Wine Review: Conde de Caralt Brut and Rosado

The exploration of wines we would never have tried if we were at home has continued in Singapore. We found ourselves at Robertson Quay and thought that we would have some luck finding good wine (and we did, review of wine bar Verre to come) as there was a Wine Connection bar and store there. Unfortunately their selection continues to disappoint, especially from a value for money perspective so we ended up going to a very touristy tapas bar around the corner from Wine Connection. The food was utterly disappointing but the cava was a surprisingly decent for the price. They were charging 7 SGD (so roughly €5) a glass both for the rosé cava and the regular brut.

The cava was Conde de Caralt Brut and Conde de Caralt Rosado. I had never heard of either before so really had no expectations. The cava house at one time used to be independent but is nowadays part of the behemoth producer Freixenet. Before that it was founded in 1964 by José Maria de Caralt. I am normally expecting poor quality and value for money from the major producers so I was glad I did not know who owned it before I tried the cava as it may perhaps have clouded my judgment.
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The Brut had a light golden color and an abundance of bubbles, a bit “too sparkling” for my taste but the bubbles are small and pleasant. The nose of the cava is very discreet but there are hints of lemon, mild peach, apples and grass. The cava is very easy to drink and refreshing. It has a pleasant mouthfeel with notes of fresh lemon, crisp green apples mixed with a hint of acidity and a finish of some light sweetness. Not a complex cava but enjoyable enough when it is over 30 (C) and humid and at this price it is actually unbelievable value for money. In Singapore one normally pays at least 10 SGD plus VAT and service charge (and most of the time a lot more) for the simplest Prosecco (and more for cava or any other sparkling wine). While I would not actively search this out I would feel fine ordering it again. It is available for around €6-8 per bottle in many countries (in Spain as low as around €4) and for that it deserves a 4 in value for money rating. Quality is deserving of 2.5.

The Rosado was a bit more red than I would have expected, looking strawberry like in color. The nose was full of berries and fruit. Clear notes of both strawberries and raspberries as well as cherry. The flavor is not as berrylike as the nose would lead one to believe but it has a pleasant mix of berry flavors, both strawberry and raspberry, and a light touch of cherry. Despite being cheap it avoids the cheap taste that some rosé and sparking rosés can have. Mainly due to the lack of sweetness and alcohol in the flavor so not at all a bad wine at this price. Quality wise I would rate it as a 2 but I have seen it under €3 a bottle in Spain (and around €5-7 in other European countries) and that is just an amazing price so value for money is 4.

Wine Review: Oyster Bay Brut Sparkling Cuvée

When arriving in Singapore we were treated to a bottle of sparkling wine by our friends. This having been a trip largely without quality wine we were excited to try some sparkling even though it was not something we normally would have bought. This was a New Zealand sparkling called Oyster Bay Brut Sparkling Cuvée and is made with the Charmat method on 100% Chardonnay grapes. For those who do not know the Charmat Method it involves the wine undergoing the secondary fermentation in stainless steel tanks instead of in individual bottles, and after that it is bottled under pressure. It is a method commonly used in Italy for making Prosecco and generally produces fruity and fresh wines. What is often missing for me is the toastines and brioche-like characteristics more commonly found in Champagnes and occasionally Cava. So it is both an unusual choice of country and method for us but we are happy to try new things.

Oyster Bay is probably more known for their Sauvignon Blancs at fairly modest prices for the quality than their sparkling wines but it was interesting to try it. They are a family owned company with a vision to became a premium wine maker and they make a full range of white, red and sparkling wines.

The color is light golden with persistent bubbles. A bit bubbly for my taste but not overly aggressive so nothing disturbing. The nose has hints of grapefruit and floral notes. On the palate it had clear flavour of crisp apple, zesty citrus but also creaminess and in the finish minerals.

For me it was a pleasant surprise (both coming from New Zealand and a sparkling made using the Charmat Method) and it works really well as an aperitif on a hot day or as a companion for some Asian food. It is however clearly a fairly basic cuvée so for me I was surprised when I saw the price in stores here in Singapore. At Cold Storage it was almost 70 SGD (and that was a special promotion, approximately €45). It is available in the UK for around £14 (approximately €19) and that is of course a lot less but for me it would have to be around €10 to be decent value for money. Quality rating it is a nice basic wine so a 2.5 but value for money in Singapore is 0 and if looking at the UK it would be a value for money rating of 2.

Wine review: Vallformosa Clasic Brut

Vallformosa is owned by the Domenech family and is like many other cava producers located in Sant Sadurni d’Anioa. Their range includes a full line-up of interesting cavas and table wines but we were a bit limited for choice as we picked this up at Koh samui (Wine Connection) and there they offered only the semi seco (the sweet) as well as Clasic Brut (yes for some reason Clasic is spelled with one ‘s’, not clear why but that is the way it is so no typo). The Clasic has 10.3 grams per liter residual sugar and 11.5 percent alcohol. The blend is made of traditional cava grapes so 40% Xarel-lo, 30 % Macabeo, and 30 % Parallada.

The color is light yellowish. Bubbles are small and non-aggresive and it almost indicates a longer aging period. The nose has notes green apples and almond with a slight toastiness as well as yeast. The flavor is creamy and soft. While this is a brut there is a hint of sweetness from the small dosage but not overwhelming and there is a lemon zest to it. There is also a nice brioche like character hiding in the background of the flavors and some mineral in the finish. This cava clearly benefits from being drunk cold as the sweetness becomes more apparent when it warms up.

Looking at a rating this is an entry level cava so it is a non-offensive choice but it will not excite so it is a 2.5 in quality and in value for money it is a 2 (in Thailand it was 800 THB so roughly €22). The vintage 2010 can however, for the Finnish readers, be found at Alko for less than €10 and if that would be the price level it is much more interesting. I am however more excited to try some of the more premium cuvées from Vallformosa as it shows great promise.

Wine Review: Cava Vilarnau Gran Reserva 2010

When I start writing a review, I try to do some research on the wine and on the producer to get a feel for a the story. I love a good wine combined with a good story. And I think I am not alone with this as almost every producer, old and young, have some lines on where they have come from and what their philosophy is on their website. Yes, it’s more interesting to buy a wine that has been picked, pressed and mixed by a person/ persons than, let’s say, comes from a mass production line. Who would say: this bottle is one of millions produced, mixed for the taste of the mass consumers and a pair of hands has barely touched the product before it is lifted on the boutique shelves. No, at least to me, wine should have a story; a passionate winemaker or a well thought out production. For me it’s a part of the experience of drinking wine. I don’t like blind tastings either, so what can I say, I’m a sucker for good marketing.

About Vilarnau: I set out to do my research and to my disappointment, the web pages, that were supposed to be in English, were not. Well some pages were, like the ones with facts about the wines. But not the ones introducing the producer. But thank’s to Google Translate, everyone is a linguist these days. The house of Vilarnau is located in Sant Sadurni de Anoia, the capital of Cava. There is a family history, but I must say, google translate does not produce 100% reliable text, and it all sounded pretty boring so I’m not going to write about it. Today Vilarnau is owned by the Gonzales Byass Group, one of Spains most known Sherry producers. They own 20 hectares of vineyards growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and the cava trio: Xarello, Parellada and Macabeo. They also grow some Trepat that is often used for making Rose Cava. Sounds pretty standard but that of course doesn’t mean that the wines themselves wouldn’t be great. My impression from Cavatast, where I tasted Vilarnau cavas the first time, was pretty good.

The Gran Reserva 2010 is the premium product from the Vilarnau family of Cavas. It is a Brut Nature (less than 6g of residual sugar per liter), 35% Macabeo, 35% Parellada and 30% Chardonnay, and it is aged for 36 months.  On the Vilarnau website it is described as golden yellow, but I must say the color looked pretty pale yellow to me (I cannot argue what it looks like under the Spanish sun, as Sweden has not seen the sun in months). We started of tasting the wine at 11 degrees (as that is the temperature of our wine fridge), but soon discovered that the instructions recommend a clearly cooler temperature, 6-8 C. So into the ice bucket it went, and my oh my did that make a difference. I am used to a warmer temperature contributing to the taste, but this time the wine gained body with cooling. The nose of the wine was of peaches and apricots and the taste very dry, even slightly sour, with yeast and high acidity of fruit. After a marathon of champagnes over Christmas, I was refreshed by the familiar taste of a good, well made Cava.

This particular Gran Reserva is not available in Sweden (we brought this bottle from Barcelona), and I am not sure if it’s value for money with a price of 20,85 € in Spain. Yes, I liked the Cava but I can get a better bottle for 30% cheaper. However, I noticed that the Monopoly has the Vilarnau “standard” Brut in their special order selection for 79 SEK (equivalent to around 10 EUR). Perhaps that could be something to try, as one can see from the Gran Reserva that the House of Vilarnau do know how to make a good Cava.

All in all, I will probably be visiting the Vilarnau stall again next October when it is time for Cavatast again. They are an interesting producer to follow. I give this wine 4 stars for overall quality (excluding the influence of price) and 2.5 stars for “value for money”.(4/2.5). That is a pretty steep drop, but I really think that over 20 € in Spain is overpriced. Spain is a pretty cheap country when it comes to wine, so I don’t even want to imagine what the Monopoly would charge for it.

Wine Review: Vendrell Olivella Brut Nature Cava

Most of the reviews I have done, up until now, have been on wines that I really like. Love this and love that. I rather share positive experiences, but I am not shy to give some critique as the negative are also important. I don’t always “shop” as other critics suggest, generally because wine is as all food and drinks a “taste issue”. So you shouldn’t not try this cava if you run across it somewhere. But it’s good to bear in mind also the negative reviews when considering to buy something

Well that preface already gave up my opinion on this wine. Yes, my experience with Vendrell Olivella Brut Nature cava was not that good. This wine was amongst the cavas we brought from our last visit to Barcelona. We bought it on the last day from a small wine-shop, based on the shop-keepers recommendation (we had some extra space in the luggage we wanted to fill up). The recommendation was something like this: “If you want to try an ok organic cava, you should try this one”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am really interested in organic production, however the products on the market that I have tried, have not really reached up to a top level yet, so I am constantly on the lookout for a five star organic sparkling.

Vendrell Olivella did not really even reach a medium level for me. The scent was not very flattering: lemony, sewer-like, a bit stingy (perhaps I stuck my nose too far down the glass). The taste was, as the nose, very citrusy but short, almost disappearing in the mouth. All in all a disappointing cava.

I am not fully ready to give this cava just one star, as I am quite sure I can find many wines that are also worse on the market. Especially when you enter the sweeter section of mass production (yuk). But I am disappointed, as the production method, aging (Reserva = over 15 months) and low sugar content (Brut nature) raised expectations for me. The mix of grapes was also very standard for a cava: Xarello, Parellada and Macabeo. Perhaps if I would have paid 5 Euros for it I would have been more happy, but the range was closed to 15 €, so not really value for money for me.

So the search for a good organic cava for our selection continues, and Vendrell just wasn’t the one for me.