by Nicola Cleasby
Costa, for those who haven’t had the dubious pleasure, is the traditionally made, local wine. It’s an intriguing brown in colour, hovers somewhere around 14-15 % proof and has a distinctive (and not entirely pleasant) flavour.
As well as the bigger commercial ventures, most cortijos around here have their own small vineyards and their own bodegas where the wine is made and stored. Ours is no different, and in fact, when we bought our cortijo, the price included half a barrel of Costa. This was a little daunting as the barrel was about the size of an average single bedroom in the UK.
We presumed that Costa was an acquired taste. However eight years later and we’ve still spectacularly failed to acquire it. I hate waste, but we finally accepted that the barrel, and the Costa, had to go. Luckily, we had the perfect excuse, we were in the process of converting the downstairs of our house into an apartment. The only way that barrel was going to leave the building was in pieces. So the Costa went to fertilize the land.
I love making wine. Before coming to Spain, I’d had a go on a small scale using a variety of fruits and vegetables from grapes to potatoes. It always seemed a complicated procedure; ensuring the sugar level was correct, killing the natural yeast, adding a known yeast. Here the whole process is much simpler. The grapes are picked, crushed (we have had guests who have insisted on doing this barefooted – it didn’t seem to effect the flavour) squeezed and then left to do their own thing.
And their own thing is pretty wild – we nearly reduced our Cortijo to rubble in the first year, by putting a lid on the fermenting barrel. Only the quick intervention of one of our neighbours, who spotted the imminent explosion, saved us from disaster.
For our first year, we made our wine under the close guidance of a Spanish neighbour who had been producing Costa for the last eighty years. We followed faithfully only balking at the addition of yeso, a substance normally used for plastering walls but traditionally added to the wine for some long forgotten reason (and probably one of the reasons for that distinctive flavour).
That first year our wine came out brown and around 15% – it was strong stuff. We gave some to out English neighbour, who happens to be a doctor – this was his comment:
“Immediately after blindness, renal failure set in.”
In the years since, we’ve read up on the subject and tweaked our process until now we’ve said goodbye to Costa and instead produce a red of about 12% – perfectly drinkable once you’ve removed your taste buds. I don’t kid myself that I couldn’t get a better (or at least as good) a wine for 65cent a litre from the local supermarket but, for me, at least, it’s a labour of love.
Nicola Cleasby grew up in the north of England. After training as an accountant, she spent four years working as a volunteer in Zambia, which left her with a love of the sun and a dislike of 9-5 work. She then spent a number of years mixing travel (whenever possible) with work (whenever necessary) but has now settled down to a life of writing and picking almonds on a remote farm in the mountains of southern Spain. She shares the farm with a husband, three dogs, four cats, a horse, two goats and a handful of chickens. It is a perfect place to indulge her two great passions, reading and writing. Recently published (as Nina Croft) her new book is entitled ‘Tiger of Talmare’ http://www.ninacroft.com/index.html
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