Monthly Archives: September 2009

Beneath the market

I hope the sound works in this video. I’m traveling with a computer that doesn’t like to play audio, so I’m hoping for the best.

This medieval, 500 year-old cave that lies below the market in Westhofen has belonged to Weingut K.F. Groebe since 1763. All of Fritz’s wines are treated in oak – no stainless steel (if the sound is working in the video you’ll learn the barrels are 20-100 years old, so they don’t impart flavor – it’s more about texture and tradition).

I asked if the cellar required any maintenance and the answer was “not really”. It maintains a year-round temperature of right around 14 degrees Celsius and just the humidity level that the wines seem to like. From time to time, they may have to clean a little fungus from the outside of the barrels just to make sure it doesn’t end up in the wine.

Turns out this fungus (the black stuff you can see on the ceiling if you’re paying attention) is “good fungus” and survives on humidity and alcohol alone – doesn’t sound like such a bad existence.



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First taste of Germany

Lufthansa beerMy first taste of Germany was on Lufthansa airlines last night.  I know this is a wine trip, but they were serving wines from Australia, so I thought a German beer would be the proper way to kick things off.

The Warsteiner Premium Verum is a crisp, clean, refreshing pilsner-style beer – the perfect thing when you’re packed like a sardine into a stuffy plane.

What I love about this shot though is the bag of crackers with a picture of a German vineyard on the front.  These folks are going to be serious.

The flight attendants mistakenly equated my blond hair and blue eyes with an understanding of German, but sadly at this point in time I’m not much past guten tag.


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Thank you, Wines of Germany

header_landscapeTonight I’m headed to Germany to visit the Rheinhessen, Nahe and Mosel regions.  Please stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted on my adventures.


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Don’t call it Champaña

Today’s Cava was called Champaña until the 1970s when the Spanish agreed to stop using the potentially misleading (i.e. too close to sounding like Champagne) term.

Cava is the Cataluñian word for cellar and this bubbly delight does share some similarities with Champagne. For instance, most Cavas are made using the traditional method and Chardonnay has been an approved varietal in the blend since 1986. Champagne was the inspiration behind Cava’s creation, too – Jóse Raventós, head of Codorníu (now one of the largest sparkling wine producers in the world), made a trip to France in 1872 and upon his return home, made the first bottles of sparkling wine in Spain. In 1889, Pedro Ferrer joined the Raventós family and later went on to found Freixenet (one of the other largest sparkling houses today).

While 95% of Cava is made in Cataluñia, grapes can also be sourced from Valencia, Aragón, Navarra, Rioja and the Basque country. Here t are the indigenous varietals used in the blend:

Macabeo (called Viura in Rioja): usually makes up about 1/2 the blend, fairly neutral, popular because its buds break late – this is important in areas prone to spring frost.

Xarel-lo (pronounced cha-rel-low): 2nd most important, gives the nice earthiness found in many Cavas.

Parellada (pair-eh-yah-duh): produces light-bodied, fine wines.

Cava was hands-down one of the highlights of my trip to Spain. By simply asking for a “copa de Cava” at any bar or restaurant, we’d be rewarded with a bubbly, refreshing, citrus-y, yeasty glass of wine that was less expensive than most draft beer in New York City (even with the exchange rate!).

Here’s a photo of one of my favorites – it was the house Cava at our hotel in Barcelona:


ahh, Cava on ice

Gramona’s a family winery in the heart of Penedès – more specifically, at the foot of the very impressive Montserrat mountain range and they’ve been making Cavas over 125 years.

The family coat of arms is “Vitis, Vini, Vitae”, or the vine, wine, life – you can see it on the label if you look closely.  Verum cava refers to their certain idea of what Cava should be – essentially that vines cultivated in good soil by capable hands will yield a tasty product.

Based on my tastings (yes, I went back for more), I think they’ve done their job well.  This Cava had it all – fine bubbles, notes of citrus, apples, and toasty bread, great acidity and a creamy finish.

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a sign outside a bar in Spain. what's your favorite coktele?

Cokteles, yes, actual cocktails, not so much.  ESL issues aside, I do feel ok saying that cocktails are not what comes to mind when I think about Spain.  Inexpensive cava and wine drawn from barrels into plastic soda or water bottles – heck, yeah.   At one bar, I ordered a Dark and Stormy and got what tasted like a Manhattan.  This may have just been bad luck, but the wine was good enough that it just didn’t matter.

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Please don’t go (summer)

I don’t like the new nip in the night air.  I also don’t like that it’s already dark just after 8 pm.  To help stave off the end-of-summer and the end-of-the-long-weekend blues, I looked to the cantaloupe on my counter for inspiration and this is what happened:

please don't go ingredients

musky cantaloupe is a good match with herbaceous gin

Please don’t go (summer):
2 oz. G’vine gin
1 oz. St. Germain
5 1-inch pieces of cantaloupe
pinch salt
juice of 1/2 lime
club soda

Muddle melon with lime juice and salt, add ice, gin and St. Germain.  Shake and strain into rocks glass with ice and top with club soda. 

please don't go

isn't it a great color?

This drink was crying for fresh mint, but I was out.  I think it could’ve used a touch more sweetness, too.  That being said, there was a refreshing brightness – dare I say hopefulness – to this drink – maybe an Indian Summer?

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Dusty because it’s old

The dust bunnies on the ceiling and the crusty bottles lining the shelves were not there to add to the kitsch factor. Marsella, a bar in the El Raval section of Barcelona, has been around since 1820.


Picasso, Hemingway and Dali are said to have been regulars here

I had heard this was the place to have an absinthe and there was little need to twist my arm.


lighting our absinthe on fire

I couldn’t tell you what kind of absinthe we tried. The service was unceremonious at best and the glasses were already filled when they were brought over to our table. That all said, it didn’t matter – it was great to partake in a drinking tradition that has gone on there for almost 200 years. The closest parallel I can draw in the U.S. is McSorely’s bar in the East Village, which opened in 1854. Of course, as a woman I wouldn’t have been able to get in until 1970!

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