Tory Saks

How I accidentally ordered Rioja and I’m not mad about it…

I lived in Spain for about 15 months, give or take a day or week. To give you some background I had it on my bucket list to learn Spanish and figured I would get around to it after graduating college, as I elected not to study abroad during my college days. After almost 10 years had gone by, one day I found myself thinking what I would see if my life flashed before my eyes, I hadn’t crossed off one memorable item from this list of what I had accomplished in my life and knew this had to change. So, I decided to pack my bags and move to Spain to devote myself to learning Spanish and immerse myself in the Spanish culture.

Arriving to Spain before setting off on my new adventures – see how jet lagged I am!

I first started living in Seville or as it’s said in Spanish – Sevilla (and that’s how I typically refer to the city). If you aren’t familiar with Spanish geography, Sevilla is located in the south of Spain in the autonomous state of Andalusia. You will find that all of Spain is different and has their own flair and culture, however, the Southern part of the country has the Moorish and Arab influence as it was under Arab rule until the Christian Kings united Spain.

One of my favorite areas of Sevilla!

If you listen to Spaniards speak you will recognize the Spanish “th” sound that is so common to their accent and one difference from the way Spanish is spoken in Latin and Central America. The Spanish that was brought to the New World (Latin and Central America) came from the conquistadors, most of whom originated from either the regions of what is now known as Extremadura (the autonomous state directly north of Andalusia and where I import olive oil from, more on that at a different time) or Andalusia. Andalusians are also known for “cutting” their words or as they say in Spanish “se comen las palabras” which literally translates to “they eat the words,” think of it like us Texans that say “y’all” instead of “you all” or “fixin’” instead of “fixing.” I like to think of it as the more efficient way of talking ?.

It’s also pretty humorous to think that I started learning Spanish in Sevilla and then later went to Salamanca to finish my studies. To give you some contextual background, Spaniards always say that it is best or preferable to learn Spanish or Castellano in Salamanca because they enunciate their words and all of the syllables. That was probably the opposite of what people would recommend for someone learning and becoming familiar with Spanish after a good 16-year hiatus!

Back to transporting you to Sevilla, the city where Christopher Columbus is buried and for me one of the more architecturally interesting cities of Spain, where you can see the Arab influences within the city from the wide ranges of color used in buildings to the intricate tile and woodwork in places like the Real Alcazar. Of course, there is the food that is typical to the area (I’ll give you a more comprehensive food tour of Sevilla at a later time). If you ever get to travel to Sevilla, you will understand why the streets are so windy and narrower than you will find in other places in Spain, like say, Madrid. This is due to how the Arabs built the city and needed to shade residents from the intense heat of the sun. More influences can be found from when the Arabs reigned embedded into the Spanish language with words like Alahambra or Alcazar, the famous “al” or with some of my other favorites like “aceite” meaning oil and “aceituna” meaning olive and finally a word I love to use a lot “Ojalá” meaning, hopefully, or I hope so or if only (along with a big sigh).

Christopher Columbus’ Tomb Sevilla
The narrow streets that can be found in Sevilla
Moorish influence found in the tilework in Sevilla

I didn’t mean to give you so much background on Sevilla and the nuances of the Spanish language. Spain is known for having good wine along with fantastic olive oil ?. One of their more well-known wine regions is in La Rioja in the northern part of the country, just below the Basque country (think Bilbao) and Cantabria (Santander). This story isn’t about Rioja; however, you need to know that piece of information to get a good chuckle at my expense.

I was with one of my roommates while living in Spain and we both decided to go check out our neighborhood (barrio) in Sevilla as we had both just arrived there a few days before. We found a cute little bar in barrio Santa Cruz called Bodeguita Fabiola and decided to order some wine and maybe get a tapa or two. Being new to the city and picking up the Spanish language from when I was 16 years old, I decided to try a nice glass of Spanish red wine. At this point, we had not learned how to order wine in my classes, we were still focused on the alphabet and how to pronounce each letter, so I was “girl on an island over here”, or more precisely on a Peninsula. The bar that we picked, while being picturesque and great for that Spanish flair was lacking in people that knew or could understand English.

I’m thinking “I can do this”, this should be easy to order a glass of wine or more precisely say “red wine” in Spanish, I know the words for both red and wine, “rojo” and “vino” respectively. So, I tell the bartender I want some red wine, saying “vino rojo” and the next thing I know he says “Rioja”. I’m thinking this isn’t what I said but I’ll go along for the ride, so I tell him “Sí”. Later, I find out that you don’t say “vino rojo” (big no no) for red wine you say “vino tinto” and when a bartender asks you what kind of wine you want in Spanish it’s customary to say “blanco” for white or “tinto” for red or tell them the region from where the wine is from like “Rioja”. Don’t be like me and order “rojo,” that was pure amateur hour.

Wine Tasting in La Rioja

I will say that this was one of my first mistakes living abroad in Spain, it definitely wasn’t my last, and honestly, I think it turned out better for me in the long run as this started my love affair with some amazing red wines from La Rioja. After mistakenly ordering this “Rioja” that was pretty much all of what I drank throughout my time in Andalucia and a lot of what I drank while traipsing around Spain. In fact, I even dragged my mom with me on one of my adventures in Northern Spain and we day tripped to La Rioja from Bilbao (I highly recommend it!)

Gomez Cruzado, one of the wineries we visited in La Rioja

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About Me

Hi, I’m TORY

I love to travel, explore other cultures and languages, and I’m super crazy about food.

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