Thursday, April 21, 2016


By Doc Lawrence

ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida-Our good friends at Kroger have been promoting “A Taste of Spain” recently and among the displays of olive oil, paella ingredients, smoked paprika and other staples one essential was missing: The wines of Spain.
Spanish Trace near Monticello

These European wines are the conceptual cousins of wines served today in Atlanta, Orlando, Miami Beach and throughout the South. You’ll recognize the names: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Albarino and Cava. They come from Spain’s wine regions like Rioja,  Navarra, Toro, Rueda, La Mancha and Ribera del Duero and while they represent Old World styles, they are popular in warm weather states like Florida and Georgia and enjoyed much in the same way as Franciscan monks, settlers and soldiers five centuries ago in the New World.

Tempranillo is a Regal Spanish Wine
Vestiges of ancient Spanish cellars in the New World and signs of Spanish wine’s influence are prominent today. Begin in St. Augustine, Florida’s wonderful vacation destination. It’s where the first trade route was established, the Spanish Trace. This coastal city has enough Old World influences to provide the feel of Spain, juxtaposed, however, with modern amenities. It is also home to the Datil pepper, another gift from Ponce de Leon’s explorers. Instead of Tabasco, try Datil pepper sauce in a Bloody Mary the next time you tailgate. Don’t be surprised if you dream of beautiful Flamenco dancers and hear Gypsy music.
Follow the Spanish Trace west from St. Augustine to Monticello, a strikingly beautiful North Florida city. Lovely Victorian homes, a stunning courthouse, venerable well-maintained churches and pedestrian friendly sidewalks. Full Moon Farm and Apiary is a major honey producer and Golden Acres Ranch is alive with Tennessee Fainting Goats, lamb, guineas and lots of love, perfect places to learn what “local grown” really means.You can walk with the ghosts of Spanish explorers on a major well-preserved portion of the Spanish Trace at Avalon, Ted Turner’s 14,000 acre plantation. Ruins of Spanish missions have been excavated and preserved along this part of the Spanish Trace.

Nearby is Dr. Cynthia Connelly’s Monticello Vineyards & Winery a 50-acre farm featuring wines made from native organic Muscadines. Dr. Connelly is an engaging conservationist and effective advocate of better living through organic farming. The beautifully maintained grounds offer a glimpse of Eden.

Near the Spanish Trace is the spring-fed Wacissa River, a state-designated Florida paddling trail, rich in wildlife, with a panorama of natural Florida featuring wading birds, alligators, otters, and raptors.

Mission San Luis Chapel
The Spanish explorers brought not only wines into St. Augustine but horses, pigs and fowl. These are the bedrock of Florida’s Cracker culture described in Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s Cross Creek Cookery.

Going further west along the Trace takes you to Tallahassee’s Mission San Luis, a reconstructed fort, mission and farm that was once a major outpost in New Spain. Go to the monk’s quarters and there is a cellar that once shelved Spanish wines for communion and refreshment. Honored for successful restoration, Spanish settlers co-existed here with local Apalachee Indians. A replica of the tribe’s council house is just a few yards from the chapel and wine cellar.

Whether enjoying wines of Spain with tapas, paella, seafood or any kind of entrée, there should be a moment to ponder the ancient connection between these wines of Europe and today’s food. You might suspect that from the beginning these wines were forever destined for the Southern table.


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