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Wines for the Christmas table

Some of the contenders!

I’m getting a bit overexcited now its less than three weeks till Christmas. I’ve watched Heston, Delia and Hugh cook their Xmas dinner already. I’ve heard Band Aid at least once a day for the last week. But I haven’t started thinking about what wines to serve with Xmas dinner this year!!

For the past few years I’ve taken a case of 6 wines to each of the parents to go with their wonderful food. I like to choose a red, a white, a sparking and a sweet (2 each of the red and white).

Last year the red was a Burgundy (Aloxe Corton 2006) the white a Gruner Veltliner from Austria, the fizz was Cava (not a a very good one!), and the sweet was a wonderful sweet Kiwi Gewurtztraminer. The red and white for next year are maturing in the spare room – bounty from our summer trip to France! If you have to know, the white is a white Burgundy from Meursault, the red a spicy Syrah from Cornas in the Northern Rhone. And this helps, because I don’t like repeating things so I now have some goalposts.

So lets pull together a shortlist for each choice and see where it takes us:

The fizz

The options are English fizz or Cremant de Bourgogne. English fizz because it really is so damn good and there won’t be much wine from the 2012 vintage due to the appalling weather this summer. Cremant because it is so wonderfully elegant with very fine bubbles, almost ethereal. Hmm… I’ll come back to that one.

The white

Chablis is a great go-to for Xmas. Mineral and citrus and just ever so bloody lovely. But I’ve got Burgundy lined up for next year. I have 2 other options. One is a lovely, sexy Italian number. It’s from Lugana, in the Veneto region in Northern Italy. It is made with the rather modest Trebbiano grape but is full bodied and like baked apples. Or I could go for the fresh but aromatic qualities of Chenin Blanc from South Africa. Hmm… This isn’t getting any easier!

The red

I think I’ve hit this one sorted! Our trip to Barcelona gave a fantastic introduction to the wines of Priorat. Made predominantly with the Garnacha grape (called Grenache in France) and has that lovely bramble, earthiness. I’ve tried a good one from Waitrose and have one from Jez waiting to be tested. Yep, I’m happy with the region, just need to decide on the actual bottle. Yes, one down!

The sweet

I love sweet dessert wines but rarely buy them – Xmas is the perfect excuse to get stuck in. Because I don’t get the chance to try too many, I’ve got a shortlist of two. The first is a classic Beaumes de Venice from the southern Rhone. Made with the muscat grape, this is a truly classic wine. The second option is the wonderful Steindorfer Seewinkel Beerenauslese, from Austria, that we enjoyed at our veggie feast at Steve and Sara’s. A blend of Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Bouvier, giving up peach, apricot and honey sweetness. Damn… Not as easy as I thought.

The verdict

So there we go… Still plenty of decisions to make! Thought this was going to be a fun and easy task. Definitely fun as I’ve still got lots of wine to try, but definitely not easy! I hope it’s at least given you a few ideas. Xmas is a great opportunity to really splash out and the good stuff… But careful, you might get a taste for it!





Cava tasting at Freixenet

It’s time to enjoy Cava


The beautiful Freixent premises in Sant Sadurni

Me and The Fish visited Freixenet winery on Monday 29th October 2012. A 40 minute train journey from the centre of Barcelona was well worth it, and the cost of €6 each for the tour was an absolute steal. There are a couple of daily tours in English and we were lucky enough that there were only 8 of us on the tour so it felt vey personal.

Freixenet is big business, with over 100 million bottles maturing on site at any one time! The company was started in 1861 and is still run by one of the original families.

The tour begins with a short video introducing Freixenet and their wines, and took place in a cool little cinema. The tour then ambles through the whole process of making the Cavas with lots of information about grapes and process, delivered by a very friendly Spanish lady with brilliant English and a great sense of humour. What I actually loved was the fact that it never felt like a marketing speech (anyone visited Veuve Cliquot in Reims??). The tour really is all about the product and not the brand. Part of the tour is a mini train ride around the production and storage areas and really does add a nice touch. 45 minutes for the whole thing and a great deal of quality information is shared.

After the tour we were taken to a tasting room, a bit like an airport departure lounge but cosy enough nevertheless. As part of the admission fee you get a full glass of Cordon Negro Reserve Brut. You’ve probably seen these black bottles on the shelves of your local supermarket. I have to say it went down very well and we asked if it was possible to try some other Cavas. This is where the place came into its own. We were given a menu with 11 Cavas, priced between €1,75 and €5,10 a glass… A full 125ml glass! Brilliant I thought, and so glad we took the train! To accompany the wines there is also a small selection of cold tapas dishes available, including a fantastic platter for about €16, superb value considering the quality of the jamon on the plate.


Cava and tapas. Beautiful!

We enjoyed a cracking couple of hours working our way through 7 Cavas and demolishing the jamon, butifarra blanco and manchego. If you get the chance please go. the wines are excellent, the staff are brilliant and it will certainly make you reconsider Cava as a sparkling option. Oh and by the way, the tour (2 people), tasting and tapas came to a grand total of €55!


The full list by the glass

Below are my tasting notes on the wines we drank. I’ve used to try and find stockists and prices in the UK, but as you’ll see this proved quite difficult, with only the Cordon Negro available!

Cordon Negro Reserva Brut

A blend of the local Parellada, Macabeu and Xarel-lo grapes, aged for 18-24 months in chestnut barrels. Apple skins and lemon on the nose. Vey dry with a lovely lemon-sherbet finish. Not complex but far more refreshing that I’d expected. 85 points. (£9.49 all major supermarkets)

Brut Barroco

Same blend as the Cordon Negro but with a higher percentage of Xarel-lo, apparently for a better balanced wine, aged for 30-36 months. Granny Smiths in a glass. Unfortunately the alcohol felt unbalanced and overtook the fruit, leaving an astringent and very dry finish. Bit disappointing this one, 82 points. (Can’t find a UK retailer)


Made using 100% Trepat black grapes, aged for 30-40 months. This is more like it! Slight blush colour if you look hard enough, wild strawberries on the nose and palette with a gorgeous acidic streak running though. Long and delicious. Yes please! 90 points. (Can’t find a UK retailer)

Elyssia Rose

100% Pinot Noir, aged for 10 months only. Lovely pink redish-pink colour. Very fragrant, red fruits and cherries. Rally fresh taste and lovely balance. Simple and fruity, a great party wine. 88 points. (Can’t find a UK retailer)

Reserva Real

We’re back to the local Parellada, Macabeu and Xarel-lo blend, but this time it’s the first pressing, aged for over 30 months. This is a serious wine. It’s yeasty and bready, super complex and oh so long. It’s is what I expect from a good vintage champers – and I reckon would do very well in a blind tasting. Best wine of the flight for me by some distance. 93 points. (Can’t find a UK retailer – gutted!)

Casa Sala Brut Nature

Now we’re into the stuff they keep for themselves! Made using a blend of Xarel-lo and Parelloda, aged for 30-40 months. This is super dry but very complex. Not so much breadiness as the Real but certainly complex. I got quite a bit of dried fruit, maybe even figs coming through on the taste, which has a very long finish. Good wine but I’ll stick with the Real. 89 points.


100% Malvasia, aged for 9 years. Is this a Cava or a sherry?? Wow, this is interesting. This wine must be made for Xmas. Spices, figs, raisins and a lovely sweetness but with a slightly dry finish. This really is great and I am gutted they don’t export this little beauty. Would be a great match for foie gras. 91 points.

Barcelona. The good, the bad and the bubbly!

Now my knowledge of Spanish wine certainly isn’t great. I know my Rioja from my Ribera, understand the difference between a Crianza and a Gran Reserva, and love the refreshing whites from the the north of the country, particularly Verdejo and Abarinho. But what about Barcelona, and what about Penedes?

The white wines by the glass are simple affairs, reminiscent of the slightly round white wines from the Rhone; pleasant but lacking that streak of acidity to really give them a lift, especially when drunk with some of the marvellous seafood pinchos. What I was really surprised and delighted by are the number of varieties grown in the area, and the quality of the wines produced using the more commonly known grapes.

For lunch on our first day we sat down at a very good seafood tapas restaurant, Mariscco in Placa Reial. Looking through the wine list, what caught my eye was a Penedes DO Riesling (Torres Waltroud 2011) so I went with my instinct and what a good choice it turned out to be. At first taste I thought it may be a touch off-dry, but this was simply the juiciness of limes and pineapple chunks coming through. The finish was actually bone dry and rather reminiscent of a wine from the Clare Valley – a very modern and enjoyable wine (89 points). The seafood was outstanding. Percebes, langoustine, clams, cuttlefish, followed by some beautiful veal fillet.

Mariscco restaurant in Placa Reial

We also enjoyed some simple but refreshing Basque white wine in a couple of the great pinchos bars; nothing to write home about with too much conviction but perfect for this most superb method of informal dining.

The best seafood dish ever??

The second memorable white was the exceptional Jean Leon Chardonnay 2009. Only 12,000 bottles produced in the vintage and ours was bottle number 9,554. The wine had beautifully integrated oak, which surprised me when i found it had spent 9 months in new French oak. The nose was a pleasant apple and pear combo, with the fruit coming through in the taste, swathed in a rich vanilla cream. Once we took the wine out of the ice bucket we were able to enjoy it at its full and charming best (91 points). What I haven’t mentioned is Can Majo, the superb restaurant where we enjoyed this wine in Barcelonta, overlooking the sea. The Majo paella was maybe the best seafood dish I have ever eaten and I implore you to go if you ever find yourself in the vicinity.

So what about the reds? Well this is the only “bad” I can write about. And the main reason is the lack of local red available by the glass. Rioja – tick, Ribera – tick. But very little of the local stuff. The couple of places we did find with Penedes, or if we were very lucky, Priorat, on the list by the glass were fantastic! The Garnacha is spicy, yet silky, concentrated and inky. It was just such a shame that there was so little around!

La Vinya del Senyor – a great wine bar in Placa Santa Maria

On our last evening we went to the superb wine bar in Placa Santa Maria, called La Vinya del Senyor. OK, we went the day before and enjoyed a lovely glass of Cava and Ribera, but the list was excellent so we decided to head back for a bottle of Priorat. And boy was it worth it. We asked the waiter for some inspiration and he pointed us in the direction of the Somni 2009. Wow! Spicy, smokey, brambly, black currant and blackberry nose. Lovely cassis flavour, reminiscent of a great black currant sorbet. Warm, concentrated, complex and long, like a black fruit duvet! This was perfect for a chilly evening in Barca (by their standards), and one I will be tracking down for Xmas (94 points).

The star of the show – Somni 2009, Priorat DOCQ

So that just leaves the bubbles. To be quite frank, I’ve never met a Cava I’ve really got along with… Until this weekend. I’ve always found Cava lacking the acidic backbone I so enjoy in champagne and English fizz. But this weekend I found the Cava zing and it was certainly worth waiting for. We enjoyed a lovely Titianna Brut Nutural (extra dry) at the aforementioned La Vinya del Senyor, but the real magic came when we visited Freixenet, one of the biggest Cava producers in Catalunya. I’m going to write a separate piece about the tour and tasting at Freixenet as it is definitely something I would recommend to anyone visiting the Barcelona area, and anyone who feels they don’t quite “get” Cava.

A taste of things to come

Overall, Barcelona is a wonderful city and brilliant place for a city break. The food is simply outstanding, the culture is magnificent and the people are welcoming. As a matter of fact, I can’t wait I go back!

The good.

I have fallen in love with pinchos – the most social way of eating I have ever come across. As for the wine, well the brooding, fruity reds of Priorat certainly get the gold medal but the whites made from the more internationally recognised grapes are also excellent and I look forward to finding some for my collection.

The bad.

There isn’t any really. The biggest bugbear was the lack of local wine by the glass and the omnipresence of Rioja and Ribero. In fairness that really isn’t too much of a chore but I think the locals should be proud of their wine and encourage more of us tourists to give it a go.

The bubbly.

Well I’m a Cava convert. The cheap stuff we buy in supermarket in the UK really doesn’t do this drink any justice. There is so much choice and there are some really complex wines out there – you just have to search them out and have a bit of patience. I will write up my notes from the Freixenet tasting in the next day or so to try and give a bit more depth to the subject.


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