Anthony Rose: 'Something is happening: it's called the tapas bar revolution'


I was propping up the bar at José's eponymous tapas bar in London's Bermondsey when before you can say Rozinante, the barman offered me two red wines to taste, a bobal and a mencia. Not rioja, please note, but two relatively obscure yet delicious Spanish reds each with their own distinctive personality. I couldn't resist a glass of Gramona, a cava that's so refreshing it almost single-handedly redefines Spanish sparkling wine.

Before that I'd been to Ibérica in Marylebone, a spacious modern tapas bar with an accent on Asturian cooking and there I'd enjoyed a peppery La Malquerida bobal and a raspberryish Pasolasmonjas garnacha.

Continuing the tapas bar crawl, I'd popped into Capote y Toros, Abel Lusa's new place which sits cheek by jowl in Old Brompton Road with his great Spanish restaurant Cambio de Tercio. I ran into Peter Dauthieu, a supplier of rare sherries, who gave me one of his single butt amontillados to try.

Soon after I found myself wandering on tapas-driven autopilot into Copita, yet another new tapas bar in Soho. I failed to resist a second mouthwatering Lustau fino and a spicy, robust Pacheco Monastrell from Jumilla.

Something is happening: it's called the tapas bar revolution. The most encouraging aspect of this is not simply that the range of our culinary experience of fresh, unpretentious Spanish food is expanding. It's also revealing that, beyond rioja, sweet sherry and cava, there's good wine coming out of Spain's ears: albariño, verdejo, godello, mencia, bobal, graciano and cariñena to mention just a few.

This increasing variety in bars, hotels and restaurants isn't yet reflected in the all-powerful off-trade where the average price of a bottle of Spanish wine is below the overall average at only £4.42. There are encouraging signs, though, with positive developments in Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and more recently, Sainsbury's.

The wonderfully fresh and super-concentrated apple and pear 2010 Palacio de Fefiñanes Albariño, Rías Baixas, £15.99, Waitrose Wine Direct, is the best albariño I've ever tasted. Telmo Rodriguez's 2006 Peña del Infierno, £23, M&S, is a Tinta del Pais from Ribera whose rich red-berry fruits is infused with spicy cherry fruit, while the 2010 Taste the Difference Navarra, £6.99, Sainsbury's, is a pleasingly modern style that's full of raspberryish fruit tinged with cinnamon oak and a soft satiny sheen. Let's hope it's not wishful thinking to predict more of the same for 2012.