In 2007 I moved to the US from Spain. For an extended period of time, I lived in different cities across the country before finally settling in the D.C. area about three years ago. “The District” is not only pretty and peaceful but a key multi-ethnic town populated by sophisticated wine aficionados. There is a remarkable volume of trade which plays an important role on both the national and global wine markets. Spanish wines are now an important component for many of these local companies that are seeking to please their customers with both individuality and good value.
D.C. is a leading wine consumer in the world’s largest market compared to the rest of United States. Residents of Washington D.C. drank 25.7 litres of wine per person in 2013. Even the very capable wine producing region of California (14 litres per person) can’t keep up with Washingtonians’ thirst, and mighty New York falls to 14th place with a ‘soft’ 11.9 litres per person.
Based on these numbers, it is reasonable to think that, when you come to visit D.C. you are not going to miss many of your favorite wines, no matter where they might be from. The broad selection offered and the massive volume of wine-related businesses should guarantee a happy and eclectic experience, even for the savviest drinkers. In addition, dozens of cool restaurants make up a multicultural and attractive dining choice, the ideal scenario for the enjoyment of wines of any style and origin away from home.
There is no doubt that D.C. has been experiencing a gastronomical boom in recent years. Many exciting new establishments have opened their doors and a number of world-renowned chefs including Daniel Boulud, David Chang and Gaston Acurio, just to name a few, have already opened or are planning to set foot on the capital in the near future. A lot of local talent is shaking up the city’s culinary scene as well -earlier this year, Bon Appétit magazine nominated Rose’s Luxury, by the young and promising chef Aaron Silverman, the best new restaurant in America.
Along with these renowned chefs and restaurateurs there is also a community of wine professionals on the rise. Currently, there are five MS by the Court of Master Sommeliers working in the region’s wine industry and Jay Youmans MW owns a prominent wine school continuously packed with students. Passion and interest for wine are in steady growth and an unstoppable sommelier tsunami is constantly flooding the streets of the District. Additionally, Virginia’s wine production, which is in D.C.’s backyard, has increasingly seen its quality and reputation backed up not only by locals but also by some of the most respected opinion formers worldwide.
One can’t talk about dining out in D.C. and fail to mention ThinkFoodGroup, José Andrés’ group of restaurants that expands way beyond the District’s borders. With a growing number of locations all over the country, José is among the most successful and best known restaurateurs in the U.S.
Originally from the Spanish northern region of Asturias and after more than 25 years in Washington, this recently naturalized citizen has become the ambassador of the ‘true’ (and many times very-difficult-to-find) Spanish flavors which continue to be confused with Latino dishes here in the US.
He is the mastermind behind some of the hottest culinary trends and numerous groundbreaking hospitality projects in America. As might be expected, many of these ideas have been solely based on Spain, like the very popular Jaleo, or on a mix of international and Spanish recipes such as The Bazaar. José is also the reason why many Americans are now familiar with tapas (or the small-portion way of ordering a more varied array of food for sharing), regardless of the final style of cuisine.
His invaluable contribution to the expansion, knowledge and increase of demand for Spanish wines in the US is reflected in multiple wine lists across his restaurants. There are currently three Jaleos in the D.C. area, one of which even houses a wine store under the same roof. They all offer wine selections from every corner in the Iberian Peninsula, covering multiple styles and a wide price range. The Downton location, which has a great number of wines by the glass, also uses high-tech software to display engaging and in-depth information on its wines.
Already a classic, the Jaleo brand is well associated with everything concerning Spain, its people, culture and major events. On the other hand, Minibar, the four-star avant-garde temple with only 12 seats, permanently suggests sophisticated wine pairings where a couple of Spanish wines are always included. The very similar é by José Andrés in Las Vegas only serves Spanish wines to go with the long and delicate tasting menu.
Commuters from the surrounding suburbs of Maryland and Virginia raise the city's daily population to more than one million during the working week. The Washington metropolitan area has a population of 5.8 million, the seventh-largest city in the country. This big urban sprawl is home to many businesses that substantially buy and sell Spanish wines. Restaurants like La Taberna del Alabardero have wielded exceptional Spanish influence in the city. The more recent Estadio or the out-of-state Boqueria and Barcelona all stock outstanding selections of wine and food from Spain.
On the off-premise side of the industry there are major players that cover various fields. Elite is a well known wine distribution company supplying a vast portfolio of Spanish wines including imports by Europvin and Aurelio Cabestrero. Other distributors like Bacchus and The Country Vintners also dominate the local market with their Spanish offerings.
Most supermarkets still sell a very poor selection of mass-produced Spanish and non-Spanish wines but top-tier grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Balducci’s provide excellent shopping options, many focused on the organic movement as well.