Give me any excuse for a glass of wine and I will be there. Two years ago Useres introduced their first ever wine festival celebrating the resurgence of bodegas in the municipality. I went, and was delighted to see this otherwise dull, but pretty hilltop bastide town transformed into a hubbub of festivity. The ambiance was electric and the setting euphoric, aided by pale grey sails of tissue undulating in high spirits over the streets to soften the piercing sun.
The next year sadly I could not make it, but heard that it was a “pasada” – a great event. Last weekend, Useres celebrated its third Fira del Vi and happily I was able to go. The same sails were in situ, albeit a bit askew and slightly tattier, a minor imperfection that could not dampen the atmosphere. I cannot say the same for the dreadful state of the public toilets right next to the bouncy castles.
I think Useres needs new sails, I said to my companion … and the rest! “La crisis”, he stated. Yes, perhaps. Everything is down to that.
There seemed to be less bodegas, but more tapa vendors, home preserves, hats and the like. Were the bouncy castles a new addition? I missed the farmer and his juicy cherries from two years ago, the sheer simplicity of it. Maybe he could not afford a stand now?
Plates of lamb stew were being wolfed down, followed by deep fried pastries and later, candyfloss for the kids. There was a queue at the olive stand, and the sheep’s cheese from Cati was hugely popular – only 5 euros for a generous plate assortment. We sat at a table around the corner, only place we could find, and made friends with a couple from Castellon. I picked compulsively at their cheese which they declared too strong (yum!) and they nibbled on our cod crisps, too fishy for me. A kind of Spanish pork scratchings equivalent. Probably a lot healthier; certainly crunchier and less fatty. I kept on giving it a go.
Then we took some silly photos.
By about 5pm the men, and even some women (!), were clearly the worse for wear. The bouncy castles were largely ignored, and no surprise there. I mused that this was not a serious wine festival, more an opportunity for a fabulous Spanish piss-up. Or maybe I was the more drunken affair? And maybe it was because two years ago I witnessed its very first day in its inauguration year, and this time the second day in its third year? Had it become as rudderless as the tattered grey voiles?
In contrast let me mention the well-established Galliac wine fair in France. James and I went to it an age ago. We paid an entrance of 6 euros each that included two specially embossed wine glasses. All the wine tastings were completely free with each stand’s offerings previously graded by a panel of expert judges. If we had of known, we would have reserved places at the outdoor evening meal seating 500 on the banks of the Tarn river – at the time 25 euros for a gourmet 5 course meal, starting with the now unfashionable Foie Gras, proceeding with duck breast and so on. Never mind. We staggered home, weighed down by 10 cases of award winning wines. It was a thoroughly professional event. But we never went again – not even tempted by the meal. I cannot explain why.
In Useres some 18 years later, I pay a mere 3 euros and am given the same exact glass, only naturally embossed with the town’s logo. These glasses are universally recognised as the perfect shape for wine. It is a pity then that the tastings were not free and that there was no judging. Although Useres’s event is small, its emerging bodegas have a lot to offer beyond the boundaries of Castellon. It has amazing potential, and furthermore if it took in the surrounding municipalities, it could grow exponentially, especially with the soon to open Castellon Airport.
Go to any vineyard in the world and they will offer you free samplings. These encourage proper purchases, not the localised wine crawl I participated in, the “I am paying more per glass than in the bar around the corner so I want my glassful” kind of thing. Definitely no cases of wine being carted to cars after the sip of a perfectly chilled vintage in Useres. The only carting was of inebriated men, sometimes by their children, more often by their wives!
Talking of children – in Galliac I remember seeing a pram vacated of its proper occupant and laden with wine cases. I also saw two children prodding at their ex-pat parents, clearly sleeping off too much tasting in the middle of a field.
All commentary and dark voiles aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon and alcohol; a little bit too much along with most everyone else. The Spanish down-to-earth love of fiestas, and in this “case” wines, elevated the occasion above the ordinary. Maybe in future years la Fira del Vi will take proper flight above the rooftops of Useres with sparkling new sails and banners proclaiming the charms of its area. But then, it might lose its relaxed intimacy. Be careful of what you wish for.
For you see, although it was my second visit to the Useres wine party, it certainly will not be my last, not as it stands. This despite arriving home exhausted and with an unquenchable thirst, produced by the combination of wine, cheeses, olives and no doubt those smelly cod crisps. I drank litre upon litre of water and then went straight to bed. An early night for me after a long day on the grapes.