Guadix, one of the oldest human settlements in Spain
Rubbing lard into jamon legs at Jamones Sierra Nevada in Diezma
Saturday morning market, Guadix
Plaza de la Constitución, Guadix
Vineyard with a view – the Sierra Nevada (Spring)
Wine Fair, Guadix
Alahambra, Granada City
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Alhambra is a fascinating destination with Spain’s greatest mountain range rarely out of sight.

Lunch today at bustling Restaurante Rio Verde in the Roman city of Guadix in Granada Province starts with a glass of local Pago de Almaraes Mencal 2020 – a fresh, peachy white – and a sliver of tortilla. There follows a guacamole prepared at the table for ultimate freshness, eggplant brushed with the local miel de caña (cane sugar), grilled octopus served on a bed of smashed potatoes flavoured with smoked paprika, and the deeply concentrated flavour of oxtail croquetas, enjoyed with a bottle of elegant Bodegas Muñana Merlot 2019, produced nearby.

But the conversation is about just one thing. Should tapas continue to be complimentary? Even as the ravages of the pandemic have been receding and Granada’s restaurants and bodegas filling up, the debate has again roared its head. The Mayor of Granada, Francisco Cuenca, at the launch of ‘Saborea Sin Prisa Granada’ (Taste not in a hurry, Granada) argued that tapas are ‘haute cuisine’ and serving them free taints their image. The argument has even been made to drop the term ‘tapa’ and replace it with ‘small bites’ – which represent a ‘taste’ of the menu to come as diners move from the bar to a tableclothed table.

But the Mayor was forced to retract his words and, at least for now, Granada’s unique gastronomic tradition remains as the only Province in Spain to serve free tapas. Buy a small beer or glass of wine in even the smallest of village bars and lo-and-behold, an oozing slice of tortilla arrives, or perhaps wafer-thin slices of locally produced jamon, deep-fried shrimps on a green salad, or cumin-scented chickpea stew.

About an hour’s drive from Granada, Guadix is a walking city with no shop names you’ll recognise, specialist delis (one features pork in all its forms; another is famous for bacalao), and a bustling Saturday morning market overflowing with seasonal, locally grown produce. Elderly residents of the villages that dot the foothills of the Sierra Nevada recall travelling to this legendary market by horse and cart decades before motorways were laid. At the heart of the old city is the fantastic town square, Plaza de la Constitución, lined with traditional cafés. Up a few steps from here, Vinoteca el Refugio offers a newer vision of Spanish cuisine – for example there’s a Moroccan style chicken curry on the menu – and the greatest of care is taken with the quality of the olive oil and salt to accompany the bread. But most striking here is the wine list, which while featuring prestigious labels like La Alta Rioja Ardanza, is committed to local wine, with more than thirty wines from the Guadix region featured by the glass.

Granada Province was formerly a large and successful wine producer, with 40,000 hectares under vine. One of the main gates through which to access the Alahambra – surely one of Spain’s most impressive historic sites – is Puerta del Vino (The Wine Gate). By royal decree, for 325 years from 1505, only wine produced within a thirty-kilometre radius of Granada City was allowed to be consumed in Granada Province. The exception to this decree was in Alhambra, a self-contained city, and it was at Puerta del Vino that wine from elsewhere could be traded. The name of the gate is contested, however, given that the Moors of Granada would have been unlikely to succumb to alcohol. But this story reminds us, if nothing else, of how important local wine production once was to the Catholic Kings.

Following the Phylloxera crisis, which hit vineyards across Europe in the 1830s, the pattern in Granada was to replace vines with almond and olive trees. It is only since the 1990s that any serious vine-growing activity has been revived.

Some villages in the area don’t even have a shop or a café, but any household with sufficient land grows almonds or olives, and many villages run production cooperatives.

Across Granada Province there are around sixty ham factories, and one of these, Jamones Sierra Nevada, is also located in Diezma, with an annual production of 45,000 (considered tiny) pieces of ham.

It is a time consuming and labour-heavy business, and this is a high-quality, beautifully textured, and delicately flavoured ham. Like local wine, it is a genuine expression of the unique conditions created by Spain’s greatest mountain range, the Sierra Nevada.

Text Annabel Jackson / Photos Lisa Cheung