A tasty pit-stop in Madrid’s Antón Martín market

Two things I adore in this world: bars and markets. Each is a great leveller; a place where people crowd together, drawn by the most basic human needs – food, booze and the chance to see and be seen. In Madrid, Antón Martín is one of my favourite markets; its aisles are packed with traditional booths manned by lippy vendors hawking jamón, cheese and Galician beef and its modern stalls do everything from fresh sushi to craft beer and LPs. And like all Spanish markets (in fact, like all of Spain), there is a bar or two.

Chef Omaira at Bar Omaira, Antón Martín market, Madrid

Omaira, in her tiny bar side kitchen.

Tiny and family-run, Antón Martín’s Bar Omaira is run by Omaira – chef, hostess and a lovely lady to boot. She whips up a few different dishes each day, fusing Madrid’s culinary traditions, her own Venezuelan background and injecting it all with modern verve. There’s no menu as such, simply ask what’s fresh and eat what she’s prepared. Last time we swung by, Yoly and I sipped excellent albariño by the glass, ate a free tapa of ensaladilla rusa (one of the best I’ve had – with celery and mustard to give it the zing this dish usually lacking), and ordered grilled pork with a perfectly-balanced blue-cheese sauce and a naughty but nice chicken schnitzel sandwich doused in not-too-sweet BBQ sauce.

Albariño wine, ensaladilla rusa at Bar Omaira, Antón Martín market, Madrid

Grilled pork and blue cheese at Bar Omaira, Antón Martín market, Madrid

And if you’ve got a taste for offal, you’ve hit the entail jackpot. Omaira’s hubby Luís runs one of the city’s best casquerías (offal stalls) one aisle over, and Omaira is a whizz with the stuff. She always has a pot of gluggy, delicious callos a la madrileña on the go, and regularly prepares dishes featuring hearts, livers and rooster crests et al. Got a hankering for grilled pigs’ ear or something done with brains? If Omaira’s got the time, she’ll nip over to Luis, bring back the goods and cook it up for you.

Iván at Bar Omaira, Antón Martín market, Madrid

Omaira’s chipper nephew Iván works the bar.

Remember: you’re in a market, so this is not a night spot. Check their Facebook page for  hours. And hit up Bar Omaira mid-shop (many of your fellow patrons will have a shopping cart in one hand, a caña in the other), or roll up on a Saturday morning when the Antón Martín is buzzing with pre-prandial barflies who feel less like drunkards if they’re drinking in a market.

And if you’re keen to make a day of it, one aisle over is DondeSánchez, a wine bar run by Paz (ask to try her excellent cured goats cheese from Madrid).

James Blick

 

Madrid Uncorked: DO Vinos de Madrid. What did we taste?

White wine at Madrid Uncorked

This and all other pics in this article are courtesy of Madrid blogger Cassandra Gambill.

The El País piece kicked off with a gag. “Wine from Madrid? But where are the vines – in the Retiro?” It wasn’t very funny, but it was telling. Even for dyed-in-the-wool Madrilenians, this region’s vino is a dark horse.

Which is why I wanted the first Madrid Uncorked to focus on DO Vinos de Madrid.

Hold up! What’s Madrid Uncorked?

Madrid Uncorked is a wine-initiative set up by myself, Lauren Aloise and Alejandro Cabrera under the Madrid Food Tour banner. The idea? Deliver monthly and reasonably-priced Madrid wine tastings, in English. We kicked off last Tuesday at gorgeous wine bar De Vinos with a tasting of four Madrid wines, and the next event is scheduled for 25 February (‘Smack-down: Rioja vs. Ribera del Duero’ – to come along, just RSVP to the Meet Up event and pay €15 at the door).

DO Vinos de Madrid (aka Madrid wine)

Vintners have been at it in Madrid for centuries. King Philip IV drank red from Valdemoro and Cervantes praised the vino from the village of San Martín de Valdeiglesias. But the fame has long faded, eclipsed by powerhouse DOs like Rioja and Ribera del Duero and for much of the twentieth century, Madrid’s wine was known for quantity, not quality.

Then in 1990 everything changed: Madrid became a DO (namely DO Vinos de Madrid). Since then local winemakers have been working hard to build the region’s reputation as a font of fine, idiosyncratic wine. And the tide is turning – little by little Madrid wine is carving out a name for itself. Not that you’d notice in most Madrid bars, where the poison du jour remains a frothy caña or a glass of Rioja or Ribera. But steady goes, the future is bright and there’s good wine in them thar desolate plains.

A map of the Madrid wine region

DO Vinos de Madrid is made up of three sub zones, Arganda, Navalcarnero and San Martín. Some have suggested that they’re so different (in terms of climate and soil) that they should be three distinct DOs.

Preparing the tasting…

For two heady weeks I hurtled through a liver-crippling quantity of Madrid wines, trying to make sense of the region. I tasted a lot of cheap plonk that was rough and turpsy (given the hot weather, Madrid wine can suffer from high sugar content in the grapes and thus too-high alcohol). And I salivated at several high-priced bottles that were simply outside my budget, and the budget of many attending a €15 tasting.

Soon my objective became clear: offer four accessibly-priced wines that give insight into the variety and the distinct character of the Madrid wine region.

James Blick giving a Madrid Uncorked wine tasting

Come and get it…

What did we taste?

Wine 1: Brut Nature Blanco This is the only sparkling wine made in Madrid, and winery Jesús Díaz releases just 1,500 bottles a year. Which means they run out fast. Tracking down two bottles for the tasting was a nightmare. The winery had none left, and my usual supplier La Siempre Llena had run dry. Finally I nabbed a few bottles through Javier at Madrid en Tu Copa. Crisp, fruity and slightly bitter, this is a delicious local alternative to cava, especially at Christmas (they release it in November, and by January it’s like hen’s teeth). I included this wine partly to pop the cork on Madrid Uncorked, but also because it’s easy, but not too easy… an effortless sparkler with a bit of bite.

Winery: Jesús Díaz (in Colmenar de Oreja, in the Arganda sub zone)
Grape: Macabeo
Price: Normally €8, Madrid En Tu Copa have just discounted it to €7 (while stocks last)
Where: Madrid En Tu Copa

Wine 2: Blanco de Bernaveleva 2011.  Good whites are a tough prospect in Madrid. I wanted one made from albillo, a grape that’s native to Spain and has long been grown in the Madrid region, particularly the San Martin sub zone. This golden-hued drop, albillo blended with macabeo, caught me – and the tasters – off guard. The nose suggests sweetness and fruit, and the palate is an about-face; dry, creamy, complex and full of minerality. The San Martín sub zone is an area to keep an eye on – the climate is tempered by the mountains to the north and winemakers are turning out elegant and innovative vintages.

Three glasses of Blanco de Bernabeleva – a creamy and complex Madrid white wine

Blanco de Bernabeleva –a creamy and complex Madrid white wine.

Winery: Bernabeleva (in San Martin de Valdeiglesias, in the San Martín sub zone)
Grapes: Albillo & macabeo
Price: €9.50
Where: La Tintorería

Wine 3: Viña Rendero Crianza 2009. I included this gutsy tempranillo for two reasons. One: at €3.70 it’s a steal. Two: it was an opportunity to introduce the tasters to La Siempre Llena, a wine shop-cum-bar in Lavapiés’ San Fernando market. La Siempre Llena only deals in Madrid wine and sells most of it a granel, in other words “in bulk”. But don’t led that dirty little word put you off. In essence, they sell wine how it used to be sold (and still is in many parts of Spain) – you take your empty bottles and they fill them up with  whichever wine from a cask. The upshot is low prices and less waste. And this wine? Big, smokey and chocolately. It’ll pair perfectly it with a steak or a slap in the face. And for awards junkies, it nabbed a silver at last year’s Bacchus wine awards.

The label from La Siempre Llena on Viña Rendero Crianza 2009

Every wine from La Siempre Llena comes with a hand-written label. Your hipster friends will love it.

Winery: Vinícola de Arganda SCM (in Arganda del Rey, in the Arganda sub zone)
Grapes: Tempranillo
Price: €3.70 (plus one of charge of €.40 to buy the wine bottle at La Siempre Llena)
Where: La Siempre Llena

Wine 4: Initio 2007I wanted to finish with a big grenache and Initio had me at hello. Like albillo for the whites, the grenache grape is Spanish and is traditional to the Madrid region. The winery, Las Moradas de San Martin, is young, but the owners have recovered and put to work long-abandonned vines that in some cases are upwards of 100 years old. After tasting a few astringent local grenaches, this one struck me with its balance and elegance. And despite the wine’s age, Initio is full of fruit and every sip reveals something new – black fruit, cocoa, liquorice, rosemary, thyme, pepper. I’ll stop there, but you get the idea. A great wine to be locked in a room with.

A bottle of Initio from Las Moradas de San Martin

Initio 2007 – Big and ballsy, but with bursting with fresh fruit.

Winery: Las Moradas de San Martín (in St Martin de Valdeiglesias, San Martín sub zone)
Grape: Grenache
Price: €12.50
Where: El Corte Inglés

Remember – the next Madrid Uncorked is on 25 February, back at De Vinos. And the theme is ‘Smack-down: Rioja vs. Ribera del Duero’.

A table full of wine glasses at a Madrid Uncorked wine tasting.

See you at the next Madrid Uncorked…

The 6 Best Wine Bars in Madrid (…where it’s OK to be a Wine Dick) – Part 1

A wine list at Vides wine bar in Madrid

Six weeks ago I became a Wine Dick.

It all happened rather quickly. Though, looking back, I should have seen it coming. In September Lauren Aloise and I completed the Level 2 Wines and Spirits course (under the WSET banner, and delivered by the astute wine prof Elisa Errea at The Wine Studio). The idea? Offer wine tastings through Devour Tours!

The unfortunate effect? I now linger like a deviant in wine bars, I kill time creeping about wine shops and, worst of all, I’ve opened an account over at CellarTracker. I know, disgusting.

But I’ve also realised something. Central Madrid – with its glut of taverns serving wines of  questionable quality by the glass – can be a cruel place for Wine Nazis. And being an unshaven Wine Loiterer with limited means, I rarely splurge on a whole bottle.

So I wondered: where are the best wine bars in Madrid? And I’m talking about central Mardrid… Sure, you could head to Goya or Salamanca where they hand out magnums of Pingus at the traffic lights. Where young Pakistani men sell bottles of Vega Sicilia atop cardboard boxes in the street at midnight. But I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Lavapiésian, and I want good wine by the glass within walking distance. Is that wrong?

So, assume the position. Because I’ve jury-rigged a list of six very central wine sanctuaries where one can drink good wine by the glass. They offer a home away from home for my fellow Wine Pricks. They’re bars where we can swirl, sniff and slurp without fear of humiliation or public ridicule. Where we can order interesting drops by the glass, safe in the knowledge that the bottle hasn’t been open and oxidising for seven days and nights.

So here it is… Where to drink wine in Madrid. This list is not exhaustive. But it’s a start.

Oh, and before you continue, if you want to discover the 5 wine styles you need to drink in Spain, then check out my short video here!

De Vinos This gloriously unstuffy neighbourhood tasca feels like it opened a century ago (rather than 2012). Even the name smacks of the days when names simply described what a place did, rather than tried to evoke “a concept”. Hostess Yolanda loves wine, and keeps a good cellar. She also organises tastings, excursions and wine/food pairing evenings.
www.facebook.com/vinos.devinos
Calle La Palma, 76

Vides A recent opening by former dating game host Vicente (you’ll recognise his face when you see it… if you’re Spanish). Numerous wines by the glass (and bottle) and a broad selection of Spanish cheeses in a very relaxed, slightly rustic and generally un-wine-bar-y atmosphere (which is a plus). Vicente even serves a bottle of his father’s own white – ask for it.
www.vinotecavides.com
Calle Libertad, 12

Díaz y Larrouy Low key, low bar. Very low. It only comes up to your knees. There’s no wine list, just bottles stacked on the counter. So part of the fun is browsing and seeing what’s what. Or just ask. Nice tostas too (I tried a fabulously arsey boar pâté here, which paired perfectly with a sharp-as-tacks Ribera del Duero… at least I think it was Ribera del Duero… and, come to think of it, I’m not even sure it was boar pâté…).
Calle Cava Baja, 6

Taberneros The owners of Tabernos are infamous for being a little prickly. But balls to that! You’re a trumped-up tough-skinned Wine Tart. And despite the attitude, this is one of the best wine bars in Madrid. So bowl on in, prop up the bar and enjoy their smart selection of vino by copa, in luxuriantly vinous surrounds.
restaurantetaberneros.es
Calle Santiago, 9

Casa Gonzalez. Given this place is odds on to win ‘most picturesque tapas bar facade in Madrid’, it’s a good thing these guys back up all the beauty with a healthy by-the-glass list. What’s more, there’s a glut of cured meats and cheeses (both local and international) available in raciones and half raciones… so you can pair your pants off.
casagonzalez.es
Calle León, 12

Casa Gonzalez, a Madrid tapas and wine bar at night, a Madrid tapas and wine bar at night

Casa Gonzalez looks like something out of Vicky Christina Madrid.

Sanlúcar. When you’re wondering where to drink wine in Madrid, you’d be forgiven for forgetting sherry-temple Sanlúcar. But yes, sherry is wine. And this slice of the south, tucked away in the back pocket of La Latina, has some excellent sherries by the glass. Manzanilla, oloroso and amontillado – it’s all here. They’ve even got a true-blue palo cortado. And a smorgasbord of weeping Virgins behind the bar. (By the way: I know I mentioned Sanlúcar in the last post… I promise to leave it alone for a little while).
Calle de San Isidro Labrador, 14

OK. I know you’re thinking, “Crap! He didn’t include [insert your favourite wine bar here].” And you’re right. I didn’t. But I also left out several places I love in my attempt to trim the list down to six. But add a comment below about a place I might not know about, and I’ll check it out. And then I’ll write Part 2. Because wine, as you know, is a journey… a long and winding tempranillo-lined goat track…  See! I told you I’d become a Wine Dick!

And finally… if you want even more tips, check out these 8 more wine bars to check out in Madrid (well, one bar is on both lists… but the rest are different!)

James Blick