Madrid- A Time for Work

Ageing Barrels

And so now it was time to taste some wines. We gathered in the lobby of our hotel, a motley crew of wine buyers and wine press from all over the US, wondering what this trip would unveil. Never having been to Spain, I was more curious than the others. I knew about the traditional regions like the Rioja and the Priorat, and of course the Ribera del Duero, but the Vinos de Madrid wines were a completely new beast for me.

Red wines in this area use traditional Spanish grapes like Tempranillo and Grenache (called Garnacha, and apparently originally from Spain as per Victor de la Serna), as well as more international varieties like, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Whites are made with Airén, Albillo, Malvar, Macabeo, Parellada, Torrontés and Moscatel de Grano Menudo. OK, so I knew a few of those, but many were mysteries.

Our first stop was at Bodega Jesús Diaz, where they’ve been fermenting wines in enormous earthen amphorae since 1898, ageing them in 15th century cellars. We tasted their white wine, from the Malvar grape, a light, floral, waxy wine with hints of tea and McIntosh apples. It was rather weird, especially to this Francophile palate. The finish was a bit short, and frankly the wine smelled better than it tasted, offering all up front then falling flat at the back of the mouth.

Before heading to lunch, we stopped at a research center where they’re trying to improve the quality of local wines. Admirable and interesting in a geeky sort of way, but I won’t bore you with the details. Lunch, back in Madrid at the Paradís restaurant, however, was delicious. We were introduced to a variety of officials and a few winemakers, as well as Spain’s eminent wine critic, Jose Penin. His wine guides are a must-read for any lover of Spanish wines. Even though he didn’t speak English, he was fluent in French, and so I managed to have a lovely chat with him. Turned out we had many friends in common in the wine business in France. Who knew?

The rest of the afternoon was taken up by the 9th International Salon de los Vinos de Madrid (trade show). There were a few good wines, far too many bad ones, but sadly prices weren’t as friendly as I’d hoped. On more than one occasion, I had to stifle a chuckle…

For our first night, we decided to be real Madrileños and hit as many tapas bars as possible, starting with Madrid’s oldest, La Venencia. This very old, smoke-stained bar specializes in Sherry, and that’s it. And so we had some delicious Manzanilla (dry) Sherry, with an assortment of cured meats and fish. The rest of the evening quickly became a blur of bars, wine, beer, and more Jamon Iberico than you can shake a pig’s leg at.

At the Edge of the Abyss

The second day dawned grey and dreary, but that was fine as most of us were tired from the previous evening’s, um, work. Yeah, let’s call it that. In any case we appreciated the long bus ride to where Bodega Gosálbez Orti was located. This tiny, family-run winery is a new, modern affair. The visit was pretty straight-forward, and I have to say I was impressed with the investments in technology that were plainly evident.

Then we hit their tasting room.

You know, I always get worried when I see beautiful, ancient Chinese lacquered furniture, flat-screen plasma TVs and engraved tasting glasses waiting for me. Call me old-fashioned or just paranoid, or just plain cheap, but when this happens, more than likely I’ll be asked to pay for all this marketing. Granted, the room looked great. And frankly, the wines were quite good, in fact, they were very good. But, my first, gut reaction was correct, as it usually is: prices were through the roof and far too much for me.

Before lunch, we stopped at Bodegas Tagonius, a large operation making wine as well as olive oil. And while the wines were nice and well-priced, I really found the olive oil making process fascinating. Lunch was amazing, even better than the previous day’s: the restaurant we visited basically threw a few pigs’ legs into the oven and we devoured them, along with multiple courses of delicious courses, served alongside the wines from the Tagonius winery.

Our last stop was at Real Cortijo de Aranjuez, a new winery in old cellars. Despite the impressive surroundings, I wasn’t impressed with the wines, and neither were most of my colleagues. Ah well, a swing and a miss…

Dinner this night was at the famous Casa Lucio restaurant in central Madrid. The food was delicious, culminating in one of my favorite dishes, steak a la plancha. On our way home, we inadvertently stumbled into a few more tapas bars, but this was a tasting trip, so it was all done in a very professional way. “Professional” what, I’m not sure, but we sure did make sure to taste as much as possible…

Traditional Winery Mural

All in all it was a very informative trip, I did find a few interesting wineries with whom I’ll be following up in 2008. But I didn’t get that “Ah-hah!” moment I live for, where you sit up and go “wow”. Still, I did get to meet some great people and had a wonderful time.

Pictures can be seen here:
Madrid Day 4
Madrid Day 5

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