Guide to the best cava – Part 2: Mid-range

Earlier this week I started a series of posts that are on the best cavas available in different price ranges. The first part of that series, the entry level, up to 130 SEK (approx.. €14) can be found here. The next level is from 131 SEK to 200 SEK (€14 to €22) and it is sort of a mid-range. To recap for those who did not read the first part this will not cover cava sold anywhere but rather available to consumers in Sweden and Finland.

In this area I will be recommending a lot of cavas that we are ourselves selling but there is a pretty good explanation for it as well. One of the main reasons we even started selling cava was the lack of high quality options in general but in this price range specifically. While it is slightly better today, especially in Sweden, it is still pretty limited offering for the person who wants to buy from Systembolaget or Alko and especially if you do not want to order it in advance.

In our round-up in the mid-range we are actually not really recommending anything from Alko but for those who are interested both Llagrima D’or and Peret Fuster Rosé cava can be bought in Finland. It is a bit disappointing to see that Alko are not including some more high quality options in the mid range. I would for example like to see the cavas from Vilarnau being made available there (as they offer the basic Vilarnau it should not be that difficult to also have some of their other cavas). There are also a few good cavas (for example some from Castell d’Age) missing from the list below as these have been out of stock for such a long time that they cannot really be seen as available.

In general this price range provides a lot of value for money. To me all of the cavas listed here are usually much better options than going for a ‘cheap’ champagne. All of these cavas are excellent quality and while some of these are a bit over-priced in the Nordic countries I would still be inclined to say that these are some of the best value for money one can find in sparkling wine in Sweden (and Finland). All of these are also at least Reserva cavas (so aged at least 15 months) and a few also Gran Reservas (aged for at least 30 months). For clarity I wish to mention that I in this post, as well as the previous one in the series, list the cavas in alphabetical order.

Augusti Torelló Mata Reserva Brut from Augusti Torelló Mata: 154 SEK at Systembolaget. This may be one of the basic cuvées from Agusti Torelló Mata but they are a solid house and this cuvee shows that they know their stuff. The cava is light straw color with small persistent bubbles. The aromas are a mix of apple, toastiness with hints of mineral and herbs. The taste is fruity ripe apples with nice acidity.

Gramona Imperal Gran Reserva from Gramona: 199 SEK from Systembolaget. Gramona has grown to be one of the fairly big producers of Cava and while not the size of some of the bohemoths it is still readily available in many places. It is in general not my number one producer but they do make very solid cavas and I am happy that it is often available in restaurants. This is their Gran Reserva and it is a nice blend of Xarel·lo (50%), Macabeo (40%), Chardonnay (10%). Aged for three to four years. This has notes of citrus, mineral and apple. Nice nose of toast and apples. Works well with jamón iberico and other dried cured meats. A good cava but a bit overpriced (should more be around 150-175 SEK).

Guillem Carol Gran Reserva Brut Nature from Cellers Carol Valles: 175 SEK at thewinecurious. This is one of the Gran Reservas from small family producer Cellers Carol Valles. It is made from Parellada (40%), Xarel-lo (40%) and Chardonnay (20%). This is without dosage but they also makes one cuvée with the same grapes and a small dosage . For me the zero dosage one is however the best one (for those who want a touch more of sweetness, still very little, the extra brut may be better). This cava is golden straw colored with fine and persistent bubbles. Soft notes of aging and reduction, fine bakery, yeast and notes of citrus and white flowers. Fresh and creamy on the palate, with excellent acidity and long finish.

Llagrima D’or Brut Nature Cava from Llagrima D’or: 175 SEK from thewinecurious. Made from the traditional cava grapes and with no dosage this lovely cava is one of my old favorites. It has pleasant acidity and mineral in the flavor. Some nice toastiness and roundness adds complexity, all in all a lovely cava.

Olivia Brut Nature Reserva from Castell d’Age: 171 SEK at Systembolaget. A lovely 100% Chardonnay cava that has been aged for around 20 months. Very fine and delicate bubbles and the color is bright golden. The chardonnay gives this more of champagne feeling so the nose has a mix of brioche, dried fried and nuts as well as freshness to it. The taste has nice mineral mixed with some yellow fruit.

Peret Fuster Rosé Cava from Peret Fuster: 183 SEK from thewinecurious I am not usually a huge fan of rosé cavas but this 100% Trepat is lovely. It has a very small dosage but is still very dry and has lovely red berry flavor. Perfect as an aperitif.

Recaredo Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2008  from Recaredo : 189 SEK at Systembolaget.. Blend of 46% Xarel·lo, 40% Macabeo and 14% Parellada. Recaredo were among the first  to start with craft production of cava and they are still among the best producers. Aroma of yellow apples, brioche, nougat and hints of orange. The flavor is dry fresh with toastiness, hints of yeast and yellow apples and orange and pleasant acidity. A good cava  from one of the top producers in Spain.

Rimarts Brut Reserva 18 from Rimarts: 167 SEK from thewinecurious. It is made from a blend of Xarel·lo, Macabeo and Parellada this entry level cava has been aged between 18 and 25 months. It has a bright lemon color. Mid-sized bubbles, elegant and lasting. Strong aroma, fresh and flowery. Full in the mouth, creamy, a touch of fresh sweetness with a good balance between sugar and acidity. It is ideal an aperitif but can also be enjoyed with a variety of dishes.

Rimarts Brut Reserva 24 from Rimarts: 175 SEK from thewinecurious. This Brut Nature cava is made from  Xarel·lo, Macabeu and Parellada and has been aged between 25-30 months. It is dry with less than 2g/l of residual sugar. Golden yellow color. Small, persistent bubbles. Complex with a nice intensity. Intense aroma of ageing, ripe fruits, toasted grassy notes. Nice mouth-feel, well-structured with a long, enjoyable finish.

Rimarts Brut Nature Gran Reserva 40 from Rimarts: 200 SEK from thewinecurios. In addition to the traditional grapes Xarel-lo, Macaveo and Parellada this cava also contains Chardonnay. It has been aged between 36 and 42 months and this produces an amazing result. It has bright gold color with very fine, persistent bubbles. Aromas of ripened fruit, notes of ageing, toasted nuts mix with hints of yeast and brioche. Perfectly balanced with a long and pleasant finish. It is one of these cavas that makes you understand why the Catalans enjoy sparkling wine not only on its own but also with bbq, stews and all types of food. 

In this category there are many fine cavas but if I would select my favorite one it is fairly easy. The Rimarts Gran Reserva is one of my all-time favorite cavas and is then my choice. That said all of the cavas presented here are really good so if you find them somewhere there is no need to hesitate just try it.

Stay tuned for the third part in the series coming soon. There we will be presenting some of the more high end cavas available. 

Rimarts – True Artisanal Cava

On one of our recent trips to Sant Sadurni d’Anoia we finally managed to visit Rimarts. We have been very fond of this producer of cava for a long time and we are of course ecstatic to be able to add them to selection of wines that we are now making available to our customers in the Nordic countries (see here for our current range).

Rimarts is a family operation to the core with the two brothers Ernest and Ricard running the business that their father Ricard Martínez de Simón started. The business is also named after him. The idea for the founder was to produce high quality cavas using true craftsmanship. Father Ricard was convinced that it is vital to control every step of the production process and that the best way of doing that, and ensuring a high quality, is to do as much as possible by hand. Most of the equipment used today is the same as it was when the business started so it is a really nice experience to tour through the small facilities.

Ernest showed us around the full production and even showed us how to disgorge and cork (remove the temporary cap and put in the natural cork) a bottle by hand. It is a pretty impressive process and I am sure that I would not be able to do it as nicely as Ernest. He reveals that there is however a lot of practice behind his talent. Ernest explained that when he and Ricard were kids they were always upset that they had to help with the production and were not allowed to be out and play as much as they wanted. Today they (and we) are happy that they were made to practice as much as it enables them to produce this great cava. Today Ernest and Ricard are the ones mostly involved in the business but their mother and their single employee also helps when it is time to disgorge and bottle. Just imagine, your bottle of Rimarts being stacked, turned and corked by hand. This process is done upon order.

Here is a short video about Rimarts that also shows a bit about how the productions is done:

The philosophy behind production is the same today as when they started production in 1987. They want to satisfy the most demanding palates around the world. Rimarts strive to respect natural processes, and they have an ecological approach to the production. They also apply a lot of patience in the production and rather age cava a bit longer to improve the taste and provide maximum expression. The cava is ready when it is ready.

As Ernest told us, the passion for the land and the fruit combined with their knowledge of the craft of making cava is what goes into each bottle. They are however not strangers to innovation as for example the Rosae cava shows. It is a most unusual cava that has a bit of smokey flavor – it is like nothing I have tasted before, developed together with a Michelin-starred chef. Interesting and great with some jamon or perhaps even with smoked fish. We have sampled the full range of cava and from their entry level (the Rimarts Reserva 18) up to the most premium one (the Uvae) they are all fantastic wines.

It is hard for me to pick a favorite as I think these are all good cavas but the Rimarts Gran Reserva 40 is perhaps my (and S’s) favorite one. It has bright gold color with very fine, persistent bubbles. Aromas of ripened fruit, notes of ageing, toasted nuts mix with hings of yeast and brioche. Perfectly balanced with a long and pleasant finish. For me it also show cases why cava is a perfect match with lots of food and also shows that the best cavas can compete with almost all other sparkling wines around the world. I will happily have a Rimarts  cava for any occasion..

Guide to the best cava – Part 1: Entry-level

As spring is here (at least if you look at the calendar) and summer is nearing many people start drinking more sparkling. While I am not at all opposed to drinking sparkling wine all year round I still thought it is a great time to write a series of recommendations on good cavas in different price ranges (for those of you who are not familiar with cava I can recommend reading this introduction or for more in-depth information the web site of the cava lady, http://annawallner.se/cava-facts/). This post was inspired by the great series of post on the Talk-a-Vino web site on the best Spanish wines in different price ranges (the first post in that series is here: http://talk-a-vino.com/2015/03/24/spanish-wine-recommendations-part-1-wines-under-20/).

There is an enormous range of cava on the market and it is available from many different suppliers and prices vary greatly from market to market so to make it a bit manageable I have set up some ground rules for the selection. As Sweden and Finland are currently our home countries we have only included cavas that can be found here (either at the monopoly or through one of the online wine merchants). We have also excluded cavas that are only available to consumers at restaurants (and frankly looking at what they charge for wine at restaurants in the Nordics it would not really make a difference in the recommendations here).

The recommendations will be split into three parts. The first one (the one you are now reading) is what I like to call entry level cava and that will be cavas prices below 130 SEK (or approximately €14). The second will be cavas priced from 131 SEK and up to 200 SEK (€14-22) and the third one is above that.

Even for entry level cava there is an abundance of wonderful options. In general these will not have the same complexity as some of the more expensive wines but many of these provide excellent value for money and to me there are better options here than for substnatially more expensive Champagne and other sparkling from France and other parts of the world. Even more so I think it is well worth spending a bit more than the absolute minimum that buys you the cheapest cavas (I am thinking the likes of Freixnet and Codorníu) and get something actually drinkable

Anne Marie Reserve Brut Nature Reserva from Castell d’age: 127 SEK at Systembolaget
Castell d’Age is these days run by Olivia Junyent, the third generation of women from the family making cava and other wine. This specific cava is made from 40% Macabeo, 40% Xarel.lo, 20% Parellada. It is a brut nature so dry but it has clear notes of ripe fruit, apple and citrus. Nose has hints of toast, fruit and nuts. Lacks a bit complexity and not as elegant as more high-end cavas but at this price it is a great cava.

Castell de Vilarnau Brut from González Byass: €9.73 at Alko.
Vilarnau is one of the estate I am very fond of. Not only do the make great cavas but they are also incredibly friendly. Unfortunately not yet available to consumers in Sweden (one of the restaurant wholesalers offer this specific cava so it is possible to find it in some restaurants). It is made from 55% Macabeo, 40% Parellada and 5% Xarel-lo. While it is a not a brut nature it still dry. The flavor is fresh with hints of citrus and apple. The nose has notes of white flowers and green apples. Pleasant to drink and good value for money.

Cava Blanc de Noirs 1+1=3 U Mes U Fan Tres from 1+1=3 U Mes U Fan Tres S.L: 99 SEK at Systembolaget.
85% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay. This is not a remarkable cava but as it is priced under 100 SEK it deserves a mention here. It is dry with fairly pleasant notes of red apples, orange, nougat and a bit toastiness.

Parellada i Faura Reserva Brut Nature From Cellers Carol Valles: 125 SEK at thewinecurious.com / thewinecurious.tictail.com
This entry level cava is from small family producer Cellers Carol Valles and it really proves that all the cavas from them are really good. The Parellada i Faura Reserva has been aged for between 15-18 months. It has been produced with the traditional grape varieties used for cava production Parellada (60%), Macabeo (30%) and Xarel·lo (10%). It has no added sugar. This is an amazing value for money cava. It competes in quality with sparkling wines that are twice the price or more. It is dry with fine and lively bubbles. Ripe and savory aroma of peach, melon and apple. Flavors are fresh with hints of citrus. Clean and vibrant palate with long finish.

Segura Viudas Lavit Brut Nature 2012 from Segura Viudas: €12.49 at Alko
Macabeo 60% and Parellada 40%. It has nice nose of apple and citrus and on the palate it is dry with hints of buttery notes and dried fruits. A nice entry level cava from one of the bigger of the mid-sized cava producers.

Cellers Carol Valles
Parellada i Faura Brut Nature Cava

These are my top picks in the entry level category. The two last ones are the ones I hold as the best in the category but all of these are good cavas that I would enjoy a glass or two of. What is interesting to note is that out of the ones I have listed only two (the 1+1=3 and the Segura Viudas) are available to buy in the store. All others have to be ordered, and speaking from experience that is also often true of the ones that should be available off the shelf. That is however the way the monopoly can play things and there are not really any options for the consumer when it comes to physical stores. There are however luckily good options online.

This was the first part of the best cavas. Two more to follow but if any of the readers have your own recommendations please do share.

The Road So Far and a New Selection

When I started this blog, it was meant to be about the business. The business of selling wine that is (Introduction to the journey here). Along the way I started writing more about other wines and restaurants. I like getting tips about new places, so it was mostly about sharing it with fellow foodies and the wine curious. There is not that much to write about the company to really fill a blog (yet). However, today I would like to move the focus back to the business and write about something exciting, our new selection.

Our business started around one excellent product, the Llagrima d’Or cava. We did our research on the Swedish market and came to the conclusion that this product would fill a gap. A premium cava was not unheard of, however the selection was (and is) weak. The selection may still satisfy the masses, but not the quality conscious consumer who does not want his/her cava pumped up with sugar to hide the compromises made with the production. Small producers are often artists, they make something that they can be proud of and want to have on their own table every weekday and the weekend (in Spain cava is an every day drink). These small producers however do not have the volumes to make it into the shelf’s of (one of) the worlds largest buyer (Systembolaget).

After two years of planning, sampling, paperwork and some personal investment, we have moved forward. Next week our updated web shop will feature five new and exciting producers from Spain and Portugal: Rimarts, Cellers Carol Valles, Antonio Madeira, Quinta do Escudial and Quinta da Pellada. All of our new partners are small, family owned vineyards with a vision and a passion for making honest wines. With honest we mean that the wines have a minimal amount (if any) added sugar, they are mostly produced without any oak (or at least without excessive use of it) and often with as natural processes as possible. The focus is on good ingredients and no compromises on the time or effort that it takes to make the wines. We have visited them all, roamed around their vineyards and spent hours studying their production. Not to mention all the hard work we have done with trying out their wines (*smirk*). So here are a few teasers on our upcoming selection and we will be writing more about each producer the coming weeks.

1. Rimarts is a company owned by two brothers, Richard and Ernest. They have learned the fine art of making cava by following in their father’s footsteps and are today using the same equipment for their production as he did back in the day. When touring the Rimarts cellars, Ernest was joking about all the other kids going out to play football while he and his brother had to sit in with their dad and bottle cava. The Rimarts wines are disgorged by hand and all except for the the 18 month cava (which has a very small dosage) have no sugar added. Our initial selection will feature three different bubblies from them, the Rimarts 18 month (Brut Reserva), 24 month (Reserva Brut Nature) and 40 month (Gran Reserva Brut Nature) cavas.

2. When we pulled into the drive way of Cellers Carol Valles, we felt like we were entering someones home. That’s because we were. Joan Carol greeted us with the family dog and a boy from the neighboring house to translate from Catalan to English. He had fit a very impressive production line in the cellar of his family home and greeted visitors in a small tasting house next to the living quarters. He told us that most of his cava is sold at that property with hundreds of locals stopping by every now and then to fill up their cellars. He houses an impressive selection where even the entry level wine is a Reserva Brut Nature. Our selection for the summer will include the Parellada i Faura (Reserva Brut Nature, the Guillem Carol Extra Brut and Brut Nature (Gran Reservas) and the Guillem Carol Gran Reserva Barrica (a cava with a light oaky flavor).

Rimarts Cava
Tasting wines at Rimarts
Rimarts Cava
Ernest showing us how to bottle cava
Cellers Carol Valles
Cellers Carol Valles

3. A Frenchman with a Portuguese descent Antonio Madeira is the rising star of Dão. He currently sells just one wine (more are coming) and he makes it well with natural techniques (no additives or pesticides). Antonio has a vision, he wants to bring out the terroir in his wine and he seeks out old vines to do this in the best manner. Our selection will feature, surprise surprise, his best (and only) wine, a light and sophisticated red made from old vine. As with many older vineyards in Portugal, there is an abundance of grape varieties growing in the field so the exact number of grape varieties is not easy to get to.

4. Feeling that there was something missing from the market, Quinta do Escudial is producer making solely no-oak wines. It is a family business to the core. The wine is made by the father of the family, the finances are handled by his wife and sales by their son. Our selection will be featuring their Branco (white), Tinto (red) and the Vinhas Velhas (old vine red). When we visited them we sampled the full range of wines and these are truly extraordinary wines that really proves that it is not necessary to use oak to make fine Portuguese wines. These wines are really nice in the way that they are all great on their own as well as with food.

5. Alvaro Castro, the owner of Quinta da Pellada is ‘The’ winemaker who brought Dão back on the wine-map. Originally a civil engineer he inherited his family’s vineyards in the 1980s and changed profession awakening a family tradition that had been dormant for a generation. Today his daughter Maria is also very much active in the business and she will ensure to carry the family tradition on. Our selection will be featuring wines from the vineyard the family lives on, Quinta de Saes. We will have the Saes Red, The Quinta de Saes Rose (for the summer) and the Encruzado White. They also have several other brands and we hope to expand our cooperation with them in the future as their high-end wines really deserve an audiance and once tasted it is difficult to not just want more of them.

All in all, we are increasing our selection from two excellent wines to 17: nine cavas, five reds, two whites and one rose. Some wines are available in very limited quantities (due to the small production) so orders will be processed in the order they come in.

All in all, I think we have managed to create a good selection. We have a working supply chain, a logo, website and enough samples. What you can really see is that this company has been put together by two procurement professionals, with a high emphasis on the back end of the supply chain, contracts and working partners; and an entertaining lack of focus on sales. So now we are really stepping out of our comfort zone and introducing to the world what we have done. We are hoping that good quality will sell it’s self, and in time our customers will learn to trust our judgement.

However, this will not come free and to give it a push we are arranging an open house tasting next week Saturday in Stockholm to introduce our wines. In case you are interested in joining, then send us a message to info@thewinecurious.com. This will be the best sales period (yet) for our company yet, and I am looking forward to all of the feedback people can give us about our new selection.

Wineweek 23: Reims Edition

If you don’t count Monday, this has been a pretty quiet wine-week, at least when it comes to drinking wine. Perhaps we overdosed, in terms of tasting not drinking, in Paris and Reims, and this weekend we have just had a few glasses. However, I still have a lot to share with you from last Sunday in Reims and also some news regarding our company.

As Paris seemed to quiet down for the Sunday, we headed to Reims a day before the Terres & Vins event. A few big champagne houses had their doors open and we decided to take a tour or two, just to see how a big producer is organized, and well, to taste a few glasses of champagne. We basically had three, decent ones, to choose from: G.H. Mumm, Tattinger and Vranken Pommery. As Pommery charged close to 70€ for their tours with any decent tasting options, we opted for Mumm, one of my old favorites. Luckily our hotel Mercure also had a nice discount for the tours, so we got a significant reduction for the Blanc & Noir experience which was a tour through the cellars and a tasting of two champagnes: the blanc de blancs and blanc de noirs (25€ per person). We were already familiar with Mumm de Cramant, the 100% Chardonnay champagne (review here), so our expectations were high.

TGV from Paris to Reims
TGV from Paris to Reims
Touring at the G.H.Mumm cellears
Touring at the G.H.Mumm cellears
The Blanc and Noir tasting at the end of the Mumm tour
The Blanc and Noir tasting at the end of the Mumm tour

After touring at Mumm, we walked around in Reims admiring all the beautiful champagne houses and headed for afternoon bubbly at Les Crayeres, a beautiful mansion hotel with supposedly a great champagne bar. We had heard some good things, but after the disappointment of the much hyped about Bar 8 (Wineweek 22) we were cautious with our expectation. However, Les Crayeres did not let us down. The bar was absolutely beautiful with a lot of light and plush sofas. We had our drinks in the garden, which was like a scene from a movie with an international and happy crowd sipping wine. Les Crayeres also has a two Michelin star restaurant, which was to our disappointment fully booked (we tried making reservations earlier in the week). To compensate, we had to go to the town three star instead.

Sunday evening we headed to L’Assiette Champenoise, the three star restaurant of Arnaud Lallement. We don’t go to such extravagant places that often, but I have visited a few three star restaurants before this one. It is always a small investment to eat in such a place, but you pay not only for great food, but an experience. I will write more about the the restaurant later, but to describe the evening with a few words, the service was not as impressive as I have seen at many other starred (especially three starred) restaurants. Perhaps it was speaking English that made some of the staff uncomfortable. However it was nothing to really complain about and the food was out of this world.

The Reims Cathedral
The Reims Cathedral
I wish we could have gotten in here
I wish we could have gotten in here
Les Crayeres
Les Crayeres
Aperatiffs at L'Asiette Champenoise
Aperatiffs at L’Asiette Champenoise
My dessert at L'Asiette
My dessert at L’Asiette

That is about it regarding Reims, and now to some good news regarding our company. We will be taking in at least four new producers this spring: Rimarts (Cava), Quinta do Escudial (red and white), Antonio Madeira (red) and Quinta da Pellada (red, rosé and white). Orders to our Danish warehouse have been made and we will open for orders of these in mid May. This is a perfect time to stock up on wines to enjoy over summer vacation. We are also waiting for order confirmation from a fifth producer, but more about that when we have some certainty. It feels wonderful to be able to extend our selection. Of course we will also continue to have our trusted Llagrima d’Or and Peret Fuster wines for sale.

Fabrica Moritz and Bar a Vins: Great Wine bar at a Brewery, Barcelona

I have never really been a fan of the local (Catalan) beer brand Moritz but I was still somehow convinced to visit their combined brewery, restaurant, shop, bar and wine bar called Fabrica Moritz. The place has been extensively renovated and I will happily admit that it does look really nice. They are also making some special beer (not available elsewhere) in this location so there are actually some much nicer beers here than what is normally available under the Moritz brand. It also means that it is not just a design and concept idea since they actually produce beer here as well. What however did surprise me immensely was first that the food was pretty decent and second, which is the main topic of this post, that they have an excellent wine bar called Bar a Vins.

When I was browsing their standard wine list I did find some pretty decent wines and what I really liked was that it was possible to also have really small sips of the wine. I then started asking a bit about the wines and was then brought the full wine list and they asked if I also wanted to have a chat with the sommelier. Really appreciate that it was possible to order the full range of wines while seated in the restaurant and the good service attitude.

The set-up of the wines are a bit different than in some other places I have been. It is possible to order in three different ways: by weight, by the glass or by the bottle. Most of you are probably familiar with by the glass and by the bottle but the ‘by weight’ is perhaps a bit new. They are using a system with argon gas canisters on the bottle allowing to take small amounts out without damaging the remaining wine. It is very much similar to the Coravin system but this was from what I could see a different brand or producer. This does allow one to order either a specific number of grams of wine or if that is the preference order for an amount of money (and you will then be poured as much as that amount will buy you).

There are around 40 wines available by the glass (and by weight) and in addition to that more than 400 by the bottle. Spanish wines are very well represented here but there are international wines available. I did to my surprise find the excellent Carousel from Alvaro Castro (of Quinta da Pellada) by the glass here. The slight disappointment is perhaps that the selection of Catalan wines was not as good as I would have expected but it is still one of the better ranges of Catalan wines around. I was however happy to see four sparkling wines available by the glass. We sampled nice Cavas here and they also had some Champagne by the glass. A nice touch is also that all the wines served come with a little label around the foot of the glass with information on the wine.

The service is very good, friendly, knowledgeable and attentive. It does seem that the fact that it is in beer brewery makes it a bit more relaxed than some other wine bars. The possibility to order wines by weight also makes more high-end wines available to a wider audience so I think they are doing some really good things for the wine scene in Barcelona. The food is also very nice, and while perhaps not the cheapest meal it is still decent value for money.

The design of the place is pretty neat and I do encourage a visit to the toilets as they are pretty nicely designed as well. One objection I have is that it tends to get fairly loud as many people who go to the beer bar seem to be there more to drink a lot of beer than to sample different things so I do in general prefer to sit in the smaller space at the Bar a Vins than in the actual restaurant.

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.

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

Crazy about José

Today I have a special treat for you, a review of one of my favorite restaurants in London. I know I have many favorites, but José is a bit like Matkonsulatet in Stockholm, a place with many fond memories. We used to hang out at this place almost every week. It is actually one of the first places M took me out on a date. What a way to steal a girls heart, offer her some iberico pork and get her drunk on Cava. We are now married, so what else can I say than that it worked.

José is the small and simple cava and tapas bar from José Pizaro who also runs a more upscale (still rather casual) restaurant called Pizarro down the road on Bermondsey Street. He was also before opening these places head chef at Tapas Brindisa. It is almost always crowded but people do not tend sit for long so often the wait is not that bad. Even if you cannot get a table immediately you can stand around and drink a glass of sparkling. The wait goes much faster with a drink in your hand.

There are usually three or four good sparklings (Cavas) by the glass. Currently they serve the Gramona Allegro Brut Reserva and Mas Macià Brut Rose. The wines are decently priced but perhaps not cheap, around £5-7 per glass and £30-40 per bottle (the on-going gentrification of Bermondsey Street has meant that prices are moving up). There are also nine different whites, three rosados and twelve reds by the glass. Food is excellent! The menu is not fixed, it is written on two black boards behind the bar and as things run out they are crossed off. However a few things can almost always be found there: some excellent Spanish cheeses as well as Jamon Iberico and chorizo. The Patatas Bravas, Pan con Tomate and Padron peppers are also some of my usual choices. My favorite is however, without a doubt, the flavorful Pluma Iberico (or when that is not on the menu the Secreto Iberico). Mmm, I would almost kill for that dish. All in all, I dont think I have ever been disappointed with a ny dish at Josè’s.

Service is always friendly and considering that it is always packed things move along smoothly. I also do like the fact that they do not automatically include service on the bill – i am not a bad tipper, but I want to make the choice myself. A tip should be an incentive to provide extra good service, not a part of the normal salary. Thats just my opinion and I wish more places would do that.

After years of testing the quality of food at both José and Pizarro I can conclude that the food is excellent. I think it’s partly due to good quality produce, but also the skill of the chefs. It requires a special talent making simple dishes well. An important element for me is also the no-fuss quality wine list. They rotate the wines now and then so often I find new things to try. José Pizarro is also opening a third place in London this April that I cannot wait to try out the next time I am in London.