On his recent trip to Celler Espelt and the cava cellars of Segura Viudas, Adam Partridge finds some great wines – and Freddie Mercury pouring Cava in a tapas joint in Barcelona.
Up at 5am to catch the flight. We meant business.
Swapping autumnal Nottinghamshire for sunny Catalonia and taking a couple of days leave from their three restaurants, the Tom Browns Group joined us to journey deep into Cava country, sniff out some new wines and recipes at Celler Espelt and soak up some nightlife in Barcelona.
Mirror, signal, manoeuvre. We were away, on the road with Girona’s city lights now blurred in the rear view mirror. Our first stop? Emporda on the Costa Brava.
Family owned and working towards organic certification, Celler Espelt are producing some top class wines; their Old Vines Garnacha recently having been awarded 92 points by Parker. Three distinct vineyard sites with different soils and grape varieties allow them to produce some truly unique wines with a real sense of origin. 142 km an hour winds blast through the higher altitude vineyards, talk about gnarly. Overlooking Roses, the town not the plant, their newest vineyard forms part of the Cap de Creus national park. The vistas out to sea are stunning due to the altitude. On the drive up we even spotted signs to the now closed best restaurant in the world. This was El Bulli country.
So with the sea breeze in our hair and a hunger in our tummies, it was back to the Espelt guesthouse for another tour, this time a gastronomic one. Dishes of mar y montaña, ‘surf and turf’, reflected our setting: the rugged, mountainous terrain was bordered by a deep blue sea. Through the landscape flowed thick red rivers of old vine Garnacha and old vine Carinyena. Powerful and complex, these wines complemented the dishes perfectly and they provided a valuable insight into the DNA of the region, its geography and culture.
What do you have for dinner following a feast at lunch? An eight course dinner with individually matched Cavas, that’s what! In preparation for the next day’s visit to Segura Viudas, part of the Freixenet group, we had some homework to do..
Driving into the estate it was clear that this was no small production. Segura Viudas produce between seven and nine million bottles of Cava each year. Tony, our guide, greeted us in the shade; October was unusually very hot in Spain this year (an average of 42 degrees).
Relaxed but in depth, our tour took us through all production stages in the winery. All of the grapes are picked by hand and then transported in Segura Viudas’ branded boxes to ensure that no grapes are crushed in transit. The grapes are then crushed in huge pneumatic presses, with the juice being transported down to the cool cellars where the wines undergo ageing. Entering the bottling plant, there was a heady smell of mulled wine; it was as if Christmas had come early. Watching the robots freezing the bottle necks to remove the dead yeast cells and adding the dosage was mesmerising. You can’t help but wonder how much slower production was a century ago for the production of sparkling wines.
Prosecco sales are booming in the UK. It was very interesting to hear Tony’s thoughts on Prosecco and what Cava could offer instead. Whilst some Proseccos rival Grande Marque Champagnes in quality, most are produced as simple, citrusy fizz, ideal as aperitifs. The Cavas we tried had undergone lengthy ageing processes, all in the traditional method. These wines were ideal with a variety of dishes and were light, yet incredibly well-balanced. The Cava that accompanied pudding the night before really stood out. Made from muscat grapes, it was a testament to Cava’s flexibility and wide range of styles.
Back to Barcelona. I can confirm that Freddie Mercury is not dead. Whilst singing an impromptu version of Barcelona (several glasses of Cava!) he suddenly appeared as our waiter at the fantastic Tapas 24. Never one to keep a low profile, he was back in the limelight in his white, starched uniform.
What a meal to end our trip! Ox tail, pinchitos, patatas bravas, squid and gambas. Serious food. All accompanied by wines from the region, the wineries only a stone’s throw away.
Bill paid, espressos drunk, we disappeared into the city.