Wineweek 87: Stockholm Calming Down

It is the peak of the Nordic holiday season. The office is empty, restaurants are empty, the whole city is empty. I love it! It is the best time of the year to be in Stockholm. There is no traffic and terraces have space. The only place with some noise and racket was the Tele 2 football arena. M, our loyal football fan, noticed that the Swedish league, Allsvenskan,  has started again. Good that we didn’t have to go a day without football (yes, that was sarcasm). At least the game was followed by good wine.  Continue reading “Wineweek 87: Stockholm Calming Down”

The Best New Cavas from Cavatast

When asked which cava was the best I tasted all week, I don’t know what to answer. Ramon, the owner of Jaume Giró i Giró cavas phrased it in a good way: can you really say which one of your children you love the most? I only have one, but I can see his point. During the week in Spain, we tasted perhaps around 50 different cavas, so instead of announcing a winner I thought I would mention a few new acquaintances that stood out.

1. Torelló Rose Brut Reserva. This cava is a blend of Garnacha and Pinot Noir. It is a Catalan style Rose: deep in color and rich with taste. Taste is full with red berries. The Cava is not sweet at all. One of the best rose Cavas I have tasted.

2. Juve y Camps 100% Xarello Essential. I am sure that it has become clear that I am a fan of the Xarello grape. It gives a full bodied and aromatic cava with citrus fruits and mineral freshness. A perfect companion on a hot day.

At the Mestres stand at Cavatast 2015
At the Mestres stand at Cavatast 2015
Finger got in the way of the picture. I wonder how many cavas I had already tasted at this point
Finger got in the way of the picture. I wonder how many cavas I had already tasted at this point

3. Jaume Giró i Giró Montaner Gran Reserva. The Montaner is a blend of the cava trio: Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada, and Chardonnay. The nose has nice aromas of peach and honey melon. The taste has light acidity with hints of brioche and a nice creamy mouthfeel. Truly a stunning cava!

4. Mestres Visol 2007 Brut Nature. The house of Mestres has a distinct style. They are charismatic with an oxidized flavor and a touch of oak. The Visol has aromas of dried fruits, brioche and roasted nuts.

5. Martinez Rose (by Rimats Cava). Last year when we visited Rimarts, they had already sold out of their special edition Rose, Martinez. This year, we were well on time to taste the new harvest. The Martinez is also a blend of Garnacha and Pinot Noir. The color is absolutely stunning, light ruby pink. It is a young cava with extreme freshness and clean taste. It is very seldom that a Rose is made as a Brut Nature (no dosage). I am not sure if I would pick it as a rose if I were blind tasting (in dark glasses).

Jaume Giró i Giró really impressed with their selection.
Jaume Giró i Giró really impressed with their selection.
Finally tasting the the Martinez Rose. Only waited 6 months..
Finally tasting the the Martinez Rose. Only waited 6 months..

Bonus: Pere Mata Brut Nature Gran Reserva. When tasting this cava, both myself and M were amazed. The taste was fresh with white fruits, burned butter and brioche, and the mouthfeel was creamy. We had tasted quite many cavas during the week with nice aromas enticed by long aging, but this one stood out as very clean. The real surprise came when we heard that this cava was made with no Chardonnay. It is seldom that the cava trio produces such deep toasty notes.

There! Some cavas to put on the shopping list. The more I learn about cava, the more I am convinced that it has a bright future as a premium choice for bubbly.

Wineweek 40: Xarello on My Mind

Very little has happened this week. Plans have not progressed and I have had very little good food or wine. I haven’t even taken that many nice pictures to share with you (thus the poor number of shots in this weeks post). There is only one true explanation to this lack of enthusiasm, and it is that M has been away on a business trip. We are a team and wine as well as wine related things are best enjoyed when having company. Not saying I cant open a bottle of wine just by myself (last night I did) but I want to save the good ones for sharing.

There is however something I want to share with you this Sunday, and that is my new profound interest in the grape Xarello. We are old friends, Xarello and I. I have been drinking cava (where Xarello is most often present) since I came of age, and my love for the Spanish sparkling has not faltered even after I fell into the ranks of the winecurious. On the contrary, I respect cava even more. Lately (this summer) I have been trying out quite many white wines made with Xarello as the main grape and I must say they have been excellent. My most recent encounter with a Xarello white was on Friday at my favorite wine bar in Stockholm Gaston.

Having breakfast and writing this weeks post
Having breakfast and writing this weeks post
Home alone..enjoying the warm August evening on the balcony.
Home alone..enjoying the warm August evening on the balcony.

Xarello is one of the most grown white grape varieties in Catalonia. Xarello has a thick skin in more ways than one: The grape literally has a thick skin, and it is popular among the growers for being able to tolerate a wide range of climatic conditions. Xarello is also not too fussy about the soil composition, so it produces a solid yield year after year. The juice has an excellent balance of sugars and acids and it is highly regarded for its ability to age well. The taste is textural with lemon-acidity and stonefruit. The nose is fresh, slightly misleading with it’s floral notes. I think the taste profile goes wonderfully together with some more meaty seafood, like crab or scallops, or even some fresh and spicy dishes, like Vietnamese Pho (with lots of koriander, nomnom).

Fresh Xarello white at Gaston wine bar
Fresh Xarello white at Gaston wine bar
A night with wine  is incomplete without some snacks.
A night with wine is incomplete without some snacks.

As we are soon going to Catalonia, I am actually planning to spend a day in Alella, a small town just a few miles north-west from Barcelona. This town is known for its excellent Xarello whites with lime-blossom flavor and aroma. Sounds perfect for summer 2016 doesn’t it? Now I just need to do some reading up to find the right producers to visit. What are your encounters and experiences with Xarello, and do you have any favorites to share with me for my trip?

Short but sweet, that was wineweek 40. Next week I hope we can pick up with our projects. We have planned open tastings for the 3rd and 12th of September, but we need to make a few arrangements first, like reserve the space, send out invitations, make the materials (tasting sheets) and agree on a new delivery window with out freight forwarder. September is closing in, so procrastinating further is not an option. Have a great week you all!

Food Inspiration for Cava

Here in the Nordics, sparkling wine (Champagne, Cava, Prosecco etc) are most commonly enjoyed as an aperitif or similar. Something fresh to start the evening (or day). In Catalonia, Cava is very seldom served without food. It is a companion for all courses, started, main and dessert. I must say, I prefer the Catalonian way. A sparkling wine works great with cheese, cured meats, barbecue and even with bacon and eggs (or as we like to call it, the Richard Julin way, after his recommendation on what to combine champagne with). We recently visited my favorite restaurant here in Stockholm, Matkonsulatet (a previous review here), and sampled some great new dishes that are perfect companions for a nice cold sparkling wine. Matkonsulatet excels at making simple-ish dishes from good ingredients. Everything is top notch, even the olive oil is something I could just drink straight from the bottle. Here are some pics and descriptions. So next time you pop open a bottle of sparkling wine pair it with some of these babies. Or if you don’t have energy to cook, just pop down to Matkonsulatet for a bite.

Visiting the Vineyards of Vilarnau

A few months back (more like four) I posted a wine review of Vilarnau Grand Reserva 2010. At that time the producer was just a name amongst others, however, with a style of wine that I am very fond of (chalky, minerally with hints of fruit). Then I was complementary of the Cava, but I knew nothing about its maker. After the review was published, Vilarnau contacted me and invited us to visit their vineyards if we were ever in the area. Well, of course we took the chance as soon as we could and cruised to the estate of Vilarnau on our most recent visit toBarcelona.

The Vilarnau bodega stands out from the local style. Or better said, it does not stand out too much! Vilarnau has constructed their site to blend in with the surrounding vines and nature. There is a modern or perhaps even Scandinavian style about the building with its straight lines and wooden exterior. Pine trees are growing in the yard, its almost like coming home to Finland (but just much warmer). I felt very comfortable when stepping in the doors. The Bodega as well as some of the bottles are designed by Antoni Miro.

The Bodega
The Bodega
Water reserves
Water reserves
Pine trees around the vineyard
Pine trees around the vineyard

We were greeted by Georgina, who was in charge of showing us around and telling us about the production. She walked us through the vineyards and told us about the organic methods used at Vilarnau. They are perhaps not certified as organic, but you could have fooled me. Many precautions were taken to make sure to avoid use of pesticides, water was circulated from soil and rain and extra irrigation was provided only to the grape varietals that were not indigenous to the region (like Chardonnay) and needed it. The soil is clay and limestone which ventilates water well without leaving the ground soggy after heavy rains. A large part of the grapes come from Vilarnaus own vineyards, where they tend to them with care, focusing on quality, not highest possible yield. The house of Vilarnau being very popular, are however in the situation where their own grapes are not enough so they also buy from some well selected local growers.

After the tour, it was time for the tasting and there we were joined by Damià, one of the head winemakers. All together we tasted six different wines

In tasting order:

  • Vilarnau Cava Brut Nature Vintage
  • Vilarnau Cava Gran Reserva Vintage 2010
  • Vilarnau Cava Brut Reserva
  • Vilarnau Cava Coupage Prive Reserva Brut Nature(100% Subirat Parent)
  • Vilarnau Cava Rose Brut Reserva (for the domestic market)
  • Vilarnau Cava Rose Brut Reserva (for the international market)
  • Vilarnau Xarel.lo white (white wine)
All the wines we tasted
All the wines we tasted
Lights snacks with wine
Lights snacks with wine
Good quality corks
Good quality corks

I will review the wines individually in later posts, but there are a few I would like to mention already now. I general the Vilarnau selection is very fresh, dry and with flavors of peach, apricot and minerals (from the clay and limestone soil). The longer the ageing the nuttier the aromas get with hints of brioche and butter. Very well made, traditional Cavas! What stands out is the Coupage Prive made from 100% Subirat Parent. This is a grape variety that is indigenous to the are surrounding the town of Subirat. It is unfortunately quite susceptive to disease, so a risky grape for growers. So naturally it is not that popular. But oh my the result, it is worth the risk! The scent of this wine is of tropical fruit, pineapple and mango; but the taste is fresh and dry. It is very different from the other Cavas.

Another interesting feature about our tasting was that we tried out two versions of the “same” Vilarnau Rose Cava. The difference between these wines was the time that the grape juice has spent with the peel of the grape. If you look at the pictures, the difference is quite outstanding just by adding a few hours to the process. Vilarnau explained that the lighter version was for the international market, as the darker red is associated with sweeter tastes (although it was not sweet at all). In Spain however the darker Cava is more popular, as it is how Rosé is “supposed” to look like. There was no difference in the sweetness of the wines, but you could taste the difference created by the extra 4-6 hours with the peels. For me, the lighter Rose tasted very much like a “white” Cava, with the main distinction being the light pink color (very pretty). This would be a perfect aperitif on a hot summer day. The darker Rose had a hint of more body  and I could imagine it pairing well with food, some barbeque for example.

We also tasted an interesting white wine made from 100% xarello that had been aged in chestnut barrels. Very different white with some tropical aromas (mango) and flowers combined with a hint of chestnut. Very pleasant indeed! I cannot wait to taste the Cava made out of the same wine (Yes, there is a Cava!).

Coupage Prive 100% Subirat Parent
Coupage Prive 100% Subirat Parent
The Roses
The Roses
Me, M and Damià
Me, M and Damià

All in all we had an absolutely wonderful day at Vilarnau. The vineyard is beautiful, the Cavas are tasty and the people lovely! They have a shop and they arrange nice tours around the vineyards, so I warmly recommend giving Vilarnau a visit if you are in the area. We will for sure keep in touch with our new friends, and we hope to score some of the more special Cavas into our selection some day.

Five things you should know about cava

Cava is my favorite drink! Yes, my favorite! Don’t let the amount of Champagne I talk about deceive you, Cava is my favorite. There is way too much prestige going around with Champagne that I think distracts people from evaluating the drink just as it is. If I try to strip myself from all of the layers of expectations, Cava I feel is better value for money. I have contemplated this same issue with talking about expensive Champagnes (like the Selosse and Krug) and whether it is proportionally in line in quality vs price.

Anyway, with the start of sales closing in (it’s finally happening!) I wanted to tell you a few great things about Cava that I think everyone (who is into sparkling wines) should know.

1. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine, produced with the same method as Champagne, ‘Method Champegnoise’. In the past Cava was called the Champagne of Spain, however they lost the right to call their sparkling wines Champagne when Spain entered the EU in 1986 (as the name Champagne has a Protected Geographical Status).

2. About 95% of the worlds Cava is produced in Penedès, Catalonia. Many of the large (and small) Cava houses are in the village of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia which is a short train-ride away from Barcelona. If you want to get there, you can just take a train from Barcelona-Sants station.

3. The most common grapes used in Cava are Xarello, Parellada and Macabeo. Recently Producers have started using more varieties, like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Trepat (for the Rosados), Garnacha and Monastrell. Macabeo is the most common of the grapes, It has faint floral aroma and a lemony flavor with a slightly bitter finish. Xarello on the other hand, is much more aromatic with rich floral aromas and pear or melon-like notes. The last grape, Paralleda, is blended in for its ripping high acidity and zesty citrus flavors. Together the three Spanish grapes create a balanced fruity sparkling wine that’s less sweet than Prosecco but not as nutty as Vintage Champagne.

Grapes growing
Grapes growing

4. One of the factors which make it possible for quality wine to be produced in the Penedès is the climate (and soil). There is warm weather along the coast and cooler temperatures through the hills up to plateaus of more than 2,000 ft (610 m) above sea level. The weather from year to year is very similar making it possible to produce stable quality. This is also why you do not see “vintage” Cavas that often, as the weather does not have such a high influence on the grape-quality during a specific year as for example in Champagne. The area has a diversity of soil types, mostly calcareous sediments mixed with alluvium and clay. Some of the most acclaimed vineyards in the region are found on some of the scattered limestone deposits in the area. This contributes to the dry, minerally tastes you often find in Cavas.

5. There are different levels in the ageing of Cava. You need to age the sparkling wine in the bottle for at least 9 months for it to to be able to be called a Cava. Cavas aged for 18 months or more can be called Reservas and 30 months or more Grand Reservas. The bottles are labelled with a round sticker to distinguish between these three: white for the entry level Cava, green for Reserva and black for Gran Reserva.

The vineyard in the winter
The vineyard in the winter

So after reading this you are on your way to discovering Cava. But the best way to become an expert is of course to taste as many as you can (wink wink). The Monopoly carries a weak selection of Reservas and Grand Reservas on the shelf, but there are a few more in the special order selection.  What I can say is that Cava is becoming more popular and you can expect to see new bottles coming out both via the Monopoly and also internet based wine shops, like the Winecurious.