is a combination between the Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez. Dark red hue. Takes 14 years to make.
  • Pedro Ximénez: The fruitiest of all; sort of a raisiny taste. This is due to the process of how the wine made. In comparison of how sweet it is, there are 400 mg of natural sugar from the grapes in a 1 liter bottle. Dark red hue. Takes 7 yeasts to make.
  • Vermut: Although its new one, I didn’t like the flavor of this one too much. It has a much smoother flow compared to the rest but a flavor I wasn’t a fan of. Dark red hue. Takes 7 years to make.

In order from left to right: Vino… Vermut

Well, I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about the craft of wine and the Castle of San Marcos. If there is ever the chance to visit Cadiz, be sure to take a little day trip as well to this antique town as well. Although not mentioned before, but there is the Plaza de Torros here which is another cool place to visit as well and various restaurants with excellent fish and seafood plates.

Plaza de Torros from an earlier time in my trip

Hasta Luego,

Que es Flamenco?

¿Que es Flamenco?” translates to “What is Flamenco?” To the people living in Andalucia, the southern autonomous community of Spain, Flamenco is everything. Flamenco is a genre of music that includes singing, dancing, guitar playing, and many other styles. Although America is called a melting pot today, Spain can be thought of as a melting pot as well since it has been influenced by Greeks, Romans, and Phoenicians. These power houses constructed Spain as we know it today. Flamenco specifically adopted some characteristics of Arabic as well in the music.

During my time so far in Cadiz, I have had the opportunity to watch live concerts (Part 12), learn to dance Flamenco, and talk about some of the history with locals here. Like any other expression of art, Flamenco isn’t something everyone does here, but it is something everyone shows appreciation for. Try talking at a concert while someone is belting out a piece, and you will definitely be hushed by the crowd! I have grown to appreciate the passion performers convey; its incomparable to any artists I’ve seen in the United States.

Although just skimming the surface for now and will be learning more about Flamenco during my time here, I got the chance to hear a break down about how Flamenco it all flows together. Today, two local performers spoke generally about it all. To summarize , here are some facts I learned today along with my own observations:

  1. Flamenco to Andalucia is like Jazz to America. Its an expression of how the artist’s feels. This can be the sorrows felt during their hardships throughout their life, like a break up or living in poverty. It can also be a way of story telling with a more upbeat and happy vibe.
  2. Flamenco dancing is not easy to do. During my first class, I felt like I had two left feet and could not coordinate my arms. Although I went in and danced with confidence, it definitely did not look good. Also, it didn’t help that I had no idea what the dance commands were in Spanish so I blindly followed along in the mirror. I enjoyed myself in the end which is all that matters :).
  3. Flamenco must be done with soul and passion. Google “Flamenco” and you will see many artists whether singing, dancing, or playing an instrument using great expression while performing. Look closely at the change in facial expression or the strength and tone in the voice.
  4. As I mentioned before, its not something everyone in Andalucia does. Flamenco is not something that can be learned, but something innate.
  5. Clapping isn’t just clapping. There are ways that one shapes their hands to change the sound and arms must be held up about shoulder height. Two ways I’ve learned is the cupping of both hands to make a deeper sound, while fingers to a slightly cupped palm makes a higher sound. Clapping is used to keep the rhythm whether it is or is not accompanied by an instrument.

    Here I am (right) trying to practice the clapping rhythm with a classmate

    Our amazing Flamenco teachers showing us how to clap on beat

Here is a clip of an activity we did with our Flamenco teachers

While in Cadiz, I have the privilege of studying at the University of Cadiz where class isn’t just learning how to speak the language, but also learning about Cadiz and Spanish culture as a whole. One class we were able to discuss one of the most well known guitarist, Paco de Lucia. He changed the game when it came to playing Flamenco. His skill set was incomparable and his stage presence left people in awe. Paco de Lucia crossed into other genres like classical music. I could go on, but you just have to see for yourself how amazing this man truly is (click here). Another artist I have to mention is Cameron de La Isla who is a well known Flamenco singer. I may be giving biased reviews due to the fact they both are Cadiz natives, but they truly have unique talents. Here is both Cameron and Lucia working together.

Although I am half-way through the program, I am so happy with all that I’ve learned so far and I look forward to what’s ahead. Cadiz is such a lively city thats full of vibrant culture and welcoming people. Its no surprise why its called “The Smiling City”. Every day I can’t help but smile and know I’m experiencing a completely different lifestyle in a historical town  learning another language.