A must for anyone who wants say that they have been in Madrid is a visit to the Museo del Prado. If any of our readers or listeners do it, I’m sure they would like have a different perspective when visiting its rooms. Join me on a brief tour of this great art gallery through the eyes of a wine lover. We will not do a thorough scan of all works that in some way or another have wine as protagonist; that would be impossible. This is a personal proposal, sometimes a bit whimsical, but I think quite significant.

Let’s start our tour honoring the god Dionysus, or Bacchus as the Romans called him, the God of Wine, who we have already spoken on other occasions. Let’s stop in front of the marble bust of the beautiful and serene Antinous of Bithynia, the young man who was elevated to God by Emperor Hadrian himself, who was his lover, and on this occasion is represented as the god Dionysus. A little hint: see the small horns coming out of his forehead representing him as a faun or satyr, meaning therefore ‘of god’. Although the museum has many other representations of Bacchus, this is certainly my favourite.

Although representations  of Bacchus have not always been so flattering. The anonymous Baco accompanied by nymphs and satyrs, XVII century, shows an obese and deformed being, almost repulsive, like the one Cornelis de Vos shows in The Triumph of Bacchus. Or in Autumn of Mariano Salvador Maella, where we have a Bacchus with heavy eyes, raising his glass and saluting the audience. On his face we can notably feel the effects of a monumental binge.

But if there’s a painting of the God of Wine that you should not miss, it is The Feast of Bacchus by Velazquez. The main character is Bacchus, one of the artist’s first male nudes, dominates the composition with the brightness of his body and his clothes. On his left a naked satyr raises a fine crystal goblet and places us in the world of myths, while on the right a beggar and four men in brown cloaks, with leathery faces and tipsy expressions, constitute a truthful and realistic counterpoint. Before them is the figure of a young man, kneeling as he is being crowned by the God, perhaps receiving the gift of the artistic creation. Isn’t wine a way of creation? Wine not only has the ability to brighten the spirits of men and lead to non-rational states, but is a stimulus for creation, a vehicle.

As we know, the followers of God celebrate the pleasures of the flesh and the sacred liquid in what is known as Bacchanalia. The effects of wine in the body induced Dionysian ecstasy, as we can see in the Dionysian Dance, a marble relief that describes the cult of Dionysus. It was considered something dangerous but its value as a means of escaping for a few hours from the strict discipline of civic life was also appreciated. The maenad’s ecstatic dance and the leaping satyr playing with a glass of wine are impressively rendered. A similar event was painted by Titian in The Andrians in the XVI century. Gods, men and children join the celebration of the effects of wine. My favourite character is the young man who observes the wine against the light, a classical wine tasting. Enjoy the scene: naked bodies, frolicking, dancing, drinking … is there a better plan for a Saturday night?

Be sure not to miss the chaotic The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day by Pieter Bruegel “The Elder” (16th century), the Bacchanal by Nicolas Poussin (17th century) or the two canvases Offering to Bacchus and Bacchanal of Michel-Ange Houasse to see how the wine world and its pernicious effects are celebrated.

One piece that always jumps out at me is the politically incorrect Children Bacchanal by the Dane Keil, 17th century, who shows in this canvas three children who seem to be indulging in the pleasures of wine. Look at the bottle, covered with straw or esparto rope from the base to the neck, known as a Pilgrim bottle, precisely because it’s particularly easy to carry and to accompany pilgrims during the long way. A little later, from the porcelain Factory of Niderviller, we have a piece, also called Infantile Bacchanal, showing a group of children naked or with sheepskins on their back, crowned by garlands of leaves and carrying bunches of grapes, playing happily.

Although if  you want to face a real politically incorrect topic, see this painting by Luca Giordano: Lot intoxicated by his daughters, where due to the lack of men on earth, the daughters intoxicate their father to lie with them and ensure offspring to propagate the race. Hey, just a moment, it’s not me, it’s the Bible: Genesis 19, 31-35.

But let’s keep our feet on the ground and leave aside these mythological scenes. Let’s use the museum as a time machine to transport us to ancient times to see how the townspeople enjoyed wine as the great master Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, or just ‘Goya’, did. Goya painted during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

In his The Grape Harvest or Autumn, we can see how the harvest should be in those days. A young man dressed in yellow, offers a bunch of grapes to a young lady, a child tries to catch it, but it seems that these are reserved only for adults. As children we all felt that same curiosity for the precious liquid. Behind them is a peasant carrying a basket full of grapes on her head. In the background, peasants working in the fields, busily collecting the fruit. The silhouette of the mountains in the background reminds us of the Sierra de Gredos. Is that one of the very first Wines of Madrid or perhaps it’s from Méntrida? Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla y León, perhaps?

Goya also left us The Drinker, where a young man sitting in the shade of trees is drinking wine from a boot with certain gluttony, while the boy accompanying him, looking thoughtfully at the viewers, is eating a turnip. Not a very solemn moment, but very significant of the society of the time, hungry and thirsty, roguish and somewhat shameless. Remember when I told you that my grandfather kept wine in a boot? Well, here it’s a clear example that Spain has been doing it for a long time. Moreover, in Still life with melon and figs, apples, wineskin and snack basket in a landscape by Luis Egidio Meléndez, you can see one of them in much more detail.

Goya left us countless scenes of those times, a great way to discover how the Spanish people of the late 18th century lived. Look at The Threshing Ground or Summer painting. Goya depicts this season with a scene of harvesters recovering from the summer heat by sitting beside a pile of recently harvested wheat sheafs. On the left a group of peasants try to inebriate another character whose clothing and stance define him as a typical character: the village idiot.

Or stop in front of The Picnic, also Goya’s. You’ll see how young people enjoyed to go picnicking by the banks of the Manzanares River on the outskirts of Madrid, eating, drinking and smoking. Yes, believe it or not, that’s Madrid.

One of my favourite pictures reflecting the Spanish society of late 19th is the painting by José Benlliure y Gil, Smalltalk and drink, a close and honest representation of the very reality of a country, its people and their customs. Four old peasants, dressed in the traditional way, chatting quietly around a jug of wine. I see on their faces serenity, experience and sacrifice.


It is also seen in the face of
The drinker, by Maximino Peña Muñoz. The old man grabs his jug of wine (we also talked about that, remember?), while reading the newspaper El País..

Let me also tell you about the canvas ‘Till I see you, my Christ!! of Jose Garcia Ramos, also from the late 19th century, early 20th. A beggar bearing an image of baby Jesus quaffs a glass of wine until he sees at the bottom an image of crucified Christ, under the watchful eye of the innkeeper and a customer. To drink until you see Christ. That phrase never made more sense. I love the sign hanging in the window: “Today we do not sell on credit, but tomorrow”.

Already stuck in the 20th century, Inocencio Medina Vera left us a painting, Romería de San Eugenio, which shows the feast that was celebrated on the first or second Sunday of November in the El Pardo hills, near Madrid. I have included this work to show you how the way people consume wine is evolving, this time wine is carried in a glass jar or bottle, what the Italians call frasca. As you can see wine is always naturally present in these events.

Although we could go on for hours wandering through the many rooms of the museum, discovering more details about wine and its history, I will be ending because I know you will be already looking forward leaving the museum to enjoy a delicious glass of wine. That’s why I invite you to see one last painting with me. It is Smoking and drinking monkeys by David Teniers, painted c. 1660. Four monkeys smoke, gathered around a table; one of them raises his glass to toast. Another is asleep and rests his head on a bench. The painter is reminding us that we are nothing but animals, who somehow don’t look too far removed from the grotesque image of apes around a table.

Since starting our tour through the museum, we have seen how wine brings out man’s real nature and depths, their weaknesses and their passions. Wine opens doors, but also exposes our more human and authentic side. Do not miss it. Find it out. Let yourself go.

And now it’s time to go for that well deserved glass of wine. Thanks for joining me. Do not forget your backpack at the locker.

All pictures are copyrighted by MUSEO NACIONAL DEL PRADO.


Come and join The Spanish Wine Experience team, Luke Darracott and Roque Madrid, in a classy bar of Madrid, let’s talk about wine and life, let’s try a few fun and interesting wines, let’s meet each other. You will not regret.

* This is a free event. You pay what you drink.

RSVP

 


If you come to Madrid, which of course, we hope you do. If you go into a modern or classic little Spanish tapas bar, which of course, we hope you do. And if you order a wine, which of course, you should, you’ll often have limited options. You ask for a vino tinto, and will almost always be given a Tempranillo from Rioja – although these days it is common to be offered a Ribera del Duero. Ask for a vino blanco, and you’ll be proffered a goblet of Verdejo from Rueda – though, again, sometimes Albariño from Rías Baixas makes an appearance.

Across most of Castille – both Castilla y León and La Mancha – and Madrid, Extremadura, and Andalucía the most common white wine is always Verdejo. Go most other places and that exotically named grape is still there, accompanied with her productive little region of Rueda. It’s the most well-known grape and region pairing that no-one has heard of!

So today it’s time to meet Verdejo: Spain’s quiet signature grape.

The Grape:

  • The juicy green gapes were brought to Spain probably sometime in the 11th century by the Mozarabs coming from the north of Africa.
  • The first vines were planted in the small but sensationally productive region of Rueda, 175km northwest of Madrid. There are fewer than 60 bodegas in the area, but the grape has become synonymous with the area. Pure terroir.
  • It seems to be the daughter of Savagnin and Castellana Blanca.
  • The name stems from the Spanish for green, verde. The viticultural version of ‘say what you see’ as they are famed for their green-blue bloom.
  • In 2010, Australia got a taste for the grape and started to plant it.
  • The grape is ideally suited to the poor soils and harsh environment present in Rueda; a region that can drop 25 degrees celsius at nighttime.
  • The climate of the meseta is also handy, because Verdejo has a high susceptibility to Powdery mildew fungal disease. The complete dryness doesn’t allow the humidity-loving growth of the fungus.
  • It’s only really in the last 40-odd years that Verdejo from Rueda has come into its own. For a long time it was used in Spain to produce a strong Sherry-like wine.
  • It wasn’t until 70s, with the Rioja giant Marqués de Riscal seeing its potential, that Verdejo began to be used to make fresh and crisp still wines.
  • It’s a fairly venerable Spanish denominación de origen, formed in 1980.
  • The grapes, like many in hot climates, are generally harvested at night. The cooler temperatures will protect the grapes and mean they won’t start to oxidise.
  • As per usual, Verdejo has myriad other names, though generally they are not common but they are wonderful to look at: boto de gall, botón de gallo blanco, cepa de madrigal, gouvelo, verdal del país, verdeja, verdeja blanca.

The Wines:

  • Verdejo as a wine, especially when showing its full expression in Rueda, is famed for its slightly green-tinted straw colour and aromatic and almost herbaceous aroma.
  • It’s not dissimilar to Sauvignon Blanc or a big Pinot Gris. Some laurel, bitter almonds, lemons and citrus are all found on the nose. The palate is smooth and quite full and has sharp acidity.
  • Be aware Verdejo can be rather unappealing if not served chilled enough, sometimes too alcoholic and petrolly. But when chilled correctly is an utter delight.
  • Verdejo can take to ageing quite well, turning almost nutty. That being said, it is not overly common; many producers believing that you lose the intrinsic qualities that Verdejo is good for.
  • The grape, due to the similarity of the vines and name, is sometimes confused with Verdelho. They are not the same. And that’s that.
  • Verdejo is often mixed with Sauvignon Blanc or Macabeo.
  • Due to the acidity of the wines, Verdejo is almost the perfect food pairing white wine.
    • It goes very well with seafood and shellfish.
    • Salty or matured food like strong cheeses pair brilliantly.
    • Verdejo also can go toe to toe with ‘exotic’ food like Thai or Chinese and even spicy food – though, as stated prior, make sure it’s well-chilled!
  • The wines, to be called Rueda Verdejo must be 85% Verdejo. Usually, to show it off fully, producers are more likely to produce 100% wines.
  • Despite finding its spiritual home in Rueda, the largest planting of the grape is actually in Extremadura followed by Castilla La Mancha.

So, even though the boozing populace of Madrid may either a) be bored of Verdejo these days or b) take it for granted, there is no doubting or ignoring the fact that this little green juice bomb has been carrying Spain’s greatest cities, its most famous socialites, its hardy workers and its tiniest villages, into various states of inebriation for centuries.

Verdejo (and Rueda) are owed a debt of soused thanks from a lot of Spain. When all else fails and the cabinets and shelves are running dry, there’s always Verdejo, smiling down at you and saying ‘Hola, pop me in the fridge a while and then drink me!’


Come and join The Spanish Wine Experience team, Luke Darracott and Roque Madrid, in a classy bar of Madrid, let’s talk about wine and life, let’s try a few fun and interesting wines, let’s meet each other. You will not regret.

RSVP

* This is a free event. You pay what you drink.

 


De Vinos

  • Calle de la Palma, 76
    28015 Madrid
  • Barrio: Universidad
  • Metro: Noviciado
  • +34 911 823 499

Strolling one day with Luke on the old Calle Palma, he took me to this little tavern. It is not unusual that is filled with people, and not just for their tastings, concerts or promotions of wine and vermouth, but because it is really a great place to discover and appreciate the world of wine. It’s easy to miss it, keep your eyes open when walking nearby. The interior has that stale air, with tradition, we call it in Spain with ‘solera’, part of our tradition, really welcoming. The tavern really smells history, did you know it is a former dairy?.

Do not worry if there are many people at the entrance, because there is more room at the back.

The best thing of the place is the owner Yolanda, a real winelover. Let her take you under her wing, her wine list is as wide as it is interesting, served “como Dios manda”. Succumb to the most extravagant denominations, leave the mainstream path of Rioja and Ribera: Mencia, Bierzo, Somontano … By glass or bottle, and do not worry if you don’t finish the bottle, you can bring it home, or better still, they can vacuum seal with a name tag. Cool, right?

It’s not all about wine, they also have some tapas that are a real pleasure to the senses. The menu is as good as the wine one. I especially remember the parmesan mousse with red wine jam … Oh. My. God. Or just go with a simple cheese. Simple tapas: a cheese and a wine. Pleasure of the gods

Posada del León de Oro

The old inns of old “Madrid de los Austrias”, near the Plaza Mayor, have been reconverted into sofisticated hotels that have not turned their backs on one of the most rooted traditions in this city: wine. La Posada del León de Oro is one of those hostels of the late nineteenth century, crossed by the Christian wall of the XII century, and which, after its lavish restoration, has not lost its noisy and daily hubbub, like all the best bars in Madrid. It is not overly expensive for such a luxurious looking place. They have done a very good job with the restoration of the old inn.

The wine list has more than 300 types. Ask for whichever bottle you want, and pay only the bottle plus the corkage. The floor in some parts is transparent glass and you can see the ancient cellar through it. Among all the wines they pay special attention to the Madrid ones, something I like. The tapas range goes from the simplest things like the typical pincho de tortilla to the most sophisticated ones.

Matritum

  • Calle Cava Alta, 17
    28005 Madrid
  • Barrio: La Latina
  • Metro: La Latina
  • +34 913 658 237
  • matritum.es

Matritum is the Latin name for Madrid, but do not look in the history books, this is not a Roman city. The city of Madrid is much more recent, and that’s the reason they can make tunnels and holes anywhere without fear of finding a Roman arena or some Arab baths.

This is definitely my favorite corner of La Latina, small and friendly. The food is exquisite, with a touch of innovation but respectful to the national gastronomic tradition. Pre-book your dinner at this pleasant and hidden restaurant of Cava Alta. Let yourself go by the advice of Alfonso, the sommelier, who is in charge of the place. Meatballs, croquettes, foie gras… see what the staff recommend. The journey of flavors is amazing.

The place is intimate with few tables, not quite cheap, but acceptable. The wine list is designed for each season and includes varieties ranging from the expected Riojas to the unexpected, large enough to have the sensation of traveling around world. It will not disappoint you. This place has also a wide variety of tapas and wines from all regions of Spain.

Casa Lucas

  • Calle de la Cava Baja, 30
    28005 Madrid
  • Barrio: La Latina
  • Metro: La Latina
  • +34 913 650 804
  • casalucas.es

Casa Lucas is one of those places to stop when you are in the area. It is located right next to the emblematic Casa Lucio and is one of the most popular places on the Cava Baja. You will be surprised how small it is, just 6 or 7 tables, so plan your visit well, it’s always full.

If you have to wait, that it is the perfect moment to take a wine at the bar. Here it works the rule of “eat well, drink well”. The menu is excellent, and the wine list is more than acceptable. Do not look for a sophisticated place, newly designed, loud music or dim lighting. This is a bar. Yes. The food is exquisite and worth paying that little more than the local bars. Excellent croquettes, chicken curry, tatakis …

The wine list runs all the Spanish geography with more than twenty references across the country

Taberna Tempranillo

  • Calle Cava Baja, 38
    28005 Madrid
  • La Latina
  • Metro: La Latina
  • +34 913 641 532

I love this wine and tapas bar in its simplicity: wine and tapas. You always find people packed into it, so the sooner you go the better. A wall full of bottles up to the ceiling decorates the bar. Wine, that is the word that defines this bar. After all, Tempranillo is the most famous grape of Spain. You will find excellent quality wines from all over the country at good price. With every wine you get a tapa: excellent embutidos as ham, chorizo, lomo…accompanied by bread of the highest quality. A real pleasure for the mouth.

The tapas menu exceeds the conventional: let yourself be taken away on a flavour zephyr with sophisticated Iberian ham, crab or foie gras, line-caught tuna with garden vegetables. Their open sandwiches, tostas, a real Madrid obsession, are to die for here. The price is incredibly reasonable, so the only thing you have to deal is with the lack of space.


To celebrate our 10th podcast Luke and Roque turn to the home region of Madrid. They drink a red from Señorío de Val Azul, Fabio, and after a special report from the field, a white from Jesús Díaz e Hijos. Expect the usual drunken behaviour.

Check out our new episode!


Rioja. A word everyone knows. A word that conjures the image of shining glasses full of deep red wine pulled from the sun-soaked fields of Spain. For many, for most, Spanish wine is Rioja. Depending on the shop, other words, other regions, have started to drip into the marketplace: Ribera del Duero, Albariño, Priorat. And of course everyone knows sherry and Cava. But what of the rest of Spain? There are sixty-nine official wine regions and where are they represented? Where are they championed?

Madrid is Spain. A big melting pot of peoples and cultures stretching back to its founding in the 9th century by the Moors, who attacked and ruled the Iberian peninsula for a few hundred years. They brought rice, sugar cane, lemons and oranges, almonds, spinach and aubergines. They also helped to refine the gastronomy. But what of wine?

The Romans started it, exporting rough amphorae-fulls back to Rome. The Moors gently forbade it for drinking, but continued to tax the production. Then the Reconquest happened and the ruling Christians reopened the country to international trade, introducing wine to the British market for the first time. Things were going well until the 19th century when an epidemical plague of phylloxera ravaged Europe’s vineyards, bringing production to the brink of extinction. After the vines recovered in the 1900s Spain quickly became one of Europe’s leading winemaking countries. Madrid has been making wine since the 1300s but only received a Denominación de Origen (protected status, like for Champagne or Barolo) in 1990. They are young guns. Pretenders to the throne.

They are usually dark, youthful and full of rustic flavour when red; there are of course whites and rosés too. They can come from any of three subzones. So, just to get technical for a minute:

Sub-zone 1: Arganda – home of cutesy village Chinchón and UNESCO town Aranjuez. Located south east of Madrid. Sedimentary limestone soil; extreme winter and summer temperatures.

Sub-zone 2: Navalcarnero – home of the pretty town of the same name. Located south west of Madrid. Flat, sedimentary, loose soils of farmland origin.

Sub-zone 3: San Martin de Valdeiglesias – home of the Gredos mountains. Located in the extreme west of Madrid. Rugged zone, warmer and more humid temperatures. Granite soils on slopes and foothills.

These Madrid wines can be hard to track down internationally – we’ll put a top 6 selection of humdingers at the bottom of this blog – but within Spain they are gaining traction. The whole joy of wine is tasting the variety. Nobody wants to be that person who sticks to two or three bottles their whole lives ‘because they like it and trust it’.

There are 44 wineries in Madrid alone, so there is no excuse to not try them when you visit. The bars are also slowly but surely getting behind the Madrid wine train and are stocking them with more regularity. A lot of them are small, family-run or cooperative ventures without a lot of money to export on a massive scale. But they’re getting there; and my goodness are they friendly and welcoming. Coupled with a recent drive to export to the U.S., you could be seeing bottles of Vino de Madrid on the shelves sooner than you think!

A few of our favourite bodegas to check out:

  1. Bodega Regajal – Las Retamas (Tempranillo)
  2. Bodega Marañones – Treintamil Maravedíes (Garnacha)
  3. Bodega Bernabeleva – Navaherreros (Garnacha)
  4. Bodega Señorio de Val Azul – Fabio (Syrah, Cab Sav, Merlot)
  5. Bodega Las Moradas de San Martín – Initio (Garnacha)
  6. Bodegas Andrés Díaz – d’Ório (Tempranillo/Garnacha/Cab Sav)

From us here at SWE, salud!!