Anna Harris-Noble, who worked on major wine accounts for Phipps PR in London before moving to Madrid, chooses her 10 favourite haunts for wine enthusiasts. See this guide to all the entries in our travel writing competition that have been published so far.
I write this with a sense of nostalgia as I have just moved back to London after eight years in Madrid, living firstly near the foodie hub of Calle Ponzano in Chamberi and then in the tapas zone par excellence, the Ibiza area of the Retiro district. Sigh.
Since Madrid is a city with more bars per capita than practically anywhere else, in the centre of a wine-producing nation, it is not hard to find a glass of wine there, and at criminally low prices. However, in most places, the range does not venture far beyond the ‘three Rs’ - Rioja, Rueda and Ribera del Duero, and the bottle may have been open a while (sadly, wine comes second to beer in terms of consumption).
If you want something more exciting you won’t have to shell out much more, but you might need some guidance, especially if you don’t speak Spanish as – although things are improving – English-speaking waiting staff are not a given outside the Michelin-starred establishments.
I’ve compiled my top ten: establishments that offer wide ranges of wines from lesser known regions and producers at affordable prices. Places I’ve been back to time and time again.
If you’ve time for a winery visit, I’d recommend heading to San Martin de Valdeiglesias. Bus 551 will take you there from Principe Pio station in about an hour if you don’t want to drive. Wineries Las Moradas de San Martin and Bernabeleva produce mineral Garnachas and Albillos outside this town on the edge of the granitic Gredos mountains. Note that Las Moradas is up a winding dirt track, well worth the journey to see the organically-managed parcel of old vines at 900m in a clearing in the forest, but not easy to reach without a 4x4.
Ticks all the boxes Taberna Angelita
This central taberna run by the brothers Villalón has become a mecca for Madrid’s wine professionals. The food is excellently rendered from top quality ingredients – ask for tomatoes from the family vegetable garden– and the wine range is second to none. You can always trust David’s quiet but confident recommendations - from Pet Nat sparklers to venerable sherries. The cheese trolley is also a highlight. Although it has a bar (and an underground cocktail speakeasy), it’s not really a drop-in place, so booking is recommended.
Hippest natural wine spot - La Caníbal (pictured top right)
In the heart of what Time Out named the ‘world’s coolest neighbourhood’ in 2018, La Caníbal has moved the vinous goal posts. In keeping with the zero-waste trend, it’s not just craft beer that’s served from taps but also wine, sourced by Javier Vázquez, second generation behind the adjoining Galician restaurant, O Pazo, and wine and beer expert Luis Vida who visit the vineyards in person to fill their bespoke 20-litre bag-in-boxes. They describe the wines as ‘radically different’ and without the ‘make-up’ of added yeasts or oak. These range from the fresh and fruity to the downright funky, but there is also a wide range of more conventional wines, including plenty of sherry, though intentionally not much Rioja or Ribera. The food is classic Galicia with a selection of artisan cheese boards with names such as Pop, Rock ´n Roll and Indie.
(If you are a natural wine nut, then the other place to stop by is the authentically French Bistrot Cascorro.)
Tapas for the well-heeled - Taberna Laredo
Celebrating 25 years, Laredo stands out, even in the aforementioned barrio de Ibiza. Again run by brothers, here it is Miguel who is the wine freak –hosting private blind tastings with attendees of the calibre of Luis Gutierrez [Ferran Centelles’ predecessor as JancisRobinson.com Spanish specialist – JR] . The display of marbled T-bone steaks gives a clue to the quality (and price) of the food served in the white table-clothed restaurant out back, but you’ll need sharp elbows at the horseshoe-shaped bar rather than a booking. A recently added blackboard (before, you just had to look in the giant ice buckets to see what was open) offers a good range of wines by the glass, from Rueda, Cava, Fino, Ribera and Rioja to more unusual choices that might include Merseguera-based whites from Valencia, as well as local wines. The list offers bottles from key vintages across more than 20 Spanish regions as well as classic French and Italian wines. Your glass will be served with an aperitivo of rustic bread sticks, chorizo and cubes of cheese, or you can order light dishes such as fried rabbit ‘chops’ (fiddly but delicious) or share more substantial salads, rice dishes or stews. Get there early to bag a spot and read on if you can’t squeeze in.
Food and wine pairing - Madridaje
Just round the corner from Laredo, the tiny Madridaje is the newer wild card. The name is a play on maridaje - the Spanish word for food and wine pairing. Every tapa on the menu comes with a recommended pairing, from a scallop dress with lime and Bloody Mary with Fino del Puerto, to griddled octopus with sweet potato purée served alongside Mencía from Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra. You can just stop by for a glass of whatever is currently on rotation or enjoy the superbly-priced tasting menu. The Coravin selection includes Viña Tondonia at €9.50 a glass as well as Lustau’s 1998 vintage sherry.
And if there’s no room at the inn, you don’t have far to go to find a decent glass of wine elsewhere in the area, other gems include:
- La Castela www.restaurantelacastela.com
- La Raquetista https://laraquetista.com/en/home/
- La Montería http://www.lamonteria.es/
- Salino http://www.salino.es/
- Venta La Hidalguía https://www.facebook.com/Venta-la-Hidalguia-366572706761188/
- Arzabál Retiro https://arzabal.com/carta/
- Zalamero Taberna https://zalamerotaberna.com/
More than enough for a luxury wine and tapas crawl.
Global wine retail icon - Lavinia
If you want to take some bottles home and only have time to visit one store then make it Lavinia. It’s certainly not the cheapest – you’d guess that from its location between Madrid’s Chanel and Hermés stores – but its range of both Spanish and international wines, English-speaking staff, Enomatic machines, a bar-restaurant and regular events mean that it’s one of the few wine stores in Spain to compete on a global level.
Friendly advice in English - Madrid and Darracott
The other end of the scale in terms of size, Madrid and Darracott is nestled behind Madrid’s central Plaza Mayor. Set up by filmmaker Roque Madrid and British writer-traveller-wine expert Luke Darracott, it offers a concise and good-value selection of mainly Spanish wines and daily tastings in English. Luke has been living in Madrid for nearly 10 years and is WSET-trained, while his friend Roque comes from a winemaking family in Murcia.
Other wine retailers to check out include:
- Reserva y Cata http://www.reservaycata.com/,
- Vino y Compañía http://vinoycompania.blogspot.com/
- Enoteca Barolo https://www.enotecabarolo.com/es/home
- La Tintorería https://latintoreriavinoteca.com/
- Vinoteca Tierra https://www.vinotecatierra.es/main/
Rammed but not broken - Taberna Averías
If the Ibiza neighbourhood of the Retiro district is the foodie mecca for Madrid’s well-to-do, then Calle Ponzano in Chamberí serves the same role for their younger, hipper cousins, complete with its own hashtag #Ponzaning. We don’t know how they cram more than 400 wines into such a tiny space, but on previous visits to Averías (Spanish for breakdowns!) we’ve enjoyed lees-aged Albariño and a breezy Mallorcan red from their extensive selection. There is less choice in terms of food, but the menu includes modern twists on classic Spanish dishes such as a Galician empanada filled with stewed bull’s tail or Iberian pork stroganoff.
Step back in time - La Venencia
This is more a historic experience than a bar, retaining the dusty décor of yesteryear including an ancient telephone, feria posters from Jerez and an antique cash register. The only drinks on offer are sherries served straight from the butt alongside mojama air-dried tuna and green olives. Your bill will be chalked up directly on the bar and you win bonus points if the resident cat settles under your table. It may not come as a surprise to hear it doesn’t have a website.
Visit Taberna Palo Cortado if you prefer your sherry bar to have more mod cons.
French styling on a small scale - La Fisna
A boutique wine shop with a focus on small producers from across Spain and France, including Bodegas Almaroja, a winery run by Englishwoman Charlotte Allen who makes esoteric wine in a remote village on the border between Spain and Portugal (see this wine of the week). Any of the wines are available to drink in the diminutive bar with corkage fee of just 3€.
Intimate dining near the Prado – Vinoteca Moratin
Since there is a total of three members of staff, you are likely to be welcomed by the owner Marcos Gil, who can describe the dishes in great detail, having purchased their ingredients in the market that morning. He is also WSET-trained, which is somewhat rare in Madrid, and carefully selects the list of 80 or so wines himself. This oasis of cosy calm is the ideal place to recharge after a morning spent admiring the works of Goya.
Vinoteca Garcia de Navarra is another post-gallery option.