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.
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.
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.
WEB:www.casatorneriguell.com, www.freixenetusa.com, www.gloriaferrer.com
Media/trade trip courtesy of the Freixenet company.