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…

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