Sometimes the best wine bars are not wine bars at all. At least that’s the case with Los Picos, a cafe in Valencia’s Ruzafa neighborhood. The cafe proper is a slice of building about the width of a fashion catwalk, abutting a leafy plaza overlooked by wrought iron balconies.
Ruzafa is a boho-ish neighborhood that hovers around a six on a 1-10 scale of artsy to gentrified. During the height of the Covid pandemic, i.e. all of 2020 and the first half of 2021, it was a local enclave.
Now, as the world flirts with its new normal, you hear as much Dutch, German and English as Valenciano on its streets and in its squares.
Los Picos rolled with the pandemic punches, shutting early when it had to, shutting entirely when it had to, maintaining strict social distancing regulations (unlike adjoining establishments). Uncompromising has been its ethos since before it was a matter of life and death.
No wifi… no bullshit… its menu promises. And its proprietors deliver.
Once, my companion ordered a cappuccino and specified no chocolate sprinkles. He was informed Los Picos does not stock chocolate sprinkles, so his coffee was safe.
The coffee is, as one might hope and expect, exceptional. What my husband and I love, though, is the semi-secret natural wine list.
It’s not a secret-secret (there is a blackboard on the exterior wall with bottles listed in faded chalk) but Los Picos doesn’t push wine. For those who know, though, it is a reliable source of surprise and delight.
We went over around lunchtime on Saturday and when word got to wine fanatic co-owner Rafa that we were interested he appeared at our table with an armful of bottles: Verdejo from pre-phylloxera vines; Manzanilla; Manzanilla Pasada.
The latter is a rare, oxidized Manzanilla sherry, amber-hued and heady as good cologne.
After a glass of the spiky Arenas de SantYuste Verdejo accompanied by buttery green olives we spotted an adjoining table with a bottle of Tempranillo. After a tasting splash we ordered two glasses.
Unlike much Spanish Tempranillo, Els Vinyerons Saltamarti from the DO Penedes is fresh, light and fruit-forward. A coupage of 90% 2019 Tempranillo and 10% 2018 Tempranillo that had seen some oak, it had enough complexity to be interesting and enough vibrant red fruit to be quaffable.
At that point we decided food was in order and got stracciatella dressed with fresh basil, olive oil and cherry tomatoes, accompanied by toasted rustic rye bread. If I could have licked the plate, I would have.
The finishing touch was a glass of the Bodegas Juan Pinero Manzanilla Pasada to share. My memory of Sanlucar, the home of Manzanilla, is of a shabby, empty seaside town with tumbling hills. But out of that unprepossessing locale comes one of the most perfect of all wines: nutty, dry, complex, saline. If you want a wine that is a perfect evocation of its origin, this is it.
Like Manzanilla, Los Picos has an immutable sense of itself and its place. It makes no apologies for preferring dogs to children and refusing to pander to digital nomads. Wine, food and coffee alike are seasonal and select. Don’t expect the menu to be the same twice, don’t expect fawning service.
Do expect rare wines, quirky playlists, passion and, above all, good taste.
Los Picos Cafe
- Address: Plaça de Manuel Granero, 20, 46006 València, Valencia, Spain
- Instagram: lospicoscafe