Spain isn’t really known for its wine. My first experience with Spanish wine was a 98-cent bottle of what was described as simply ‘red wine’ and, while I’m not really fussy when it comes to alcoholic beverages, I was well aware of the quality (or lack thereof) of what I was drinking at the time.
In Spain they have a convenient way of getting around the issue of not-so-enjoyable, cheap wine by way of a drink called calimocho, which mixes red wine with coke. Wine connoisseurs, scoff away – but if you have a 98-cent bottle of wine you can’t really go much further downhill. It’s a bit like sangria. But cheap. And not quite as yummy but on a yumminess-to-price ratio basis, calimocho wins hands down. Popular amongst young people (of course), you’ll often catch people drinking it at an event that Spanish call botellón and that in English we call “drinking in public places”.
The reason I’m explaining all this? Well it all began one Thursday morning in Politics class. I’m sure that classes here aren’t supposed to be brutal. This morning, however, the lecturer began the class by asking if we’d done the readings she’d posted online. I was positive she hadn’t been referring to the 150-page article she’d posted two days before, but my certainty began to dwindle when everyone else began taking out stack after stack of what looked suspiciously like a horrible reading I’d neglected to do. One especially opinionated student, who I think the other exchange students have aptly named “militant girl”, had her copy bound and ready to go when we were told that we were each giving five minute presentations on different sections of the text. Then. That day. In class. Needless to say I was THAT foreign student who stands up in front of everyone and tries so hard to explain something that they obviously don’t understand. I got through about two minutes of ‘um’s and awkward pauses before explaining that I really didn’t know what I was talking about and returning to my seat.
In a spontaneous decision fuelled by confusion and the overwhelming feeling of foreignness, a group of us decided the only logical response would be a weekend drinking wine. Good wine. And so we rented a car – I wish I could say without any issues but trying to rent a car in Spain from a German company wasn’t exactly the easiest of tasks from the get-go – and headed up to La Rioja, one of Spain’s contributions to the wine industry.
For the first time in my life I understood what it meant to be an appreciator of wine. Suddenly, the drink that for the past two years of my degree has come packaged in a goon was transformed from a drink into a beverage. I learnt about how wine is made and different wine-related terminology (admittedly, it was all in Spanish but I’m good for the time being) and even had a tour of the life of the corkscrew: from an impossible-to-use mechanism that vaguely resembles a torture device from the crusades, to the novelty-penis corkscrews of today.
We finally made it to this little town on a hill called Laguardia – imagine a tiny version of Minas Tirith, churched up a bit and in the middle of the desert, and you have a pretty good idea of what the town looks like. Famous for being built on top of a hill that’s been hollowed out in order to fit in dozens of wineries, it was perhaps the strangest place to go wine-tasting.
Of course, after learning how to properly enjoy wine and drinking some of the best that Spain has to offer, I remembered that I’m still a poor student and ended the tour by stopping by the local corner store to pick up one of the 98-cent bottles that I’ve come to love. ¡Viva Calimocho!