Vinos de Madrid is the DO (Denominación de Origen) title that covers the vineyards around Madrid, the capital of Spain. Located right in the heart of the country, Madrid is the third largest city in the European Union. It offers its millions of visitors elaborate architecture, art galleries, relentless nightlife and a feast of fine restaurants that frequently showcase the local wines.
The sprawling metropolis and imposing Sierra de Guadarrama mountains to the north confine vineyards to the southeastern and southwestern corners of the autonomous community of Madrid. The Vinos de Madrid designation covers three demarcated wine sub-regions, each with distinguishing characteristics. It was accorded the coveted DO status in 1990 and a Consejo Regulador (wine authority) was established.
Although the region is not particularly well known for its viticulture today, winemaking in fact dates back to at least the 8th Century, and may well have been introduced by the Romans, or even the Carthaginians before them. Viticulture continued through Moorish rule, despite alcohol consumption being outlawed by the Muslim holy book the Koran. Christians continued the vine-growing tradition, with monks constituting the major wine producers in the region for many years.
Madrid's wines experienced a golden era after Felipe II made the city the capital of the Kingdom of Castile, and exporters had the luxury of imposing conditions on sales (such as trading wine only for fish, which was in high demand because the city was so far inland).
Phylloxera hit Madrid's vines in 1914 and thereafter, vine hardiness was favored over vine diversity. Bulk wines became the mainstay of the region's wine production and this continued until the 1970s, when a financial crisis dealt a significant blow to domestic consumption. This forced Madrid into a period of modernization and investment and spurred a move to producing higher-quality bottled wines. This shift to quality over quantity was rewarded when the region obtained DO status.
The three sub-zones of the Madrid DO reflect the diversity of its wine portfolio. They create a semi-circle around Madrid's southern suburbs. The climate, although overall continental, is variable, and differences in soil composition across the DO underline the importance of the sub-zones:
- Arganda is by far the largest sub-zone, with more than 50% of Madrid's vineyards and 60% of its total production. The local climate is strongly continental, with extreme variations in seasonal temperatures. The soil is a mixture of clay and lime. Arganda's most prominent grape varieties are Tinto Fino (the local name for Tempranillo) for reds, and Airen and Malvar for whites. Some interesting rosé wines are also produced here.
- San Martin occupies the most eastern part of the DO. It is home to nearly 35% of the region's vineyards and produces around 25% of its wine. The climate is once again continental, but San Martín gets more rainfall (around 25 inches/635mm) than its neighbors. Dark-skinned Garnacha grapes thrive in this climate and on the predominantly weathered-rock soil. Albillo produces the top white wines.
- Navalcarnero forms the middle section of the DO and produces 15% of its wine. The climate here is similar to the other Madrid sub-zones, but the clay-based soil is low in nutrients and lime. Garnacha is the main red grape, while Malvar produces the best whites.
Slowly but surely, the region is shedding its image as a bulk-wine producer and gaining a reputation for good-quality, good-value offerings.