I must have been to hundreds of wine events and almost as many food ones, but – bizarrely – it is still surprisingly rare to find food and wine showcased in the same place simultaneously. We expect to consume both together, yet somehow we still tickle our taste buds in isolation. So how refreshing to attend Madrid Fusion for the first time, to see the Spanish celebrating the marriage of their rich food and drink culture in what felt like the most fantastic gastronomy show on earth.
Across two giant halls of Madrid’s convention centre, cheeses from every Iberian region, fish from its Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, freshly sliced jamón from acorn-fed pigs being proffered at seemingly every other stand and – best of all – a competition to find the country’s ultimate croquetas, all washed down with some of the finest wines that Spain has to offer. What’s not to love? And why should it feel so novel and different to find food and wine sharing the limelight?
Then there were the masterclasses: renowned chefs cooking live on stage, showcasing their skills and celebrating food culture. Madrid Fusion’s slogan was ‘No Limits’ and the event was true to its tagline, attracting star names from all over the world, such as Nordic superstar René Redzepi, Peruvian sensation Gastón Acurio and Britain’s James Knappett – a one-time Gordon Ramsay protégé who holds two Michelin stars – as well as the best of Spain’s homegrown culinary talent, including triple-starred David Muñoz and the Roca brothers of Girona’s El Celler de Can Roca.
The Spanish were shouting about their food and wine talent – but they were also demonstrating that they are open to influences from all over the world because food culture is very much a moveable feast. Breaking all records, Madrid Fusion attracted more than 21,000 paying visitors and well over a thousand writers and critics. The show famously has its finger on the pulse of the latest trends in gastronomy and this year an obvious theme coursed through the different talks and demonstrations: making the most of what’s around you, whether it be the local sourcing of ingredients or the celebration of indigenous grape varieties.
So we learnt how they make a delicious meal from seagull chicks on the Faroe Isles (not for the squeamish, that one); we sampled different types of sustainable seaweed that offer planet-friendly culinary complexity; we donned noise-cancelling headphones for an immersive demonstration from star sommelier Josep Roca showing us how to pair wine with classical music – think Verdejo meets Vivaldi – and enjoyed a thrilling tasting of volcanic wines from Spain’s mainland and islands, courtesy of Master of Wine, Fernando Mora.
Spain has 17 regions and each was represented. The sense of provincial pride was very evident at each stand as team members trumpeted their culinary specialities, beneath huge signs emblazoned with Condé Nast Traveller-worthy images of their respective regions. Food and drink now make up more than 3 per cent of Spain’s Gross Domestic Product, bringing in around €140 million, so perhaps it’s little wonder the Spanish government gets behind it, then there’s also the less obviously tangible ‘soft power’ that food and wine culture brings. Italy and France have the same raw ingredients, of course, but I have never seen either country bring its culinary treasures together in a showcase that could rival Madrid Fusion.
I found myself pondering whether we could pull off the same feat here. The United Kingdom has an increasingly exciting food culture these days, there are destination restaurants, we land fantastic fish and produce some of the world’s best cheeses; there are vineyards in most of England’s counties and our sparkling wines routinely outperform Champagne, yet I struggled to imagine a similar scene, certainly on anything like the scale of the Spanish show. Take my neck of the woods: Middlesex has much to offer, but can you say it has a signature dish or its own style of wine?
The desire for self-determination in parts of Spain is well documented, but I believe the country is leading the world in the way it showcases its deliciously diverse gastronomy, with its regions working together – or at least alongside each other, as I don’t doubt that rivalries run deep – and its culinary community demonstrating that everything is richer when wine shares the spotlight.
What David has been drinking…
- Las Rozas 1er Cru, Comando G 2020 (£53) Tasted during Fernando Mora MW’s volcanic wine workshop, this sublime old vine Garnacha from the Madrid DO that borders the south of the city stole the show. A delicate nose of blood orange, red cherry and dry thyme leads into a feast of tangy, succulent red fruit, with intricate tannin structure and a wonderful saline finish. Outstanding.
- Roebuck Estates, Rosé de Noirs, 2017 (£42) The second release of a rosé from this Petworth-based producer, a relatively new arrival on the English wine scene that’s already an accomplished performer. The majority of the blend is Pinot Noir, with around a fifth Meunier and a splash of Pinot Précoce, the rose petal nose is beguiling, juicy redcurrant offers structural depth and there’s perfectly judged, flaky pastry elegance through to the finish. Impressive, not least because 2017 was a challenging vintage.
- Akitu Pinot Noir Blanc 2022 (£32) Is it white, is it a rosé, could it be a light red? Close your eyes and this seductive blanc de noir from the shores of Lake Wanaka in Central Otago transcends colour, with its fleshy nectarine, zesty grapefruit and teasing umami character. The perfect partner for sashimi, or tempura, it’s a small-production masterpiece, so snap it up before someone else does.