Every wine-producing country has its own pride and tradition and Spain is no different. In fact, a well stocked bodega here in Barcelona is often as overwhelming as it is inspiring, and the enterprise of picking a wine often becomes more challenging than merely selecting a price bracket. One must take the notion of “price equals quality” and throw it out the window, as Spain encompasses more hectares of vineyards than any other country worldwide and produces some of the best values in fine wine today.
The current state of affairs in the Barcelona wine world are bright, with just a touch of gray in the lining. The public has become increasingly wine savvy, and the myriad of local merchants must meet the consumer demand for quality wine at affordable prices. Though the economy has negatively impacted the average amount each customer spends, the quantity of wine sold has by no accounts diminished. As an old Spanish proverb says, “with wine and hope, anything is possible,” and in these times of financial hardship and joblessness, wine and hope (and fútbol) seem to be some of the only things left to buoy the spirit.
Though Crianza wines have become more popular than their more expensive Reserva and Gran Reserva counterparts for everyday purchases, the city’s surging flow of tourists and the continuing patronization of local bodegas by Barcelona’s cadre of wine-loving young professionals have helped to maintain fine wine as an indispensable part of Barcelona’s vibrant gastronomic culture. It was mentioned several times that the people of Barcelona are far more open to new wines than their Madrileño counterparts, but since the Barcelona/Madrid rivalry runs deeper than an outsider like myself can fully appreciate, these statements are better left unchallenged…
When I inquired about the clientele at each store visited, the answers varied depending mostly on store location, reputation, day of the week, and price point. The average amount spent on a bottle has dropped to around 7€, however, there is still a strong market for upscale wine in many circles. With the right guidance, customers of any budget can find great values and unique wines throughout the city with ease.
So, where should one begin the journey? Finding a well-stocked, fairly-priced, organized bodega with a knowledgeable, friendly staff may seem like a tall order (especially in a country where service and hospitality seem about as optional as the tipping policy), but rest assured that in Barcelona, options abound! You could arrive with a wine in mind, but why not try something new? Every single shop owner and manager agreed that the level of knowledge customers possess, and conversely, what they expect from the bodega staff, is continuously on the rise. Nearly all customers are open to suggestions and trust in the advice of a seasoned wine expert.
“What do you ask someone who comes into your store looking for something good,?” I ask Mr. Faustino Muñoz Soria, sommelier and head wine director of Colmado Quilez.
“Good wine is a relative term,” he quickly replies. “What are you wanting to spend? Is it a gift? If it is a gift, what is the person like for whom you are shopping? What do they like? Do they know about wine? If they do, I suggest something with complexity and subtly. If they don’t know much, I usually suggest a brand name that is known for quality. If the wine is for the customer, I ask what kind of food they will be eating,” he continues. “What do they like? What do they not like?”
Most retailers will begin by asking you what wines you have enjoyed in the past, what food you are planning to cook for dinner, or how much money you are willing to spend; so put yourself in the hands of the trained professionals and leave with something exciting! Wine shops, with what could be called an “intellectual” selection of wine, may be found in nearly every barrio of the city; while history, tourism, and a central location are all the reasons why Barcelona’s most prolific and iconic wine shops are found mostly in the “old city” and the immediate surroundings.
When looking at an aerial view of Barcelona, the contrast between the old and the new neighborhoods is stark. The old neighborhoods of Born, Gothic, and Raval are all a twisting maze of streets where character and wine retailers abound, while the more modern surrounding neighborhoods comprise an organized grid of communities and commerce.
For a full list and map of noteworthy bodegas in various parts of Barcelona, follow the link: http://goo.gl/maps/cerGN
Among the most noteworthy shops of old Barcelona are:
Vila Viniteca: Wines from across the globe at all price levels. 8000 bottles. Well-staffed by highly-trained wine professionals.
“People are drinking more quality wine than before,” says Jordi Arnel, wine director of Vila Viniteca. Inarguably-impressive, yet as hushed as the nearby cathedral, this veritable temple to fine wines of the world features a mere 60% Spanish wine, with France and Italy taking solid shares in the extensive catalogue. Mr. Arnel admits that, while there is some rhyme and reason to the layout, Vila Viniteca is not a “self-service” store.
“People come in, wander around, then ask for help,” Mr. Arnel explains. “Most people are open to suggestions. We are in a very gastronomic neighborhood (El Born) and sell a lot of everyday wine to locals on the weekend and higher-end wine to tourists all week long.”
Art de Vins: Modern decor with price-driven display cases. Extensive collection of affordable Spanish wines. Friendly service from a small staff.
“People are choosing Crianza instead of Reserva to save money,” says Victor Jimenez of Art de Vins in the Sant Antoni district of Barcelona. Mr. Jimenez gestures to the 6, set-price displays in his store that range from under 4€ to 7.95€ with a handful of wines in each category, “we are the only wine shop in Barcelona to offer price categories of bargain wine. Apart from the few customers interested in a vintage bottle of Vega Sicilia Unica, most people come in with a price range in mind, so we make it easy for them.”
Lafuente: Flooded with tourists, this wine shop, deli, and grocery boasts a 5000-bottle catalogue. One of five stores owned by the Lafuente import company, there are many affordable wine, with some heavy-hitters thrown in the mix. Great, friendly service under pressure and well-staffed.
Gran Bodega del Maestrazgo: Smaller, minimalistic store with a sunny tasting room focused on Spanish wines that have garnered a “cult following”.
Gran Bodega del Maestrazgo is a family-owned shop in the Born district of old Barcelona dating back to 1952. With wine by the liter, as well as a selection of bottles that voluntarily omits the “classics”, manager Jose Moliner has cultivated a following of people who are looking for the new and the unknown. With a more modest collection of about 450 red wines mainly from Spain, Mr. Moliner has what I consider defiantly chosen to forego organization by D.O and instead group his wines more by price point.
“This choice was voluntary,” he says. “I don’t like judging wine by where it’s from. There are too many mediocre wines that have ‘famous’ names’.” Comically, when I asked him is favorite region for wine he relied with a smile, “Spain. I like it all!”
Licors i Vins Vilanova: Family-run business. No-frills, 11 wines by the liter, a vast, well-organized selection of often-dusty Spanish D.Os, basic groceries, affordable liquor, and a neighborhood hang-out vibe with friends, locals, restaurant owners, and curious tourists crowding the narrow aisles.
Immediately outside the city’s “nucleus” is Eixample. A vast neighborhood (meaning “expansion” in Catalán), Eixample is home to several destinations for wine lovers that should not be missed:
Monviníc: A veritable shrine to food and wine education and enjoyment, and the only “restaurant” featured on our list, Monviníc specializes in local foods and international wines. There are no waiters at Monviníc, just the six sommeliers who each specialize in a handful of the 20 countries represented in the restaurant’s 5000-bottle, digital cellar (accessible by iPad). Paying members have full access to the impressive wine library and database that is on display by the restaurant’s entrance. Newsletters reach 6000 readers and wine tasting are bi-monthly. Bottles may be purchased for retail.
Editor’s Note: L’anima del Vi is worth checking out if you’re keen to find either organic or natural wine in Barcelona. Located in the famed barrio, El Born, it’s the ideal location to hunt down some off the beaten track wines that you might not find elsewhere.
Colmado Quilez: Founded in 1908 and owned by the Lafuente group since 1974, this shop is beautifully preserved. Imagine the 5000-bottle catalogue, long deli counter, and groceries stacked to the ceiling sold by a knowledgable staff of helpful specialists standing ever-ready in their traditional grocer’s jackets and ties. Quilmez is a shop visited by tourist and locals alike, though the latter still makes up the majority of this old-time shop’s foot traffic along the shady promenade of the Rambla de Catalunya.
Wine director and sommelier Faustino Muñoz Soria has been at the Quilmez store since 1976. His sober and subdued nature gave way to pleasant conversation as I asked him about the wine culture of Barcelona, his likes, dislikes, and personal wine philosophy. Faustino estimates that about 90% of the wine in the actual store is of Spanish origin.
Queviures Serra: A small neighborhood market steeped in antiquity (“Groceries Serra” in Catalán) with mostly Spanish wine, a deli counter, and prepared foods to-go. Friendly service from a small staff. They also make sandwiches!
Both Colmado Quilez and Queviures Serra are historic icons featured in the glossy coffee table book Guapos Per Sempre (Forever Beautiful): Barcelona’s Emblematic Shops and Establishments.
Bright, bustling, bountiful: Barcelona is a city where virtually all oenological desires can be met with relative ease, whether your bill-fold be fat or thin. The wine-drinking public is receptive to new ideas and new flavors, and the city’s retailers are by-and-large highly-qualified to offer personalized recommendations that will surely whet your appetite and keep you coming back for another taste.
For those of you salivating for more culinary and foodie experiences, read Catavino’s Barcelona Gourmet Guide. If you’re looking for a catered tour of Barcelona’s gourmet delights, allow us to guide you on a Barcelona Tour!