Travelling on the A-road EX 630 southwards from Merida, you will come across an impressive, massive granite mountain chain, the Sierra de Lamoneda. The white stone of the Lamoneda Mountains is covered by oak forests at many places. It gleams only at the hillside. The Bodega, which is embedded in the luminescent stones of the Sierra de Lamoneda surrounded by vineyards, is located on the right-hand side, approximately eight kilometres from Merida. The wine-growing estate Santa Marina has become one of the most successful in the region. During the “London International Wine Fair”, experts awarded the white wine Viognier as one of the ten best Spanish wines of 2008. The red wine Equus obtained a gold medal in the contest “Concurso Internacional de Vinos y Espirituosos” in 2008, and the highest quotation for Spanish wines in 2007 by Prowein, in Düsseldorf.
We recommend leaving the express way towards Zafra and walking to the vineyard. Signposts will show you the way. Interested visitors are welcomed at the Bodega and invited to taste well-known types of wine like the Eempranillo, but also the fancy ones like the Montua which originates from Extremadura and is now grown worldwide. The owner of the estate, Alvaro de Alvear, will be pleased to explain and answer all questions. He is a jovial man who seems to always have time, and visibly savours each swallow of his wines.
If you want to attend a wine tasting session of Alvaro de Alvear, the Medina family and vineyard, in Zafra, or in any other Bodega of Extremadura, we recommend you not being in a hurry. The wine must take its time to vivify all your senses. Besides, it might be better to plan your visit at daytime, because the concentration is inclined to slow down in the evening. And wines require attention. Viticulturists allow themselves plenty of time to explain the long tradition of viticulture in Extremadura to the guests, but especially to make them feel and savour the wine. At the end of the session, guests should be able to identify which wine is suitable to them.
All the viticulturists together occupy nearly 800 square metres of the agrarian land of Extremadura, the equivalent to the size of the Lüneburg Heath. In 1999 the state passed a seal aiming to label and protect the wines of the “Demoninacion de Origen Ribera de Guadiana”. The six different wine-growing areas differ from one to another. Viticulturists of the Sierra de Guadalupe in north-eastern Extremadura travel on winding and steep roads. Wine grapes are growing at an altitude of 850 metres. Not even half of the rain water irrigates the hot ground of Tierra de Barros, the largest and renowned arable land of the region in the south of Merida, and to which Santa Marina belongs. The wine grapes of the Medina family also have to get along with a minimum of water. However, in spite of drought and a large amount of sunshine, the best agricultural products are growing here – as so often occurs in Extremadura. Otherwise the many oak forests, in which the Iberian pig lives and provides us with its delicious ham, would not exist. Even the meat of these freely living animals is a delicacy. If you have the chance to stop at a restaurant in the region around Jerz de los Caballeros, order an Iberian pork loin. If you would prefer to eat lamb, the Serena is the better place to go. You can order lamb stew (Caldereta) for instance in many very good restaurants there. The taste of Extremadura’s Caldereta is different from the lamb stew we know in Britain and it is, all in all, more pungent. The other ingredients of Caldereta are extremely simple: olive oil, a few garlic cloves, white wine and laurel leafs. The many extras in the British lamb stew are not usual in Extremadura, although each Extremeño does have his own manner of cooking lamb stew. It just needs to stew for a long time. All head cooks share this opinion. Lamb stew can be served with artichokes and asparagus, or with Albilla grapes and potatoes. “Cordero” on the menu means that you can order lamb in that restaurant.
Many wild boars, rabbits, partridges and deers can be found in western Extremadura along the Portuguese border between Villanuevo del Fresno in the south and Valencia de Alcantara in the north. There are in each village here small inns, where you can savour exquisite stewed partridges, rabbit marinade or wild boar stew. Partridge à la Alcantara is served with a sauce consisting of local truffles, which have previously been inserted in some port wine. All ingredients are local products. Every simple Bodega of the region, as well as the best restaurants, offer the same culinary specialities. A restaurant that especially offers many traditional recipes on the menu is among the most famous. Two friends from villages around Caceres, Toño Perez and Jose Polo, have been running the Atrio in Caceres since 1986, and are among the best restaurant owners in Europe owing to their Extremenian dishes. The two Michelin Guide stars and many other awards give an idea of the quality of their gastronomy. If you do not find a place in the Atrio or want to cook by yourself, you can have a look on the homepage of the Atrio where you will find many recipes for experiments at home. A little Extremenian cuisine will benefit British gastronomy.