We regularly cover the wine tasting events that take place across Spain, but what if your Spanish doesn’t go much beyond “una copa de vino tinto por favor”? Or you are a Spanish speaker wanting to practice English around a glass of wine?
Despite the huge numbers of tourists and overseas visitors coming to Spain every year, until relatively recently, it was difficult to find regular tastings hosted in English beyond winery tours. These are, of course, a fabulous place to start, as there is nothing like visiting the source to understand how wine is made. But, of course, each winery has its own agenda, and there may come a point where you want to gain a greater understanding, comparing products from different parts of Spain to get a bigger picture, or you may only be in Spain for a short period and thus you want to taste as much as possible in the minimum time.
We’ve drawn together a selection of some of the most reputable companies hosting tastings on a regular basis in English in some of Spain’s key cities – focusing on those regular events rather than the tours and private tastings aimed at tourists (there are more than enough of the latter for a separate article!). They vary greatly in their level and scope so think carefully about what you want to achieve before selecting the one that’s right for you: they run from informal and fun introductions to Spanish wines to international WSET qualifications for professionals.
Devour Tours – Madrid Uncorked. If anyone is doing a better job than Devour Tours (link to http:// http://devourtours.com/) in presenting Spanish food and drink to visiting tourists then I haven’t heard of them… Started by Italian-American Lauren Aloise, Kiwi journalist James Blick and Cádiz-born Alejandro Cabrera with the simple aim of connecting people to Spain through food, they have expanded from their base in Madrid to become the top-rated Spanish tour company on TripAdvisor, running Wine Tasting and Tapas Tours in Madrid, Barcelona, Santiago de Compostela, Seville, Málaga and Granada, with a focus on traditional, family-run establishments. They also host private wine tastings for 4+ attendees in their wine tasting cave in Madrid.
Three years ago, wine enthusiast and WSET 3 accredited taster James Blick, decided to start wine tasting evenings as well to fill a gap in the market for regular wine tastings in Madrid for locals and visitors who don’t speak much Spanish. “I had my mum in mind when putting together the events,” James explains. “She likes wine and wants to learn a bit more, but not too much. We don’t aim them at experts but don’t treat attendees like idiots either and try to inject the events with humor – intelligent but fun.”
The themes are diverse, from “Island Wines: Volcanoes, Beaches and Ancient Grapes” to “Unlocking the secrets of Sherry Wines” but always aiming to excite attendees about Spanish regions and wines they perhaps haven’t heard of before. Presenters are usually native English speakers with WSET training to at least level 2.
Starting in local bars, Devour Madrid now uses their own tasting “cave” in Antón Martín to host the events, which take place on Thursday evenings, almost every week from 8.30-10pm, priced €20 per participant. The themes are repeated twice so two different tastings usually take place a month. The wines featured are available to buy afterwards with a 10% discount.
Spaces need to be booked in advance here.
Spanish Wine Experience. Brit Luke Darracott studied Spanish and Russian at the university of Bath, a land of cider and ale, before spending a year living in both respective countries. It was Spain that, unsurprisingly, ignited his interest in wine – particularly a memorable lunch of arroz con bogavante - lobster and rice paired with Martín Codax Albariño: a moment Luke describes as “a gastro eureka”.
WSET-qualified Luke now works with filmmaker Roque Madrid to host a regular wine podcast via his website and has just launched an innovative new experience via Airbnb – offering travellers the chance to enjoy a tasting of four wines and tapas in two central Madrid bars, whilst becoming the stars of the latest Spanish Wine Experience podcasts.
Wine Attack! Italian Antonio Sicurezza, one of the partners behind this natural wine specialist store in Madrid’s Conde Duque district, lived and worked for many years in New York so the tastings hosted in the store are held in Spanish, English (and Italian), according to attendees’ needs. These include the “funda misteriosa” – blind tasting events – with five wines paired with finger foods - usually on Wednesdays, and “Meet the winemaker” events (often on Fridays). Dates and themes vary so sign up for their newsletter via the website.
BCN Tastings. Sommelier Alex Pastor is originally from Mallorca but spent six years working in high-end cocktail bars and in restaurants in London before moving to Barcelona. He is WSET-trained and hosts private tastings in English that showcase the array of wines that Spain has to offer, usually showing a Cava – particular favourites are Recaredo Terrers and Mestres Visol – a bright fresh white such as Cultivare Xarel.lo from Domenech Vidal, an oaked or white in contact with it lees such as Marques d’Alella Allier, or Tondonia from Rioja, a lighter red (Ribeira Sacra, Gredos) and then two “bigger” reds to compare – he gives the examples of Brao from Montsant and Primitiu de Bellmunt in Priorat. Aimed at wine enthusiasts they are educational without being pretentious.
In April he started hosting Sunday evening tastings in the trendy Moodstore in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter, covering themes such as Sparkling wines, Classic and Modern Rioja. To book a private tasting contact email@example.com or for the Sunday wine club book via their website.
Wine Cuentista. The Wine Cuentista (or storyteller) is Manchester-born Fintan Kerr, who has lived in Barcelona for over six years. He fell in love with wine after living next to a traditional bodega in the Born district, Bodega Maestrazgo, now the location for his bi-monthly wine tastings on Thursdays. He is currently studying for the WSET Diploma and has worked in a winery in DO Alella.
The Maestrazgo Wine Club that he runs on Thursdays is aimed at people who live locally in Barcelona and, as well as covering certain Spanish regions in depth, looks at international wines. Private events are available for booking at 50€pp including seven wines and tapas and cover Spanish wines with a welcome glass of vermouth, two cavas (tasted blind to tell the difference), a white wine from Galicia and then three reds, typically a Monastrell/Bobal from the Levant, Garnatxa from Catalunya and Tempranillo from Rioja although sometimes he swaps one of these for a Mencia from Ribeira Sacra. Fintan always aims to show his love for Spanish wines through examples that he considers to be excellent.
Wine Courses Barcelona. Sharon Grundy has been running Wine Courses Barcelona for over two years, since leaving on-trade distributor Bibendum in London. She offers regular WSET 1 and 2 courses in English in Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca. Alongside WSET, WCB provides training and more informal tastings for a range of businesses, private groups and individuals. Recent trainings have included wine storage and service for yachts and ‘everything you need to know to create a Spanish wine list’ for two Filipino restaurant entrepreneurs, drawing on Sharon’s experience in the hospitality industry.
In 2017, she began running ‘The Spanish Wine School’ sessions for interested amateurs looking to gain some knowledge and understanding of Spanish wine, while tasting real benchmark producers and having fun. Her aim has been to showcase growers and winemakers with real backstory and proven quality. In 2018 she plans to add a ‘Vinos Atlánticos’ session to the pre-existing ‘Vinos Mediterraneos’ tasting. Sharon says that her aim with WCB is to make learning about wine as fun as it should be and to leave behind whatever snobbery makes people worried to speak up about wines they love.
Wine Aspects. Another Brit (what is it with us and wine in Spain?) Andrew Ashurst moved to Vilafranca del Penedès in the heart of Catalonia’s Cava country from Plymouth in 1992. He trained as an English teacher and now specializes in running courses in English for wine. Alongside the many courses he offers for professionals in the sector, such as English for winemakers or Cava makers, he also offers a course called English for Wine Lovers, a fun and informative way to learn about wine tasting and the language of wine in English through 18 different wines. The price includes a course book, two Riedel glasses, a copy of the magazine Vendimia and a course certificate.
Seville. Flor de Sal. This is the place to go in Seville for modern Spanish wines, stocking a fantastic range from all over the country. The website, which is in English and German, includes details on their almost daily wine events and tastings. They are hosted in both Spanish and English according to the attendees’ language requirements by Brazilian sommelier and owner André Salla. Themes have included Spanish whites, red wines for summer and Crianzas from different areas of Spain. As well as the paid-for tastings, they host “free” bimonthly tastings (usually on Wednesdays) with the only stipulation that each attendee buys one of the bottles on offer at the tasting. They also run in-depth wine courses on Spanish wines, red wines and whites and Cavas.
Málaga. Spain Wine School. Run by former Master of Wine Pancho Campo –a somewhat notorious figure in wine circles– this is one of the longest established specialist courses on Spanish soil. It is available at two levels both in person, at the American College in Spain in Marbella, and online, in Spanish and English, according to demand.
So what if you’ve already covered the basics but want to enhance your wine knowledge with a formal qualification? I must admit bias here as a WSET Level 4 Diploma alumnus and accredited tutor, but for me, the most respected international qualifications are those offered by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, based in London. They offer a very solid grounding in wine tasting, viticulture and winemaking, tasting examples from all over the world. The level 2 course is particularly relevant for wine and spirit enthusiasts who wish to explore the world of wine in greater depth, as well as offering essential grounding to professionals. There are various schools across Spain that offer the courses and exams in both English and Spanish. Some of the best established include:
Aranda del Duero: Vintage Class. Native of Australia and Scotland, Jeni Wilson runs the Vintage Class school out of Ribera del Duero, where she has lived for over 15 years. Courses are taught in English and Spanish by accredited tutors that include Frank Smulders MW and myself in a number of locations, including Aranda del Duero and Haro in Rioja.
Barcelona: Outlook Wine. Run by former sommelier and wine buyer David Molina, the Barcelona Wine School also offers Level 2 and 3 WSET courses in English and Spanish.
Madrid: The Wine Studio. Run by Elisa Errea who has long experience working in the wine industry, courses are taught in English and Spanish in the school in central Madrid and Logroño by Elisa herself and a number of international experts.
Zaragoza: Grape Bebop. Behind this school, the first in Aragón, is Jorge Orte, a wine professional and holder of the WSET Diploma (he was one of the top students in his year) who is also a judge in some of the world's top wine competitions. He offers Levels 1, 2 and 3 WSET courses in English and Spanish.
Of course, the examples given above are not exhaustive; there are many companies offering tastings on a more sporadic or private reservation basis. Others that are worth checking out include Rioja Trek - offering Rioja tasting courses for groups of a minimum of eight people in Spanish, English, Portuguese or German in La Tavina on Calle Laurel, Logroño. Brit Jenny Siddall also offers private tastings and tours in Haro, Rioja via her company Taste Rioja.
Jeni Wilson also hosts a wine tasting in English in Aranda del Duero on the first Thursday of (almost) every month called Wine Time. Details are available on the Vintage Class website.
Nicole Angela of Nicole Angela Travel and Taste does not pretend to be a wine expert (she originally moved to Spain from distant Alaska due to her love of flamenco) but aims to take the pretension out of wine with tastings that are all about personal experience and enjoyment. She hosts tastings in a number of venues across Madrid as well as private tours.
And last but not least, I also offer private and occasional public tastings via my company Taste Exchange, events are listed here.