Wine review: Faccoli Franciacorta Extra Brut

Faccoli is one of the many sparkling wine producers in Franciacorta . The founder was Lorenzo Faccoli who in 1964 acquired land on the hills of Mount Orfano, in Coccaglio. At this point in time Franciacorta was in its infancy as a wine region. That year Lorenzo obtained 12 hectoliters of wine from grapes of an existing vineyard, making wine on his own and sold by measure. Soon he realized he wanted to do more so he arranged the terraces and planted vineyards of chardonnay and pinot blanc, according to the recommendations of the new registered designation of Franciacorta origin. Already in 1970 he bottled part of his own wine and in 1979 he produced 300 hectoliters from his own wine and grapes.

In 1983 a lot changed for the Faccoli house, the sons Mario and Claudio stepped into the business. The decision was made to make sparkling wine the focus. In 1989 the production was 45 000 bottles (15 000 still and 30 000 sparkling) but the company still struggled as returns were too low. They also made the decision to manage the sales themselves and to focus even more on bubbles. To facilitate the growth they invested in an expansion of the cellar and added a higher end vintage cuvee to the selection, the Vintage 10 Anni. In 1990, they uprooted the old red vines of Cabernet Merlot Barbera and Nebbiolo and reduced the production of still wine to 10.000 bottles of white wine. In 2000 they stopped producing still wine and made the sparkling the only focus of the company. Today the company produces over 50 000 bottles of sparkling wine and have added several cuvées to the selection, today these are: Rosè brut, Extra Brut, Brut, Dosage Zero and Vintage 10 Anni.

The Facolli Franciacorta Extra Brut was the one I sampled (at Monvinic). It is grown on the hills of Mount Orfano and it is a blend of 70 % Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Blanc and 5 % Pinot Noir. Facolli uses the méthode champenoise for producing their sparkling wine. No surprise as they are in Franciacorta , the only Italian sparkling wine appellation that must be made by méthode champenoise. This specific cuvee has been aged 21 months on the lees. The extra brut has minimal extra dosage and is very low in residual sugar (2.5g/l).

I have previously not been very impressed by Italian sparkling wines but this one I did find pretty decent. I sampled it side by side with a Pehu Simonet Champagne and a Albet i Noya cava and from that trio this was clearly the best (reviews of the others to come)

The color is pale yellow with fine bubbles. The aroma has nice brioche and bread notes as well as yeast and hints of mineral. On the palate it is very clean, bright with mineral and citrus. It works excellent on its own, as an aperitif, but also with some lighter food. As I did not have much expectations on it, I felt pleasantly surprised. Looking at quality I would rate it as a 3 (S was pretty fond of it, so she might say its a 4). It is nice but would perhaps not go out of my way to find it. It can be found online (mainly from Italian wine shops) for €13 to €20. In the lower end of that segment it is good value for money (a rating of 3.5).

Coffee Bar Review: Roots Coffee Roaster, Bangkok

So it is once again Monday. Being back in Sweden during the perhaps worst period of the year when it is grey, chilly, damp and often a mix of rain and snow makes me think back fondly of my visit to Bangkok. Therefore it is fitting to bring up one of the highlights of the visit there. I had heard a lot of good things about Roots before heading there so I was a little bit fearing disappointment, you know that feeling when you think can it really be that good.

Roots is one of the pioneers of specialty coffee in Bangkok and it was started by Varatt “Tae” Vichit-Vadakan, also Thai Barista Champion and he together with the others involved in Roots, run the restaurant Roast. Roots is located at Ekkamai Terrace #2-4 (at Sukhumvit Soi 63 between Ekkamai Soi 15 and 17). It is not a super convenient location with Skytrain but still, sort of, walkable from Ekkamai station (around 15-20 minutes) but a taxi is recommended. More of an issue than the location is however the opening hours, only weekends from 12 to 6pm. The rest of the time the space is used for trainings and work shops so it can tend to get packed with people.

People do however come here for a good reason. The coffee served here is by any measure fantastic. It is number one in Bangkok and to me they also beats the competition in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Tokyo and they are definitely at par with the better places in Europe and the US. The scene for coffee in Bangkok is really booming and while Roots lead the pack there are numerous others that do great things as well. The consistent quality and the great roasting is however what in my mind gives Roots the edge.

There is a rotating selection of coffee available and usually there are three to four different beans to choose from for the filter coffees and then two for espresso based coffees. The selection rotates roughly every 6 weeks so come back to find new things. For the filter coffees it is also possible to select the method (V60, aeropress etc) but they also make a recommendation for each different coffee and based on my experience it is fine to just trust them. Every single cup I have had here has been great or excellent. The execution as well as the roasting really impresses and it does not seem to matter that much who is making the coffee. The cold brews, in bottles, are also great. Especially in the hot Bangkok weather.

The training of the staff seem to be an area of focus at Roots (and Roast). From what I understood from one of the girls working there, all the baristas go through a 3-month training before, if passing, becoming a full-time employee. It is however not as if it stops there as they then provide continuous training to let people develop more. Tae believes that the people are crucial to making good coffee so in his work to provide the best coffee he has realized that it does not matter if he sources excellent coffee, roasts it to perfection if the people serving it are not as good. So trying to retain people by allowing them to develop, learn and have a career path is a way to serve good coffee.

The strategy seems to work as the coffee is just awesome. What is then even more surprising is the pricing model. There is no price list but rather one pays what one feels it is worth. They have an honesty box and it is up to people to put as much (or little) as they want there when they leave. It does seem to work well though as most people are amazed by the quality.

There is not a full kitchen at Roots but there are delicious pastries available. These are baked on site so just sitting there they bring out new and freshly baked pastries and I do at least find it difficult not to overindulge. The pastries are also great, some of the better I had in Bangkok and these also follow the same honesty pricing system.

Since the place tends to get a bit crowded I do not really feel comfortable sitting around for too long but the place looks nice and it is pleasant to sit and sip the coffee. There is no free wifi or such but this is not the place to come and work or study – the focus here is on great coffee (and pastries) so I am not really bothered by it. I also like the fact that it is clear that the space is not only a café but that they also roast, bake and hold courses here. It does give the space a different feel to many other over-designed cafés. Service is extremely knowledgeable, very friendly and it is clear that people like talking about coffee and they are happy to answer any questions you may have. My only regret is that I do not have such a place anywhere near where I live.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 5
Ambiance and Service: 4.5
Food: 3 (pastries are five star but there is not really any ‘real’ food)
Vs Local Average Competition: 5

Wine bar review: Monvinic, Barcelona

Monvinic is a lovely wine bar located in the Eixample neighborhood in Barcelona. It looks really sleek and classy from the outside and the feeling is the same when entering. The entire place is designed by interior designer Alfons Tost and it does feel like it is a fitting design for an upscale wine bar. I must however say that while it looks nice the chairs at the tables are not very comfortable so I always prefer squeezing together in the sofa instead.

There is an extensive wine library along one of the walls and it is from what I understand fine to browse the books. I have never really found a reason to do it as I have most of the wine books I want at home. While the books are impressive the reason to come here is the wine list. The wine list by the glass is constantly changing. Most of the time there are around 30 wines available by the glass and several hundred more by the bottle.

The list by the glass is a nice mix of both Spanish and International wines. There is usually three different sparkling wines, around 10-15 reds and whites respectively and then some sweet wines as well. The wine list is presented on tablets (not iPads but some other brand) and that is of course nice but I do wish they would have made better use of the technology. There is very limited information on the wines and the producers and it would be so easy to have something more there when they have the tablets. The use of tablets does however make it very easy to change and update the wine list and that means that they sometimes change the wine list by the glass during the evening.

All the waiters serving are also trained sommeliers so it is always possible to get knowledgeable service. Or I would rather say that it should be. At times Monvinic gets very busy and it is then sometimes not possible to really get the attention of the staff. It did not really use to be like that but since the Wall Street Journal piece on Monvinic it does seem like the place also draws in more people (and to some extent more the people that want to appear to be interested in wine). I would recommend coming either a bit earlier (before 19) or a bit later (after 21.30) to get the best service. The wines are usually interesting and the prices by the glass are decent. What i really like is that it is possible to order half-glasses. It gives a good chance to sample more wines and since many of the half-glasses are around €3 it does not have to be very expensive.

Recently I sampled some interesting wines from South African Mullineux (the white Kloof Street as well as the red Mullineux) as well as some great sparklings. Amongst them an Italian sparkling, Faccoli from Francacortia (if this was a blind tasting I would have picked it as a Champagne) alongside some, while not bad, more disappointing champagne from Pehu Simonet and cava from Albet i Noya. The international selection is pretty impressive but I would actually have expected more from the Spanish wines. There are however some interesting local wines there and I have on previous visits sampled lovely wines from Castell D’Encus (they make some lovely unusual Spanish wines in the Pyreenes, their Acusp is 100% Pinot Noir and the Ekam is a 100% Riseling).

Monvinic also serves food and while the quality is pretty good I must say that prices are rather steep for it. The food is a mix of set tapas menus and some larger dishes. I often struggle to find any set menus I like (as they usually contain something I do not want/like) and as I have come with the purpose to sample some wine I do not want a full main course so prefer to eat elsewhere. All in all I do however love popping into Monvinic for a few half-glasses, some wine talk with the sommeliers and then head elsewhere for dinner. It is without a doubt one of the best wine bars in Barcelona. I may not agree with the Wall Street Journal that it is the best in the world but it is clearly a good place for a glass or two.

Tandem, a gentleman’s cocktail bar in Barcelona

With all the fuss going on about Cava, thought that I forgot about Cocktail Thursdays did you? No I did not and this Thursday I have a real treat for you! A trip down memory lane (M proposed right after a visit to this bar) and a sure stop every time we visit Barcelona. Tandem is a small cocktail bar located on Carrer de Aribau in laid back L’Eixample.

The outside of the bar does not really give away anything. You can see it’s a bar, and that they seem to serve cocktails (the logo is two guys riding a tandem carrying a cocktail tray), but you need to open to door and go in to get the real picture. When you step in you enter a space that could be from the 60’s. Long mahogany bar with high chairs, the wall framed with mirrors and the back of the bar decorated with bottles of spirits. The lighting is dim but not dark and they play some old music (at a low volume). The bartenders are dressed up accordingly in white suits and they are very polite, and I mean old school polite with a big P. You can almost see Don Draper (Mad Men) sitting there with his whisky.

The bar
The bar
Barcelona 141
Bitters in perfume bottless
Something close to a Dark and Stormy
Something close to a Dark and Stormy

It was Mrs Gin and Mr Rum on the move again that night, keeping within our cocktail comfort zone. I ordered something fresh and sour, and M something close to a Dark and Stormy. The bartender made the call on the ingredients. We ended up with two long cocktails, mine with cucumber, citrus fruit, basil and some soda water, and M’s with lime, soda and coke. Simple ingredients, but great taste. The spirits used were smooth with no bitterness whatsoever transferring into the drink. Both cocktails set us back only 9€ each, so I would say that is a bargain. I have previously also had some Cava here, and I recall the house sparkling being of acceptable quality.

All in all a wonderful bar, never empty but never too busy to turn us around at the door. It’s something of a special place to me and I hope you enjoy it too if you have a chance to visit.

The day is here!

Congratulations Sweden! This is the day that all of our hard work is rewarded, Llagrima d’Or is once again available for purchase. It was a long journey to this point with change of company structure, country and logistics, but it feels great to have reached this point.

Our webshop opened this morning and will close on the 12th of April. After that the precious Cavas start their journey from our warehouse in Denmark to Sweden and to your doorstep. Have a peak at our website on whats available and remember quality is not a coincidence! With the right kind of care, love and craftsmanship (and of course Cava-talent) good Cava is a given!

Llagrima d'Or Brut Nature Cava
Llagrima d’Or Brut Nature Cava

Portugal Part 3: Visiting the premier wine maker in Dão

There is no doubt in my mind that Álvaro Castro is one of the top wine makers in Portugal. He makes an impressive range of wines in his different Quintas in the Dão region.
Alvaro de Castro is an engineer who inherited the vineyards in 1980. At that time he decided to dedicate himself fully to the wine business and restore the family tradition of producing wines. His first vintage was produced in 1989. Today he also works closely with his daughter Maria Castro.

I am sometimes struggling to grasp the range of wines that Alvaro produces. He has two main brands and that are Quinta da Saes and Quinta da Pellada but also a large variety of special projects like Carousel, Primus, PAPE, Doda (in cooperation with Dirk Niepoort) as well as his entry level wines under the Saes name. Wine production has ancient roots at Quinta de Saes. There are even records from 1527 of tax paid in wine from the Quinta and the Quinta as such dates back at least to 1258 when the earliest references of it can be found.

The vines at the different vineyards range in age from a few years up to 65 years old. As it is in Dão there is no surprise that it is planted in the hills, the average altitude is around 550 meters. The area is close to highest mountain range of Portugal and the national park of Serra d’Estrela and it also means that the vineyards are not planted in the regular pine tree surrounded clearings. The total area amounts to more than 60 hectares. The soil is granite with rows of sand and clay. They have more than 30 varietals planted but some of the bigger ones are Alfrocheiro, Cercial, Encruzado, Jaen , Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional

I struggled a bit to find the place as there are no real signs for it once reaching the approximate location given by the GPS. I did however by chance see something that looked like some wine barrels and decided to turn into the yard there and luckily it was enough. I was greeted by Álvaro’s daughter Maria (and the three friendly dogs following her) so I knew I was in the right place. She informed me that most people need to ask for directions in the little village close by.

Maria told me to leave my little Citroen behind as it would not be able to easily drive where we were going. We were heading up to the Quinta da Pellada and for that we need the 4-wheel drive of the old Toyota Jeep. So we all, the dogs included, jumped in and headed up in the hills. In addition to producing great grapes Quinta da Pellada also has some wonderful views and a grand old building that they are in the process of restoring. It was partially destroyed during the civil war but is now looking very nice. It is not entirely restored but already looks fantastic.

We also drove down to Saes and had a look at some of the newer vines that they are planting. I am certain that there are many more exciting things coming in the future this producer.
We then returned to the winery to sample some wines. I also had the pleasure of meeting Antonio Madeira, another wine maker, more on him and his wines to come in future posts. It was lovely to sit down inside by the fire place, protected from the slightly cold winds, and sample some of these great wines.

The wines we sampled were:
Quinta de Saes white 2014: Citrus and melon aromas. The palate is fresh and crisp with mineral and a hint of spice. Rating 3.

Quinta de Saes rosé 2014: Fresh with notes red fruit. On the palate is fresh with hints of fruit and a nice acidity. Not a bad wine but just not a great one. Rating 2.5

Quinta de Saes red 2012: A blend of Tinta Roriz, Jaen, Alfrocheiro and Touriga Nacional. It is a young wine, dark ruby colored. Nice earthy aroma mixed with ripe berries. Balanced with a lot of fruit. At this price level an excellent wine. Rating 3.5.

Quinta de Saes Reserva Encruzado 2013: This a 100% Encruzado wine. Very nice touch of spice and fresh fruits, green melon and apple. Very nice and crisp acidity. Rating 3.5.

Quinta de Saes Reserva red 2012: Blend of old vines (up to 40 varieties) Dark and sweet fruits in the nose. The flavor has a mix of spiciness and sweet fruits. Nice balance and structure, long finish. Very nice wine. Rating 4

Quinta da Pellada white Primus 2012: Made from old vines so the percentages of grapes are not certain but there is Encruzada, Bical, Terrantez, Verdelho and more in there (I believe Maria mentioned it was 35-40 varieties). The nose has lovely mineral, melon and citrus and it has a lovely creamy mouth feel, crispy and mineral on the palate. It somehow remains light while being concentrated in flavor. Lovely now but should age very well. This could very well be one of my favorite whites ever. Rating 5.

Quinta da Pellada Red 2003: Deep red color. The aroma is a mix of dark cherries and plum with some ripe fruits. Herbal and black cherries gives the wine a wonderfully concentrated mouth feel. Rating: 4.5

I also later sampled the Carroucel but will be a separate review on that. All in all a lovely visit and I do hope we can find someway to work together as they produce some excellent wines.

Why I love Llagrima d’Or

Finally the moment is here, Llagrima d’Or will again take over Sweden by storm, this time via our Danish company Pilvi Wines ApS aka The Winecurious-Shop. As we are opening an order window this week, I thought it is about time for a sales pitch. But instead of rambling about tasting notes I will tell you how it is made, with care, love and craftsmanship. Quality is not a coincidence, it is the result of careful choices on how you treat your vines and process your Cava. As I walk you through the life and birth of Llarima d’Or I will also go through the basic steps of method Champenoise, the classical method for producing sparkling wine.

Llagrima d'Or Brut Nature Cava
Llagrima d’Or Brut Nature Cava

Every wine starts with the grapes, and as I explained in a post ‘Five things you should know about Cava’ last week, Cava is often made from the trio Xarello, Parellada and Macabeo. There are grape varieties that are indigenous to the climate and soil of Penedes, so they yield the best results from year to year. It is not common for a Cava house to own and use only their own grapes, many of them buy at least part from independent growers or other Cava producers (the best grapes are of course kept in-house). There are around 250 Cava producers in the area, and less than 10% of them control the production process from start to finish, but Llagrima d’Or is one of them.

When the grapes are picked and pressed into juice, there is generally three or four phases (free run plus three presses). The first press is called Mosto Flor, and it is when the juice closest to the skin of the grape is released. This juice is considered to be delicate, lower in ph and less acidic than the juice closer to the seed of the grape (the presses used, is dependent of what kind of wine is being produced, so this it is not a general rule that the first press is the “best”, it is the winemakers knowledge on what suits the wine that counts). Llagrima d’Or is made solely from the first press of the grapes to produce a fresh and honest Cava that needs no sugar to hide bitterness in the taste.

The first fermentation in steel tanks
The first fermentation in steel tanks

After the grape juice is pressed, the varieties are kept separate and fermented in steel tanks for the first 2-4 months. This is when the still wine is produced. After the first fermentation, the winemaker decides the mix he/she want to use and the Coupage (mix) is bottled for the second fermentation (with an addition of yeast cultivated from the grapes skin for creating the bubbles). The second fermentation (aging) is another key milestone in the development of a sparkling wine. It is not a common denominator that all wine that is aged longer tastes better, but it is the winemakers ability to recognize when the wine is at its peak (or for some wines ready to drink) that makes the difference. A Cava must be aged in the bottle for at least 9 months to be allowed to use the name Cava. Llagrima d’Or is aged for at least 30 months as it is the optimum time for this specific wine to develop. The long aging process produces delicate bubbles with flavors of brioche, peach and minerals. Llagrima d’Or is perfect for drinking within a few years from taking out of the cellar.

Cold Llagrima
Cold Llagrima

And last but not least one of my favorite characteristics of this specific Cava: Llagrima d’Or is a Brut Nature, meaning it has less than 3g of residual sugar. There is no dosage (sugar liquid) added to hide any the flavors.

So why do I love Llagrima d’Or? Because it’s and honest Cava, made from the grapes of the region, with knowledge and no compromises in the time that it takes for it to become absolutely perfect. And it does not cost an arm and a leg, 175 SEK a bottle for deliveries to Sweden, so this makes it a perfect five in my books (an unbiased opinion). So stay tuned for some more information on how to order.

Coffee bar review: Onna Café, Barcelona

Onna cafe is one of the few outposts on the speciality coffee scene in Barcelona. In Spain and Catalunya, as in many southern European countries the coffee quality is horrendous (low quality beans, usually a lot of robusta). Among the average consumer there is no willingness to pay more than something like €1-1.5 for a cup and that of course makes it difficult to deliver high quality coffee. The lack of quality coffee has often been one of my main dislikes about Barcelona but something is really changing here. There are a few places that are doing a pretty decent job of it. Onna is one of them but on the list is also the ‘veteran of the bunch’ Satan’s coffee corner, Nomad Coffee, True Artisan Cafe and Skye Coffee. Most of these will be reviewed in coming coffee Monday posts.

Back to Onna though, it is in the fancy neighborhood of Grácia. On a small backstreet and I would not just have stumbled upon on it but I am glad I went looking for it. The place is not big and it has been packed with people on my visits. They do however somehow manage to keep the service fairly quick, and it is usually possible to find a table or seat somewhere. There is also free wifi so it is possible to sit and slack here for a longer time but be prepared that it will be full.

The staff are very friendly and are passionate about coffee in general and Costa Rican coffee specifically. All the coffee served is from Costa Rica as are the staff and owners. It is a nice concept and while I do not want to have Costa Rican coffee everyday it is a nice niche.

They offer well-executed espresso based beverages. They are not world class but very good and looking at the competition in Barcelona they are awesome. The filter coffee selection varies between two to four different Costa Rican coffees and it is also possible to select the method. I would recommend the Aeropress as it has been the best cups I have had there. The V60 is in general more tricky and quality varies more but even when on the V60 it has mostly been very good here. They source their coffee directly from Costa Rica and they also roast it themselves.

There is a nice selection of pastries, light dishes and sandwiches. Food is decent but to be frank I do not come here for the food (it is not bad but I have other places I rather go to in Barcelona for food) so would stick to coffee and some pastries here.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 3.5
Ambiance and service: 4
Food: 3
Vs local average: 4.5