Calçots!

There is something unique to Catalonia, something

 

delicious.  It is the calçot and the tradition of a calçot

lunch to go with it!

A calçot (left) is member of the onion family, and resembles a cross between a green onion and a leek.  It’s a uniquely Catalan beast, and are
mild and sweet.

Every Spring, the Catalan celebrate with the tradition of the calçotada  – much like the American tradition of the summer BBQ, where c
alçots are grilled over an open flame (in our case over vine cuttings, yum!).  The

result is a charbroiled onion, but a sweet delicious delicacy underneath.

How does one eat a calçot?  Once they are grilled, you strip them of course!  After barbecuing,
It’s a delicate operation, as you grip the bottom of the calçot, and tug gently so the skin pulls off in one long piece.  Then, as Toni is demonstrating, you eat the calçotada in several bites – but in one fell swoop.  Delicious! a romesco sauce is served, and you strip off the charbroiled layer in a magical feat of action.

 

They can get a little messy however, so as
Toni shows us, it helps to have a bib.  Or a cape.  After a full plate of calçot, and several glasses of cava, Toni became…Super Calcot!  The Catalon superhero!

Calçots are particularly delicious with brut cava, as the crisp acidity matches perfectly with the sweet greens and the tangy romesco  sauce.

Now, go out and make some calçots today!  when you can’t find the real thing, baby leeks, baby green onions or red onions can be substituted.  Broil or grill them until tender.  Enjoy with a glass of cava!

 

Pulling it all together

Now that we have seen the grapes come in and the base wine made, it’s time to pull it all together.  It’s time for the assemblage!

Assemblage is the process of choosing which case wine will be blended to make each sparkling wine.  Each base wine can be classified in to different levels of wine, and the process involves several components, including multiple trials and blends.  But first, you need to taste the base wine from which the blended cava will be made.

Each primary still wine is made specifically for the purpose of creating cava.  Unlike the table wine, these wines are made with a lower sugar content and a higher overall acidity.

First up, the Macabeo cava base, showed lychee and a slightly tropical undertone, with bright acidity, green apple and grapefruit.  It’s easy to see how this can create an excellent cava.

Next, we compare the Macabeo cava base with the Macabeo wine base.  IN the wine base, you get a creamy undertone, it’s roudner and softer with more pear flavors followed by citrus.

Now on to the Xarel.lo cava base.  This uniquely Spanish wine has a very subtle nose and is bright, lean and tight.  A strong banana scent is followed by bitter lime.  This wine adds more weights and depth to the finished cava.

Finally we taste the Xarel.lo wine base.  This was a bit like unfiltered grapefruit juice, stll with that banana flavor and a heavier mouthfeel.  I would call this a pithy wine.

Now that we know who the players are, it’s time to play mad scientist with the assemblage!Now we get to the third traditionally cava base, Parellada.  The base wine had a slight spritz, and  was full bodied and had lemon custard flavors with heavy aromatics and floral notes.

Gabriel Suberviola, Master Winemaker at Segura Viudas, was on hand to help walk us through the process.  As we found out in the component tasting, each wine contributes its own unique notes, and bringing it all together takes patience and skill.  To maintain a consistent product, winemakers need to be able to replicate a flavor profile year after year, with minor changes to the blend.

Gabriel and his team taste up to 200 wines, and they are classified in to specific lines.  Each line will become a different wine.  For our small team of amateur wine blenders, we had to learn how to spot a premier cava in the making in the unusual base wines we tasted.  The winemaking team has years of practice and can tell in one sip, but we needed a bit more time.

We started our adventure with four bottles of base wine:

  • Macabeo base wine
  • Xarel.lo base wine
  • Parellada base wine
  • current candidate of test wine, for control purposes
Over the next 2 hours, we tediously tried to create the best blend possible, which Gabriel would then be grading them as we ate lunch.  And so it begins.  Never one to play exactly by the rules, I started creating concoctions immediately.  Instead of trying to match the current test candidate, I decided to go out on my own and create a blend that I thought would make an amazing cava.
In the end, my favorite blend didn’t wine, but I sure had fun trying!  It’s amazing how as little as 5% of one wine or another can have a profound impact on the finished product.  If you’ve never played with blending, I encourage you to do it at home.  You can try it with any old wine, just add a dash of Petite Sirah to your Zinfandel.  Maybe some Malbec to your cab1  be your own winemaker!
The winner of this round was erstwhile wine director Mark, who proudly carried home an

excellent bottle of cava.  The most vivacious team goes to Rebecca and Tom, who had nearly identical blends, but still didn’t win.

Cin cin!

 

 

 

 

The People's Wine

So I’ve told you a bit about Cava, and a bit about the history of Segura Viudas. Now, let’s dive in deeper.

While Cava is Spain’s sparkling wine, it is also the national beverage. It’s a drink for the people, and isn’t reserved for special occasions. Cava can be seen every day, in bars, in restaurants, in hotel lobbies, and on the dining room table. The high value proposition makes this an ideal beverage for any occasion.

So, let’s review:

Cava is Spain’s version of sparkling wine, traditionally made from indigenous white varieties – Xarel·lo, Macabeo and Parellada.  Most Cava is made in Catalonia, a region at the north east tip of Spain.  Cava must also be made in the méthode champenoise, whereas sparkling wine made in other (shall we say, less than desirable in my opinion) methods may only be called vinos espumosos (sparkling wines).

Historical records show that some form of sparkling wine has been made in the Catalonia region of Spain since the 14th century; it wasn’t until the late 19th century however, that serious efforts were made to compete with France for a sparkling wine with a similar profile to Champagne.

In the US, probably the most recognizable brand of Cava is Frexinet’s Cordon Negro, in the signature black bottle.  This budget bubbly gets a bad rap, and while I was one of the guilty poking fun, it’s a great, fun, simple Cava to serve at parties or in mimosas.  At a recent twitter tasting I participated in, I was pleasantly surprised that my memory of a product similar to Cook’s was completely wrong and the Cordon Negro is really a perfectly fine sparkling wine.

Any way you put it, the value proposition for Cava is excellent.  With most bottles hovering around $8 and many more up to $20, there are some great examples at any price point but it’s a great wine to enjoy anytime.  While there are certainly more expensive cavas out there, you can easily find a great example for under $20, which is very affordable in my book.

My hosts at Segura Viudas focus on making cava of distinction, in the traditional method.  While you are allowed a certian  amount of other grapes, head winemaker Gabriel Suberviola focuses on the local grapes to create special cavas  that really exemplify the region.  While they are a large operation by American standards, the team at Segura Viudas is careful to maintain the quality of the fruit by hand harvesting the grapes, and evaluating each load carefully.  The grapes are then graded, and sorted in to what wine they will become.    You could make the argument that you can just throw everything in the hopper and see what comes out, but they won’t settle for that.  Less quality grapes go in to the every day wines; not lesser quality wines by any means, but these are your $10 every day cavas, vs the iconic Reserva Heredad ($25).  Gabriel and his team can tell on site, and through a detailed process with 17 data points, what wines each small bin is destined to become.

Up next, we blend our our base wine!  This could get interesting…so, pop a bottle, clink your glasses to life, and enjoy cava!

 

Cava cools you off…

It’s hot here in Spain, even though it’s only March. There hasn’t been much rain, and you can feel it all around. The rivers are dry, the air is dry, the vines are dry.

One critical observation about Spain is there is an inordinate amount of smog at atmosphereic gunk. While I belive most of this is organic smog, it makes for a rough go for anyone that is used to clear skies and easy breathing. I myself am suffering after 3 days of heavy smog, where you can barely see the skyline of Barcelona and you can only make the outline of the breathtaking Montserret mountain formation . Even today, from my hotel room less t

 

 

han 1 mile away, the giatn Gaudi Masterpiece, the Segrada Famila, is barely visible in the haze.
When i was in Madrid and Rioja last year, I noticed a simlar issue. With the contstant burning of organic waste (and quite probably inorganic) I wonder how long this city can continue to manage this level of pollution. However, I see steps that are postivie: the city busses are natural gas powedered; there are far more diesel fueled vehicles in Europe than anywhere else ( particular in gas guzzling US); Segura Viudas is making steps to become a green, closed ecosystem.

While in the vineyard in the Penedes region of Catalonia, we toured one of the old vineyards at the estate.  Segura Viudas is a pioneer in the area, practicing sustainable agriculture, as operates as organically as possible with out being constrained to the organic rules of operation. Currently, they are experimenting with reusing the biomass created by pruning, as well as other vineyard activities, and seeling this as fuel. Future plans include using the biomass fuel within

the winery system to becoming a self contained ecosystem.
Additionally, the vineyard manager Sebastià Raventós has been working with cover crops such as hay and oats, to provide a nutrient balance. Of course, this also protects the vineyards from erosion during the rainy season, and also provides another attraction for insects and animals to build a sustainable ecosystem in the vineyard.

Sebastià was born and bred in this small wine growing region, and has the soil in his blood.  His familiy has worked the vineyards in the area for generatiosn.    He belives that great cava or great wine begins in the vineyard, and that great wine cannot be made without great grapes.  He is part of the landscape here, born and bred in this small wine growing region of Penedes, and has the

soil in his blood.  His family has worked the vineyards in the area for generatiosn.    He belives that great cava or great wine begins in the vineyard.  To this point, he fiercly guards his vines, and has a particular reverace to the old, gnarly vines that are growing freely.  While there are advantages to head trained, neat, trellised vineyards, they are also more prone to diseases and pests since they aren’t allowed to grow naturally.  These old vines, planted 40+ years ago, producer less grapes, but grapes of an intensity that cannot be compared.

Sebastià is a lovable charmer, and his passion and lvoe for the vines is clear.  He is a fighter, and is dedicated to a more traditional way of growing grapes; this return to the past has a greater respect for the environment.  Even though he claims not to speak English, there is a glint in his eye when we get excited about talking about green practices.  He pulls out the seeds for the cover crop and grins when we recognize his efforts.

In effect, he is an ecologist who uses less invasive methods, and studies the history of the vineyards to predict future outcomes.  With 19 years of experience on the saem vines, he has been keeping track of weather patterns, including the global climate changes that are impacting all grape growers.  with this knowledge, he can predict down to the day, when the grapes will be ready to harvest.  Planning a trip on Tuesday?  Nope!  We harvest on Tuesday!

Using methods such as pheromone traps for moths, cover crops to stabilize the soil on erosion prone hillsides, and creating biomass from clippings, Segura Viudas has been a pioneer in these efforts.  They have even gone so far as to create a nature train within one vineyard, which explains the natural habit and what they are doing to assist in rebuilding the environment.

Sebastià has such a passion for the vineyards taht he has been taking care of for the last 19 years; it is clear that he is as much a part of them as they are him.  Teh excitement he holds for creating the best possible fruit, and ensuring that every possible action can be taken to take care of these gems is clear.

 

Since it was hot and dusty outside, it was a welcome sight to come inside and taste some of the delicious Cava that the winery produces.  Next up, a bit of history about the property, and some tasting!

¡Viva España!

Happy February everyone!  I can hardly belive it’s still “winter” here in San Francisco, given that it’s in the mid 70s, and the sun is shining.  Time to get out and enjoy some crisp sparkling delicious Cava!

Cava is Spain’s version of sparkling wine, traditionally made from indigenous white varieties – Xarel·lo, Macabeo and Parellada.  Most Cava is made in Catalonia, a region at the north east tip of Spain.  Cava must also be made in the méthode champenoise, whereas sparkling wine made in other (shall we say, less than desirable in my opinion) methods may only be called vinos espumosos (sparkling wines).

I am so excited that in 3 short weeks, I will be spend a whirlwind week, learning all about this magical elixer, from the masters of Segura Viudas.

Some of the activities I will be participating in are:

  • An Assemblage master class, where we learn about the traditional cava grapes, terroir, region and climate.
  • A blending session, where we will learn to create our own special bubbly blend
  • A cooking class to learn about the regional cuisine
  • Meals paired with the wines of the region
  • A side trip to Priorat, one of my favorite regions.  Did someone say Garnacha?  Monastrell?  Garnacha Blanca?  Pack me a straw!

And did I mention, they are rather fond of jamon in Spain?

And now, a bit more about my hosts, Segura Viudas:

Segura Viudas has developed a reputation as a premium cava producer, with the property dating back to the 11th century.  The brand was born in 1959, and the wines were first released in 1969.  The Ferrer family of Barcelona, who owns brands like Gloria Ferrer and Frexinet, purchased the estate in the 1980s making it a global competitor.

I’m looking forward to learning more about cava and the Catalonia region of Spain!  As you might now, I was in Spain & Portugal last year, when I spoke at the International Wine Tourism Conference.  At that time, I took some extra time and explored Madrid, Rioja, and the northern regions, so this will be a great way to round out my Spanish adventure.  I wonder if I can accidentally miss my return flight and get lost in Barcelona?

Watch out for tweets and posts from the road!  Can I do this all with just my iPad?  I hope so!