At noon today, about two levels below ground level in Colmenar de Oreja, a small town southwest of Madrid, Spain, we were drinking wine. Two centuries ago, those wine cellars had been carved into the local white limestone bedrock that is also quarried and has been used in Madrid in the Royal Palace and Cibeles Fountain. The temperature in the cellars remains in the 50sF year-round, and they are used to store wine for the Peral Bodega.
Antonio (at the right, in the green sweater) runs the bodega. He poured us generous glasses of wine: a 2010 white, a 2009 white aged in the bottle, and 2010 and 2009 claretes, similar to rosé wines.
I went there as part of a trip organized by the Democrats Abroad Madrid Chapter. It's the home town of the chapter president's husband. These days, Colmenar de Oreja is a thriving agricultural town known for its olive oil and especially its wine, but it has a lot of history.
In 220 B.C., Hannibal fought in that area and won. The Romans founded a town there named Apis Aureliae (Golden Bee), perhaps named after then-consul Aurelius. Eventually the name became softened to Colmenar (Beehive) de Oreja (Ear), and enjoyed economic success, especially after Madrid became the nation's capital. No trace remain of the Romans, and the town has a distinct La Mancha style.
Down in the wine cellar, Antonio explained how different techniques and aging, as well as different kinds of grapes, produce different flavors in wines, and how the limestone soil keeps these wines from becoming tart. In the background in the photo, you can see two tinajas, the giant clay casks that used to be used to age wine. These days, Antonio said, bodegas use stainless steel tinajas because they are easier to manage.
He said with twenty tinajas and could produce twenty kinds of wine from the same grapes, but these days, people seem to prefer uniformity, so each bottle of a specific kind tastes like all the rest from that year. He wishes it were otherwise.
We bought some wine, then we went to dinner and sampled two of Colmenar de Oreja's signature dishes: a kind of fried potatoes, and a beef stew made with onion, whole cloves of garlic, white wine, and tomatoes.
After a little sightseeing, we went home. The town isn't as famous as its neighbor, Chinchón, and its residents seem to like that. They don't need tourist money — but they could get it if they wanted.
— Sue Burke