Enrico Panigl Wine Bar – Vienna, Austria

Enrico Panigl 5

“I’ve got a theory about this place,” I said as I gulped from a tasty glass of Zweigelt.  “What?” said Mrs. NH.  “OK,” I continued, “see that flag under the light over there?  I’m betting P.C.I. stands for ‘partido comunista de Italia’ (said with my Spanish accent – not Italian).  And by looking at the wines, this guy isn’t from Vienna.  He’s Italian.”

Enrico Panigl 3Well, I was right about the flag.  The letters do stand for the Communist party of Italy.  The hammer and sickle kind of tipped me off, too.  And sure enough, the owner spoke Italian to the next guy who came in.  And with a name like Enrico, I’d consider that a trifecta.  Still, my little theory was totally missing the point.  The point was, we had by grace of collective foggy memory and sheer good luck, managed to find the best wine bar in Vienna for the second time.

The “Enrico Panigl” is something of a throwback to a different time.  Not just the flag under yellow light but the bric-a-brac nature of the decor, dark wood, marble bar and candle light.  It’s dark, inviting, cozy and bar-fly-romantic.  Its romance is in the dust on the bottles.  Rustic romantic, not frills and satin.

If you aren’t feeling the atmosphere when you walk in, it won’t take long.  Taking a look up at the beautifully written Enrico Panigl 4chalkboard wine list, you can choose from some of the tastiest (and affordable) wines from Austria, Italy, Spain and Montenegro.  There’s a grape and a character to suit every palate.  On this occasion I think I found at least three wines that were incredibly impressive.

Then there are the bottles lining the walls.  They’re all spent – uncorked, dusty, ageing mementos of revelries long past.  The dates on some of them go back to the 60’s.  Their labels look like yellow parchment stuck to precious vessels of the nectar of the gods.

Adding the last bit to the Enrico Panigl equation are the patrons.  People from all ends of the spectrum seem attracted to this place.  During our brief visit we saw ageing Viennese, a biker couple, an older Italian speaking gentleman that looked like a regular, and a young couple, seemingly on a first date, both from different corners of Europe trying to communicate in English.  Did I mention that people watching is part of the fun?

Enrico Panigl 2Enrico Panigl is one of the truly great bars in Vienna and I’d put it in my top ten bars of the world.  There’s no pretense, just good wine and feeling that you’ve really found a treasure in the middle of Vienna.  Even with communist flag on the wall, the place just feels right.  Hmmm, maybe I’ll ask him about that next time.

Corazón Loco – Madrid, Spain

Corazon Loco 4Perched on a corner just around the bend from Cava Baja and just up the street from Almendro 13 sits one of the most quintessential Spanish hipster wine bars that I’ve ever seen.  When I say hipster, I must make it clear that I’m not talking about Euro-hipsters – the vapid, label-wearing big sunglass bunch.  By hipster, I mean that its home to young, hip, Madrileños.  The group that congregates at Corazón Loco is a likable crowd. There’s your fair share of piercings and tattoos in the bunch but they’re a congenial lot overall and they won’t stare too hard at a couple gringos and their curly blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter on a Sunday afternoon after El Rastro.

The requisite chalkboards behind the bar advertise the wines that they have on hand and, as with Corazon Loco 6El Tempranillo, it’s best to go to the bar with a good idea of what you want to order and a good accent.  You can’t go wrong with what they’re pouring so there’s not much to fear.  But man cannot live by wine alone so Corazón Loco also has a good menu of eats on the chalkboard to the left of the bar.  The “Papas Arrugadas” are one of my favorites and are perfect for splitting with some friends while relaxing on the beer keg barstools.  The potatoes themselves are a Canary Islands specialty that come with a green and red sauce that has to be tried to be believed.  Never has a boiled, salted little potato tasted so good.  They’re served with a red “mojo” pepper sauce and a green one that, I believe, is a garlic and cilantro mix.  Everyone ends up liking one over the other but both sauces are super tasty.

Corazon Loco 1In the back of the establishment, there is more of a sit-down restaurant.  It looks cool but I’ll admit, I’ve never been back there.  The front wine bar area is where the action is and the corner location gives one a strategic view of La Latina and all of the goings on in the Costanilla San Andrés.  It’s an inviting atmosphere and one that I return to every time I’m in Madrid.

This place is the real Spain as I remember it.  The Spain before the EU, mass immigration and the Euro.  It’s the Spain that I hope never goes away.

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.