One of the things I was most excited to do in Spain was take a wine tour just outside of the city (I even put it on my bucket list, remember?) I did some research before we left but didn’t book anything prior to our trip because we wanted to see how our days were set up after we got there. Once we were ready, I booked three tickets to this tour promising three wineries in the countryside of Madrid. Ismael was our tour guide and we met him at what seemed like an ungodly hour (9:30am was by far the earliest any of our days started) and set off in a van to taste some wine.
It was a foggy morning but Ismael promised that it was a good sign; foggy mornings lead to cloudless, warm days. He wasn’t wrong. On our way to the first winery, we stopped at a Palace, which I unfortunately cannot remember the name of, and took in the architecture through the morning mist. It was eerie and beautiful and there was a very wet cocker spaniel there having the time of his life while his owner photographed the scene.
We snapped a few pictures and got back in the van to head to the first vineyard of the day.
We arrived at El Regajal around 10:30 in the morning. It was located on a sprawling estate on a hill and as we drove up to the tasting room/bottling facility/caves, we drove past rows and rows of vines and beautiful olive groves. The owner met us in the driveway and introduced us to JJ who was going to be showing us around and pouring the wines.
We started our tasting in the barrel room. It was a cold morning and the room was damp and smelled of wine and aged oak. El Regajal makes two wines, both of them blends, and so in the barrels were the wines made from individual grapes. We were fortunate enough to get to taste directly from the barrel and all of the wines were wonderful in their own right.
JJ knew his stuff; he has been in the wine business for years and was able to explain to us both about the winemaking process but also about importing and exporting and blending and filtering and bottling. But mostly, he just wanted to talk. We talked equally about wine as we did about his home of origin (Chile) and his years spent importing wine in Peru. It was different than the tastings I’ve done in places like Hudson Valley, NY and California where they mostly either talk about their wine or just leave you alone to taste. We talked about wine, but we also just talked as a group of people enjoying a glass of wine. It was before noon, and it was a good sign of things to come.
We continued our tasting in the tasting room, enjoying their two wines that they sell to the public. The final product versus the individual wines that were tasted directly from the barrel is a testament to how something can be more than just a sum of its parts. They were beautiful and El Regajal was a perfect place to start the day.
Onward: our next stop was Bodegas Peral, a winery located in a small village. Ismael told us that most wineries are located in towns and villages rather than on the estate where the grapes are grown. We met the winemaker who introduced us to Antonio, the retired winemaker and father of the current winemaker. Antonio was quick to smile and happy to show us around. Ismael translated, as Antonio didn’t speak any English, but Maggie and Cecelia kept up and the more they spoke to him in Spanish, the wider he smiled.
Antonio first took us up to the rafters where wine was currently being fermented in huge clay pots. As he leaned over and wafted the smell towards him, we could see how proud he was of this work. We didn’t taste anything upstairs, but instead walked back down to the ground floor then descended into the underground caves where more wine was being stored in clay pots.
It was cool and you had to duck your head to avoid hitting it on the low ceilings. We tasted a white and a rose down in the caves, chilled only by the air around it. It was refreshing and lovely, but Antonio was skeptical. It was the first vintage that he hadn’t personally overseen, and he wondered if the wine would age well. It tasted good to us, though.
We then went to their tasting room where we sat around a long table, passed around plates of cheese, and sipped the wine we had learned about earlier. Ismael and Antonio spoke more about the wine and soon the room began to fill up with friends of Antonio who come by every afternoon to drink wine and “talk politics.” The room filled with conversation and laughter and soon we weren’t talking about wine but just talking. Again, it was like sitting down with friends. It was so humbling to be welcomed to thoroughly and to have Antonio share his work and his business.
Our next and final stop was Solera Bodegas. It’s a small winery in the same village and we were met by Consuelo, the owner and winemaker and her very vocal and disapproving dog, Cookie. While Cookie wasn’t so sure about outsiders on his turf, Consuelo was warm and welcoming. She showed us a vine that was first planted in 1921, a gnarled and weathered looking thing that has long since stopped producing fruit, but that was beautiful nonetheless.
She showed us around the facilities, including the same large clay pots that held fermenting fruit. We saw old wine making tools and explained to Consuelo the word for “Bunch” in English. The more she said it, the more she giggled, which only goes to show, “bunch” is a pretty funny word.
We tasted Consuelo’s wine and estate-made olive oil which bears her name on a picnic table covered with a red and white checked tablecloth outside in the yard, in the warm sun. This time it was just our group; the three of us, two others, Ismael and Consuelo. We drank the wine and ate bread with her delicious olive oil and talked. We made some new friends and learned some new words, and all of this was held together by sunshine and welcoming people and beautiful wine.
We reluctantly left Consuelo and her beautiful estate to have lunch. We all opted to have the 5-course tasting menu comprised of dishes typical of that region and drank wine from Solera Bodegas. The food was delicious and was the cherry on top of an already perfect day.
Before heading back to Madrid, we stopped in the Village of Chinchon where we took in some amazing views, saw the ruins of an old castle, and walked through the village which was preparing for some sort of festival. It was chilly and very windy, and the views were some of the best we had seen the entire trip.
When I say that it was one of the most perfect days ever, I mean it. Beautiful wine, beautiful people, and beautiful scenery lit by beautiful sun. What more could one ask for?