Updated: Jan 6
Not the ones you know from New York City....!!!
Bodegas: What are they?
If you live in NYC or have friends that do, when they talk about their favorite bodega, they're probably talking about the kind of place you can get a breakfast sandwich, some toothpaste, toilet paper, beer, or any other household corner store need.
While the word was brought to the Americas from Spain, the type of store we now call a bodega in the US, has diverged a lot from the original. On the East Coast particularly, its a corner store, usually with a lot of different types of merchandise, not limited to food and beverage. Many of them were run by people of Caribbean or Latin descent in the 20th century, but like anything else in New York, we now see a diversified bodega business by the 21st Century.
So...what is a bodega in Spain? It's more specific. Here, it means they sell bulk wine out of the cask, like a wine tap station where you bring your own bottle and fill it up to take home.
When you walk into a bodega in Spain, it should have wood casks on the wall. It also will sell bottled wine, beer, spirits, or other assorted goods related to the beverage portion of the meal.
When you first discover the bodega here, while you might be disappointed there's no deodorant, there might be xips (x = sh/ch "chips"...potato chips), dried sausage snacks, or potentially more food-wares. If you can get over what your concept of a bodega is, which I know you will, and bring a bottle next time or buy a plastic jug for reuse...you will absolutely wonder why on earth we don't have the original bodega in the US. I'm sure the short answer is...Prohibition.
Bodegas may have begun the same way as the original until the destruction of the alcohol business as we know it. I would wager that at that point, any legitimate Spanish style bodega was doomed to diversify into other household products or go out of business.
In any event, it's something we're just seeing recently, the development of wine being sold on tap. Here, you can see real tradition and history at work with the wood barrels and local varietals featured prominently. Spanish wine is as good as any other wine-producing country, certainly without the fanbase and worship that French wine attracts, or the cool accolades that German or Austrian whites elicit from seasoned enophiles in the USA. I think it's simply an education issue, plus the fact that American consumers attach value to price tag. If you drink Spanish and Portuguese wines on a regular basis, you know that the myth you have to buy a bottle over 20 USD for it to be any good- is a silly, incorrect notion.
These wines aren't inexpensive because they're lacking in quality or nuance. They are cheaper than French wine because the cost of living is lower, the wages are lower, and they have an abundance of producers. It's also just a fact that Americans haven't yet been well educated on Spanish regions, so it's a fuzzy, unknown world and we just don't see them as often on menus. I'm not sure if it's also a lack of importation, supply, or a smaller market-share problem. But I guarantee you that if you try wine while you're here, you will drink some of the best in the world, for a fraction of the price you'd expect.
So next time you're walking around Spain drinking a Vichy Catalan out of a glass bottle, save the bottle, (it has a screw cap, helpful for the traveller without a corkscrew) and go get something from a bodega. It almost doesn't matter which wine you get, they're all delicious.
Moral: Don't ever think about price-point as the marker for a good wine, ever again. Sometimes that's just a retail fib meant to give the seller an excellent margin, a mark-up ploy to generate demand.
Bodegas will prove that you can get a wide selection of excellent, local wine for less than 2 euros a bottle. It's one of the joys of visiting and living in this country!
P.S. I also like NY Bodegas but more for the egg and cheese to go, or a 6-pack on the fly.