Our first take on Spain's excellent, compelling Méntrida wine region

You barely feel it moving. The tracks gently hum as they glide beneath you, the rail yard melts into buildings that melt into hills until -- quickly -- the greens and browns of the Spanish countryside just south of Madrid have surrounded you. Soon you step off in Toledo, the one-time capital of Spain famous for its cathedral, its swords, and -- we believe ought to be -- the fruits of its Méntrida wine region. We recently visited Bodegas Arrayán and Bodegas Alonso Cuesta, two compelling and uniquely inviting wineries (bodegas) that we will later review separately, and offer this as our first take.

Background reading: Spanish Wine 101: Understanding regions, grapes, classifications, labels to help you choose the best

One of the smaller and lesser-known of Spain's many recognized Denominación de Origen (DO) winemaking regions, Méntrida is unique in its proximity to the Madrid. At thirty minutes by car or train, we can imagine Madrileños developing a day trip relationship with this place just as Washingtonians have embraced the local Virginia wine country that I call home. Garnacha is the king of red grapes here, but production is rounded out by some curious junior partners such as Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and a white grape called Albillo that we believe has all the right stuff to become the next big wine varietal that everyone just has to have more of. In both mono-varietals (a bottle made from just one type of grape) or blends, the two wineries we visited have produced very good wines that ought to be far more widely known in the Spanish, American, and global markets.

We're serious when we say small. Twelve bodegas produce the wine that you'd find in restaurants and on store shelves, having come together under the auspices of their DO to hold one another to rigorous standards that value quality over quantity in the growing and production of their wine. Though Spanish and European Union law permit the production of far more kilos per hectare, growers here are committed to lower limits as part of quality control as a condition of membership in the DO (this practice is by no means unique, but indicative of the seriousness with which these winemakers take their quest for ever higher quality wine).

Méntrida's proximity to Toledo and Madrid makes it ideal for day trippers wanting to experience a bit of Spanish wine absent the multi-hour trek needed to reach the likes of Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Rueda, and Toro (to say nothing of those yet further away). If staying in Madrid, the most flexible option is to rent a car in the city (consider the airport or the Atocha train station for this) and drive less than an hour to Toledo and its surrounding villages. Alternatively, the train from Atocha to Toledo runs each hour at €12.50 per person each way, though keep in mind that this will require you to hire a taxi for the short ride to your winery of choice (and to arrange for pickup later). Toledo is itself a highly worthwhile destination that I am sure I'll cover in the future.

Expect separate reviews of Bodegas Arrayàn and Alonso Cuesta to be forthcoming. I'll offer as preview: Both are home to excellent wine made by true experts (and warmly welcoming people). We'd return to both, and are happily welcoming bottles from both to our collection. We can't wait to share them!