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Double the Holiday Fun With Vilarnau

December 17, 2018 4 comments

Vilarnau Reserva Brut Who doesn’t like the holidays? Of course, it is easy to complain about how overwhelming the holidays can be when we feel obliged to please lots of people in seemingly irreconcilable ways with food or with gifts. But let’s not go there – holidays genuinely are about the happy state of mind, so let’s focus on it.

Here I come, with an offer to double your holiday fun and enjoyment – are you at least a little bit curious how am I going to be able to deliver on that?

Here is how. First, I want to recommend you a good wine. Wine is an indelible part of any celebration – any holiday, any birthday, any achievement. There are lots and lots of wines to chose from, and really not enough time to learn about all of them. Thus the wine recommendation means that you can save time for some other important tasks, and have one less thing to worry about. Check.

Now, how can I double the fun? Easy. How about the wine in a beautiful package? When you bring the bottle to someone’s house, or you put it out in front of your guests, isn’t it nice to hear “wow, what a beautiful bottle!”. We are visual creatures; not only we eat with our eyes first, but we drink with our eyes first too. Instead of explaining the bottle with the gray words-covered label “it comes from the great producer, really” or “the guy at the store said I would love it”, isn’t it better to just put the bottle on the table which makes a statement with its own appearance “here, look how beautiful I am”?

So here it is, my recommendation for the double fun for the holidays – Cava, Spanish Sparkling wine from Vilarnau, all wrapped in the beautiful, Gaudí-inspired packaging.

Vilarnau estate had been growing vines since the 12th century. The first Cava at Vilarnau was produced in 1949, and from there on, Vilarnau moved on to become one of the prominent Cava producers in Spain.

Vilarnau has a diverse portfolio of the sparkling wines, out of which the Trencadis series wines stand out beautifully. To explain the Trencadis concept, let me simply bring an explanation from the Vilarnau website:

What is Trencadis?

“Trencadís” is a kind of mosaic that was used in the modernist artistic movement in Catalonia, created from tiny fragments of broken ceramic tiles, roof tiles or crockery. The technique is also known as “pique assiette”, in French. The Catalan architects Antoni GaudÍ and Josep MarÍa Pujol used “trencadÍs” in many of their designs, the most famous probably being “Parc Güell in Barcelona. Vilarnau’s proximity to Barcelona (not just geographic but also spiritual) means it was natural for this artistic resource used by the winery. As a result some of our cavas are dressed as follows.”

Vilarnau Trencadis Barcelona Cavas

Just take a close look at those bottles, how closely they resemble the actual mosaic pieces with all the grout in between? Don’t you think these bottles are beautiful? If anything, they will make for a perfect conversation starter at any gathering – and now you can also explain to people what exactly are they looking at.

So what is behind the beautiful packages? Equally beautiful Cavas, which are also stylistically very different. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine produced in so-called Classic Method, where the second fermentation takes place in the bottle, exactly as it is done in the production of the French Champagne.

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva DO Cava (11.5% ABV, $14.99, 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel-lo, 15+ months in the bottle)
Beautiful mousse
Classic Champagne nose – toasted bread, a touch of yeast, white apples, a touch of lemon
Same classic profile continues on the palate – freshly baked bread, a touch of yeast, golden delicious apple, fresh, exuberant, perfect acidity
8, delicious

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé Delicat DO Cava (12% ABV, $15.99, 85% Grenache, 15% Pinot Noir, 15+ months in the bottle)
Beautiful mousse
A touch of toasted bread with the addition of strawberries and cranberries
Toasted bread, strawberries, a touch of cranberries, bitter orange, crisp, tart, cut-through acidity
8, excellent example of a sparkling Rosé

I hope you find these bottles as beautiful as I do, and I hope you will like the wines too. At this price level, Vilarnau Cavas will stand easily against a lot of Champagne, so go ahead, make your friends and guests happy. Cheers!

Sabering with a Steak Knife

July 10, 2018 9 comments

When I’m opening a bottle of sparkling wine, my first desire is always to saber it. Sabering is a lot more fun than just twisting out the cork. Opening sparkling wine in the standard way, by twisting a bottle out of the cork, should produce no sound, maybe just a little “sigh”. When the bottle is sabered, the loud pop is expected, and the sparkling wine siphons out of the bottle – I hope you agree, this is lots more fun.

In the act of sabrage, the bottle is open with a small sword appropriately called the saber. This is how the typical saber would look:

I don’t believe I ever used the proper saber before, but considering the weight of it, it should be a pretty easy exercise – I used the chef’s knife successfully a number of times, works perfectly on the properly chilled bottle of Champagne or similar classic-method sparkling wine (it is all about high pressure of the liquid in the bottle).

Instead of a saber, it is a lot more fun to try random objects for the sabrage. My sabering attempts are not anywhere as prolific as Jeff The Drunken Cyclist’s (here is his latest success with the “espresso thingy”), but I had my own documented successes with the wine glass, and failures with the stapler and even with the knife.

This time around, I was opening the bottle of Cava, and encouraged by the Jeff’s latest success, I wanted to use some random object for sabering – so the steak knife was something I grabbed.

This is my beloved Laguiole steak knife, which is perfect for slicing the meat, beautiful and nicely balanced – however, it is very light. I was positive this will not work, but this is part of the fun! My first two strikes led to the glass starting to chip off around the neck, which lowered my confidence even further, but you can see this all for yourself here (apologies for the format of this video – a rookie mistake with the iPhone after not making videos in a while…):

 

As you can tell, it worked! Next time you will be opening a bottle of Champagne – have some fun with it. Cheers!

Behind The Label

September 18, 2017 13 comments

We eat with our eyes first – everybody knows that. We drink in exactly same way. While looking for the wine to buy, we always start from the label. Of course, sometimes we might be looking just for the specific producer’s name – but way more often than not, wine consumer is lured by the appearance of the bottle before anything else. We let the bottle speak to us.

Wine producers always knew the effect of the bottle appearance, and always tried to design attractive and appealing labels – think about Château Mouton Rothschild, for example, which started their “Artist” wine label series back in 1945. 20-25 years ago, the design, and most importantly, production capabilities were limited both in style and the cost. But not today- there are literally no limits to how creative the wine bottle design can get in today’s world. It is hard to tell what exactly makes the wine label instantly attractive, but we all can recognize that special label when we see it. I shared my fascination with the creativity of the wine labels on the multiple occasions in this blog – here is one example for you.

You don’t have to agree with me, but I see creative wine labels as objects of art. Art at large is a form of the human expression. Art takes lots and lots of different forms – beautiful building, successful surgery, a sublime glass of wine, a flower, a painting. I’m sure there are countless studies written on the subject, and I will not even try for the slightest bit to delve into it, but I’m convinced that art as a final expression always has its source, the origin, it is inspired – and this leads to the fundamental question – what inspires the art? I will leave you to ponder at that, and meanwhile, let me turn our conversation towards the … wine, of course.

Vilarnau Barcelona Cava When I saw the label of Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé, my first reaction was “wow, this is a beautiful bottle”. The next question was – what does it mean? Yes, I read the description connecting Vilarnau Trencadís Edition cavas to the work of famous architect Antoni Gaudí, but I still wanted to understand the true inspiration behind this label. I reached out to the winery, and asked a few questions – here is our short conversation:

[TaV]: Vilarnau produces Cava since 1949. When Trencadís labels were used on Vilarnau Cava for the first time?
[V]: We launched the Trencadis labels at the end of 2014.

[TaV]: What was the inspiration behind the Trencadís labels?
[V]: This form of mosaic is very famous in Catalunya, Spain. Inspired by the Park Guëll in Barcelona and the famous artist Gaudí. Vilarnau is the “Barcelona Cava” and we felt it was fitting to use such an iconic design to decorate the bottles.
Trencadís’ is a type of mosaic used in Catalan modernism, created from broken tile shards. The technique is also called ‘pique assiette’. The mosaic is done using broken pieces of ceramic, like tiles and dinnerware. The Catalan architects Antoni Gaudí and Josep Maria Pujol used trencadís in many projects, among which Barcelona’s Parc Güell is probably the most famous. Vilarnau being so close to Barcelona (not only geographically, but also with heart and soul), it was natural to pick up this typical artistic theme for our winery.

[TaV]: Are the Trencadís Cava target the specific market, or do they sell equally well world-wide?
[V:]: We are currently exporting this label to almost 30 markets (principle markets being the USA, UK, Germany, and Belgium) and the number is growing as consumers love the design and the wine.

[TaV]: Do you have plans to add any new wines to the Trencadís series?
[V]: When we first launched we only had the Brut Reserva NV in the trencadis design but we have added the Rosado Reserva to the range two years and the Brut Nature Vintage and Demi-Sec last year

[TaV]; Do you have plans for any other “creative label” designs under Vilarnau name?
[V]: Barcelona is a constant inspiration to us and we are full of ideas, however, we have so much to do with the Trencadis design that we probably won’t launch anything new for the next 2 years or so.

Vilarnau Barcelona Cava glasses

The beautiful label is very important, it sets the expectations and makes you anticipate more from the wine. But – the content of the bottle is better to support the beauty of the label, or the joy of wine drinking will quickly dissipate.

I’m happy to say that the NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Trencadís Edition Rosé D.O. Cava (12% ABV, SRP: $15, 90% Trepat and 10% Pinot Noir, 15+ month in the bottle) didn’t disappoint. Beautiful intense pink color, classic Sparkling nose, with a touch of yeast and toasted bread on the nose, supported by fresh tart strawberries and lemon notes on the palate, crisp, succulent and invigorating. A perfect sparkling wine by itself, and at a price – almost an unbeatable value. (Drinkability: 8-/8).

What do you think of Art of the [wine] Labels? Do you have some favorites? Cheers!

Wine Video: My Personal Sabering Experiment

June 28, 2012 8 comments

If you remember my Father’s day post, I mentioned successful experiment in Sabering of the Champagne bottle. Okay, not really a Champagne – it was Cava Rose ( a very tasty one, Marques de Gelida Cava Brut Reserva). As I promised, here is the video for you:

To tell you the truth, once you open a sparkler this way, it is hard to go back to the traditional bottle twisting…

So…yes, you can try it at home! Have fun! Cheers!

What Is In The Bubbles? – 2011 Version

December 30, 2011 1 comment

Yesterday I shared with you my perspective on sparkling wine from 5 years ago. What happened in the past 5 years in the world of bubbly? Champagne is still a Champagne, as invented hundreds years ago, right? I would like to summarize the differences in two words: diversity and abundance.

Of course nobody invented Cava, Prosecco, Sekt or Cremant in the past five years – those sparkling wines had been around for hundreds of years. But never before were sparkling wines so abundantly available in United States – lots of them of a great quality and finesse, rivaling Champagne in taste and even more certainly, in price (average price of Champagne increased by about $5-$10 per bottle, depending on the brand and the actual wine store).

Diversity is another phenomenon in the world of sparkling wines – each and every category of the sparkling wines, including Champagne, has a lot more brands and styles widely available in many wine stores. Talking about Champagne, have you heard of Growers Champagne five years ago? I’m sure you did, if you are in the wine trade, but very unlikely if you are not. As we discussed before, majority of the Champagnes is produced by few big Champagne houses. For the most cases, those Champagne houses are not growing their own grapes, they are buying them from the growers. Some of the growers are also started making Champagne, which can be very distinctive and of a very good quality – I mentioned my experiences with Growers Champagnes a number of times before (you can find old posts here and here). Also increasingly available French sparkling wines made outside of Champagne appellation – they are often called Cremant and you can easily find Cremant de Alsace, Cremant de Bordeaux, Cremant de Bourgogne, Cremant de Jura, Cremant de Loire  in many wine stores around you.

Going outside of France, more and more sparkling wines are made all over the world. While Italy, Spain, Germany and US where always on the bubbly’s map, during the last couple of years I was able to taste sparkling wines from Argentina, Australia, Georgia (Georgian Sparkling wine, called Bagrationi, was our favorite wine during blind tasting, beating out classic Champagne and many other – you can read about it here), South Africa, Switzerland and Uruguay. Next to this geographic diversity is number of grapes used nowadays for production of the sparkling wines. Traditional Champagne, as well as many of the Cremant wines and sparkling wines made in US and Italy, are made out of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – however, in addition to this short list I tried sparkling wines made out of Chasselas, Chinebuli, Gamay, Malbec, Shiraz and Vidal (here is the post). A number of sparkling wines were also made using natural and biodynamic methods – I had a number of outstanding French sparkling wines made from Gamay (here is the post). If you are interested in this particular category ( natural Sparkling wines), I would highly recommend checking PJ Wine web site, which boasts excellent selection.

No matter what you are celebrating, there is always a special bottle of sparkling wine waiting for you. There is also nothing wrong with celebrating just another day. But considering that tomorrow is a New Year, make sure you have a good supply of the bubbly – no matter where it is from or what grape it is made out of, it is guaranteed to make your moment special. Happy New Year! Cheers!

What Is In The Bubbles? – 2006 version

December 29, 2011 5 comments

In the past, I wrote a few wine articles for one of the local newspapers here in Stamford – Stamford Times. As right now it is a champagne times all over the place, I thought this post about bubbly, written in 2006, still make sense. So here it is in its entirety, and I will give you 2011 perspective in the next post. Happy reading!

What is in the bubbles?

 What is one type of wine a lot of people will be reaching for very shortly? If you said “champagne” – you are right. If you said “sparkling wine” – you are right too. As New Year rapidly approaching, one of the traditions of celebration is having a glass of “bubbly” with the toast to the health and happiness in the arriving year. Where this tradition is coming from is hard to tell, as ever since champagne was invented, it very quickly became a symbol of celebration – a new ship, a new house, a wedding and all other significant events all call for champagne on the table.

Let’s take a look at the history – what is champagne and where did it come from? As many other prominent discoveries of the past, the discovery of champagne is largely a result of an accident. Champagne as we know it came from France, and as majority of other French wines, the name of the region where the wine is produced became the name of the wine. Champagne region is located in the northern part of France. One of the characteristics of that region is cool weather – the mean annual temperature is only slightly above 50°F, just a minimum necessary to allow grapes to ripen.

At the same time, the advantage of the cooler climate is that it allows grapes to ripen slowly, thus gaining more flavor and adding complexity. When grape juice is becoming a wine through the process called fermentation (by adding yeast to the grape juice), constant temperature is very important for the overall success. If the temperature drops too low, the fermentation would stop. Once the temperature rises, if there is any residual yeast left, fermentation will start again. If the wine is already bottled, this so called secondary fermentation will take place inside the bottle. Those wonderful refreshing bubbles, which we adore so much in our champagne, is nothing but carbon dioxide, which is a normal byproduct of fermentation process. If takes place during first fermentation, all carbon dioxide will go out in the air. At the same time, when secondary fermentation takes place in the closed bottle, the carbon dioxide has nowhere to go, thus it stays in the bottle and becomes a wonderful fizz we all enjoy. Thus thanks to the Champagne’s weather helping to “spoil” bottled wine, and someone’s imagination, we received a gift of great taste called champagne. Who was that “someone”?

History often calls a French monk, Dom Perignon, an inventor of the champagne. In the late 17th century, Dom Perignon was a cellarer at the abbey of Hautvillers, near Epernay in Champagne. Dom Perignon also was a great winemaker, who mastered making practically a white wine from the black grape ( Pinot Noir). He also advanced the art of blending ( mixing wines from different vineyards and/or vintages) to produce wine of consistent qualities. Blending is one of the cornerstone processes in making of the champagne. Interestingly enough, Dom Perignon worked hard to prevent the fizz in wine, which was at a time considered a sign of the poor winemaking. Nevertheless, the name Dom Perignon literally became a synonym of the great champagne. It is also  suggested that there is a famous phrase which belongs to him – “Come quickly! I am tasting stars! – he said at the first sip of champagne.

Let’s talk about some of the characteristics of the champagne. First, there are 3 types of grapes used in champagne’s production – chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Next, there are 2 main categories of champagne – non-vintage (usually the letters NV are added to the name) – blend of wines from the different vintages, and vintage, when only wine of single vintage is used. There are usually only few vintage years in a decade, so the majority of the champagne consumed is a non-vintage ( NV) variety. One more classification is based on the types of grape used in the blend – most of the champagne are a blend of different grapes, but if only Chardonnay grapes had being used, the champagne will be called Blanc de Blancs, and if only Pinot Noir is used, the champagne is called Blanc de Noir. Lastly, there are different levels of sweetness found in champagne, which is also put on the label: if the label says “Brut”, it is very dry, Extra Dry – less dry, Sec – sweeter, Demi Sec – medium sweet, Doux – sweet. Interestingly enough, most of the champagne produced before 1850 was sweet. Majority of champagne produced today falls into brut or extra dry categories.

Similar to the other wines from France, there are thousands producers making champagne. At the same time there are currently 26 Champagne Houses, known as Grand Marques – they are making most of well known champagne in the world. Some of the most popular names from that group include Bollinger, Charles Heidsieck, Krug, Moet & Chandon, Mumm, Perrier-Jouet, Salon, Tattinger and Veuve Clicqout. Is there champagne made outside of France? Of course, but it is not called champagne. In majority of the cases, only the wines produced in the Champagne region in France are called champagne. Sparkling wines, which are produced using the same winemaking techniques, are made in the different parts of the world – Cava in Spain, Sekt in Germany, Spumante in Italy, Sparkling wines in California. Some of the well known sparkling wines producers in California include Korbel, Schramsberg, Iron Horse, Mumm Cuvee Napa.

How champagne is served? It is served cold, best temperature being in the range of 43°F – 48°F. Most appropriate glasses for champagne are flute- or tulip-shaped. Do not serve champagne in the wide open glasses – this only leads to champagne going flat in no time, losing all of it’s refreshing fizz.

What is champagne served with? First, champagne makes great aperitif – great way to start an evening with friends. When it comes to food, similar rules apply as for matching any other wine and food. Champagne represents light and refreshing wine, thus it would be best paired with similar type of food, meaning being light. Shellfish, oysters, seafood, poached salmon all would do great. Also sushi is definitely not to be forgotten. And, yes, of course, the classic combination – Champagne and Caviar.

As John Maynard Keynes said,  “my only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne” – let’s not make this mistake! Get the friends together, open the bottle of bubbly, and celebrate – New Year, new child, a new beginning! Happy New Year! Cheers!

Celebrate! Celebrate! Let’s Open Some…

December 30, 2010 1 comment

Champagne! Of course, Champagne. No celebration is complete without the toast of “bubbly” – New Year’s arrival, wedding anniversary, winning of the Grand Prix, christening of a new ship, and many other occasions, big and small are acknowledged with Champagne.

Champagne is a very interesting subject in general, but even more so when New Year’s arrival is around the corner. You can find articles and blog posts about Champagne everywhere – here is a good example, post by Dr. Vino. Well, let’s join the conversation about Champagne.

Champagne is a wine which belongs to the group of so called “sparkling wines” – the wines with many tiny bubbles (there are at least 49 million bubbles in a bottle of champagne – feel free to count yourself if you don’t believe it). As many other things in life, discovery of Champagne is a combination of accident and luck – on a very primitive level, not fully fermented bottle of wine was frozen, then temperature rose, fermentation restarted (this time, in a bottle) – voila, you got a bottle of Champagne.

Well, small clarification will be appropriate – Champagne is both a wine and a place – in France, of course, where else. Are Champagne and Sparkling wine synonyms? No. Any Champagne is Sparkling wine, but not any sparkling wine is Champagne. Only sparkling wines produced in Champagne region in France using so called méthode champenoise can be called Champagne. All other sparkling wines produced outside of the Champagne region, even using the same method, can only be called Sparkling Wine.

Let’s play a little game which we will call “what is in the name”. Champagne only comes from Champagne, what about about other sparkling wines? Today sparkling wines produced everywhere, from wide variety of grapes and at ever increasing pace. Only this year I had sparkling Malbec (very good) and sparkling Shiraz (don’t do it). In United States sparkling wines are produced in California (lot’s of good wines), Oregon, New Mexico (surprisingly good), New York and many other states. Traveling through the world, a lot of sparkling wines have their own names. Let’s see if you will recognize some of them:

Prosecco – sparkling wine from Italy

Sekt – sparkling wine from Germany

Cava – sparkling wine from Spain

Cremant – sparkling wine from France (Cremant d’Alsace, Cremant de Bourgogne, Cremant de Loire, Cremant du Jura and many others)

Blanquette de Limoux – comes from Limoux in Languedoc, France with the claim of being the first Sparkling Wine, before Champagne became Champagne.

Champagne is endless subject – no way to cover it in the short blog post. Let’s stop our world tour right here, and let’s talk about the celebration “at hands” – New Year 2011. What bottle are you going to open to celebrate arrival of the New Year? How about a little dream? Again, you said? True, just a few days ago I wrote a post about the wines to dream of. Something was missing in that post, I think – and that “something” is … Champagne! There was no Champagne mentioned in that list. So we need to fix it. And if you need a Champagne to dream of, I have only one recommendation – Krug.

If you wonder why I so focused on one and only one Champagne, I can tell you – I had a chance to try it, and I was blown away. At the PJ Wine Grand Tasting event in November 2009, Krug 1996 was served among others, no doubt excellent Champagnes (Veuve Clicquot Rose, Dom Perignon 2000, …). I made a mistake – pretty much fatal, as it appeared – to start tasting from the Krug 1996. I had vintage champagnes before, and never really appreciated them. Krug 1996 was something else – with richness of freshly baked bread, nutty and creamy, fine-tuned refreshing acidity, ultimately balanced – it was incredible. All the Champagnes in that tasting, with pedigree or not, literally tasted like water next to Krug 1996. Yes, this wine is expensive (about $300+, you can check the price here), but it worth every penny – and worth dreaming about. And if you need to expand your Champagne dream list, you can find a lot more recommendations here.

There are few days left before we will toast new hopes, new dreams, new desires with the New Year 2011. No matter what will be in your glass, I wish for your wildest dreams to become reality. Raise your glass To Life, and keep dreaming!

Le Champa Del Mar – Keep the Cava Coming

August 4, 2010 7 comments

Let me start from a thought, which is not original at all – it is great to have friends (huh, wow, who would’ve even thought, right? :)). My dear friend Kfir, was taking an amazing care of me in Israel, ensuring the culinary experiences. After the great time at Norma Jean, he brought me into another one of his favorite places – Le Champa Del Mar, cava bar.

LeChampaDelMar

The place is more or a less a hole in a wall – you have to know where you are going in order to get there. Once inside, you will find a bar and a few tables – and lots of delicious foods in the perfect bar format – tapas. In the best traditions of the Spanish cuisine, there are lots of great choices, all in the tapas, or “small snacks” format – cheese and olives, octopus, chorizo, Serrano ham and so on and so on, all watered down with variety of Cava – a sparkling wine from Spain.  LeChampaDelMar_cavavallformosa

 Cava is the only wine served at Le Champa Del Mar, hence the name “Cava Bar”. There is about a dozen of varieties, starting from simple Brut and going into Reserve Cavas. The great thing about Cava in general is that while the bubbles a slightly bigger than in the classic champagnes, it typically has more life in the glass compare to the equal level of champagnes ( and a lot cheaper!). We had a Brut Nature Classic and Brut Rose Classic, coming from Vallformosa winery in Spain. While Brut Rose tasted somewhat flat, Brut Nature had a great balance of acidity and yeasty fresh bread flavours, perfectly complementing “full-bodied” tapas (in case anyone is interested in my rating, I would put Drinkability at 7). I guess the only issue was the fact that all those Cavas where way easy to drink, and therefore disappearing very quickly… But we managed to overcome this challenge quite successfully.

  And to give you better idea about Le Champa Del Mar, here are few more pictures:

LeChampaDelMar_tapas

Tapas Selection at Le Champa Del Mar

 

LeChampaDelMar_cavabottles Cava is popular at Le Champa Del mar

 

LeChampaDelMar_smokedduckbreast Smoked duck breast – very delicious!

 

Just to conclude – another great place for food and drink – find it and enjoy!

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