Coronavirus lockdown: Welcome to the armchair tasting tour of Spanish wine

In normal times Madrid & Darracott offer wine tastings in the bodega beneath their shop near Madrid's Plaza Mayor, but during lockdown they'll provide free delivery on a half case and the opportunity to join them in a live online wine tasting.

Coronavirus lockdown: Welcome to the armchair tasting tour of Spanish wine
Photo: Adam Rose/Flickr

Here in Madrid we are well into the quarantine season. That lovely time of the year when all the family gets together, and stays put together. We are only allowed to pop to the shops or the pharmacy for necessities, or to walk a dog. 

So what about wine? Now it’s true that every year the supermarkets are improving their selections. The big Carrefour shops are actually rather good. Día’s selection is still utterly hopeless. But of course at Madrid & Darracott we strive to have wines at all prices that are ‘better’ than the supermarket ones. And that doesn’t only mean quality, we are referring to small producers, unknown grapes and different regions. 

So you’re stuck at home but you’re planning to buy some wines either from us (free delivery over 6 bottles) or another fine establishment. Why not take yourself on an alcoholic tour around the country from the safety of your own socially distanced home?

So here’s our line up of the wines you should be drinking to really give yourself a firm and boozy idea of what this country’s viticultural variety is all about. We’ll start off with the six wines that we will be drinking on our upcoming live wine tastings and then dive further into the world of Spanish wine.

Tula Varona (DO Rías Baixas)

Starting off with one of our favourite grapes in the country. A crisp and vibrant Albariño from the western coast of Galicia. Galicia looks a bit like if Ireland and Norway had a baby; a place of dramatic fjords covered in eucalyptus forests, hardy fisherman, the best seafood on the continent and for our money, some of the best white wines in the world. Tula Varona has that zippy acidity of this cool climate grape and has a nice mineral finish. Mature citrus fruits, apples and a saline flourish at the end.

Olagosa (DO Rioja)

We all know Rioja: red wine, tempranillo, crianza, reserva, etc. But what about their whites? Luke still bangs on about the best white wine he ever had being a very old, aged white Rioja. The superstar grape is Viura (also known as Macabeo in other parts of the country). It is a highly textured, citric and flinty grape when young, but takes to ageing better than any other in the country. Olagosa has been fermented in new French oak and then left to age on the lees (the dead bits of grape and yeast) for a further 3 months. The wine is unctuous and rich and wonderfully complex on the nose. Mature pineapple and ripe apples wrapped around in toasty woody notes from the barrels. 


Massimo (DO Ribeira Sacra)

Back to Galicia, but inland this time away from the rain-lashed coast. Ribeira Sacra is a remote and secret place. Very steep valleys following the courses of the rivers Miño and Sil. Different altitudes, from 60 to 600m and multiple aspects (aspect being in which direction your vineyards are facing; north, south etc) give these hardy winemakers a real variety of planting opportunities. No machines here, all hand picked. Massimo is a delicate and fresh Mencía created by a couple of Italians and which, along with bright red berries, Luke swears smells like watermelon gummy sweets. 

Flor de Goda (DO Campo de Borja)

Now for something a little more powerful. Old school Spanish Garnacha (often referred to as Grenache, but it is a Spanish variety) from its homeland in Aragón. In this case, Campo de Borja. The long sunshine hours and harsh climate means the Garnacha here gets super ripe and that means alcohol and aromatic punch. Flor de Goda has had a few months in oak and is 15.5 percent alcohol. It’s spicy, peppery, dark and swarthy but still has a crisp acidity. It’s dangerously easy to drink and packs a real punch. 

El Salzé (DO Alicante)

Monastrell is one of our favourite grapes at Madrid & Darracott. It gives dark, complex notes of blackberry and blackcurrants. Almost sweet dark fruits. Then, with age, things like chocolate, leather, and tobacco start to appear. El Salzé has all of that, and something a little herbal too. It opens up really well in the glass as well; if you’re not in a rush to finish. Murcia, with its regions of Jumilla, Yecla and Bullas, may be the spiritual home of the grape; but lately we’ve fallen for the intensity and juiciness of the more Mediterranean zones. In this case Alicante. But check out Valencia too!

Fino Granero Manuel Aragon (DO Jerez)

To finish our primary tasting selection we couldn’t not add Luke’s favourite wine: sherry. But with sherry you have multiple wines to choose from. The dry white styles that have been fortified, and blended through their ageing under yeast in large barrels (the yeast is called flor): manzanilla and fino. The brown nutty styles of amontillado (biological ageing under yeast followed by oxidative ageing without) and oloroso (solely oxidative; no yeast). And then the super sweet styles like PX made with sun-dried grapes. It’s confusing, romantic, challenging, delicious, and a whole world to discover. So where better to begin than with a classic Fino; punchy, saline, yeasty, with a little underlay of overripe apple.

Valderiz (DO Ribera del Duero)

How could we not have something famous. A Ribera; everyone loves them. Big, bold reds from the heart of the Spanish meseta. Flat, or undulating at best, and high up. Altitudes up to 1000m. This is a harsh and barren place but that’s perfect if you want to put the grapes to the test. The tempranillos from here give strong and powerful wines that love seeing barrel time. Smoky, spicy, leathery beasts that are perfect for winter. Valderiz – with its 20 months in oak – is our little shining star. We fell in love from first taste. Then, a few months later, it was voted best wine in the world under 50 dollars. Textbook Duero brilliance. 

Adur (DO Txacoli Geteriako)

To counteract all the big reds how about a zesty zinger from the Basque Country. Not traditionally famed for its wines – usually the words cider and pintxos are at the forefront of most culinary conversations – the small Spanish region nonetheless boasts three winemaking areas; mostly focussing on whites given the cold bristling Atlantic climate. Txacoli is the regional speciality; a zippy citrusy wine with the crispiest acidity of any white. They are perfect for aperitifs and bar hopping. This one, Adur, is a belter. The cute story behind it was that when Luke was getting his padrón he fell into conversation with the civil servant dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. Turns out her cousin was a winemaker of Txacoli. The rest is history. 

Casar de Burbia Blanco (DO Bierzo)

Time to head Northwest again, though just shy of Galicia. This time to the ancient region of Bierzo. Famed as the place that reinvented Mencía and made that grape sexy again, it is also home to Godello. This grape, Albariño’s sassier bolder cousin, is traditionally at its most famed in neighbouring Valdeorras, but recently Roque and Luke fell for this one from Bierzo; a verdant mountainous region of ancient churches, pilgrims and castles. Casar de Burbia make an exceptional selection of reds, but this white with its pungent apple and stone fruit aromas and bright acidity makes this wine perfect for strong cheeses and dishes with white meats like chicken and pork. 

Licinia (DO Vinos de Madrid)

Madrid is a fairly young DO, only since 1990, but it has been coming along in leaps and bounds over the last decade and has been churning out some exceptional vinos. Licinia is the jewel in the crown for us and is the darling of many a Michelin chef (think DiverXo, think Club Allard). A big chewy wine from Chinchón area, Licinia is a multi-varietal blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. Intense in the nose with black fruits, tobacco, mountain spice and herbs and full-bodied on the palate. The Arganda and Navalcarnero sub zones of Madrid’s south tend towards bold reds with blends being common. The western flanks of the Gredos of San Martin favour more elegant Garnacha for red and Albillos for the whites. We have yet to see the potential of the northern Molar sub zone but I should expect the wines will be lighter too. 

Botani Moscatel Seco (DO Sierras de Malaga)

You say Malaga wine to most people and they will think of sweet moscatel; and why not, they are the classic boozy sweet tipples historically created there. But the real joy, for us anyway, are the very fine and elegant dry whites. Grassy, floral, citrusy, with some peaches, if you’re looking for the offspring of a Chablis and a Sauvignon Blanc, here’s your wine. And Jorge Ordoñez really is the best there is at making them. He’s found old vines, which always give more intensity as the plants need to work harder to produce fruit, and every thing is organic and picked manually. An absolute gem of a wine.

Edetària (DO Terra Alta)

It would be a crime to forget the great Catalan wines. Problem is, which to choose? There are 11 DOs in Cataluña! Priorat, Penedés and Montsant are probably the most famous, but we recently tried this blend (60 percent Garnacha Peluda, 30 percent Garnacha, 10 percent Cariñena) and were blown away by it. Sultry, smooth, complex and with aromas of mint, chocolate, warm spices and mature red fruits. Also, the guy in charge of the winery was bonkers and a real character. Terra Alta is isolated and inland in the mountains but with a handy mixture of Mediterranean and continental climates blending together. The wines aren’t easy to find, but my goodness they’re good!

So during this trying to time, use it as an excuse to find out more about what this great wine country has to offer. We have the majority of Spanish regions available at the shop and are offering free deliveries for orders over six bottles.

We are going to start doing LIVE Instagram tastings so that people have something that is, in our eyes, entertaining to watch, and we prepare a case of the wines too should people want to drink along with us!

Stay safe, stay indoors, and keep drinking. 


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Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

While the more forceful approach of some governments is failing to convince many unvaccinated and making some even more uncompromising, vaccine champion Spain is giving them the facts and letting them decide. So far, it appears to be working.

People stroll around the Catalan town of Sitges in May 2021.
People stroll around the Catalan town of Sitges in May 2021. As of late November, almost 90 percent of Spain's population is fully vaccinated. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

Vaccinated people are three times less likely to contract the Covid-19 Delta variant. 

In the 30-50 age group, the risk of admission to hospital is ten times lower if people are vaccinated. 

In the 60 to 80 age group, the risk of death is 25 times higher for unvaccinated people. 

These are just some of the conclusions drawn from a study that was presented by Spain’s Health Ministry on Tuesday. 

Every week from now on, the ministry headed by Carolina Darias has decided to share with the Spanish public stats from the pandemic’s infection, hospitalisations and deaths indexes that contrast the data between vaccinated and unvaccinated.

The objective is for the Spanish public to “value” vaccines and their positive effects as well as to continue insisting on the importance of getting vaccinated to stop the virus in its tracks. 

The new strategy comes as Europe is again the epicentre of the coronavirus, accounting for two thirds of active global cases (2.4 million).

“The new ECDC and EU risk assessment is clear: we must step up vaccination to control the pandemic,” tweeted European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen on Wednesday, adding that the EU’s vaccination coverage of under 70 percent “gives a wide margin for the spread of the virus”.

In Spain, where infections are rising every day, the situation is still markedly better than across the continent, largely thanks to the fact that almost 90 percent of the eligible population is now fully vaccinated.

Nationwide Covid hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths all remain low. 

So even though the current infection rate (149 cases per 100,000 people) is similar to that seen last March, the number of people ending up in hospital or dying from Covid now is much lower than 9 months ago.  

bar in burgos spain during the pandemic
Many people in Spain still wear masks outdoors even though they don’t have to in most cases. (Photo by Cesar Manso / AFP)

The Spanish psyche

The truth is that Spain, which was hit hard by the first waves of the pandemic, has barely had to convince its citizens to get vaccinated against the coronavirus since its campaign began in late December 2020.

Since inoculations were approved by the WHO and EMA, any previous vaccination hesitancy has faded away in most cases.

Spain’s successful campaign has proven that there isn’t the same degree of mistrust in government, healthcare or big pharma as in other European countries, nor large conspiracy-driven networks sowing doubt online. 

Talk to people in Spain and there’s a sense that they just want to ‘get on with it’ and get back to normal life, that there is no individual freedom without public wellbeing, no me without you. 

You see it also in the public’s willingness to continue wearing face masks outdoors when they’re no longer necessary in most situations. 

Some may see it as excessively subservient behaviour from a people not famed for always following the rules, but Spaniards’ civic responsibility is a crucial advantage the Spanish government has over its European counterparts. 


The remaining unvaccinated

For the past few months however, the approximate figure of 4 million unvaccinated people has remained unchanged in Spain, almost stagnant long after all age groups over 12 were called on to get vaccinated earlier in the year. 

This fortunately now appears to be changing. 

In fact, 72,000 people received their first dose over the past week in Spain, a 25 percent weekly increase.

Regional authorities are putting pressure on Spain’s Health Ministry to impose a national Covid health pass to keep the unvaccinated out of the country’s bars and restaurants over Christmas, but Carolina Darias insists that rather than restrictions the focus should be on vaccination and offering information to convince the unvaccinated.  

Claiming this resurgence in vaccination in Spain is only down to the fact-based, non-threatening approach of Spain’s Health ministry wouldn’t be true.

There are numerous other possible reasons for this change of heart among the unvaccinated, from fear of contracting the virus as Spain’s sixth wave slowly gathers pace to the possibility of limitations over Christmas if the Covid health pass is approved in some places.

But the stance of the Spanish government is no doubt playing a pivotal role. 

There’s never been any talk of mandatory vaccination nor threats of restrictions just for the unvaccinated, whose fundamental rights have been consistently protected by the courts.

Getting vaccinated remains their choice and Spain’s health department would rather feed them the science-based facts and let them decide than force them into a corner.

They’re not claiming that vaccines are 100 percent effective, but they’re giving them the data that proves there’s a lower risk of contracting the virus if you are vaccinated and a much lower chance of ending up in hospital or dying from the virus if inoculated.

So far, the message and the approach appear to be working.