Nine months of winter and three months of hell


A Spanish proverb says, ‘Hasta el cuarenta de mayo, no te quites el sayo’ which literally means ‘until the 40th of May, don’t take your tunic off’.  The saying refers to the fact that hot weather here almost always arrives the second week in June, when suddenly the temperature increases from20ºC(68ºF) to 38ºC(100ºF) and stays there until the end of September.

My friends from more temperate areas of the world are always amazed at how short and hot the Spanish summer is.  Here we have an expression to describe the climate: ‘ nueve meses de invierno y tres meses de infierno’ (nine months of winter and three months of hell’.

The arrival of summer inSpain is often seen as a catastophic event for the consumption of red Rioja because suddenly, red wine drinkers switch to water or the ubiquitous ‘caña’ or glass of draft beer.  White wine is an option, but here it usually means a glass of Rueda or albariño from Rías Baixas. We’ve already discussed that.

Red Rioja lovers have an alternative: drinking glasses of chilled ‘cosechero’ Rioja.  As I’ve mentioned here, ‘cosechero’ reds are produced using carbonic maceration, also called whole berry fermentation, where the red grapes are not crushed to release the juice.  The temperature in the vat makes the juice ferment inside the grape and the carbon dioxide produced causes the skin to burst, releasing an intensely fruity wine.

Most bars in Rioja served chilled ‘cosechero’ all year around but in my opinion, they’re best enjoyed in warm weather.

Some of my favorites are:

Murmurón (produced by Bodegas Sierra Cantabria (

Muñarrate (Bodegas Solabal – no website)

Medrano Irazu (

These wines are usually available from 0,60€ to 1€ a glass in local bars.

A step up in price but definitely worth it, is ‘A mi manera’ (My Way), a homage to Frank Sinatra produced by Benjamín Romeo at Bodega Contador (currently no website in spite of getting 100 points from Robert Parker for one of his wines).  Come to think of it, with such high scores, why does he need a website?

Unfortunately, Rioja wineries don’t usually ship cosechero reds abroad because of their limited shelf life (they’re best up to 12 months after bottling), so to try them you’ll have to come here.

A more sacrilegious approach, frowned on in Rioja but widely accepted in the rest of Spain, is adding ingredients to red wine to make it more palatable in hot weather.  Sangría is the most famous of these products, but the sugar, brandy, gin and cinnamon used in most sangrías can give you a nasty hangover if you overdo it.

Two of my favorites are tinto de verano and kalimotxoTinto de verano is red wine with 7-Up or soda water, with a slice of orange as a garnish and served on the rocks.  Kalimotxo is the vinous alternative to Red Bull: half red wine and half coke, great for sustaining all-night, outdoor dancing at Spain’s many summer festivals such as San Fermín. Don’t frown until you’ve tried it; it’s really good!

Spaniards look forward all year to the arrival of summer, but by the end of June are complaining about having to stay indoors during the hottest time of day (from 11am to 5pm).

We open our windows at night to let the cool air inside.  We close them and lower the blinds at 9 or 10am to keep the hot air outside.  This simple piece of advice would have probably saved the lives of hundreds of northern Europeans during the heat wave of 2003. We learned this from  800 years of Arab occupation (from 711 to 1492 AD).

I have months of really hot weather ahead of me, so it will be golf from 8 to 12 and a long siesta in the afternoon.  At night, a few glasses of chilled ‘cosechero’ in the old part of town.  That’s how I beat the heat!



1 thought on “Nine months of winter and three months of hell

  1. I kind of like the sound of red wine with soda water over the rocks and will definitely try the next time we get some hot weather here in Ireland – i.e. maybe 2013 or 2014 😦

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s