Our Crystal Serenity Mediterranean wine-tasting cruise concluded in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia located in the far northeastern corner of Spain.
Catalonia is not only a major economic driving force in Spain, it is also home to several world-renowned wine- producing areas and a mecca for traditional Epicurean delights. We have visited Barcelona several times but never seem to experience enough of its fresh spirit, hospitable people, historic architecture and terrific cuisine from delectable tapas of all kinds to some of the most delicious seafood and other typical dishes.
We spent our first day enjoying a walking, eating and “sipping” tour of some of Barcelona’s hidden treasures led by our guide Zuzanna. It was Sunday, so the famous Mercat de la Boqueria was closed and Camino de las Ramblas was packed with locals and visitors enjoying a beautiful day. Zuzanna skillfully navigated our tour to other lesser known, but culturally important, areas filled with a sense of history and beauty dating back centuries.
We made several stops along the way sampling some neighborhood treats and drinks. We started with a couple of “sweet” stops and a traditional tea or coffee. Then we tried patatas bravas, local potato tapas, with homemade Vermouth. But, the real revelation came when we entered a street lined with “pincho’” shops and devoured some of the most unusual “tapas-on-a-stick” coupled with an enchanting Sangria. Pinchos, a Basque staple, were displayed on countless platters by an ever-changing array of some of the most artfully prepared bite-sized morsels we’d ever seen or tasted.
A short walk took us back to Hotel Roger de LLuria where we were greeted by the gracious director, Enric Garcia Arcauz. Entering the hotel was like stepping back to an elegant time in both the lobby and our beautiful room overlooking the city. On Enric’s suggestion, we dined that evening at Barceloneta — and took a look forward to the next day and our visit to Sant Sadurí d’Anoia, the true home of Cava.
The Cava DO (Denominaciones de Origen) was established in 1986, but sparkling wine from the area dates back to 1872 when Codorníu winemaker Josep Raventós returned from Champagne and began producing what eventually was called Cava in the Méthode Champenoise (now referred to as Méthode Traditionelle for wines produced by this process outside Champagne).
Others soon followed Raventós’ lead and Cava was born. Today, Cava ranks as Spain’s most prestigious sparkling wine with about 90 percent coming from the Sant Sadurí d’Anoia area. The wines are primarily based on three indigenous varietals, Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada, although others such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are now also permitted.
We were hosted by Codorníu for a comprehensive tour of this iconic property (founded in 1551), including a “train” ride through miles of underground caves holding millions of bottles awaiting disgorgement.
We sat down for an extensive tasting of the wines that featured the treasured 2013 Jaume Codorníu Brut Gran Reserva. Only 2 percent of Cava production is at the Gran Reserva level. Jaume originated in three of the finest Codorníu vineyards and consisted of Xarel-lo, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that spent 40 months on its lees.
Following the tasting, a sumptuous tapas lunch that dazzled the eye as well as the taste buds awaited us in the adjacent reception hall. Then we boarded our coach for a short ride into the city’s center where we continued our Cava exploration by visiting Recaredo, a world-renowned Cava house dating to 1924 producing only Gran Reserva and the newly anointed Paraje Qualificado designated wines that are considered the “Gran Cru” of Cava.
At Recaredo, we toured the centuries-old caves stretching beneath the city and observed the hand disgorgement process. To accomplish this rare method, the bottles are originally sealed with cork held in place by a metal clamp, as opposed to a bottle cap used virtually everywhere else.
The bottle is first held to a light confirming all the lees are in the neck before cautiously removing the cork by hand. The bottle is checked by smell to make sure it is not tainted by the cork, topped off and resealed with a fresh cork. After observing the process, glasses of the 2007 Reserva Particular were poured for us from the just disgorged bottle. Quite an unexpected treat, to say the least.
At the conclusion of this most educational tour, we were hosted to an extensive tasting of Recaredo wines including their 2008 Serral del Vell Brut de Brut Paraje Qualificado. This amazing wine is a blend of Xeral-lo and Macabeo and spent a full nine years on its lees before disgorgement. A vinous memory to treasure.
The next day included a visit to Scala Dei in the ancient area of Priorat.
Priorat is in the nearby Catalan province of Tarragona and nestled among many extremely steep slopes (reminiscent of the Portugal’s Duoro Valley) with a monastic history dating back centuries before the Romans to Phoenician times.
Priorat’s rocky soils are known as “llicorella” and composed of black slate and quartz that, along with intense dry summer heat, provide a most inhospitable climate for vine growth. In 1991, Spain’s Rioja was alone elevated to a “DOCa” status and later joined by Priorat in 1991 (referred to in Catalonia as DOQ). They remain Spain’s only two growing areas to hold this exalted status.
The two driving varietals (most often blended) for the dominant red wines are Garnacha (aka Grenache) and Cariñyena (aka Carignan) that both do well at different elevations and exposures. The flavor elements of Garnacha are slow to develop and the extended hang times often result in higher alcohols. But with the brighter Cariñyena, the blended wines offer unique flavor and aromatic profiles reflecting both depth and breadth on the palate.
Our visit to Scala Dei was a remarkable experience as we observed the last load of grapes arriving from the 2018 harvest and then tasted a range of their wines. Two highlights stand out as very special. Cartoixa is a blend of Garnacha and Cariñyena from 65 to 110-year old vines and vinified in 500L French butts (long cylindrical casks). Massipa is vinified in 1,400L French foudres (large barrel-shaped casks) and produced in minuscule quantities as a blend of Granacha Blanca with a bit of early-picked Chenin for backbone and a refreshing expression.
Visiting Catalonia with its history, cuisine, fine wines and fascinating people was a fitting end to our Mediterranean travels. We now look forward to returning to this treasured part of the world and discovering even more of its splendor.