El Tempranillo – Madrid, Spain


El Tempranillo's Wall of Wine
El Tempranillo's Wall of Wine

La Latina’s El Tempranillo makes you feel like you’re stepping into a forbidden guiri-free slice of Spanish bar culture.  I’ve never seen anyone in there speak a word of English in my 3 or 4 visits.  I think the fellows behind the bar would like to keep it that way as well.  On our last visit there, as all prior visits, upon stepping up to the bar to look at the chalkboard wine list, I was asked “dígame” and was subsequently stared at until I put on my glasses and made heads or tails of the list.  Kind of a cold, unblinking dark-eyed Spanish stare.  If you go and the same thing happens to you, don’t flinch.  Just calmly make up your mind and order a couple of glasses – in the best Spanish and accent you have.  Then, to show them you really know what you’re doing ask for “la carta.”  Ask for the menu and you’re dead meat.  (I learned that in another place in Barcelona and have never repeated the error.)

After that, you’re home free.  You’re in.  You can enjoy yourself.  If you flinch, you’ll be gone after the first glass – or maybe before.  But for those who persevere, surviving the stare is worth it.  The place itself is what a wine bar should be.  Warm, rustic, all chipped paint, exposed beams, cool pillars, attractive but not ostentatious clientele and a gravity defying wall of wine.  Oh, the wall of wine.

They feature several varieties of Spanish wines by the glass and even more by the bottle.  “La carta” reveals a decent bunch of tapas and tostas that pair well with the wines they serve.  The plate of “queso curado” we ordered on the last trip was big and probably some of the best cheese I had while in Iberia.  Maybe it was the wine (they have cañas, too) or maybe it was the fact that my 2-year-old made friends with a little Spanish girl whose parents were there enjoying the place as well but El Tempranillo is everything it should be – and nothing it shouldn’t.

No wonder the guys behind the bar seem to guard it like jealous boyfriends.  It just wouldn’t be the same if it was packed full of people clutching copies of Lonely Planet Spain.  Not to mention, those folks would never survive the stare.

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