Food pairings: Freixenet’s Cava and other wine

Recently I spent several days exploring Spain’s Cataluña winemaking region. I learned about the region’s famous Freixenet Cava as well as many other beautiful wines being produced there. (This post is Part IV about the visit; other posts’ links are at the end of this article.)

Cava is a sparkling wine, made primarily of Spanish grapes but in the Champagne method, i.e. aged in bulk in a barrel or tank first, with a secondary fermentation taking place in the bottle. The bottle must be heavy and thick, and the cork must be thick and tightly placed, to withstand the pressure within the bottle. Cava is the most famous of the Freixenet products, but the company makes many other lovely wines and also exports their own wines and other vineyards’ wines to other countries.

Our first night’s dinner was in the town of Vilafranca del Penedès (near Barcelona), at Hotel Casa Torner i Güell, where we stayed for part of the trip.

Casa Torner i Güell is a micro-hotel in Penedès, a wine-making district in the Cataluña region. Reportedly once an old stately home, today the hotel is quite modern, with European touches of chrome, glass, dramatic lighting, and crisp color schemes in the 17 bedrooms that share a bar, restaurant, and garden courtyard. The property is quiet and peaceful.

At the start of our dinner, we enjoyed Cava Elyssia; a happily empty bottle is pictured to the right. This was a fruity and aromatic Brut (dry) rosé of Pinot Noir, from a local vineyard formerly owned by Moet & Chandon.

Our first course was a delicious bisque with a crispy shrimp.

Next came a course of monkfish with a cucumber salsa, olive oil, and orange (pictured above), and the Cordon Negro came out. “Cordon Negro” simply means “black cord” and is a reference to “black tie” elegance. Easily found in the U.S., this Cava is clean and crisp, with aromas of apple and pear.

We were served a course of mashed potatoes with an out-of-this-world mushroom sauce and a thinly rolled, crispy wafer that was only slightly more substantial than filo dough. To my surprise, next we were served another starch: a rich risotto with diced Spanish ham and chives. Maybe our hosts thought we needed to absorb the Cava we’d been enjoying! After that, we were served another fish course on a bed of caramelized onions and roasted red peppers, and crispy onions on top. All of these savory courses were complemented well by the Cava.

The beauty of sparkling wines is that they stand up to any food whatsoever, but do not overpower it. The bubbles and acidity will cut through butter and oils, and the bubbles also cleanse the palate so that the food tastes are, if anything, amplified and not overpowered. That is why sparkling wine is so often associated with chocolate and other desserts—it just works!

Just when I was ready for a change of pace wine-wise, out came the meat course: rare beef with roasted red pepper pesto, paired with Vaza Cosecha Rioja 2011, another wine from the Freixenet family. The wine was a stunning Rioja.

For dessert, we were served a very moist chocolate cake flanked by raspberry sorbet, vanilla-bean Mascarpone, and a caramel crisp. Both the Cavas and the Rioja were delicious with this dessert.


Divinic, located in the same town, specializes in wine and tapas. The restaurant was designed by architect Oriol Llahona.

One of the highlights of the evening was the 2004 and 2005 Brut Nature (left), not only because it tastes wonderful, but also because we learned the romantic history of Freixenet. It is a story of love and feminine grit.

The label is old-fashioned, and the wine is indeed intended to honor the family’s roots and the first Freixenet Cava released 100 years ago.

The story begins in the 1700s, when the Ferrer family established La Freixenada, a winegrowing estate in the Penedès. In the mid-1800s, the Sala family settled nearby in the Penedès, and Mr. Sala converted his father-in-law’s barrel-making business into a wine distribution company, eventually exporting wines all over the world under the name Casa Sala.

In the early 1900s, the youngest son of the Ferrer family, Pedro, married the only daughter of the Sala family, Dolores, uniting the two respected wine lineages. Seeing a unique opportunity in sparkling wines, which were not common in Spain at that time, Pedro and Dolores released their first Cava in 1914 with the Freixenet label.

Tragically, in the 1930s Pedro was killed in the Spanish Civil War, leaving his wife and children alone. Dolores decided to continue to run the business, and even decided to build it dramatically in the face of misfortune. Against the odds of the difficult war time, she succeeded in launching Carta Nevada in 1941. The unique frosted golden bottle went on to become one of Freixenet’s most popular Cavas.

In the 1950s, their youngest son, José Ferrer, took the reins of the family business with the goal of realizing his parents’ dreams of introducing Freixenet to the world. In the 1970s, following the Casa Sala tradition, the family shipped the first bottles of Freixenet to the United States. In 1974, José introduced Freixenet Cordon Negro, a new Cava bottled in a radically distinctive dark frosted bottle, which would become known as the “Black Bottle Bubbly” and is Freixenet’s best-known Cava to this day. In the 1980s, Freixenet became the world leader in sparkling wine produced in the traditional champenoise method.

Today, a century since Freixenet released its first Cava in 1914, the company remains 100% family owned, with the fourth generation now in the business. Gloria Ferrer, José’s wife, is now the family “star,” with fine wines bearing her name from Sonoma, California. José Ferrer, in his eighties, is the President of Honor of the Freixenet Group and the Founder of Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards in Sonoma’s Carneros district.

But I would like to mention one more food course and wine from that evening: the steaks we were given to grill as desired, with roasted red peppers, garlic and olive oil; and the delightful 2011 Ribera del Duoro Tempranillo served alongside. AWESOME.,,

Media/trade trip courtesy of the Freixenet company.

Posted in Cava, Food, Restaurants, Spain, Tempranillo, Travel | 1 Comment

EXCELLENT: Two Ribera del Duero wines

I’ve enjoyed nearly every Spanish wine I’ve tried, and these two Tempranillos were just lovely.

Wine has been made in the Ribera del Duero area for more than 2,000 years. Today, wines must be at least 75% Tempranillo in order to be released with the Ribero del Duero D.O. (Denominaciónde Origen, or geographic origin). The only grapes allowed for blending are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Garnacha, and Malbec. No white wines can be released with the D.O. designation, but Tempranillo produces a dry Rosado and that is allowed.

The area, 90 by 20 miles, is in north central Spain and is home to 250 winemakers, approximately half of whom export to the U.S. The area has a rather harsh climate, described as “nine months of cold and three months of hell” with very little rain. Irrigation is allowed, but it’s very expensive. Thus, the roots need to reach down into the soil, and a richer wine is the result.

Alconte2009 Bodegas y Vinedos Montecastro Alconte Crianza, 14.5% ABV, $24 SRP.

My first impression: licorice, gentle tannins. Something intense and special, even cheerful. It opened into a little white pepper with spice and blackberries.

Alconte is a new vineyard, with some older vines. The winegrower doesn’t use trellises, adhering to the bush vine approach. This particular wine was aged for 14 months in French and American oak. (Crianza has to be aged at least 12 months and no more than 23 months.)

NIGHT TWO: Cola, white pepper, red licorice. Very interesting.

BACK LABEL: This wine has been aged for 14 months in barrels made of French and American oak. Total production from the 2009 vintage has been 13,345 bottles. Imported by Classical Wines, Seattle, WA.


Valdubon2007Label2007 Bodegas Valdubón Valdubon Reserva, 13% ABV, $27 SRP.

First impression: Elegant, with raspberry. It opened into cherry and delicious, soft fruit and spice. This was aged nearly two years in 80/20 American and French barrels. It didn’t taste like American oak, though—it had the more tightly woven taste of French oak, but it wasn’t over the top.

Valdubón was established in 1997 and 100 acres are planted in Tempranillo.

NIGHT TWO: Subtle cedar on the nose.

FRONT LABEL: This noble red wine is produced entirely with Tinda del País—or Tempranillo—the predominant red grape of Spain. Densely flavored and brick hued, this wine is a true Reserva, patiently aged for almost two years in French and American oak with an extra year slumber in the bottle. The grapes used for this prodigious wine came from carefully manicured vineyards by the Riaza River, producing a wine of balanced acidity and concentrated fruit flavors. This wine complements roasted red meat, game, sausages, or even lamb kabobs.


Samples sent for review.

Posted in Spain, Tempranillo | Leave a comment

Hey, Kids!

This is cool. If you want to see posts that have been pinned from your page or blog, enter and then type the name of your blog or page. So check out!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Summer sippers: Easy-to-find white blends

Earlier this week, I published a blog post about some outstanding white wines from Lodi. While they’re extraordinary, they aren’t easy to find, and most people will need to order them directly from the winemakers.

This post will cover some whites that are at the opposite end of the scarcity spectrum: they are available in the supermarket. However, these wines are still off the usual beaten path, as they are white blends. Here they are, in no particular order.

ApothicWhite20122012 APOTHIC White Winemaker’s Blend, California, $9, 12% ABV

NOSE: Floral, vanilla.

TASTE: First impression of some sweetness. Opens to melon. Pleasantly smooth and round. No edginess at all. If you’re looking for a break from “crisp acidity” and oak, this is your ticket. It’s soft, easy to drink, and can be enjoyed by itself.

LABEL: Inspired by the “Apotheca,” a mysterious place where wine was blended and stored in 13th century Europe, Apothic White offers a truly unique wine experience. Apothic White is a luscious blend of smooth Chardonnay, vibrant Pinot Grigio and aromatic Riesling, which create layers of tropical fruit complemented by hints of honey and vanilla.


Conundrum20112011 CONUNDRUM White, California, $14, 13.5% ABV

NOSE: A hint of Sauvignon Blanc, minerals.

TASTE: Minerals, a touch of Sauvignon Blanc, some sweetness, lots of fruit mid-palate, lychee, light tannins, light acidity, apple pie spice. Slightly velvety mouthfeel. This one can be enjoyed by itself, or I would pair it with an Asian dish with coconut, peanut, ginger, and garlic as ingredients. The exact blend is a secret, but each year their blend includes, in varying proportions, Chardonnay for its weight and complexity, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon for acidity, Viognier for unctuousness, and Muscat Canelli for floral qualities. Some lots are aged in stainless, some in seasoned French oak barrels, some in new French barrels.

LABEL: Conundrum White—a great wine for a fun night out or a lazy afternoon by the pool—it’s made for food and friends! This wine is pure California at heart with a blend of grapes that makes the taste so special and unique—always the completely enjoyable Conundrum. Served chilled, it is a perfect wine, any time. Jon Bolta, Winemaker. Vinted and bottled in Rutherford. Wagner Family of Wines.


14HandsHotToTrotWhiteBlend2011 14 HANDS Hot to Trot White Blend, Washington State, $9, %ABV

NOSE: Pears, apples and citrus, with light floral notes.

TASTE: Pear, melon, lemon. This paired surprisingly well with a slightly spicy chicken enchilada with verde sauce—the food really brought out the fruit. A hint of cinnamon, and a little more acidity than the first two. It’s a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sémillon.

This spirited white wine reveals vibrant aromas of white stone fruits and citrus, and mouthwatering flavors of fresh apple, pear and melon. The flavors race smoothly across your palate creating a juicy, refreshing finish. 14 Hands celebrates the spirit of the wild horses that once roamed the Columbia River Valley. Fourteen hands in height, these tough little horses were revered around the world for their strength. The terrain that once gave them endurance and spirit now feeds our vines. Our 14 Hands wines share the soul and intensity of this unbridled freedom. Artist Cynthia Sampson.


LittleBlackDress20112011 LITTLE BLACK DRESS Divalicious White, California, $8, 12%ABV

A little flabby mid-palate but a surprisingly long, acidic finish. A hint of mushrooms and earth among the fruit. It’s a blend of 65% Pinot Grigio, 18% Muscat, 8% Chardonnay, 4% Sauvignon Blanc, 3% White Riesling, and 2% Viognier.

LABEL: It’s not an indulgence if you’ve earned the pleasure. That’s what makes you divalicious. So feel free to immerse yourself in divalicious white and experience the crisp intensity, ripe attitude, racy edge and surprising playfulness afforded all great divas, including you. Great taste is your best accessory! Vinted and bottled by LBD Vineyards Hopland, Mendocino County.


MenageATroisWhiteBLend2012 FOLIE À DEUX, MENAGE À TROIS California White Wine, $9, 13.5% ABV

NOSE: Citrus and florals.

TASTE: Bananas, melon, citrus; off-dry, mouth-watering, acidity on the finish. It’s 44% Chardonnay, 34% Muscat Alexandria, and 22% Chenin Blanc. Refreshing and quite good.

LABEL: Our White blend brings together refreshing citrus and sweet tropical fruit flavors with crisp acidity. A delightful blend based on three varietals—Chardonnay, Moscato, and Chenin Blanc.


Posted in California, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Moscato/Muscat, Muscat Alexandria, Muscat Canelli, Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris), Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier | Leave a comment

Five Outstanding White Wines from Lodi

Lodi, pronounced “LOW-dye,” has become a winemaker’s paradise, with 750 winegrowers farming nearly 100,000 acres of wine grapes. In 1998 Lodi had only 10 wineries, and today the number has increased to 77. With about the same number of different varieties being grown there, Lodi produces a whopping 24% of California’s wine grape output.

Located at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, Lodi is 100 miles east of San Francisco and 35 miles south of Sacramento. During the growing season, the area has a Mediterranean climate; the days are sunny and warm, with significant temperature drops at night. Rain is rare in the summer, which makes the vines bear intense, concentrated, flavorful grapes. The area, best-known for its reds, has been dubbed the Zinfandel Capital of the World.

However, during a recent tasting, I experienced five wonderful white wines from Lodi which are among the best whites I’ve enjoyed all year. While these five wines are all true to their types, their winemakers are clearly working creatively to produce unusual wines that are way off the beaten path, yet affordable.

The online video tasting was hosted by Camron King, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission; and Susan Tipton, owner/winemaker at Acquiesce Winery and Vineyards, Lodi’s only all-white wine winery. Despite the importance of Lodi, it still has a quiet, down-home feel and a strong sense of community. Our hosts told us, “You go into a tasting room and you meet the winemaker, the owner.” They said women are prominent in the region.

The first wine we tasted was the 2013 Borra Vineyards Artist Series Nuvola Gewürtraminer, 13.6%, SRP $19. This was a huge surprise. Gewürztraminer is generally thought of as a sweet wine. However, this one had salty minerality, crisp acidity, lychee, green apple, and citrus; it was dry, yet beautifully mouth-watering—a bit of a contradiction, but there it is. This surprising Gewürtraminer has very little sugar—just 0.49 g/litre. Winemaker Markus Niggli picked the grapes at lower sugars (21 brix) deliberately to maintain acid levels.

Markus Niggli hails from Switzerland, hence the deft European approach and the foray into German grapes. “Nuvola” is Italian for cloud.

71 cases were made. Just 14 are left; the wine can be ordered via the winery’s Web site.

BACK LABEL: Inspired by modern European architecture, our 2013 Artist Series features the cloud, Nuvola, a symbol of something new and powerful. Label design by Anneka Weinert, a Studio Art freshman at the University of the Pacific, in partnership with Borra Vineyards. This is the second label design in an emerging artist series.

Next up: 2013 Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha Blanca, Vista Luna Vineyard, 13.2%, SRP $18. This lovely wine is 90% Garnacha Blanca and 10% Albariño. This had a beautiful aroma—floral, melon, lychee, peach, just a hint of green. The taste reminded me a little of saké! The mouthfeel was silky. Our hosts told us that it is lovely at any temperature; it can be chilled significantly and it won’t shut down, or it can be almost room temperature and it won’t collapse. It has crisp acidity, yet the brightness of tropical fruit, and was especially round at mid-palate.

This wine was produced from organically farmed and green certified vineyards. The “Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winemaking Practices” is a rigorous third-party certification.

Owner/Viticulturalist/Winemaker Markus Bokisch said, “Our Catalan roots have inspired our dream to produce Spanish varietal wines in California.”

This is a versatile wine that is said to pair well with cheeses and tapas.

BACK LABEL: Our Catalan roots have fueled our dream for producing Spanish varietal wines in California. This Garnacha Blanca is grown in the volcanic clay loam soils of the Borden Ranch Appellation of Lodi. Tasting notes reveal creamy flavors of apricot and Comice pears with hints of guava juice and zesty pineapple. Production: 250 cases. Salut!—Markus and Liz Bokisch

Our third selection was Susan Tipton’s 2013 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Viognier, 14.1%, SRP $23. Susan grows just one acre of Viognier, and 268 cases of this wine were made.

She likes this paired with lamb tagine, arugula, ceviche, Thai stir fry; cilantro, lime. She called these “big pairings. The peachiness comes out that way. Tangerine, peach, rose.”

This wine was another that presented with a salty minerality. Susan told us, “In the tasting room, they have people taste the grapes off the vine, and taste the wines side by side. The Viognier is identical to the grape.”

There was a faint nose of cigarette smoke as it opened (that’s a new one on me), and it had tannins on the palate too, even though it never touched oak.

The unusually shaped bottle is from Provence; Susan called it an “homage to myself, my body type, except my neck isn’t that long!” Camron commented that his wife reuses beautiful bottles like this to hold flowers and fulfill other functions.

Susan said the reception she’s received in the tasting room has been amazing. (Her pairings are reportedly “legendary.”) She is excited to see winemakers coming on the scene and “playing with more fun whites in Lodi;” she observed that where reds are concerned, people put them on their shelf and “acquire” them, but “when people buy white, they put them in the fridge and drink them right away, so they’re always running out of whites. Wine is meant to be shared with family and friends.”

In her blog, Susan wrote, “The day I tasted my first white Châteauneuf du Pape wine, my life changed. It was the best wine I had ever had. So I quickly drove back to the store for a couple more cases of this wonderful nectar, only to be told I was holding the last bottle in California! Okay, what’s the deal? After research, I realized that the CDP area of France … [doesn't] produce many whites. The whites consist of blends with Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Clairette and a few other varietals. I decided to give the Grenache Blanc a try and was pleased with the results in our vineyard so I planted Roussanne, Viognier and Picpoul Blanc. These cuttings came by way of Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles, California. Tablas is partners with Chateau Beaucastel in Châteauneuf du Pape, where these varietals originated.”

BACK LABEL: ac-qui-esce (a-kwee-‘es) verb; to surrender, to become quiet. I “acquiesce” to nature, the vineyard and the wine when handcrafting these classic, premium, food friendly wines made here … by hand … by me … Susan Tipton.

Fourth in our lineup: 2013 Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blanc, 13.5%, SRP $18. This wine, actually 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Sauvignon Musquee, is the best Sauvignon Blanc I’ve tasted in a long time. With mushrooms and earth on the nose, it opened with citrus, big-time fruitiness, and once again the salty minerality. This is the biggest seller in their tasting room.

There are heritage oaks on the property, hence the winery’s name, but no oak goes into their whites. In their reds, yes.

Owner/Winemaker Tom Hoffman suggests pairing this with crab cakes and soft, creamy cheeses.

BACK LABEL: Sauvignon blanc is a superb white variety for Lodi’s warm days and cool nights. We especially like the crisp citricy [sic] flavors and full aroma we get when the grapes are grown in the shelter of a full canopy of leaves. This wine is a wonderful complement to fruit, cheese or a light meal of chicken or fish. Bottled in February, 2014. 325 cases produced.

Our fifth wine, “dessert,” was the 2012 Uvaggio Moscato Secco, 12.9%, SRP $14. This wine, like the first Gewürztraminer, was a huge surprise because it simply wasn’t sweet. It was dry and beautiful, with the distinctive rose aroma and taste I’ve come to love about Moscato. “Secco” means dry, and Uvaggio does produce a “dolce” version. This Moscato is 100% Moscato Giallo. The aromas go on and on: besides roses, honeysuckle and ginger are evident.

Uvaggio is in Napa, but the grapes are sourced from Lodi. Uvaggio is producing all Italian varieties, although they are adding a Zinfandel.

Our hosts suggested pairing this with spicy dishes; it has a similar utility to the Viognier. Grilled chicken with fruit salsa or chutney would also work well.

BACK LABEL: Uvaggio—sounds like “Bellagio”—is Italian for “really great wine made by two incredibly hip wine lovers.” We have moved far beyond the conventional chocolate and vanilla by making Barbera, Primitivo, Vermentino and now Moscato. We say since California has a Mediterranean climate, we should make wine with the grapes that actually thrive there.

ALL of these whites were surprises. They were all beautiful expressions of the grapes, yet not stereotypical. All were bright, crisp, clear, with that distinctive salty minerality I’ve already mentioned a dozen times. Different? Oh, yes. These winemakers are clearly having a blast exploring new ways of playing with grapes. But they don’t make wines that don’t sell!

The multicultural aspect of Lodi winemaking was also great fun. Swiss/German, Cataluña (Spain), Châteauneuf du Pape, and Italy wines and grapes are all being used as inspiration and even as sources of vines.

This was a phenomenal online tasting. For one thing, the technology worked perfectly. Even more important, the tasting was a revelation. I no longer think of Lodi only as a region for big reds, from now on I will also think of it as a source of unusual, beautiful whites. High marks to these great winemakers, and to Charles Communications Associates for sponsoring a remarkable evening.

Samples sent for review.

Posted in Alberino, California, Garnacha Blanca, Gewurztraminer, Moscato/Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Musquee, Uncategorized, Viognier | 1 Comment

PREVIEW: Mia line of Spanish wines, just released in the U.S.

Pictured here is a 187ml bottle of Mia sparkling Moscato, a well-made sweet wine. Weighing in at 7% ABV, it’s light enough to enjoy with lunch without spoiling the rest of your day. And, it’s delicious, with a bouquet of roses on the nose and on the palate.

What’s genius about this little bottle is its screwcap. Forget about intimidation with pressurized corks.

More to come on the Mia line. I attended the release party in Ft. Lauderdale and took lots of pictures and notes. Winemaker Gloria Collell.


Posted in Moscato/Muscat, Spain | Leave a comment

Catalan cuisine: Cooking with “Chef Isma,” Ismael Prados Soto

What better way to learn about Catalan wines and cuisine than to experience a cooking class? As part of my tour of Cataluña, I did just that.

Our guide and chef was the talented “Chef Isma,” Ismael Prados Soto. A TV celebrity chef and author of five cookbooks, Chef Isma trained in many restaurants cooking classic Catalan cuisine, Mediterranean cuisine, and alta expresión (“higher expression”) cuisine.

We met Isma outside Barcelona’s famous La Boqueria market, and we walked around the fabulous place, enjoying the sights and the array of wonderful foods, while Isma selected the ingredients for the afternoon’s class.

La Boqueria is known for its locally grown, “Zero Kilometre” program. The Catalans do not allow GMO seeds or produce at all.

Isma told us that booth rental is nominal, and it is paid to the city. However, the license is granted for 50 years; thus, like the full liquor licenses in Florida, they are sold from person-to-person for a fortune. No wonder: Isma said some of the stalls gross the equivalent of $2,000,000/year.

Many of the market’s stall owners greeted him as a friend, and fans walked up to him occasionally in the aisles. He is a kind family man with a good sense of humor. He is taking a hiatus from the TV scene, because he grew weary of having to come up with jokes and entertainment rather than simply showing people how to cook.

One booth was a mushroom lover’s paradise. Isma said he felt right at home in New York City at some of the Jewish markets.

He chose razor clams and monkfish (“poor man’s lobster”) to prepare for us along with the other ingredients he already had in his kitchen. The seafood was so fresh, it was (a) pink and (b) still moving (in the case of the shrimp and prawns, anyway).
Here is a video of the still-moving shrimp and prawns at the BarcelonaMarket.

After completing our tour and shopping trip, we boarded an elevator and ascended to the top floor of the market into Isma’s kitchen. We had plenty of wine waiting for us!

We were each given personalized aprons with the Freixenet colors, black and gold. In the photo below, Isma’s “assistant” is Toni Domènech Pujol, head of Public Relations for Freixenet. Isma’s sous chef, Mikho, is behind Isma, working on something delicious.

Our starters included edible “spoons” filled with wild salmon caviar. The second appetizer was a construction of a strawberry, sardine, and a strange cactuslike herb that was naturally sparkly and oddly sweet. This course was served with a delightful Freixenet Cordon Rosado sparkling rosé.

Next, Isma prepared monkfish, with the veins and such removed. We learned that if fish is cooked too fast, the fish goes into shock and contracts, resulting in (a) tough fish, (b) a watery, fishy-smelling discharge around the fish, and (c) less flavor in the fish as well. However, if cooked very slowly, the fish retains its moisture yet releases a gelatin. Isma demonstrated how to use this gelatin to create a self-sauce in the pan. With white “hook” beans, snow peas, razor clams, nutty-tasting Jerusalem artichokes (a nice alternative to potatoes), and self sauce, this lovely dish was served with a refreshing Vionta Albariño (crisp, lemon custard; fragrant with citrus, melon, and flowers). The wine is from the Salnés Valley, the birthplace of Albariño and the coolest of the Rías Baixas growing districts, noted for producing crisp and aromatic wines.

For yet another course, Isma prepared rice, but in a way I’d never seen done before. He pan-tossed it in an olive oil based roux, adding “just a little bit” of water when needed to keep it from burning and to keep the moisture in. Then he transferred the rice to a baking dish with water and sauce and baked it in a convection oven.

In due time we were served our main course: Guinea hen rolled up with fois gras in the middle, velvety beans, and Jerusalem artichokes. Guinea hen. We had a laugh about hen-house vs. whorehouse. It was a language thing; you had to be there.

This was served with a Vaza Rioja Crianza 2010. The vintage was whited-out and corrected with pen, because the wine hadn’t been released yet and the appropriate vintage’s label hadn’t even been printed!

For dessert we enjoyed a heavy, triple chocolate brownie cake paired with a Freixenet Cordon Negro Cava, but I loved it with the Vaza Crianza. This is the first pairing I’ve found that works impressively with such a rich chocolate dish.

Originating from the word “Baza” which in Spanish means “trump card” or “new beginning,” Vaza
is produced at the Freixenet group’s Solar Viejo, a winery situated on the shoulder of the medieval village of Laguardia in Rioja Alavesa. This Tempranillo was absolutely delicious and is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. 14% ABV.

This is Part Three of posts about my experience of Freixenet wines and vineyards in Cataluña, Spain. Part One was about Cataluña’s Priorat district and the Morlanda winery. Part Two was about the René Barbier vineyard in Cataluña’s Penedès district.

WEB SITES:,, and

Media/trade trip courtesy of the Freixenet company.

Posted in Alberino, Cava, Food, Spain, Tastings, Tempranillo, Travel | 2 Comments