A nice Cava for the holidays

Carleton sur Mer

Like many of you, I am on holidays with my family. We are working up our way in the Gaspé Peninsula, spending a good 10 days to d a comprehensive tour of the region.

For some time now, me and my wife were planning this trip. Both of us are food and nature enthusiasts and thats why Gaspesie was such a good fit for us.

The Gaspé Peninsula ( 250 km long and 100-140 kilometers wide) reaches into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, making it indepedent from the rest of Quebec. 

Inland, Gaspésie is a mountainous, woody wilderness, but one of the major attractions of the peninsula is its pretty rugged coast and their excellent cuisine. Gaspé is a paradise for fish and seafood lovers. Here you can find first grade local produce such as lobster and crab. Also it is easier to find quality scallops and halibut from neighboring New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

One of our favorite meals during the meal was the simplest but tastiest one. In Carleton sur Mer, we picked up some fresh halibut and scallops and decided to do a BBQ facing the beach.  A very rustic elegant meal. The halibut meat had a fleshy texture and delicate flavours. The piece of resistance was the scallops. They had a soft buttery texture with the most sweetest taste. A very delicate flavor bringing to mind halzenut.

 The Villa Conchi Cava ( SAQ # 12956456, $14.95, LCBO # 386979, $14.95)  was a perfect match for this vacation. Light and refreshing, it had a wonderful palette of flavors bringing to mind pear and lemon curd. Fruit foward, its medium size bubble was the perfect refreshing agent for the smoky impregnated flavors of the meal. For under the $15, it is an outstanding value in the cava category. The best wines are the ones that are enjoyed along with your family members.

Villa Conchi is sourced from selected vineyards in the heart of Catalunya. The vines benefit from the mountain protection range of Montserrat. Harvesting is done by the night and there is a percentage of Chardonnay added to preserve the fruit aspect of the wine.  Not only this cava is perfect with grilled fish but also with salads as well. 


A sensual food match: Cava and Sushi

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Its well-known that certain food are aphrodisiacs, foods that increase your sex drive, causing excitement, sweating or palpitations.

Does sushi belong to this group. You bet!!!. Logically, you employ your chopsticks to place carefully slippery, wet and sometimes warm rolls in your mouth. From that literal description alone, Sushi is an aphrodisiac alone. But scientifically, seaweed, a basic ingredient in sushi has a bounty of vitamin E.

Cava has also a powerful symbolism in the sexual innuendo game. It has probably has to do with the  ritualistic opening of a Cava bottle, the release of the cork from the bottle’s phallic neck, this might conjure an image of sexual .

Putting both together, you have a powerful combination for a torrid afternoon or evening.

There are two possibilities when matching Cava and Sushi: first Brut nature or brut with their low sugar levels due to little or no dosage. This approach, which accentuates on the minerality of the Champagne, allows a complete expression to the briny aromas and texture of the raw fish.

The second alternative is a pairing with rosé Cava. These Cavas   have the ability to marry well with fish dishes, naturally, but also with the stronger flavours and nuances of certain sushi and maki. In fact the fruity characters of rosé  will form an ideal foil for soy sauce and be excellent with the melting texture of the raw fish.

Alcohol lowers inhibition by acting as a sedative on the central nervous system. True, this makes all forms of alcohol aphrodisiac to some degree but sparkling wine such as Cava has one extra property going for it, the “sexy effervescence,” as Dr. Allen Green of the Center for Optimum Health in Los Angeles refers to it. Thanks to a series of  studies in England, it is known that the alcohol in carbonated drinks is absorbed faster than in still forms of alcohol. This means that not sparkling wine will get you will in the mood  but is also better than Viagra combined with Sushi.

Cavas to try with your sushi experience.

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For me, the quintessential cava producer is Raventos. As you know Raventos have been making singular  and unique Cavas since 1497. The estate covers 300 acres of vineyards, woodlands and a lake in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. A special moment, in 1872 happens when Josep Raventós Fatjó made the first bottle-fermented wine in Spain using native grapes from this estate.

In November 2012, the family decided to leave the DO Cava and create their own more strictly defined and geographically specific appellation: Conca del Riu Anoia. Raventos wanted to concentrate their efforts in creating uniques wines from the River Anoia Valley.  The estate is certified organic.

Tasting Notes:

Raventos i Blanc De Nit Conca del Riu Anoia 2014. SAQ # 12097954. $26.60

This cava is a coupage of Macabeo, Xarel·lo, Parellada and Monastrell grown in three estates: La Plana La Barbera and El Llac. La Plana is an estate located on clay-loam soils that grows Xarel·lo and Macabeo varieties.  A gastronomical cava, bringing to mind pretty aromas of dry rose petals, raspberry, and strawberry sorbet. Chewy, with a nice acidity. Smooth and enveloping in the mouth. Will pair nicely with a Kamikaze or Dragon eye roll.

De la Finca Brut Raventos I Blanc 2013. SAQ #  12178834. $35.25

This cava is a coupage of varieties Xarel·lo (54%), Macabeu(30%) and Parellada (16%) grown on 9 plots located on the slopes of the Serral hill which is north/north east facing. On the nose, this cava has a very complex minerality bringing to mind Chalk, naftaline, and a strong iode note.. On the mouth, dry and very crisp. Lots of force and tension. Will need a sushi like a fatty bluefin tuna belly.

 

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Raventós I Blanc Manuel Raventós Gran Reserva Personal 2008. SAQ #  12936455. $80.00

 Raventós i Blanc Gran Reserva personal Manual Raventós is a very special cava that is born from  two plots: el Clos del Serral and Creueta del Coll. El Clos del Serral is a mono varietal  Xarel.lo plot on slopes, north facing orientation with  clay loam soils. At Creuta dl Coll there are as well  sandy loam soils, but is a mono varietal Parellada variety with vines dating back to 1973 . 

Very noble cava, like a fine champagne. Yeasty, verging toward brioche, croissant with subtle notes of vanilla wafers and dry apricots. In the mouth,  dry, and  austere with a pleasant note of grilled hazelnuts. Perfect finesse.  If you are feeling like a spending a few dollars, why not have it with Osetra caviar tuna sushi.

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The Two C’s that I like: Crab and Cava.

With the arrival of spring, temperatures start to get milder which is one of the reasons that I like the season. If you are a foodie like myself, it also mark the arrival of a friendly crustacean, the blue crab.

The snow crab is the first crustacean to arrive in Quebec fish stores. I love its tender and delicate meat in omelettes, rice or pasta dishes. Although it is easier to cook than lobster, it is more messy to shell than lobster. You can buy this specialty, alive or cooked. It is important to know that only 25% of the weight of the crab is comestible.

The crab should be consumed within 1 or days whetever is alive or cooked. The live crab should react when touched and the cooked one should have a fresh marine smell, not ammonia. The meat of the crab is rich in proteins, low in fat and with plenty of minerals.

There are many types of crab in Spain. From the large, expensive bueyes del mar to the smaller, more affordable nécoras, there is a type of crab for every taste and pocket.

Buey de mar. This is the brown crab, who are  called “ox of the sea” as they can weigh up to 3 kilos. The body is often cracked open and used as a bowl for a soup using the crab meat.

Cangrejo de mar. This is thelittoral crab, much smaller than a buey de mar, these little crabs are usually 3 or 4 centimeters long. Very tasty.

Nécora. This is the velvet crab, one of the cheapest  crabs in Spain. You can find nécoras for as inexpensive as 10 euro per kilo, although the price will increase  during the Christmas season.

Centollo. This is the spiny spider crab, this gnarly looking crab has a lot of flavor but be sure to choose the female! They have more meat and more flavour.

Here is my top Cavas to go with this happy crustacean that wont break the bank:

Codorniu, Selección Raventós Brut. SAQ Code: 12206671. Price: $17.35

Lovely nose recalling green apples, spices and dry fruits. On the mouth, it is medium body. Very fresh with a good bubble. Fruity recalling aromas of pears, cream and quince. Easy going with a cleansing finale. Enjoy with a crab omelette for saturday brunch. 92/100

Parés Baltà Cava Brut. SAQ Code: 10896365. Price: $17.95

One of my favorite producers of Cava. This cuvee, is one of the best values at the SAQ in the sparkling wine category. On the nose, this cava reminds me of  white peaches, apples, pears, melon and lime. On the palate, it is a tad richer than the Codorniu with decadent flavours of apple, honeydew, peach and mineral notes. It is very straigfoward and nicely balanced, with a clean finish of tropical fruits. 94/100. Have it with warm buttered crab.

Freixenet Cordon Negro. SAQ Code: 0008591. Price: $14.85

Freixenet is one of the largest sellers of sparkling wine in the world. This popular cuvee caracterized by its black bottle has a very citrusy nose bringing to mind meyer lemons and oranges. On the mouth, it has a floral and mineral nuances with a slight sweet poise. 90/100. Should be interesting with crab coconut milk soup.

 

Think Cava!, Drink the Cavas of Pares Balta

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Pares Balta is a very familiar name among the Cavas listed on the SAQ. I have been buying from this producer for a few years and never been deceived. If i had to do a reccomend a producer, it will be this one.

Voir la photo agrandie du produit. Cette photo s'ouvre dans une visionneuse et peut comporter des obstacles à l'accessibilité.

Their brut bottling is a steal at $17.45. It Brut is soft yellow-green in color with fine bubbles. It has a beautiful bouquet that brings to mind  white peaches, apples, pears, cantaloupe and grated zest lime. Crisp and bright, dry with medium body, this cava  has savoury flavors of apple, honeydew, peach with racy mineral notes. Fruity and nicely balanced, it has clean flavors of tropical fruits.

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Their agent in Quebec, Trialto is about to release their pink version in the Quebec market. Available in private importation by the case of 12, at a very modest price between 19-20$, it is a steal. With the holidays coming around the corner, it is a good idea to stock up by buying a case or two.

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Elaborated using the traditional method developed in Champagne, this terrific pink Cava from Parés Baltà is quite amazing, and so far the best one in the category. This modern blend replaces the traditional Xarel.lo component of their white version with 38% Garnatxa, alongside with 32% Parellada and 30% Macabeu.

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Lovely perfume of raspberries, strawberries with intriguing floral nuances. On the mouth, fresh and balanced. Delicate texture with an almost feminine quality. Long and racy with the perfect amount of residual sugar. Very fresh finale. It will be the perfect partner for an elegant lobster salad dressed with cherry tomatoes, basil and cubes of watermelon.

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On the left. Etienne Bezard from Trialto and Joan Cusine Carol from Pares Balta

Joan Cusine Carol, the director of Pares Balta passed in Montreal this week to present and talk about this new pink cava offering in the Quebec market. A very affable person, he reminds me of everything that is elegant from Barcelona and Catalan culture. I had a pleasant exchange of words with him. We talked about familly, the gastronomical traditions of Catalunya and Pares Balta. I was very surprised to learn that Pares Balta is the largest organic producer in the region.

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I and a small group of journalists enjoyed this cava with the elegant canapes of tommy restaurant in the old montreal. Some included salmon tartarte with wasabi, beets with walnut with parmesan cheese. It was a very intimate setting along with the staff of Trialto.

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Patrick Desy from Les Mechants Raisins talking with Joan

In another tasting at the Trialto offices, I had a chance to taste their Cuisine bottling 2009. This is an exclusivity of SAQ signature. They only 38 cases available in both Montreal and Quebec. It is also an amazing bottle, showing more depth and complexity than their standard bottling.
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On the nose this cava displays lemon pie notes with verbena leaf and plain yogurt. Medium acidity. Full body and rich with halzenut and butter flavours. Very long. Should be perfect with seared scallops.

On the trail of the Xarel-Lo grape

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Xarel-lo is one of those grapes that most wine drinkers have probably had at some point in their lives, though many of them may not be aware of it. It is grown on over 20,000 acres of land, nearly all of them in Spain, and it forms the backbone of one of the most popular and widely available wines on earth, but few people are even aware it exists. Xarel-lo is kind of the ultimate team player. It is an indispensable component of the wine that it has helped to make famous but it still plugs along in virtual anonymity. It’s a underrated grape that hasn’t been given its due so let’s take a moment and have a look at Xarel-lo and its charms.

Xarel-lo is one of the three traditional grapes used in the production of the Spanish traditional method sparkling wine known as Cava. Cava is made in the same way as Champagne and at one time was known as Spanish Champagne, though that practice had to be abandoned when Spain joined the EU in 1986 (it is still known locally as champán, champaña or xampany depending on where you are in Spain). The other two grapes are Parellada, which we’ll get to in a future post, and Macabeo, which is perhaps better known as Viura, the great white grape of Rioja. Most Cavas are blends of some or all of these grapes, but the producers aren’t under any obligation to inform the consumers about which grapes are used and in what proportions. Most Cava bottles that you’ll find in your SAQ shops are mute about the components of their blend and it seems that most consumers really aren’t that worried about it.

Many wine enthusiasts are under the misapprehension that only Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo are used in the production of Cava, but this is not the case.  Most of the Cava that is produced is made from these grapes, but there are other grapes that are allowed.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Garnacha, Monastrell and Subirat (which may be some form of Malvasia) are permitted for the production of your basic white Cava.  There is also rosé Cava which is made by adding in some still red wine made from Pinot Noir, Garnacha, Monastrell or Trepat (which is only allowed for rosé production) into the finished sparkling wine prior to bottling (most rosés are made by keeping the juice from crushed red grapes on the skins for a brief period of time to extract a little bit of color).  Cava is also a little bit different in that it is not a single geographically delimited area but is rather a collection of about eight different regions throughout Spain (though over 95% of it is made in Catalonia).

The only way to tell if the hype over Xarel-lo is genuine is to try some wines made from the grape. Unfortunately, the only wine available at the SAQ is the Calcari from Pares Balta which i reviewed before on my blog. I enjoyed very much and I would go out of my way to pick it up again. I will have to consult the private importation market to see if there is more still Xarel-lo availables.

In the meantime, I will leave you with these cava reccomendations in which Xarel-lo plays a supporting role.

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Raventos i blanc brut reserva 2009. Price: $20.40. SAQ Code: 11140615

Unlike any other wine denomination in Spain, “Cava,” born in 1986, does not refer to a specific geographic area but rather to sparkling wine made using the Champagne method. This lively sparkling wine offers nuanced but concentrated flavors of lemon blossom, brioche and almond, with a delicate hint of fennel blossom. The wine is complex and balanced, with tiny bubbles and a delightfully long, clean finish. 93/100.
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Seguras Viura Lavit Brut. Price: $17.25. SAQ Code: 10467940

Pale salmon in hue, this Trepat-Monastrell-Garnacha blend has fresh, minerally raspberry aromas and a palate of nuts, citrus, bright cherry, pomegranate and wild strawberry.  Nice fruit sweetness makes this appealing to a wide audience, and sparkling always makes an occasion more festive. 90/100.

Tasty accord: Bocata de Calamares with Cava and Verdejo

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A very common scene in Madrid: people walking around the Plaza Mayor anytime, with a sandwich full of some fried rings that resemble onion rings. If you pay attention on it you should recognize the aroma. This is nothing less than a squid sandwich.  When i was living in Madrid back in 2002, I used to go bananas for this sandwich. Actually in Spanish, it is called bocata de calamares. Every sunday, i used to go the Prado museum, visit and study an specific wing and afterwards grab a Calamar sandwich. It was my idea of a happy sunday. I will have the sandwich or two with a beer.

But what is a squid sandwich exactly is? The squid sandwich is a piece of baguette bread (or a piece of bread), cut by the middle, but not entirely cut, filled with fried squids with olive oil. It can be flavored with lemon, mayonnaise and aïoli. If you want, you can have a beer with it. Simple and delicious!. Although in Madrid, the choice of drink is a beer with this bocata, you can go against convention and have it with a white Rueda or Cava. The acidity of the Cava will refresh the palate from the richness of the deep fried squid rings. Also, the biscuit and mineral notes of the Cava will complement nicely the fried and sea like flavors of the calamar and the white bread taste.

Now, i have not talked at all about Verdejo in this blog. This grape is perhaps most well-known, if it can be considered like that at all, in Rueda, a small region north of La Mancha and the city of Madrid and just west of the Ribera del Duero. It’s actually pretty difficult to find a description of Verdejo that is not linked to Rueda. Verdejo is native to Rueda and is not planted very extensively in other regions. Jancis Robinson, in her Vines, Grapes and Wines has this to say about Verdejo: “Of all the white varieties among Spain’s official top twenty, Verdejo is probably the one with the most marked aristocratic character.” As a casual socialist, that kind of description makes me grind my teeth a bit, but what the heck anyways.

Verdejo is a very food versatile grape. It can go well with a wide variety of foods that range from cured meats to soft cheeses, salads and of course fish and seafood. The site Wines of Rueda has an interesting chart about matching food with Verdejo. You can see it by clicking on this link.

Now the secret for a perfect calamar sandwich is to deep fry your squid rings in olive oil. But not any squid, it seems. According to Alfredo Rodriguez from the Restaurant El Brillante, in Madrid you need whole squids, since they have a higher proportion of water to meat. He also states that the best squids are the ones that comes from Mediterranean waters. They have the softest and juiciest flesh. About this, it is important to go a fish store that you can trust. For the batter, Alfredo reccomends to use the highest quality flour available. He mentions that it is in fashion right now to use a flour variety that contains ground chickpeas because of its low fat content. For the oil, he reccomends extra virgin oil, heated at 220 celsius and not passing 250 degrees. If you follow these guidelines, your squid should be perfectly fried and with a nice golden hue in 1 minute. For the bread, he reccomends that it if possible freshly baked. For more information, you can read his interview to the newspaper El Confidencial. For those readers that are more visual, Here is this video on the preparation of a Bocata de Calamares.

Cava choices for the calamar sandwich:

recaredo

Recaredo Gran Reserva Brut. SAQ Code: 12016288. Price: $33.50

Brilliant with light gold nuances. Aromas of yellow bruised apples with ground cherry jam. Interesting oxidative notes, nutty with chalky nuances. In the mouth, medium to full body. Retronasal flavors remind me of anis and flowers Good bubble with an amazing lenght. Refreshing acidity with lovely floral nuances. Long aftertaste. 94\100

sumarroca

Sumarroca Gran Reserva Brut Nature. Private Importation. Rezin. $21.60 per bottle. Case of 12

On the nose, green apple, lime and other citric fruits with toasted bread nuances. On the mouth, very mineral with a beautiful floral angle. Good acidity. Creamy and elegant with a long and savoury aftertaste. 92\100

And now for the Verdejos:

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Herbis Franck Massard Verdejo 2013. Private Import. Importations Syl-Vins.

On the nose typical aromas of the variety reminding me of green apples and herbal notes. In the mouth, medium to full body with flavors that bring to mind to mind ripe peaches. Beautiful lenght with a lovely aftertaste. 90\100.

rolland

Rolland & Galarretta Rueda 2012. Price: $20.85. SAQ Code:  12244889.

Hay, white fruits with notes of tropical fruits and ground cherries. In addition, beautiful green apple nuances. Medium body, buttery and very elegant. Long and spicy finale. A classy well made Verdejo. 93\100.

Spanish Wine Resolutions for 2015

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Like many of you, I consider the new year a time to look back on the previous year, as well as to make a few resolutions. It probably won’t surprise you that a lot of my reflection centers on wine.

For 2015, I will be drinking more Spanish wines than ever before. Spain has been producing premium quality wines since the last 30 years, yet still, in the mind of many Canadian consumers, it is still viewed as producing cheap wines.

I propose that for every month of 2015, you choose at least one Spanish wine. Now here you have plenty of room to pick. Being the winter months, i propose bold red wines from the likes of Ribera del Duero or Priorat. The former makes gutsy interpretations of Tempranillo. Priorat, on the other hand blends old vines Garnacha with Carignan. Powerful like Ribera del Duero but with a racy mineral character. If Garnacha is a grape that tickles your fancy, you must try the ones of Aragon, the kingdom of Garnacha. They offer plenty of floral and herbal aromatics with ripe and velvety palate profile.

Sparkling-Wine

Since St Valentin is around the corner along with skiing season, so don’t forget to include some Cavas. I recently came across 2 cavas from Spanish producer Giró Ribot. They are a family domaine situated in heart of the Penedes  region. They have been producing wine for generations and more important they have Champenois production knowhow since at point, they were associated with the group Remy Cointreau.
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I tasted the Tendencias with 18 months aging and a blend of 40% both Chardonnay and Xare.lo and the remainder Parellada.  It is a cava that has subtle aromas of a tropical fruits along with pears and undertones of freshly baked pastries. On the mouth, it is crisp and lively with an excellent balance of acidity and sugar levels. On the palate, it is rich and well structured. My go sparkling wine salmon tartare
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The Gran Reserva 2008 mare was stunning too. More opulent than the tedencias, this cava has aromas of dried fruits such as raisins, Pine and Macadamia nuts with beautiful floral tonalities bringing to mind Chamomille leaves. On the mouth, it is full body with a creamy texture. Elegant and refined, its flavors bring to mind fruits in syrup. This is a cava that is born in a single vineyard called “El Pont” – their oldest vineyard ( 30 to 50 years old vines). Also the Cava has a higher proportion of Xare.lo in the blend, around 50% which gives the more opulent profile. The Gran Reserva rest on its lees for 36 months which helps to give the creamy profile.

I would drink accompany the Gran Reserva with any seafood-poultry based spanish rice dishes with saffron or oven roasted lobster with garlic butter.

Giro Ribot is represented in Quebec by Armenicus Vins & Spiriteux. The samples were given for press review.