Catalunya

A Love Letter to Barcelona

I want to take a moment here for Barcelona.

I was just in Barcelona a little over a week ago. I had a shift in plans during the last month of my trip, so I somewhat unexpectedly spent the last four days in Barcelona with my friend, Miriam. That Sunday, we had plans to drive to H20 Vegetal, a natural wine fair a couple hours outside of Barcelona. It was going to be pretty epic. At least 5 of the producers I’d met on my travels were going to be there, I was going to get the chance to sample the Ratafia I’d made in Terra Alta and- no joke- my favorite Thai restaurant outside of Thailand, Night Market + Song, was cooking food there. It was going to be kind of Spanish send off  that would take “It Rains in Spain” from a wine blog to a James Beard award winning novel (ha.) Only come Sunday we wake up to find there are zero cars for rent in Barcelona. There are no trains to take, no friends with whom we could get a ride. No wine fair. We were crushed.

Throughout my travels in Spain there were a number of “surprises.” I missed a flight, I missed a rental car, a restaurant was closed here or there. Every time, however, something better was waiting for me around the corner. And it turns out this was no exception. After we found we had no way out of it, Miriam and I decided to dedicate our day to the city of Barcelona. We decided to brunch in it. We drank Bloody Marys and cried together over Eggs Benedict. We went to the beach, we saw a naked guy, we tried (and failed) to walk to the W. We drank Cava and Cider and we ate carpaccios in El Born. We had Martinis and first-time Negronis at El Nacional. We walked past churches and through squares, we saw Gaudi architecture and oversized Zara’s. We saw sunset turn into dark. We made plans for my next time in Barcelona and then we finally made it home to Grácia.

On Monday I spent one last solo day in Barcelona. I hiked one more time to the top of Park Güell- the hike that made me feel so at home my first few weeks in Spain. I walked to the Sagrada Familia, the Picasso Museum and to one last lunch at Bar del Pla- one of my favorite wine bars in Barcelona. We had ceviche and bubbles for dinner. Tuesday morning I flew back to Oakland.

It’s not that it could have been me on the street in Las Ramblas yesterday. It’s simply Las Ramblas. It’s the street, the city. Tourist, local, shopkeeper, server. People on motos, people pouring beers at La Boqueria. It’s the Gaudi, the fresh fish, the crowded summer beach and the bar where Hemingway and Picasso used to drink Absinthe together. It’s the Catalan flag hung proudly in every window, FC Barcelona and the natural wine bars and the breakfast at Granja Elena. It’s the Picasso Museum and the colors and it’s The Terraces of Barcelona.

Today, my friend, Miriam wrote: “Avui la meva ciutat perd una mica de llum.” Today my city loses a little bit of light. And it’s true, Barcelona does lose a little light today. We all lose a little bit of light today. All I can actually hope for today, or this week really, is with the right amount of love, and maybe with the right amount of Cava we can at least try get it back. Because whatever this hateful shit is, it’s not working. Joder.

I love you, Barcelona. See you soon.

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Vegetable Water: The wines of Escoda-Sanahuja

An hour or so south east of Barcelona lies the region of Conca de Barberà and Celler Escoda-Sanahuja. The winery, complete with 10 hectares of farm and vineyard land and a full restaurant, sits right outside the town of Penafreta, close to the municipality of Montblanc and completely undetectable by my TomTom.

Winemaker Joan Escoda is stocked full of energy, somewhat of a francophile and totally obsessed with natural winemaking. Upon my arrival he quickly threw on some American rock ‘n’ roll, which he dubbed “music without sulfites” and we got started on a cellar tour. Joan has a myriad of grapes- some in steel tank, some in amphora, some in underground cement tanks. He makes a handful of wines, mostly using the same varietals every year but employing no hard rules. Joan is always experimenting. He changes varietal percentage, aging process, cork or crown cap depending on the vintage, the grape or possibly how the wind blows- the jury is out. He grows French varieties like chenin blanc, merlot and cabernet franc, but indigenous varieties such as sumoll, sumoll blanc and parellada are a large part of his catalogue, as well.

“People tell you their wines are natural, but people lie,” says Joan. And no matter how many f@#*s you give about natural wine, speaking from experience, he’s right. Joan hasn’t added a sulfite since 2005. He will wait for months for fermentation to start naturally and when it is finished, it’s finished, even if the wine contains a little more residual sugar than it did the year before. When first opened, some of the wines have a hint of reduction or even mouse cage on nose, a quality in natural wines to which I’ve become accustomed and an attribute that does not come through on the palate. The wines are lively, energetic and clean. Joan places huge importance on water, in both human life and in vine life. He refers to his wines as “vegetable water” because the sap feeds the grape, because they are a liquid derivative of his plants and because one after another they are vibrant, fresh and complete.

Besides Escoda-Sanahuja, Joan partners with other French and Spanish winemakers to create various labels. He operates an on-site restaurant called Tossal Gros with Chef Kaya Jacobs, a San Francisco transplant who shares Joan’s passion in fresh, organic ingredients. He, along with winemaker Laureano Serres, founded the PVN, an association of natural winemakers that believes in neither adding nor taking anything away from their wines. He is a busy guy, always thinking, always innovating. The vineyards are beautiful, wild, surrounded by mountains on all sides and blessed with a marine wind that keeps them dry and cool in what can be very extreme weather. Escoda-Sanahuja can be found in various spots around the Bay Area or online, but Ordinaire in Oakland always comes correct with a variety of these wines.

¿Vamos? ¡Vamos!

Blogged at: My girl, Miriam’s flat. Gràcia, Barcelona.

Soundtrack: Shakira, El Dorado

 

Priorat, the Power Hitter

In 2012, Yoenis Céspedes knocked a 462 foot bomb into the left center field of the Oakland Coliseum. It was probably the longest home run Oakland had seen in 13 years- possibly ever, and it’s certainly the longest it’s seen since. Now the size of Priorat may be arguably smaller than the size of the All-Star Cuban power hitter, but the wines are just as muscular, just as handsome and come just as equipped with la potencia to clear the bases. (more…)

Conca de Barberà

The Conca de Barberà is an energetic, spunky little wine region that sits respectfully amongst some of Catalunya’s more prominent players. The surrounding superstar regions of Penedés, Priorat, Costers de Segre and the Montsant get most of the credit, but the wines coming out of Conca de Barberà are proving major contenders. Very little wine actually leaves the region, as most of the grapes are sold to the bigger guys or used make Cava, but the wines that do make their way to the great USA are consistently on point and are often natural or biodynamic. (more…)

Garnatxa Blanca and Terra Alta

Grenache Blanc has never been a favorite of mine. I’ve always found it a little flabby, slightly oily and lacking in the acid department. There is a special place in this universe however, called Terra Alta, Catalunya, where Garnatxa Blanca changes shape (is more fun to spell), and becomes a mineral, salty, slightly voluptuous little vixen that makes you understand why wine is a thing of place, and why we can thank our lucky stars somebody put it there. (more…)

It rains in Spain…

Look friends, it rains in Spain. In fact in Ribeira Sacra, Galicia it’s going to rain this Thursday. I state this only because I think when people consider Spanish wine they envision this dry, hot climate where red grapes roast in the sun and where acidity goes to die. And sure, there are some big ass wines that reek of oak and come in bottles that I can barely bench press. But in places like Ribeira Sacra, where it’s going to rain this Thursday, there are wines being made with the panache of Pinot Noir, and the elegance of a Steph Curry layup. And maybe it’s because Galicia is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, or because in Terra Alta, Catalunya they are producing the best Garnatxa Blanca I’ve ever tasted; maybe it’s just because I want to talk about Steph Curry, but I’m writing this blog and making it my job to drop all the science I possibly can about Spanish wine on anyone who will listen. I’ll tell you what it is, how it was made, where to get it and why it’s so gosh darn delicious. All you have to do is read about it…and drink it up. Vale!!?

 

Blogged at: Mom and Dad’s. Oakland, CA

Soundtrack: Mac Dre, It’s Raining Game