The Running of the Winos


Recently, I found myself in Pamplona, in the Spanish Basque country, for the Alimenta 2009 exhibit. Of course, Pamplona is better known for the running of the bulls, but we were here for the running of the winos, charging thirstily from table to table to taste and discover what the Navarran countryside had to offer. Like the bulls, I was on a single-minded mission: to find new, interesting wineries using traditional techniques and grapes.

This area has been making wine for centuries, but most of it has been rustic and rough or easy-going and uninteresting. There also does seem to be a significant French influence, as there was in Empordà: the wines were generally higher in acid than those of the more Southern Spanish areas like La Mancha, but this could also be a function of the climate and terroir.

In any case, I did find this tasting somewhat difficult. There were a ton of wineries with over-ripe international varieties (Chardonnay, Cab Sauvignon, Merlot) when they should have been promoting and using their traditional grapes like Viura, Tempranillo, Garnatxa and Monastrell. And let’s not talk about the use (or rather, abuse!) of oak…

However, I had a chance to visit the town of Pamplona, so please enjoy these pictures. It’s a small but colorful town as you’ll see, and we did an organized tour following the path the bulls take (800 meters in 3 minutes, no human can run that fast so the best you can hope for is 8-10 seconds in front of 3 tons of charging, angry meat, then hop the wall).


There were enticing tapas bars…


Colorful friezes…


Cute buildings filled the city around every corner


Spanish-style cathedrals (well duh, we were in Spain, right?).


Really? Is this place even necessary?


City Hall and the square where the St Fermin festival (the running of the bulls) is inaugurated every year.


The main square of Pamplona, with the hotel where Hemingway spent many nights drinking.


Lots of Basque influence too, obviously, as we’re right by San Sebastian and the Basque Country.


Really tiny buildings too.


Oooh, Jamon Iberico!


This is the source of the water that Saint Saturnin used to baptize the earliest Christians.


The entry to the bullring, seen from the point-of-view of a charging bull. Or wino.


A statue dedicated to the brave (Foolish? Drunken?) souls who run during the Feria.


In a fit of thorough self-mockery, the artist included himself in his work. He’s the guy who fell!


Our last dinner, complete with a professional carver and Pata Negra.

All in all I learned a bit about the wines of the region, though they, like most of Spain, have been thoroughly influenced by powerful critics. Many of the wineries have forsaken their roots and are making wines that could be from anywhere. That said, I did find some interesting stuff that was honest and true to its roots, so hopefully I’ll be able to work with them.

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