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All lined up – or not!

Early greens

Early greens

Straight lines

Straight lines

Old vines

Old vines

Not forgotten!

Not forgotten!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In California, where I lived for many years and learned almost everything I know about wine, the vineyards look pretty much the same, the difference being slopes or valley floors, or which direction they’re facing, but the vines are mostly trellised in a similar way, that is, in military-straight lines.

Here in Penedès they all look different. Case in point, the three vineyards that surround my house couldn’t be more different from one another; from perfectly trellised straight lines, to the old gnarly vines close to the ground, to the one that seem more like random bushes in a wild meadow that looks like nobody cares for. But lo and behold, in the end they all produce fabulous wine and Cava.

Why are they so different, you ask? There is no ‘straight’ answer to that. It can depend on what kind of grapes, who is the wine maker, what philosophy the grape grower has, if it’s a biodynamic, sustainable or ecological (or all of them) vineyard.

Since I moved to this house in the middle of these vineyards, I have followed them from the first, tender green leaf, through the harvest period, which also varies wildly. Just in the three mentioned vineyards, where you find Xarell-o, Macabeo and Garnacha Blanca grapes, harvest started in August and the last grapes were not picked until the second week of October.

But I, for one, can’t wait to try the finished product, gorgeous Cava and still vine in a couple of years!

 

Salud from the vineyard!

Helena

 

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Mallorca – an Old and New Wine Frontier!

Tasting Jose FerrerIMG_4449

 

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As a Swedish – California person, Mallorca seems like a place I should know. Why, you ask?  Well, most Swedes have been to Mallorca on charter vacations at least once in their lives, and one of the most famous historical people of California is father Juniperro Serra, who brought Catholicism there (for better or worse)  and founded the 21 missions up and down the state was born in the small town of Petra in Mallorca.

But last week I went to Mallorca for the first time, not knowing much about the island in general or the wine production in particular. It is an incredibly beautiful place and reminded me a lot of California. The island’s west side is covered by a spectacular mountain range and the center is endless green plains with millions of olive trees, almond trees and sheep!

There was a thriving wine culture here for almost 2000 years, seeded by the Romans of course, but like much of Europe it was devastated by the phylloxera plague about a century ago. In the aftermath the Mallorcans planted almond trees – a safer agricultural alternative – and they were blossoming in a spectacular fashion as we arrived.

In the early 90ies the modern era of wine production began, with island wine makers concentrating on making good wine using native grape varietals. It’s still rare to find wine made of 100% Callet, Manto Negro (red) Premsal or Moll (white), usually they are blended with other varietals such as Monastrell, Cab Sav or Muscat or the Catalonian grape Macabeo, but usually no more than 25% .

The major wine district, Binissalem (DO), is in the central part of the island where we happily went wine tasting.  The bodegas cover the whole spectrum, from the smartly appointed José Ferrer with its tasting room staff and menu, tasting paper mat for the glasses and expensive snacks, to the ultimate local wine cellar, Ca’n Novell, where the woman wine maker was putzing around, hosing down giant barrels and telling us to help ourselves to the wines, set up on an old barrel with small glass cups on a tray for tasting. Some 20 bottles, from the lightest white to a fab dessert wine. No charge. Serra de Tramuntana & Costa Nord and Pla & LLevant  are other interesting wine areas.

We had some fantastic meals washed down with excellent local wine which, curiously, is often priced on the same level or higher than the wine from the mainland.

For sure, three days was not enough time to explore and discover all of what this beautiful island has to offer a wine lover. So, I think I’ll be going back. Soon!!

Salut!!!

 Helena

 

IMG_4647Ca'n NovellIMG_4434

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Trepat – the Unique Cava Grape!

Cheers!

Cheers!

GREETINGS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!
 
Like many of you I have spent the last couple of weeks with friends and family, mostly in various stages of culinary and spirit-al stupor.

Living in Penedés, as would be expected, the drink of choice for the most part is Cava. In all shapes and forms – well, that would be  liquid –  whites and rosados, with simple or elaborate meals, at all price points, Cava is the go-to drink!!
 
On New Years Eve I had a dinnerparty for 16 people, and everybody brought Cava, from the expensive Recaredo to their own homemade. Many of them were rosados, which is particularly well matched with food ( the menu covered everything from three kinds of seafood to duck breast with a lingonberry-redwine-chocolate reduction! ) and I was blown away by the high quality and flavors of these gorgeous rosé sparklers.

Whereas sparklers from Champagne can only be produced with three kinds of grapes, Chardonnay is the only white grape, the other two are red, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. In Penedés more varietals are allowed to produce Cava (which is made by the same method as champagne) Trepat being one of them, and it figured prominently in most of the rosados on the table. However, it is a very unusual varietal, an indigenous grape of north east Spain, found particularly in Conca de Barberá and Costers del Segre.

Like Pinot Noir, Trepat is a tricky grape to grow and only about 1,000 ha is planted in Spain. And, you will probably not find it anywhere else in the world. It’s mostly used for Cava, but a few bodegas make medium bodied elegant Trepat still wines as well.

Glorious Cava!

Glorious Cava!


Some of my favorites Trepat Cavas, all from Penedés producers;

  • Castellroig
  • Vilarnau
  • Pere Ventura
  • Comtes de Subirats

 I hope you’re able to find a Cava Rosado in your local wine shop, and discover the wonderful flavors of Penedés!

SALUT!!

 Helena

 

 

 

 

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Who Knew It Was So Much Fun To Make Cava!


 

 

Recently my very good friend Jaque invited me to join him and his wine posse to make their annual batch of cava. Of course I had to decline – NOT!!

Arriving slightly morose – as it was 6 o’clock in the morning – to the cellar of Jaque’s mother’s old stone house in the village, everything was already in full swing. Five or six of Jaque’s friends and family were Blending – by kicking a huge metal canister with wine back and forth on the floor-  Bottling – with a nifty little bottling device – Capping – Jaque’s neighbor was in charge behind the cap machine – and stacking the bottles along the cellar wall.   As much as I tried, nobody could give me an answer as to why they had to start so damn early in the morning. That’s just the way it’s always been. Working hard, helping out and do what I was told, made me enjoy the ancient procedure of making a wonderful wine even more.

And! It also entailed the promise of the traditional Cavapossemaking breakfast, and the lovely smells were starting to reach our noses in the cellar down below.  So, after bottling up some 800 bottles and putting them away for a couple of years, it was time for the other, equally important, part of the day. Time to wake up the teenagers who were still snoozing on the couches and chairs around the house and get the grandmas and grandpas to the table!

The annual Cava making breakfast is not your standard tea and toast; it’s prepared as lovingly in the courtyard as the cava is down in the cellar, and  it is a gigantic meal consisting of Spanish homemade sausages, thick bacon slices and fresh sardines, all straight from the grill, two kinds of slow boiled beans – mom’s recipe – different kinds of charcuterie, breads and olive oil, and a big cake. All washed down with gallons of Cava. At 8 o’clock in the morning!! Just saying!

I can’t wait for next year’s Cava making day!!

SALUDOS!

HELENA

 

 

 

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How do we get Penedès on the International Map of Wine?

What is Penedès?

Well, most of you know that I moved here from California about two years ago, and honestly, although having worked in the wine business for many years, I barely knew about it. To some extent, the ‘fault’ for this has to lay in the lap of the  Penedès, Catalonia and Spain governmental and tourist authorities. But the international wine press doesn’t seem to make much of an effort to explore and discover the Spanish wine country outside of Rioja, which is a travesty since Spain is the vine densest country in the world. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all Spanish wine is fantastic. But, it does mean that some of the most wonderful and memorable wine go undiscovered. And that is sad and unforgivable, for Spain and for the rest of the world.

When I lived in California I, like most of the people who worked with or just loved wine, subscribed to the Wine Spectator, one of the most influential wine publications in the world, just a step after Robert Parker, with a similar point grading system of wine. Having moved to  Penedès, I continued to subscribe to Wine Spectator (WS) and was hoping for this important magazine to realize that there are other fantastic wine regions here outside of Rioja. But when the annual ‘SPAIN’ issue arrived this week, of course it was Rioja that was the main feauture. So, I wrote a letter to the editor! And I am very curious to see if they will print it! Wanna bet????

Here’s the letter to the Wine Spectator editor;

 

There is more to Spanish wine than Rioja!

 

As a loyal Wine Spectator subscriber – having lived and worked in the California wine world for 20+ years – I kept up my subscription, despite the cost, when I moved to the  ‎Penedès wine region in Catalonia some two years ago. Not knowing anybody here, or the language for that matter, it took me awhile to settle in and thoroughly discover what this area has to offer. What I did find was an amazing spectrum of cava, which this region is known for, but also still wine, red, rose’ and, especially, fabulous whites.

Meanwhile, I was eagerly anticipating the annual ‘SPAIN’ issue of WS. Since Spain has –geographically – more vines planted per area than any other country in the world, the time should be ripe to let WS’ readers discover that there is fantastic wine produced in all areas of Spain, not just Rioja. (Reminds me a bit of California, where Napa Valley is behind only approx 5% of the total wine production, but because it knows how to promote itself – and granted, some Napa wines are incredible- the other 95% of CA wine sometimes seems like an afterthought in the wine press)

When the Spain issue finally arrived, my worst fears were confirmed. Not only was the main subject Rioja again, but the ‘Silver Lining’ feature seemed like a stepsister category featuring – barely- the rest of Spain by region. But how can you write about a region when you don’t even get the facts right?  Cava is not a region, it is what sparkling wine from Penedès, and a few other wine regions, is called. Penedès is about 25 miles south of Barcelona, in the autonomous state of Catalonia. I’m not sure how it works, but I assume that wineries have to submit their wines for tasting by WS, but as the only cavas mentioned in your report, apart from Raventos i Blanc, are Jaume Serra  (which most Catalonians may use for cooking) and Freixenet (the worlds largest cava producer, hard to ignore) I wonder what your ‘Cava editor’ tasted? It couldn’t have been Recaredo, Gramona, Castelroig or Torello’ Kripta, because if it had been, she couldn’t have helped herself but to excitedly let the world know how fantastic they, and many others, are!

I invite you to Penedès to discover the best kept wine secret in the world!

 

Helena Centerwall,

Gelida / Sant Sadurni,

Penedès

Catalonia, Spain

www.barcelona-wine.com

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Wonderful and exciting – Penedés !!

I lived in paradise for many years – believe me, California is breathtakingly beautiful – but having been here in Penedés for almost two years now, I am blown away by the natural wonder of this place. Sometimes it upsets me that this beautiful region, shock full of delicious wine, sparkling and otherwise, is not more acknowledged, famous, hip, god-I-have-to-visit- kind of place in every wine lovers mind!! But you’ll all get here, sooner or later! Just keep reading my blog and it will happen to you, too!!

I just visited one of the fabulous cava bodegas – and there are more then 300 bodegas in this area- and it made me  realize how versatile and unique Penedés is! Walking in to Jaume Giro’ i Giro’ in the pueblo of Sant Sadurni d’Anoya is like walking into a hundred years ago – today!                                                                                                                                                                       We were greeted by a good natured, all around winery guy, Josep, who showed us around and poured some of the best of the house, cavas that have garnered 90+ points from Robert Parker. My favorites were Bombonetta (Rose’) and Brut Gran Reserva Montanya, and most of the cavas were €15 or less..just saying!

The welcoming facade of Giro’ i Giro in Sant Sadurni

Jaume Giro’ i Giro’ will be pouring at the Cava Tast, the grand Cava street festival that runs for three days, Oct 5-7,  in Sant Sadurni’ d’Anoia, the capital of Cava!

Come visit, come taste, come discover this wonderful part of the world of wine!

 

SALUD!

HELENA

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Priorat, part 2 – Villainous Wine From Outer Space?

The perpendicular vineyard of Ferrer&Bobet

Having wanted to show my friend Staffan the wonderful and wild Priorat wine region ever since I was there last year (see previous posts) we didn’t waste any time when he came to visit in June!  With the GPS ready to go to places with impossible sounding names, we first stopped to have lunch in the central town of Falset (yep, felt like some kind of wine tribute to the Bee Gees!) Not sure where to go – having been a bit put off by last year’s visit to a snooty place whose English menu offered ‘slithered Foie Gras’ and ‘sauteed Pulpet’ for god’s sake – we picked a place with maybe a not too promising name ; Hostal Sport! Lacking any TV screens showing games with accompanying loud commentary, we were more than pleasantly surprised . In fact, it turned out to be one of the better meals I’ve ever had. A shrimp carpacchio starter was groaningly good!

After spending the night at the cozy B&B Mas Ardevol, just outside the village of Porrera, I asked Gemma, the wonderful proprietress, which local winery she recommended for a visit. Ah, she said, you have to visit Ferrer Bobet, for sure!

She kindly called to ask if we could come by, and having expected a tiny old family run bodega, we went right Back to the Future!  Ferret Bobet is perched on top of a mountain 400 m above sea level, with their surrounding vineyards reaching up to 700 m! I remember passing by last year and thinking to myself that the fantastical building looked like one of those places that would be a James Bond villain head quarters, preferably under the sea, and it turned out to not be too far off. This area used to be under water! And ‘the Villain’ is one of Spain’s foremost wine lovers/enthusiasts/connoisseurs (you don’t have to pick, he’s all of them) Sergi Ferrer-Salat, a pharmaceuticals businessman who also created one of Barcelona’s best wine restaurants, and Raúl Bobet, a well known adviser to the Torres winery, who started their own winery with a vineyard of approx seventy hectares, planted with century-old stock of cariñena and garnacha grape. Set on a slope, the building was a challenge but beautifully envisioned by architect Miquel Espinet. And though I conjured up many a James Bond movies, Staffan thought it looked like Star Trek had landed in wine country.

The wonderful Elena showed us around the ecologically progressive winery – the two sleepy vineyard dogs couldn’t be bothered, although the 37 degree heat could have something to do with it – and we tasted the superb reds that unfortunately were sold out , so nothing to bring back to the cellar. At this point in time Ferrer Bobet still source grapes from trusty neighborhood vineyards, but by next year they should be able to use their own meticulously monitored grapes, which should also include a Viognier (white Rhone varietal) apart from the cariñena and garnacha (grenache) wines.

I, for one, can’t wait!  Beam me up, Scotty!!

SALUD!!

HELENA

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KRIPTA- the legendary cava

Kripta

It finally  happened! After  years of looking and hesitating, the right moment came – good news received, excellent food about to be ordered, a good friend on the other side of the table and a big wine menu showing the letters KRIPTA at the bottom of the list of available cavas.

Three  years ago when I first started working in Penedès I saw this unusual bottle in a wine store in the city of Vilafranca. The shape is beautiful and attracts one’s attention immediately. I had to ask what it was, of course, and  the owner of the store  got quite excited. But, for one reason or another I didn’t buy a bottle that day. And it stayed that way, I’ve read about it in books, seen it in the windows of (closed) wine stores and been thinking that, yes, one day I will drink this cava. And now it  finally happened.

How was it? Amazing, of course. And that is all I will say. Instead I’ll let you start your own Kripta-story, hopefully leading you to some nice adventures before the cava is poured in your and your friends glasses from a bottle that literally can’t be put down, on a sunny afternoon overlooking the green vineyards of Penedès. Enjoy!

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Second Label – Second to None!

Two great second label cavas, Comte de Subirats(Vilarnau) and JM(Covides)

We all love wine! We really do!!

But are we snobs who can only appreciate the expensive and cult-y wines that will eat (drink!) a hole in our wallets?  Do we automatically wrinkle our collective nose at bottles that doesn’t cost at least 10 bucks even for everyday wine?

Having only very sporadically been a woman of means, I have always looked for a bargain, but not at the cost of quality. It also helps that I know what I like when I like it, no matter the producer or the price of the wine.  The seed for this was planted when I went to university in Sweden and happened to live in the city center, very convenient for my friends who always ended up at my place before or after whatever plans we had on the weekends. My flat was tiny but always full of people who I ended up feeding – the two small pots were constantly in service on the stove with something simmering away – and my homemade garlic cheese was ‘world famous’ and required eating for all in attendance, or the non-eater would regret it later.

We didn’t know anything about wine then, more than that we liked to drink it, and we always bought the cheapest stuff  (sometimes I think Blue Nun and Matheus was invented for poor students) but at some point my palate wanted for something better. I started getting inexpensive but ‘better’ wines from emerging wine regions like Chile and Australia, who were then considered the stepsisters of France and Italy. (One of the cheapest and worst wines of that time was a Spanish white called Vilafranca, and it’s an interesting irony that the first place I came to when I moved to Spain from California 16 months ago was Vilafranca del Penedès!)

The quest for finding good wine for a good value never left and when I moved to California I was in heaven when I discovered ‘the second label’. One of my favorite stores in CA was Trader Joe’s which had a great food and wine philosophy; by skipping the middle man and buying in big quantities they could offer great quality and super value, whether they used their own Trader Joe’s label, like with the Chilean series of wine (the SavBlanc for $2.99 was an outstanding value) or a famous winery’s second label. The ‘Emergence’ Rhone varietal Red blend comes to mind, and at $5.99 one of the best California reds I’ve tasted.The only way TJ’s could sell second label wines from prominent wineries was if they did not reveal the producer but I have a feeling that ‘Emergence’ was from one of the best Rhone producers in Paso Robles, Tablas Creek, whose wines could easily cost $30-40 or more .

The reason the producer doesn’t want the public to know is easy enough to understand: the pricing adds to the  ‘prestige factor’ of your product and how can you justify selling the same or almost the same quality wine for a fraction of the cost? For a winery, a second label is a great way of ‘moving’ overproduction without infringing on its prestige.

(Speaking of prestige; A recent cover of Wine Spectator magazine had what some might consider the second labels of all time when it featured the Grand Cru labels of Bordeaux side by side with their seconds, using a version of their famous original names such as Chateau Latour  –  Les Forts de Latour. As far as pricing goes, $400 for a bottle of  second label Carruade de Lafite can seem a bit steep, but compared to the Chauteau Lafite Rothshild at $1800 a bottle, it’s a downright bargain!)

Moving to Spain was like being let loose in a new candy store (although I don’t have a sweet tooth!). Wine, wine everywhere wine, most of which I had never seen, or tasted, before. And after awhile I realized the same thing is going on here!  One of my new favorite Penedès  whites is the Blanc de Blanc from the Sumarocca winery, just down the road from me.  I happily discovered – after reading the tiny print on the back label  – that one of the big super market chain’s own label, Riubal, is produced by Sumarocca and I’m pretty sure the white it is their Blanc de Blanc. At 2.65€ it’s a steal! (And it is, as it happens, the wine being sipped as I write this)

Another absolute favorite is the Comte de Subirats Cava Brut Rose’ , which is actually the second label of one of the better wineries in  Penedès – Vilarnau. And at 3.70€ it’s an incredible deal. Dry and fresh, without being surupy, with a good somewhat peppery finish, it’s the perfect party cava!

I only wish it had been available in my college days!!

 

Salud!!

HELENA

 

 

 

 

 

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The Best Kept (Open) Secret in the Wine World – Cava!!

The sign leading to the capital of Cava - Sant Sadurni d'Anoia

 

I bet – almost anything – that all of you have had Cava at one point or another! From the black bottle of Freixinet in the party days of college yore, to the more artisan and somewhat pricier versions like Gramona as your palate became more sophisticated.

Most people have no clue what Cava is, where it comes from – more than being vaguely Spanish – and that it in fact outsells all other sparkling wines, including champagne and prosecco. And fewer still know that the center of Cava production is the viticultural region of Penedès with it’s capital with the mouthful name of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia. In that little town of barely 11.000 inhabitants you’ll find some 300 Cava cellars! Who knew?? This is where you find the world’s largest Cava producer, Freixinet, which pumps out millions of bottles every year, followed closely by Codorniu and Torres.

One of the problems may be that Cava doesn’t have the ‘designer’ feel to it, like Italy’s prosecco or the sense of place and luxury like champagne. Why is that? Sometimes it seems like even though Spain is one if the major tourist countries of the world, averaging 9 million visitors every 3 months, the Spaniards are very bashful about promoting their country, especially if you count anything 2 kilometers inland from the beaches, which is of course where you’ll find most vineyards,

Case in point; just before I left California to move to Penedès, someone gave me a very nice bottle of Codorniu Cava in a beautiful, ornamental  metal gift case. On the case was printed the usual blather about how harvest took place during a full moon and the name of the winemaker’s dog, but what really struck me was how it was described that the grapes were sourced from ‘the rolling hills outside Barcelona’  Well, yes, we’re about 40-50 km away from Barça, but the name Penedès was nowhere to be found. It’s like saying about a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that the grapes came from the hills of San Francisco or that the chardonnay grapes in a bottle of Blanc de Blanc Champagne came from the vineyards outside of Paris. (most Cavas are made from the Xerello, Macabeo and Parellada grapes, see previous blog posting)

Granted, there is a difference in the geographical aspect, Penedès is a very large area, and also, thanks to a bit of EU ‘fairness’ policy run amok, Cava is not beholden to Penedès alone, but can be produced in more than a 100  viticultural ‘patches’ outside of Penedès. And that, my dear Watson, is why I believe Cava never had a chance to earn the denominational cache’ that champagne and prosecco have. On the upside; you will always be able to find GREAT Cava for one tenth of the price of champagne!

And that’s something worth celebrating!!

Salut!

HELENA

 

 

 

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