Tag Archives: Cava

Cava: aka Catalan Champagne

Amongst the many things Barcelona has going for it, is the bubbly little local beverage known as Cava – aka ‘Catalan Champagne’. Like some of you no doubt, I first encountered the drink in pseudo-upmarket bars in London, where annoying city workers in suits would order it for 30 quid a bottle as a kind of poor man’s champers with which to impress their female colleagues. (Or vice versa, as was sometimes the case with me). But these days, rather than feign interest in my line manager for the sake of free flute, I like to drink it much closer to the source at prices I can afford myself.

Here in BCN you can buy a bottle of Cava in your local supermarket for as little as one euro a pop, and even a bottle made by the renowned Freixenet or Codorniu wineries (the latter is credited with creating the first ever Cavas, after nipping across the border to make some notes on the production methods of French Champagne!) costs just 5 or 6 euros from Consum.

Aside from the supermercado, naturally you can get a bottle in pretty much ever bar and restaurant in town, however undoubtedly the most authentic way to drink Cava in Barcelona is in one of the city’s cult Xampanyerias. There are two that stand out. The first is the legendary Can Paixano, often referred to as La Xampanyeria. It’s a classic spit and sawdust place in Barceloneta district, that opens at 9am and stays open until around 10pm (warning: closed on Sundays). As such it’s the scene of many a daytime drinking session, especially as the place has (deservedly) made it’s way into pretty much every guidebook going. Order up delicious bocadillos (Freak recommends the Krakowski!) for around 2 euros each and glasses of Cava starting at 85 cents. The only downers are the miserable @sshole at the door, and the fact that from around 6 or 7pm it’s so packed that there’s not even enough room to raise your glass. (www.canpaixano.com).

The second is a bit more of civilised affair. El Xampanyet doesn’t open until 7pm and also closes early at 11 or so, but thankfully it doesn’t get quite as crowded as Can Paixano. With a bit of luck you can often grab a seat in this beautiful Modernista-style tapas bar, and whilst the prices are slightly higher than C.P. they’re still dirt cheap by international standards… just check the prices as they do seem to inflate the prices a bit for those who like like tourists! Anyway you can read a review of El Xampanyet in Barcelona’s Born district here.

Those of you with a bit more time might want to go and sample some Cava at the source… ie. the Penedes region of Catalonia. Granted, it’s not quite as famous as La Rioja, but it’s one of Spain’s foremost wine-making zones and you may want to check out my former post about wine tasting day trips from Barcelona to see what your options are. Many wineries are accessible by train from BCN (hint: they’re also a great place to hold a Calcotada!). Apart from the usual vineyard tours, as our amigos at Barcelona Life point out, you can also do bike tours with wine tasting, plus in recent months I found out about a so-called “create your own Cava experience“, which I hope to bring you a full post about in due course.

Or if you want to check out what an expert mixologist can do with a good bottle of Cava and a few secret ingredients then go back to my post about Barcelona’s innovative new cocktail bars!

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Calcotada… Onions, Wine and Moonwalking

“What the Fr3k is a calcotada?” I hear you ask! Ah well let’s not run before we can walk: to answer that question first I’d better explain what a calcot is… It’s a slightly oddball Catalan onion that is harvested from November to April, looks like a leek and tastes a lot sweeter than those bitter round things you find in Gary Linekar flavoured crisps.

By way of extension then, a calcotada is a feast(/mission) in which calcots are the main dish. Typically they are grilled over an open fire until char-black, at which point you peel off the skin, dip the succulent bulb in some Romesco sauce (a tangy local specialty) and then, holding the veggie by its green leaves, dangle it into your mouth and munch off the edible bit.

Know your Catalan onions

I’ve been hanging around Barcelona for a couple of years now and calcotadas – which can take place any time during calcot season, but most commonly in February in March – seem to take one of two forms. One, an expensive, all-inclusive meal in a posh (faux-)rural restaurant; or two a big outdoors BBQ, either in a designated public place or simply round someone’s house. Both should take place somewhere in the Catalan countryside, outside Barcelona to be considered the real deal.

So far I’ve signed up for the latter option, ever since the Calcotada of 2011 took us to Sant Sadurni D’Anoia in the Penedes region and more specifically the winery of Cava Blancher. Here you can reserve a table for ten people for 17 euros or so, plus a minimum spend of 6 bottles of Cava a table. So another 30 euros. But you do get a great place to grill as many calcots and as much meat as you can carry so it’s not such a bad deal at all…

Textbook use of the porron

The last two years me and my amigos have enjoyed muchas merriment of the primero order and the fact that you can hire a porron from the winery definitely aids and abets the party vibe… these glass vessels make doing the “dentist’s chair” a piece of pie, and before you know it you’re be ordering another six bottles of Cava for your table and wondering why you can’t walk straight. (Hint: you might want to come back this way for a bit of wine tasting!)

As for the calcots themselves… whatever. Slightly overrated IMHO, but they’re just really an excuse for a winter/spring-time BBQ and a great outdoors party. If you want to make your own Calcotada a little more Fr3ky then I suggest throwing in a moonwalk competition and then heading off to the central square of Sant Sandurni D’Anoia to challenge the local kids at football… in which case try not to kill any passing old ladies!

Who's bad? Moonwalk 2012 winner...

Barcelona Wine Tasting

In case you didn’t realise, here in Barcelona, you’re in wine country… and this is definitely a country for old men. And young men too. And women. And children. Well maybe not children. Ok then just a glass for the nippers.

Catalonia is, if not world-famous, then still pretty damn famous as a wine growing region and second only to Rioja in Spain for the quality of vintages it produces. In fact wine-making (not to mention tasting) in these parts goes way back to Phoenician times, and they settled (don’t quote me on this) around 800BC in Spain – so the locals have had plenty of time to perfect the art. Having said that the export industry only really received a boost when some canny Catalan had the smart idea of taking a leisurely holiday to France, duly noting how the French perfected the art of Champagne making and put it into action just outside Barcelona. Hey presto the Spanish sparkling white wine, known as Cava, was born, and has acted as a cheap substitute to Champers ever since… particularly popular with suit-wearing ‘professionals’ in cheesy Late Night London venues in the UK.

Anyway today Catalonia, and particularly the Penedes region, are still busily engaged in harvesting, grape crushing and bottling etc and as well as Cava the region also produces great non-sparkling whites and some highly-regarded, oak-aged red wines. So where to taste these delicious fruits of Dionysus? Well the wineries of many famous Cava producers are dotted about in villages etc. within striking distance from Barcelona. The most famous brands are Freixenet and Codorniu, although you might actually have more fun exploring some of the lesser know vineyards. A typical thing to do in February/March is a Calcotada, which is basically a big BBQ of Catalan onions held at a winery. The idea is you book a table at 15-20 euros, which comes with several bottles of Cava, and then you take advantage of some grilling facilities to toast yourself up a boozy feast. Highly recommended! Anyway we did this at Cava Blancher, and whilst I’m no wine connoisseur the 12 bottles we had definitely did the job.

I digress. For would-be Bacchic revellers hoping to enjoy a day of wine tasting in and around Barcelona there are two basic options. One, choose a winery/vineyard and then work out how to get there by public transport (assuming that you don’t want to hire a car, as that would kind of spoil the fun). Not always that easy but the RENFE (Spanish rail) website is available in English, and if you’re prepared to do that I highly recommend you take a look at this excellent post by Catavino: Wineries you can visit by train from Barcelona.

A feeling of smug independence and a wallet heavy with money you didn’t waste on an all expenses paid guided tour are the pros. Getting there and finding the place is closed, or no one speaks English, is a potential con…

The other option is to splash out on a ‘no brainwork required’ wine tasting tour of which there are many offered by tour operators all over Barcelona. You pay for the privilege of course, but with transport to and from your hotel, and often quite a few welcome extras these are a guaranteed good day out for tourists who don’t want to gamble with their holiday time. They vary a lot in price, but one highly recommended by our friends at Barcelona Life takes you to both the Cordoniu wine cellars for a tour and a spot of tasting, before dropping you off at a ’boutique’ winery where you actually get a full on tasting session (think Sideways), tapas meal with the family owners and a real insight into a small production vineyard. Check out ‘Barcelona wine tasting tours‘ for more info!

If you can’t be bothered to leave the city then there are a couple of great little Xampanyerias in Barcelona itself, such as El Xampanyet and Can Paixano. These authentic little bars serve laughably cheap Cavas and snacks and are a great, if somewhat intense, experience. There’s a good article here on the five best Cava bars in BCN.

So there you have it. Go forth, get tasting and be merry…