What reigns in Spain?

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Indy Lifestyle Online

A balmy summer's evening with tables and chairs spilling out on to the pavement. Amid an animated crowd, I am primed for a cool, appetising glass of sherry. The glasses come to the table dripping beads of condensation. My mouth is watering. I nibble an olive and take my first sip of the refreshingly seasalty liquid. Am I in Jerez or in heaven? Neither. I am on a London street, and have just dropped into the Spanish restaurant Moro for a bone-dry apéritif of the house fino, Tio Pepe, and a spot of tapas. Such was the tranforming effect of the tangy liquid distillation of the Spanish south that I could have been in Andalucia.

Dry though they are, tongue-tingling fino and manzanilla taste sweeter in their hometown of Jerez de la Frontera, near Gibraltar, especially washed down with a mouthwatering range of gazpacho, garlic prawns, sardines, tuna and other fresh Atlantic seafood. If you're in whitewashed Andalucia this summer, I'd recommend a visit to the cool, vaulted 18th- and 19th-century bodegas of Jerez. They'll reveal the traditional solera system of ageing the sherry in casks and give you a taste of the range of sherries from the palest and lightest to the fuller amontillado and oloroso and the treacly-rich PX that's magic poured over vanilla ice cream.

In the Moorish city of Cordoba, you're within spitting distance of Montilla-Moriles, some of whose sherry-style wines (try Alvear; Budgens' PX Anada is £6.99 for 50cl) are still aged in traditional clay amphorae.

The most familiar Spanish shoreline is the Mediterranean coast stretching from the French Pyrenean border in the north through Barcelona down to Valencia and Murcia. All are wonderful for Spanish wine starting with cava in the Penedès region. The widely available Codorníu cava, organic Albet I Noia (Sainsbury's, £7.99) and Juve y Camps (Jeroboams London shops and www.jeroboams.co.uk, £8.75) are among the best. Look out, too, for crisp refreshing dry whites such as the fragrant 2004 Jean Leon Terrasola Muscat (Bibendum, www.bibendum-wine.co.uk or 020-7449 4120, £6.88) and zesty-fresh Miguel Torres 2003 Sauvignon Blanc Fransola (Huntsworth Wine Co, London, 020-7229 1610; Auriol Wines, Hook, Hampshire, 01252 843190, £12.49). A good value all-purpose red from this coast is the 2002 Raimat Abadia (Oddbins, £6.99).

In the same area Clos Mogador or Alvaro Palacios from Priorat are big hitters that can make short shrift of your holiday budget. For better value, Cellar de Capçanes (Oddbins has the rosé,£5.49, Waitrose has Mas Collet red, £6.55), or Casa de la Ermita (Oddbins, £6.69), from Jumilla further south, are excellent.

Over on the far-flung, verdant Atlantic coast, Galicia is home to arguably Spain's best white wine, the delightfully crisp and peachy, ripe albariño from the Rias Baixas, which is made to wash down the local seafood. From the 2004 vintage, try Martin Codax (Majestic, 0845 605 6767 , £8.49 or two bottles for £6.99 each), Pazo Senorans (Booths, £8.99) and Bodegas Fillaboa Albariño (Ballantynes Wine Merchants, Cardiff 029-2022 2202, and Cowbride 01446 774840, £11.99).

Back over in Basque country not only is it in and around San Sebastian that many of Spain's best restaurants are to be found, but it's just a hop over the dramatic Sierra Cantabria to the classic oak-aged, savoury tempranillos and garnachas of Rioja and the refreshing pink rosados of neighbouring Navarra. Salud! E

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