I drink too much. I know this. My poor long-suffering liver knows this. Even observers both close and distant have noticed this. It’s the curse of a) being obsessed with wine, b) working in the world of wine and c) living in a country where my obsession is both high quality, readily accessible and cheap. It doesn’t help that I produce drinking videos, write blogs about booze and, clearly, have a podcast/blog dedicated to wine. But I’m no alcoholic.

I have my own rules of drinking:

  1. I never drink at home alone – unless the situation is drastic and for whatever the reason I’m having the worst day imaginable.
  2. I won’t drink for drinking’s sake – there needs to be at least some semblance of a point (and that can be as light as a sunny afternoon on a terrace).
  3. I don’t drink until I’m blind drunk and I regret the rare time’s it has happened.
  4. I try not to mix. If I’m on wine, it’s wine. If gin and tonic, then gin it is.

This got me thinking about the differences between the drinking cultures of my two homes – UK, the home of the past and Spain, the home of the now. I loved my time in Russia, but to start talking about the drinking culture there, well, we’d be here all day. I thought it would be interesting to look at the general ways the two countries drink, gazing through my own very personal and fuzzy lens.

UK

This, logically, was my first exposure to drinking. I shall precede this by saying that I never got drunk until I was 18 years old and in the first year of university.

I was never interested in drinking alcohol – I may have had the odd Bacardi Breezer at my friend Ollie’s house as a teenager – but just looking at the culture around me, what it did to people, was enough to put me off.

In the UK people – and of course I am painting with wildly broad brushstrokes here – seemed to be drinking to escape, forget, release, unleash, as opposed to really enjoying themselves. Every Friday and Saturday night, and nothing has changed, from the largest cities to the smallest towns – in my case Thames town Maidenhead – people could be seen at 1am, blind drunk; shouting, vomiting, fighting, weeping, having their backs rubbed as they sat on the curb, talking to the owners of the kebab shop as they clumsily shovelled low-grade meat and chips into their mouths, hollering at girls, hollering back at the boys.

It seemed, it seems, that a weekend evening is a failure unless you finish wobbling around with your cerebral faculties relegated to being a confused, angry or emotional gloop sloshing around your head.

I drank at university of course, but within a year had found my limits and would rarely return to the point where I wasn’t at least mostly in control of my senses.

In the second year I started to get into Port and crappy off-dry rosés. Classic gateway wines.

In the third year – abroad in Spain and Russia – I had got into beer and spirits and no longer liked sweet drinks.

In the fourth year I found both tea, coffee and wine to my taste. It became more about going to the pubs with friends and drinking local Somerset ales and ciders and being in good company. Very seldom were the times we could be bothered to go to a club or disco: noise, drunk people and dancing. The opposite of a good time.

Regarding wine, often the problem with the UK is two-fold:

  1. The way we drink – getting blitzed at the weekend. The idea of having a relaxed glass of wine for lunch is almost unimaginable.
  2. The price – the simple fact is that a lot of alcohol, especially wine, is quite expensive. So Mon-Thurs you take your foot off the gas, and then slam it down hard at the weekend to reward yourself.

Remember I’m looking at this through my not-quite-thirty-years-old goggles. My parents, indeed a lot of middle-aged and up people, tend to be more Mediterranean in their consumption.

Spain

Now, in the same way that not everyone is always going out and getting wasted in the UK, not everyone in Spain is an angel that never gets drunk. My goodness they do. But the tone is different.

I initially thought I was in paradise when I arrived in Madrid, for the simple reason that I could get bottles of very drinkable wines for the price of a glass of it in the UK. Hell, I could buy a litre of wine, though less palatable, for a euro. What was this alcoholic wizardry? I was young, surrounded by expats – teachers – and we drank. We had house parties, went out on the weekends and that was that. Cheap booze.

Quickly, via experiences as varied as eating arroz con bogavante (lobster stewed in rice) served with a crisp Martín Codax albariño in Guadalajara, a visit to Viña Tondonia in La Rioja where I was lucky to befriend the family – and to this day still receive a Christmas card from them, and drinking cold porcelain cups of Ribeiro wine in A Coruña with plates of steaming mussels, I started to love wine the way the Spanish did.

It all came down to interest and food culture. This was a country where the people drank their wine when they ate – indeed the Ministry of Agriculture officially recognises wine as a ‘food stuff’ and not a ‘booze’.

This was a country where on a Friday night if someone said ‘fancy grabbing a drink’ it didn’t mean ‘fancy getting blind drunk and vomiting in a policeman’s hat?’ It meant let’s have a drink with a nibble to go with it.

This was a country where restaurants, bars, clubs, were all open later. A place were there was no stress and social pressure to pound drinks and get as much booze in you before the inevitable ‘Last orders!’ was yelled to the ding dong of the pub bell. Here you had another drink if you wanted one, not ordering one to boost your level of inebriation.

This was a country were people got drunk, but as a choice or a bi-product of a nice time with friends. It wasn’t the aim of the night. And in over 7 years of living here, none of my friends have ever said ‘let’s get wasted’ and genuinely meant it.

It is a happier, less stressful, cheaper, tastier, slower, more social, amiable, and gratifying way of drinking. And yes, occasionally to the point where the act of walking in a straight line seems the most monumental complicated thing. And that’s how I prefer it.

Salud!


Now it’s all well and good banging on about this wine or that wine, and of course you can buy them in the shops, but there’s nothing quite like seeing the land where the grapes grow and, if possible, visiting wineries.

All these mini itinerary trips require hiring a car and please, if you do them, try, where possible, to have a designated driver. The SWE team doesn’t want a lawsuit against them for promoting the acquiring of DUIs.

Have a look at these 6 regional Spanish road trips, set your own timetables to fit in with the ideas, and enjoy d(r)iving in the heart of the wine-lands!

1. Navarra/Rioja – two/three days

Start of the route: Estella

End of the route: Logroño

Recommended steps:

  1. After enjoying the historic centre of pretty Estella head out southwest along the NA-1110 and visit the Santa María de Irache monastery, its bodega and the free Tempranillo wine tap there pouring out DO Navarra red.
  2. Follow the NA-1110 past vineyards and the remote villages of the Camino de Santiago such as Los Arcos, Torres del Río and Viana to arrive at Logroño.
  3. In Logroño, capital of DO La Rioja, go out for tapas in the famous bar-filled streets around Calle Laurel and Calle San Agustín.
  4. Take the N-232a to the gorgeous hilltop town of Laguardia. Eat in one of the old taverns: pochas (bean stew), steak and potatoes with red peppers.
  5. Afterwards take a trip to maybe visit the Ysios winery, designed by Santiago Calatrava, or head just south a little on the A-3210 to the village of Elciego to visit the famed Marqués de Riscal winery designed by the Guggenheim’s Frank Gehry.
  6. Drive into the wine lands again through villages like San Vicente de Sonsierra and Briones and make your way to the capital of the La Rioja wine region: Haro.
  7. A visit to one of the great bodegas is a must (CUNE, Muga etc). My favourite is Bodegas López de Heredia Viña Tondonia with its ancient and dusty subterranean wine cellars and antiquated methods of production. For a more upmarket lunch head to historic Hotel los Agustinos.

2. Manchuela/Utiel-Requena – one/two days

Start of the route: Alcalá del Júcar

End of the route: Requena

Recommended Steps:

  1. Enjoy the delirious beauty of Alcalá del Júcar: take a drink at the Cuevas de Masago cave bar and have lunch/dinner and wine at El Moli restaurant.
  2. Head west along the Júcar river on the B-5 to the Jorquera viewpoint on the AB-880.
  3. Head north in the direction of Fuentealbilla and visit the winery Finca El Molar: a biodynamic place run by a young and friendly lady called Rus.
  4. Take the CM-3207 road east driving through the wine-lands of DO Manchuela.
  5. Stop just before the fairytale village of Cofrentes on the CV-439 for one of the most startling views in the whole area.
  6. Head north along the N-330 and the high undulating vine-covered fields of DO Utiel-Requena.
  7. Visit the old centre of Requena, like an Andalusian white town lost in the Valencia region.
  8. Enjoy a cheap tasting at the wine shop on Plaza del Salvador and then have a nice traditional meal at the friendly Mesón de la Villa.

3. Ribeira Sacra – one day

Start of the route: Os Peares

End of the route: Monforte de Lemos

Recommended steps:

  1. Head to the village Os Peares and turn onto the dramatic Sil Canyon road, LU-P-4103.
  2. Rejoin at the OU-0508 and continue on to the postcard-perfect viewpoint: Mirador de Vilouxe.
  3. Take the LU-903, which heads through the verdant green depths of the DO Ribeira Sacra wine-lands. Keep your eyes peeled for the Monasterio de San Paio de Abeleda near the village of O Couto and grab a glass or a bottle of local Mencía red wine at the Adega Ponte de Boga or one of the many other bodegas that little the area.
  4. Cross the canyon at its bottom and come up the other side past high-flung Doade and the famously steep vine-covered valley walls.
  5. End your day at Monforte Lemos, a calm town famed for its giant 18th century seminary, and enjoy a well-earned meal.

4. Jerez – one day

Start of the route: Jerez

End of the route: Jerez

Recommended steps:

  1. Start off your trip by looking around the dreamy old town in Jerez and stopping in at old bars like Tabanco San Pablo, for a local tipple.
  2. Head to the town’s oldest sherry winery – Fundador, started in 1730 – and go for a tour and tasting around its fascinating complex.
  3. Head west along the pretty A-480 road. On either side, for as far as the eye can make out, you can notice the distinct dry, almost, white albariza soils: a mixture of chalk, sand and clay. Vineyards surround you as you drive to Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
  4. Enjoy the views across the sands and lazy Guadalquivir estuary to the UNESCO-protected Doñana national park on the other side of the water. Enjoy cheap drinks and some fresh fish and flamenquín at Don Viento.
  5. Stroll up to the centre of the old town, perhaps ‘forcing’ yourself to have another sherry at the adorable Plaza de Cabildo.
  6. Have a final mosey through more of those typically white and endearingly scruffy white streets – occasionally shocked with colour – to Taberna der Guerrita for a tapa and yet more sherry.
  7. Choose your designated driver and head back to Jerez past the final wine-town of El Puerto de Santa María before taking the CA-201 and visiting the beautiful Carthusian charterhouse, Cartuja de Santa María de la Defensión.

5. Cariñena/Campo de Borja – one day

Start of the route: Zaragoza

End of the route: Borja

Recommended steps:

  1. Head south from Zaragoza on the A-222 towards the eerie and Civil War-ruined ghost town of Belchite.
  2. Head west along the A-220 keeping your eyes peeled just after leaving Belchite for the odd-looking Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Pueyo up on its private hill.
  3. Drive through the rumbling plains and vineyards of DO Cariñena and make for the attractive town of Borja; home of Bodegas Borsao, which Robert Parker said in 2016 was ‘My favourite value winery not only in Spain, but in the world…’
  4. Have food at La Bóveda del Mercado and make sure to accompany it with red wine: the speciality being made from the Garnacha grape. You are now in DO Campo de Borja, the ‘Empire of Garnacha’.
  5. Follow the small road north, that rises out of the town past beautiful vineyards, to the Santuario de Misericordia. Here you can see the amusing repainting of Ecce Homo when local octogenarian Cecilia Giménez tried, and spectacularly failed, to restore the fresco.
  6. Return towards the N-122 and take the road west, coming off at the Z-372. You’re now heading into the lush and mountainous beauty of the Moncayo Natural Park.
  7. Visit the imposing and ancient-looking Monasterio de Veruela and its well-set up wine museum. Also, of course, grab a drink there!

6. Bierzo – one day

Start of the route: Ponferrada

End of the route: Villafranca del Bierzo

Recommended steps:

  1. First head east along the LE-142 and check out some of the outrageously cute slate-tiled mountain villages typical of the area: Molinaseca, El Acebo de San Miguel, Foncebadón and, slightly further off, Rabanal del Camino.
  2. Check out the Templar Castle in Ponferrada and grab tapas in the old town at El Bodegón: famed for their spicy mussels, fried calamari and patatas bravas.
  3. Head west along the LE-713 to the wine town of Cacabelos and then try to grab a tour of the Godelia winery. You’ll start to notice that you are following pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago.
  4. Past dinky Pieros, take the offshoot road CV-126-32 to the ramshackle and diminutive wine-village Valtuille de Arriba. This whole area is surrounded by smooth multicoloured hills dotted as far as the eye can see with Mencía grapevines; Spain’s answer to Pinot Noir.
  5. Follow the country roads west – best to use a GPS here – to one of Spain’s most attractive small towns: Villafranca del Bierzo. Eat at the Casa de Comidas La Pedrera, with its pretty decor and garden.

There are myriad routes through cute villages and outstanding countryside in all 70 of the country’s denominaciones. So, when you’ve finished these 6, hire a car and make your own adventure!

Salud y buen camino!


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!’


This week, despite the throngs of winter in full effect, Roque and Luke have a white wine. But not any old white wine. They head to the Basque Country and try a Txakoli from DO Txakoli de Álava. ‘Atlantis’ from the Maetierra bodega. They also answer multiple questions from the public whilst attempting, and failing, to not spill wine on the floor.

Check out our new episode!


On today’s podcast Roque and Luke head to Catalonia and take a bottle of one of Spain’s most highly-prized wine regions: Priorat. La Garnatxa Fosca, part of the Proyecto de Garnachas por España from Vintae wineries. They talk about stupid things and they talk about geeky things. But most of all, they talk about wine.

Check out our new episode!


Happy 2017 from Roque and Luke. To toast this new year we tackle another Spanish classic. A bottle of Ribera del Duero, from Condado de Oriza Crianza. As well as the classic wine chat the two swap presents and chat festive nonsense.

Check out our new episode!


The world of wine is vast and all-consuming. There is a plethora of counties producing staggering amounts of wines from a bamboozling number of regions and areas. Safe to say, the wine world is both deliciously seductive and confusingly dense and far-reaching.

At the Spanish Wine Experience we have been thinking recently about how people tend to choose their wine as, quite naturally, in Spain it is different to my homeland of Britain. But it is not as different as you might think.

After quite a lot of research, here are the pros and cons of the Top 5 ways people choose wine these days.

The Label

If you know ‘nothing’ about wine – so nada about counties or regional differences or grapes etc – it is quite logical that you might just stroll around the aisles looking for something that stands out visually. An interesting label. As subjective as this may be, it’s a very common theme these days. Your average Joe isn’t a wine buff and just wants something to drink with a partner or friends. So…eyes speak, ironically, volumes. The label is often the first port of call for a general buyer in search of a drink that many people call wine.

Pros:

The advantages aren’t plentiful, but are, to some extent, there. There are a couple of schools of thought with regards to labels. Old School and Creative.

Old School labels contain landscape scenes or chateaus or bodegas and animals. They are rustic. The vibe is either natural or classical looking. Things that either remind the drinker of a) where it comes from or b) France and Italy. If people see land or big houses they tend to feel something nostalgic. It’s a sign of a trusted and venerable winemaker…sometimes.

Modern and fun(ky) labels can also be a good sign. Young, perhaps, and less fuddy duddy wineries that buck the trends and want to make their fantastic wines known. Often the creativity they put behind their wines can be a sign of joyous invention in the bottle.

Cons:

A label is, objectively, meaningless. A wine is either good or bad because the liquid in the bottle is either good or bad. You can make a bad wine and give it the coolest label and you can make an amazing wine and give it a bland one. People use their eyes, but knowing the wine or asking about it and/or trying it first will really let you know what you’re in for.

The Price

The old maxim – read myth – is as follows: the better the wine, the more expensive the wine.

Pros:

A more expensive wine can denote positive things: that the wine is aged, and people often prefer older and more complex wine, so you´re perhaps getting something more matured. Or maybe the wine comes from a more exclusive, artisan or less known – smaller yield – winery. Something special.

Having said that, depending on which country you are in expensive can often simply be a question of tax and import rates. So, it might be a tasty classic Shiraz from somewhere in Australia but, because of tax, costs more than an affordable Rioja.

Cons:

Price is dependent on so many things: age, country, tax, yield of x or y grape, winery, year…so quite a lot. Price is almost as subjective as taste itself. Try not to choose wines by their price alone. You can sometimes miss great deals for great wines at affordable prices or, equally, by being hoodwinked by ‘fancier’ wines at higher prices which you don’t like as much. Choose a wine you want, not necessarily a price you think means is good.

The Age

Another old myth with wine is that the older the wine, the better the wine. This is a question we get asked a lot on the Spanish Wine Experience podcast. And, as with a lot of things in the wine world, it’s almost entirely exclusive.

Pros:

‘Old wine is good wine’ is a line quoted in a episode of the brilliant surreal comedy Black Books. Is this true? Well…certain grapes, regions and countries, tend to either age a lot or not at all. It depends on style, the physiology of the fruits, the history and traditions of the region. Many things. And when it all comes together, the results can be astonishing, an almost orgasmic and sensual experience. If we take for example Bordeaux, Rioja or Barolo as quintessential examples of old-aging regions, the resulting wines are, for good reasons, considered some of the world’s greats.

Age adds complexity and depth to wines. Adds tertiary flavours that excite the olfactory system and palate. A red grape can end up in a bottle smelling of tobacco and wet suede, prunes and sweet spices. Age adds depth. But it is better?

Cons:

Not necessarily. Just because you leave a wine in a bottle and barrel it doesn’t make it ‘better’. Sometimes they don’t respond as well and are in fact less tasty than the younger ones.

As a reversal. Some grapes and regions specialize in the reverse. Younger, more vibrant and lively and fruity wines. Fruit bombs full of acidity and plummy heft and colorful palates. The bon vivant in the face of the old fusty gent.

Our upcoming podcast features a 4 month oaked Monastrell from Jumilla. usually considered more balanced and flavorful than its 18 month counterpart.

Again. Choose what your palate likes. If you enjoy smoky, spicy complexity, go for it. If you like more approachable and fruity affairs, hit the younger side of things.

The Country

Many countries have their own wine regions. Europe especially is vast and varied in its selection. From the hot depths of Spain and the Med to the chillier climbs of northern France, England, Austria and Germany, wine is big and ever-changing internationally. And then we have South America and North America and Australia and Asia. Whole continents!

Pros:

Generally countries themselves will have styles of wines that ‘in general’ will mark their nation as different to others. Spain’s wines are different to Germany’s. This is because climate and weather and varietals will change a lot depending on where you go. Heat, soils, weather, local varieties. In the world, and I mean that word in a grandiose way, variety is the spice of life. I’m a bigger fan of countries with heat that can offer me heavy reds that burst with flavour, like Spain, Australia, USA, South Africa, Argentina.

Choosing helps you identify a global style of wine that suits your needs.

Cons:

Having said that, each country, especially in Europe – and also behemoths like Australia – has a fascinating selection of different wine regions that can help muddy and subvert the idea that a country has an identity.

If we take the world’s old stalwart, France, we get a scrumptious menagerie of types. Towards the north you have the cooler climates that offer zing and elegance to the whites and lighter reds of Champagne and Burgundy. But, go further south towards that exotic border with Iberia, and you bump into the Rhone and Bordeaux with their penchant for gummier, darker beasties.

To say ‘I like French wines’ is so general to almost be meaningless. Which French wines??

The Grape

A little like the regions, different countries have, often, their ‘own’ grapes that either are only grown there or, due to their nature and history, flourish there. Silvaner in the Franken region of Germany, Monastrell in Jumilla, Nebbiolo in the areas of Piemonte. But then we have many grapes that have left from their homes and spread to pastures new to expand their sensory horizons; most of them French: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah etc. So…choose the grapes you know right?

Pros:

A grape, inherently, will have its own character; be it a light-skinned grape or thick, be it aromatic or neutral. Each grape will, by definition of it being it, have its own unique style and flavour palate. People who like big, heavy, fruit filled wunderkinds will like Cab Sav, Anglianico, Monastrell, Malbec, Touriga Nacional, Pinotage. Those who like more elegant and graceful reds will, in general prefer, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Mencia, Grenache. however, those grapes integral character will also warp and change depending on where it is grown.

Cons:

A Grenache from France, from the banks of the Rhone, is not really similar at all to its boozier, fruitier and berry-ier origins in Spain – Garnacha. A graceful and profoundly deep Syrah from France hasn’t much at all in common with its bustling and spicy cousin Shiraz in Australia. A delicate and soft Pinot Noir from Burgundy – grace incarnate – isn’t similar at all really with the jammier and fleshier ones from the USA.

Climate, soil and weather will dictate also a lot what happens with the grape itself. So ordering a smart and sexy Cab or Merlot from Bordeaux will give you a very different experience from that of California.

One might surmise from this article that all hope is lost. That nothing you choose or do matters because everything changes. But…don’t despair!! General rules still hold trues. Grapes are still grapes, regions still regions, age still age.

It’s a push to look for what you like. The more you drink – and we always encourage that – the more you’ll learn what you like. From country to country, region to region, grape to age to cost to label.

Wine is a sexy, fascinating, homely, elegant, flashy, humble, complicated and base pleasure to be enjoyed by everyone at every level.

Do a bit of research and have a think what you actually like. Then…go from there!


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.


The relationship of people and wine is clearly different depending on the geographic region. In Spain, as in other Mediterranean countries, wine is a beverage very close to the lives of people, day by day, something that has its origin in Western civilizations. The image of a bottle of wine on the table at lunch or dinner time has been normal since we were children and, perhaps, precisely for that reason wine is considered in southern Europe more as a food than an alcoholic beverage.

I remember my grandparents providing their kitchen with wine in the same way they did with bread, vegetables or meat. I remember my grandfather appearing right before dinnertime with those big bottles of wine purchased in bulk: he bought them directly from the winery in litres. He arrived there with those bottles filled with wine, a low but acceptable quality one, to accompany their lunch and dinner.

On the table it was served in a porrón, a jug, a very curious glass container, no more than eight inches high, with a remarkable bulging belly, a long spout pointed end where the wine came out and a neck which my grandfather held in order to pour the liquid directly into his mouth. The beauty of the porrón is that it can be shared among several people without the need for glasses. The invention of porrón is Spanish, so do not run to buy it at Ikea because you will not find it in their kitchen items section. My grandparents shared this strange contraption during their meals and I even tried to use it. It was not easy to figure out where the jet of wine would finish, and on more than one occasion I ended up with a face full of the precious liquid.

My grandfather also used to store his wine in a bota, a teardrop-shaped container made of goatskin. It was always hanging on the kitchen door, and it always accompanied him during his hunting days, slung on his shoulder, as if it were a water canteen. On cold mornings my grandfather went to the mountain in search of rabbits or partridges and it was a good way to get him warm. I squeezed the tummy of the bota to see if it was full or not. He used to keep it always full, said the wine was cured in it and that it was a way to keep the leather moistened. He drank from it in the same way he used the porrón. He held it up and squeezed the wine jet into his mouth.

But it wasn’t only the porrón or bota that were used in Spanish houses. If something can surprise foreigners it is that it is not usual in our towns to drink wine in glasses (goblets), but rather in low or flat glasses. Across the country they get different names as chatos or txikitos in the Basque Country. Don’t be shy, if you are traveling around Spanish towns and enter a bar, ask for a glass of wine, they will serve you a small glass of house wine, surely. You will be also impressed by the price. A while ago, Luke and I traveled to a small town near Madrid, Morata de Tajuña, during its festivals, looking for some famous chocolate palmeritas which we had heard about. At lunch we ordered some chatos that cost us 50 cents each. We stared each other contentedly. Those chatos were a yes-to-life.

In Spain it is usual to make a stop at mid-morning in bars or taverns to consume a small amount of wine and put something in the stomach to kill the bug that stings around noon and which has to be calmed down if you want to hold out until 2 or 3pm; that is when you have lunch in Spain. It seems curious that the aperitif time in Spain is at high noon and not in the afternoon, as the Italians do. But please, pull yourselves together: just get in, ask for a tortilla tapa or whatever comes from the kitchen bar and a glass of wine. Enough. We will continue our activity after that. A glass of wine will not get you drunk. You will be able to continue your activity without problem.

If you stop to eat the famous Menú del día, the daily menu, consisting in two dishes, dessert and a drink, you will notice that a glass of wine is included in the price, that can cost from 9 to 15 euros. In some places they will even leave a bottle of wine on the table. Yes, the waiter will leave it there and you can serve as many drinks as you want. For real. You will not be charged for the whole bottle. We are not used in Spain to serve in fraschette as they do in Italy, in quarters or half a littre. Or bottles or glasses or in clay jars, also very popular.

You’d be surprised by amount of wine we consume in this country and yet maintain a very restrained rate of alcoholism. Wine is consumed in Spain with a naturalness that makes it look like an alcoholic beverage. But it isn’t, really. In fact it’s not surprising that many nightclubs do not even have wine on their drinks menu, and of course, you will never find it in discos. Wine, like I said before, is more related to the table and food, as if it is considered part of nutrition, rather than a product related to fun and leisure.

It is so related to our culture that we call Spanish Wine, Vino español, not only to our wine but also to the act of drinking as a social act, for example after an event, an exhibition or any celebration where you want to make a toast. It’s what is called in other countries a ‘cocktail’.

As you can see, what we can learn from the way the Spanish people drink wine is that normalization of wine at home leads to a more responsible use of it.

In theory 😉