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Food Arts Silver Spoon Award to Gerry Dawes


 Premio Nacional de Gastronomía - - James Beard Foundation Nomination (Best Wine Writing)
Premio Periodistíco Cava

Gerry Dawes's Article Medieval Riches of El Cid's City (About Burgos, Spain)
Front Page, The New York Times Sunday Travel Section

 About Blog Author Gerry Dawes, Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award)




12/31/2016

About Blog Author Gerry Dawes, Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award)


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 About Gerry Dawes


Gerry Dawes at Marisquería Rafa in Madrid.

12/19/2016

From the Breakfast of Champions to Dinner with Champions, Drinking AT Roca Clàssic Penedès--as Good as Champagne--in Barcelona with Agustì Torellò Sibil and His Son Agustì Torellò Roca


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Continued from the previous post:  Breakfast of Champions in La Boquería Market in Barcelona and A Wine Adventure Trip in Catalunya October 2016


All photographs by Gerry Dawes©2016, unless otherwise noted.

Agustí Torelló Mata, winemaker-partner at D. O. Clàssic Penedès AT Roca, showing the winery's different vineyards and varying altitudes.  At a tasting at Hotel Majestic in Barcelona, October 17, 2016.

I phoned my friend Agustí Torelló Sibil, who with his son, Agustí Torelló Mata, produces AT Roca, splendid sparkling wines (a Brut Reserva and Brut Rosat Reserva that are of Champagne quality), plus several first-rate still white wines from Penedès and an excellent red Montsant from the neighboring province of Tarragona.   AT Roca, along with some 12 dozen other small producers, recently left the D.O. Cava to make wines under the more exclusive Clàssic Penedès designation.
 
“Meet us a the Hotel Majestic at 7:00 p.m.  We will be pouring our wines at a wine tasting there tonight.”
 

“We were going to catch the train to San Sadurni d’Anoia early in the morning.  Can you give us a ride and recommend a hotel?”
 

“No problem.  We will all have dinner after the wine tasting and you can ride down to Sant Sadurni with us.  I will find a hotel for you.”
 

Hecho! Done!”

 Agustí Torelló Sibil, who with his son, Agustí Torelló Mata, produces AT Roca, splendid sparkling wines (a Brut Reserva and Brut Rosat Reserva that are of Champagne quality).


We didn’t get much sleep at the Pensión Casablanca, because the pavement pounding going on below, but had at least given us a place to stash our luggage, had allowed a partial nap, was a place to shower and did not cost a fortune, even considering that we didn’t spend the night.
 
We showered and dressed, checked out, went down with our luggage to the Vía Layetana to catch a taxi to Hotel Majestic to drink some more sparkling wine, in this case, the superb Clàssic Penedès designation AT Roca Brut Reserva 2013 and AT Roca Brut Rosat (Rosé) 2013, both made by impeccably done methode champenoise production standards.
  
AT Roca is an artisan, family owned, viticulturally oriented winery, producing superb quality Clàssic Penedès Brut and Brut Rosado sparkling wines.  Agustí Torelló Sibil and his sister Lali were shut out of their father’s  family winery Agustí Torelló because of a family dispute.  Agustí, who was the face of the family’s wines, decided to begin anew.  Agustí, Lali and his son and winemaker Agustí Torelló Roca, set up shop on the outskirts of the Cava capital of San Sadurni D’Anoia, where some 90% of Spain´s sparking wines are made.  They named their wines AT Roca, since they winery owned by the family patriach owns the name Agustí Torelló.
 
The Torellós also found three prime ecologically farmed vineyards, owned by eight dedicated viticulturists with mature vines from which they source their grapes in three different areas of Penedès at three different altitude levels:  Their Macabeu (Viura) grapes come from L'Ordal (coastal Massís del Garraf), Finca Canta Llops (Howling Wolf) vineyard, 420 meters (nearly 1400 feet above sea level); Xarel·lo from the slate-laced vineyards of Conca del Foix, Plana de l'Urpí, 220 meters (more than 700 feet); Parellada from La Llacuna, La Ginestera, 725 meters (2400 feet).

Brad and I spent two hours at the tasting, half behind the AT Roca stand at the event.  I am comfortable enough with the wines and I speak fluent Spanish, though no Catalan, but with Brad´s help with the pouring I manned the stand while the two Agustís "worked" the busy room.

At 9:00 p.m. the tasting was over.  We helped the Torellós pack up, then strolled up the Passeig de Gracia, the elegant main divided boulevard the bi-sects Barcelona's tony Eixample district, towards El Principal del Eixample, Carrer de Provença 286 - 288, 08008 Barcelona; T. 93 272 08 45, an elegant new Catalan market cuisine restaurant.  Along the way, we passedg one of my long-time favorite hotels, the Condes de Barcelona, and taking in one of celebrated turn-of-the-19th Century Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí's most spectacular buildings, Casa Mila, popularly known as La Pedrera, which translates unjustifiably into "the rock pile." 

 
Hotel Majestic to Restaurante El Principal del Eixample, Barcelona.

 
Casa Mila, "La Pedrera," Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona. 


El Principal del Eixample

Agustí Torelló Sibil has long been a wine celebrity in Catalunya and the rest of Spain, so he gets red carpet treatment for himself and his guests almost any place he goes.  He has long been one of my favorite people in the wine trade in Spain and we have been friends for at least 20 years, so it was great to be having dinner with him and his son, whom I had not met until this evening.

El Principal restaurant is a sprawling space with a charming enclosed terrace, accessible from the interior dining rooms. This is a fancy restaurant that can accommodate up to 500 people for a cocktail party, but with a panel system that allows the space to bee divided off into smaller more intimate venues.

The food was modern with creative, but sensible riffs from chef-owner Joan Ferrè, who spent 25 years cooking the Tragaluz restaurant, which has some 20 restaurants in Barcelona, Girona and Madrid.  We began with a plate of superb Anxoves del Xillu, coca amb tomàquet (Anchovies “del Xillu” [a legendary store in L'Escala, a town famous for its cured anchovies and its Greek and Roman ruins on Catalunya's Costa Brava]), which were served with Catalan flatbread with tomato, pan con tomate style; not shown).   At nearly four Euros a piece, these cured anchovies are a luxury menu item. 

 Anxoves del Xillu, coca amb tomàquet (Anchovies “del Xillu” [a legendary store in L'Escala, a town famous for its cured anchovies and its Greek and Roman ruins on Catalunya's Costa Brava]) at Restaurante El Principal in Barcelona.

We were sharing all the dishes here.  Next was a tartar de tonyina, tomàquet picant, gingebre i caviar d’oli or tartar de atún , tomate picante, jengibre y caviar de aceite<(tuna tartar with spicy tomato, ginger and spherified olive oil "caviar."

Tartar de tonyina, tomàquet picant, gingebre i caviar d’oli or tartar de atún , tomate picante, jengibre y caviar de aceite (tuna tartar with spicy tomato, ginger and spherified olive oil "caviar."
 
Then we were served a very good rice squid dish--Catalans do great things with squid and sepia--Calamar, ceba confitada, arròs de julivert i festucs; Calamar, cebolla confitada, arroz de perejil y pistachos; Squid with caramelized onions, served on rice with parsley and pistachios.

Calamar, ceba confitada, arròs de julivert i festucs; Calamar, cebolla confitada, arroz de perejil y pistachos; Squid with caramelized onions, served on rice with parsley and pistachios.

Arròs de llebre i carxofes Arroz de liebre y alcachofas en paella, Rice with hare/rabbit and artichokes, our final course, was exceptional. We drank the wines of the Torellós, including the AT Roca Brut Reserva 2013 and a delicious, not over the top in either high alcohol (miraculously under (14%) or new oak, Sileo Vi Negre (red wine) they make in D.O. Montsant.





Arròs de llebre i carxofes Arroz de liebre y alcachofas en paella, Rice with hare/rabbit and artichokes, our final course, was exceptional.


In this day alone, Brad Haskel and I flew in from New York, experienced a four-hour plus "Breakfast of Champions" at La Boquería market, strolled the old Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, grabbed a nap of sorts, went to a wine tasting at Hotel Majestic and even poured wines at the event, had dinner with Agustí Torelló and his son and rode an hour southeast of Barcelona to





Agustí Torelló Roca, the son, told us he would be by at 9:00 the next morning to show us some of the AT Roca vineyards, their fine vinification facility at Can Bonastre and the Caves, where they age their wines.  Then he would take us to meet up with the Spanish National Tourist group at the Cava Museum in Sant Sadurni d'Anoia.  It had all worked out much better than we could have imagined.  We would not have to catch a very early train from Barcelona to Sant Sadurni, dragging our luggage with us and we were being provided with a ride to catch up with the group.   Except for that damned jackhammer machine, life was good to us today!


Today, as many days in Spain tend to be, our first day in Catalunya was packed with adventures and we had not even begun our official tour of the region's wine routes yet.  I will continue the rest of the story in my next post about our travels in Catalunya and beyond. . . ________________________________________________________________ 
About Gerry Dawes
  
Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 

In December, 2009, Dawes was awarded the Food Arts Silver Spoon Award in a profile written by José Andrés

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 
 
Pilot for a reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.
 

12/17/2016

The Genesis of The Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group - Gerry Dawes Selections



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 by Gerry Dawes, Founder & President
 The Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group

Our Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group of artisan producers are a result of a long-time painstaking effort to find authentic and original wines that truly represent the unique places from which they come. Our producers are not making wines that "the market is asking for," nor wines that are made to please the palate of any critic in particular and certainly not the Parkerista-style overoaked, high alcohol palate. The wines of The Spanish Artisan Wine and Spirits Group – Gerry Dawes Selections are made by people trying to reflect the own terruño (the French call it terroir), a sense of place: the unique combination of native grape varieties, soil (minerals) and climate transmitted through the grapes and the prism of each winemaker's palate. Before wines began to be fabricated or fashioned to fit that supposed "what the market is asking for" profile, the wines of France and Italy, but also in some parts of Spain, were made primarily by artisan winemakers working with their own vines.  Obviously, in every region more commercial, negociant-style wines were made to hit a price point and fulfill a market need for cheaper Burgundy, Chianti, Rioja, Mosel, etc., but the reputation of the wines was made originally from the wines of quality artisan producers.

In the early days of the modern post-Prohibition wine importing era, Frank Schoonmaker set standards for selecting wines that would become the model for the next several decades.  
  
 Frank Schoomaker.

"It was obvious to Schoonmaker that prohibition would someday be repealed; the question was when.  First, he needed a network of suppliers. In France, by the late 1920s he had made a valuable ally in Raymond Baudoin, editor of La Revue du Vin de France in Paris.  Baudoin had shaped this scholarly publication into an influential review, which eventually played a major role in creating the appellation contrôlée laws of 1935-36. 

Schoonmaker traveled around France with Baudoin several times, and visited many winegrowers, particularly in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or. Baudoin introduced him to some of the best, and Schoonmaker soon followed Baudoin’s lead in selecting only certain lots, or casks, of a particular cru in a given vintage – writing everything down methodically in a little black notebook. 

In addition, Baudoin was emphatic in getting the growers to bottle their wine themselves and sell it under their own label, as opposed to the traditional method of selling it in cask to the shippers in Beaune for blending, under their label." -- Frank Schoonmaker, A Visionary Wine Man by Frank E. Johnson, Frank Johnson Selections.

Schoonmaker's style would prove to be the model followed by other French wine specialists such as Alexis Lichine (who began selling wine for Schoonmaker), Colonel Frederick Wildman, Robert Haas, Gerald Asher (an Englishman who began importing his wines into the U. S. and like Schoonmaker and Lichine became well-known as a wine writer) and Henry Cavalier (another transplanted Englishman, who was one of Asher's star disciples).  Asher's well-crafted and beautifully written Gourmet magazine articles were a benchmark for more than a decade for serious wine writers and for wine aficionados. 

Gerald Asher

"Inevitably I came to associate any wine I met with a specific place and a particular slant of history. I learned to perceive more than could be deduced from an analysis of the physical elements in the glass. For me, an important part of the pleasure of wine is its reflection of the total environment that produced it. If I find in a wine no hint of where it was grown, no mark of the summer when the fruit ripened, and no indication of the usages common among those who made it, I am frustrated and disappointed. Because that is what a good, honest wine should offer." - - Gerald Asher


The Spanish Artisan Wine Group - Gerry Dawes Selections was founded on the principles of the aforementioned pioneer wine importers.  I never knew Frank Schoonmaker, but I always admired the fact that he greatly appreciated the wines of Spain (he spent several years in Spain during WWII as an undercover O. S. S. officer; ironically decades later I would be assigned to Rota, Spain as a Russian linguist with a Top Secret security clearance [tracking the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean]).  

Schoonmaker died in January 1976 at his home at 14 E. 69th St. in New York City, shortly after I arrived in New York City after having lived in Spain for the previous eight years.  Another irony, a few months after Schoonmaker died, I went to work for another of the giants of wine importing in America, Frederick Wildman & Sons at 21 E. 69th St., just down the street from Schoonmaker’s home.  And at Wildman, I worked with Henry Cavalier, the exceptionally knowledgeable Gerald Asher disciple who soon became a friend and taught me a lot about fine wine. 

Colonel Frederick Wildman
Frederick Wildman & Sons

My employment at Frederick Wildman & Sons ended when I left to join the former President of that firm, Anthony J. Sargeant, and Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards in launching Havelock Gordon.  That company was short-lived, so I moved on to Mosswood, whose president was Gerald Asher, then I did a decade long stint as a restaurant wine specialist at the then fledgling company, Winebow, one of whose partners was Vineyard Brands owner Robert Haas, who was originally a Frank Schoonmaker disciple himself.   While I was at Winebow, Haas made me a Vineyard Brands Vice President, his representative inside that company.

Robert Haas and his son Jason, GM at Tablas Creek Winery, Paso Robles, CA

For more than 10 years, I also worked with Leonardo LoCascio, who founded Winebow with Peter Matt and became one of the best-known names for quality Italian wines.  I helped establish Winebow as a force in top New York restaurants.  I was Winebow's top restaurant sales consultant, selling $1,500,000 per year to sixty top restaurant accounts, at a time when wines sold for about 25% of their current prices. After Winebow, I spent a brief period with another New York distributor, then left that position to pursue my career as a writer on Spanish gastronomy, wine and travel. 

Leonardo LoCascio, Co-Founder, Winebow, Inc.

During my time at Winebow, in 1989, I founded The Chefs From Hell Acrobatic Unicyclists & Winetasters Club, whose members included Thomas Keller, Tom Colicchio, Michael Lomonaco, Rick Moonen, David Burke, Bobby Flay, Martha Stewart, Andy Pforzheimer, Mario Batali, Tom Valenti and a number of other talented and now well-known chefs.
 
Chefs Quint Smith, Mario Batali and Bobby Flay at a Chefs From Hell Luncheon at Martha Stewart's home in Westport, CT.

Like Schoonmaker, Asher (and my friend Frank Johnson), I am a wine writer. Using my intimate knowledge of Spain, I specialized in writing about Spanish wines.  During the course of traveling for material for articles, also discovered more that a score of small wine producers who were not only not being imported into the U. S., they were not even known in MadridIn 2012, quite by chance, I found an interested party with an import license and I decided to bring some of these jewels to the United States.  I brought in two containers of selected wine to unprecedented critical acclaim.  Unfortunately, the partner proved unsuited to growing a fine wine company, so we parted ways after a year.
The style as defined by Frank Schoonmaker, Frederick Wildman, Robert Haas, Gerald Asher and Henry Cavalier (and subsequently by importers such as Kermit Lynch and Neal Rosenthal) over decades was to go to a wine producing region, seek out the best producers available from that region, many of which were small production jewels, bring them to market in the United States and tell their customers why each wine producer and wine was special.  

Except for a few wines that they imported for volume sales (very dignified wines such as Robert Haas Vineyard Brands La Vielle Ferme Rhône Valley wines from the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel fame and even then the interventionism was minimal), they did not encourage their producers to make the the hyper-commercial types of wines "that the market is asking for." 

Instead, they represented unique producers making the best wines that their grapes, their land, their wine cellars and their palates could produce and brought their wines and their stories to market.  Those ideals are what The Spanish Artisan Wine and Spirits Group - Gerry Dawes Selections hopes to carry forward with these exceptional artisan producer wines from Spain. 

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 Spirits & Licores

And, given the interest in all things Spanish in the culinary world these days, we are using the same sourcing principles for our unique artisan spirits collection, we are planning to introduce in September 2016.  I have been steadily developing a stellar lineup of suppliers of unique Spanish spirits for more than two years now.  

This spirits and licores include a Vermouth from Burgos made from a 1912 recipe, a stellar gin made in Galicia and distilled from albariño grapes; from the same albariño grape distillations, some stellar aguardientes (grappa), a crema de café licor, chocolate with cherry licor and a superb cilantro-flavored liqueur; a cream licor from Catalunya that  could be the Spanish equivalent of Bailey’s Irish Cream; exceptional licor de naranja and a licor de limón, plus an orange cream licor from a producer in Valenciaa selection of high quality eau-de-vie type spirits from the top producer of cherries and other top quality fruit such as plums, raspberries, etc. in Extremadura; Patxarán (sloe-berry infused anís) de Navarra is one of the most famous and sought after spirits in Spain; aguardiente de manzana (apple grappa) and the Calvados-like Aguardiente Viejo de Sidra from Asturias; a Sherry Brandy de Jerez from Sanlúcar de Barrameda; and a line of artisan licores from one of the top chocolatiers and desserts chefs in Spain.

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Gerry Dawes is President-Jefe & Chairman of the Board of The Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group - Gerry Dawes Selections
Gerry Dawes at The James Beard Foundation Awards 2014, New York City 


  Gerry Dawes with owner-producer Eugenio Merino on a cold January morning in the old vines Cigales vineyards that produce one of Spain's finest rosados, Viña Catajarros Elite Rosado.  Photo by John Sconzo.

Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià.

In December, 2009, Dawes was awarded the Food Arts Silver Spoon Award in a profile written by José Andrés.

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009.  

   
Pilot for a reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.
 

12/13/2016

Breakfast of Champions in La Boquería Market in Barcelona and A Wine Adventure Trip in Catalunya October 2016


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Casa Battlò, one of Antoni Gaudi’s architectural masterpieces, in the Eixample district of Barcelona. 
 All photos ©2016 by Gerry Dawes.

When I received an invitation for the National Tourist Office of Spain (Turespaña) to go on a wine adventure in Catalunya, promoting some newly developed wine routes in the four provinces (Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona) in this enticing corner of northeastern Spain.  I jumped at the chance.  This trip would also give me an opportunity to return to Barcelona, a city I have been visiting since 1970--I never miss a chance to visit to that vibrant, sophisticated, yet rough-cut jewel of a city, which really embedded itself in my soul when I went there to work as an extra on The Great White Hope and had anecdotal experiences with then budding supper star, James Earl Jones.  After my film worked ended, I stayed on in Barcelona for a couple more months, perhaps one month in total.  The Barcelona immersion worked and I have been coming back ever since, usually two-three times per year.

And, the Catalan part of the trip would end in Girona, a compelling provincial capital with a beautiful old Jewish quarter that I had only recently come to know. 

 Steps down a steep, narrow street in the old Jewish Quarter of Girona, Catalunya, one of the most important Jewish heritage cities in Spain.  Photo by Gerry Dawes©2016 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest.  Canon EOS 6D / Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.
 


 Gerry Dawes, Juan Súarez, Ferran Adrià, Juan´s wife Esmeralda Capel (one of the Directors of Madrid Fusion) and my fiancee Kay Balun in the kitchen at elBulli, Dec. 4, 2010.  Photo by the late Juli Soler, co-owner of elBulli.

I had spent considerable time in Girona province when I went there to have lunch or dinner five times from 1997 to 2010 at Ferran Adrià´s and Juli Soler´s elBulli at Cala Montjoi, ate at the super star Roca brothers Celler de Can Roca (and drank excellent Cava with Jordi Roca and his parents at their traditional cuisine restaurant next door on their day off), explored the great Salvador Dalí´s shrines in Figueres, Cadaqués-Port Lligat and Pubol and drove on twisting roads to many of the towns and villages on the rocky Costa Brava.  

Despite having visited some 700 wineries in Spain over the past forty years, many of them more than a dozen times each, I knew relatively little about some of the Catalan wine regions we were going to visit.  Although I had been in Penedès on numerous occasions and had visited at least of score of Cava producers in Sant Sadurní d'Anoia over the years, I had been to very few wineries in the other two wine regions we were going to visit:  Empordà in Girona province and the up-and-coming Costers del Segre in Lleida province.
 
 Drinking Cava with Pitu Roca, Partner, Maitre'd and Beverage Director, Cellar de Can Roca, Girona.  
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2016 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest.  Canon EOS 6D / Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.   All photos ©2016 by Gerry Dawes.

And a couple of years ago I was lucky to have as a friend and guide, Yvon Más, who expanded the horizons of one of my avocations, exploring the Jewish quarters of Spain.  Más, who I reccommend very, very highly as a guide (contact: yvanmas@hotmail.com), not only gave me a marvelous introduction to Jewish Girona, he also took me to an exceptionally memorable lunch at Restaurante Ibèric in the town of Ullastret, 35 kilometers from Girona. 

Artist – Girona guide Yvon Màs  watches the owner pulling a bogavante lobster out on the tanks at Restaurante Ibèric, a marvelous regional cuisine restaurant in Ullastret on the Costa Brava in Girona province.  All photos ©2016 by Gerry Dawes.

This time we were embarking on an ambitious trip, since we were going to cram in a lot of visits--eight wineries, a Cava museum, the magnificent Seu Vella Cathedral in Lleida, a couple of golf hotels, a castle-casino and a guided tour of Girona--and cover over 1050 kilometers (about 650 miles) in a mini/bus in just four days!

Map of Catalunya Wine Routes Trip October  18-22, 2016 - Part One

Map of Catalunya Wine Routes Trip October  18-22, 2016 - Part Two

Because of itineraries like this, which I have been doing versions of in Spain for more than forty years, I never arrive the same day as the group I might be traveling with, so Brad Haskel and I flew into Barcelona a day early.   We should have arrived two days early, as it turned out!

The first night's lodging was on us, so I booked Brad and me in Pensión Casa Blanca on Vía Layetana, one of the two main arteries that run from the Plaza de Catalunya to the port and bisects the Barri Goti, Barcelona’s exotic old quarter, which in some sections is an ancient labyrinth of narrow streets and lively plazas.  The Casablanca, itself exotic sounding, had some decent reviews on-line, so I booked a room where we could stash our luggage, shower, nap and  perhaps then catch the train to San Sadurni d’Anoia, the Cava and sparkling wine capital of Spain, where we hoped to have a visit early the next morning with star sparkling wine producer, AT Roca.  We would then rendezvous with the Spanish Tourist Office group, who was beginning our wine tour in Sant Sadurni in mid-morning.
 

Best laid plans.  Not!  Our flight from New York arrived in BCN around 7:30 a.m.  We collected our luggage and took a taxi to the Pensión Casa Blanca, which was supposedly on the third floor, but because of double floors, it was actually on the Sixth Floor.  We were thankful that the building had a working elevator, but when we arrived at the entrance door to the pensión, we found it locked.   It was 9:00 a.m. when we rang the doorbell.  We were hoping to be allowed into our room for a shower and a nap, before going out to explore Barcelona, one of my favorite cities and a place I have been coming to a few times a year since 1970.  Then, we would consider looking for lodging in Sant Sadurni for that very night and write off the Pensión Casa Blanca as a way station in Barcelona

After a couple of re-rings, the door was opened by the pensión manager, who let us into the silence of the darkened hall.  The manager (owner?) seemed none to happy to see us and had obviously just gotten out of bed, uncombed hair, sleepy look and all, to answer the bell.  His whole demeanor suggested that we were obviously not up on our arrival timing etiquette, at least not at Pensión Casa Blanca, which certainly at first glance, did not seem to be a place where we might encounter latter day incarnations of Humphrey Bogart’s Mr. Rick, let alone the breathtaking soft-focus beauty of Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa from the movie Casablanca.  


  Lovers in Antoni Gaudí's Parque Güell, Barcelona. 
Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2010 / gerrydawes@aol.com.

The manager informed us that all the other guests were asleep and the pensión was full.  He would stash our luggage, but our room would not be available until at least 1:30 p.m.!   So much for a shower and a nap.  We left our luggage and headed for the Boquería, the world-famous market, whose main entrance on the equally famous street, Les Rambles, was a meandering 20-minute stroll across the Barri Goti.  




El Mercat de San Josep, La Boquería. 
Photo: Gerry Dawes©2016 / gerrydawes@gmail.com.

“I felt dizzy with the idea that I was part of that paradise of food. It was, and still is, a
petit poble (small village) inside the big city.” - - Quím Marquéz, Chef-owner, Quím de la Boquería, Parada 606 (location), El Mercat de La Boquería. 



Quím Marquéz, Chef-owner, Quím de la Boquería
Photo: Gerry Dawes©2016 / gerrydawes@gmail.com.

La Boquería, whose official name is the Mercat de San Josep, is filled with colorful food stalls and often superb market bars, a multitude of them.  I wrote this in the foreword to the English version of Boquería Gourmand, a guidebook to La Boquería, its market stalls and its people: 


“For forty years I have been traveling in the patrias chicas of the Iberian Peninsula.  I lived for eight years in Andalucía and have repeatedly crisscrossed El País Vasco, Galicia, Valencia, Navarra, Aragón, La Rioja, Asturias, Extremadura, the lands of Castilla y León, and all of the other provinces of Iberia, including Catalunya.  Over these decades of travel, I have come to love many "pueblos" across the vast, wonderful and exotic Iberian landscape-Sanlúcar de Barrameda (where my soul resides) and Ronda in Andalucía, there are others such as Chinchón just outside Madrid; Covarrubias (Burgos); Burguete (Navarra); Haro (La Rioja), Cangas de Onís (Asturias), Gratallops (Tarragona) and Cadaqués (Girona), among many.

As much as I long to return to such places for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is a multitude of friends and memories, few have quite the compelling attraction of Barcelona's El Mercat de San Josep, La Boquería market, which as Quím Marquéz put it so well, "still is a petit poble (small village) inside the big city" and is literally one of my favorite pueblos in the world.”



 
Eduard Soley, Vice President of La Boquería Owners Association bags a purchase at his stand in la Boquería. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2016 / gerrydawes@aol.com.
 
Gemma Bosch Roca at her great seafood stand in La Boquería. 
 Photo by Gerry Dawes©2016 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest. Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS30 43-86mm f3.3 – f6.4.

But, this was a Monday, and a number of stalls, especially the spectacular fishmonger stands, are closed, as is the legendary Quím de la Boquería, owned by my good  friend Quím Marquez, who with his practiced crew manages to turn out some of the best, freshest food in Barcelona while playing a constant game of dodge-em with their half dozen co-workers, all jockeying for position in a kitchen-bar-food display area that is probably no more than 12 feet square.  Quím and his crew, including his movie-star handsome twenty-something son Yuri, cooking on a rugged looking professional grade gas stove juggle multiple pans, flipping the food in the them so it cooks evenly, then plating each dish and getting it piping hot to the counters surrounding this three-ring circus.  


 
Quím Marquéz, Chef-owner, Quím de la Boquería, legendary market bar, whose slogan is "El Arte de Comer en Un Taburete" (The Art of Eating on a Barstool). 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2016 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest. Canon EOS 6D / Tokina 17-35mm f/4.

The counters are lined two to three deep with customers waiting for a taburete, or bar stool to open up.  Others in the crew take orders, pop Cava sparkling wine corks, pull corks on bottles of Catalan table wines, and draw draft beer expertly, pouring non-stop and serving plates of often quite original food as they come off the line.   And this is just during the breakfast rush!  This show goes on until 4 p.m. every day.

Breakfast of Champions


 
Gerry Dawes, Pinotxo Bar owner Juanito Bayen and elBulli owner, the late Juli Soler at Pinotxo Bar, Barcelona, Jan. 14, 2014. 
 Photo courtesy of Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com
 / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest. Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS30 43-86mm f3.3 – f6.4.

Fortunately for us, Pintoxo Bar, another long-time favorite of mine, which I have been frequenting since 1992--in 2015 Pinotxo celebrated its 75th year of operation (opened 1940)--is open on Mondays and my old friend Jordi Asín, the chef and nephew of the market legend, “thumbs-up” (always for photographs) owner Juanito Bayen was there and so was Juanito himself. 

 
 Cap from a house Cava stopper celebrating Pinotxo Bar's 75th Anniversary.
 Photo courtesy of Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com

We soon found seats at the counter and what turned out to be our never-ending breakfast got underway. What better way to knock the edge of jet lag, than have a glass of Cava for breakfast, along with a plate of baby squid with small white beans--known in Catalunya as mongetes--topped with a trail of balsamic vinegar (balsamic is never my favorite, but it works with this dish). 


Chef Jordi Asín, Bar Pinotxo
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2016 / gerrydawes@aol.com

When I tried to order the xipirons amb mongetes (the baby squid with white beans), Jordi Asín informed us that the dish was not on the menu and, soon, a plate of mejillones aliñados (mussels dressed with chopped peppers and onion in vinegar and oil vinagreta) and Cava, Catalunya's methode champenoise sparkling wine, were placed in front of us by one of Pinotxo’s  kitchen crew.  Copa de Cava #1!  For breakfast!

 Breakfast of Champions:  Mejillones aliñados (mussels dressed with chopped peppers and onion in vinegar and oil vinagreta) and Cava, Catalunya's methode champenoise sparkling wine, at Bar Pinotxo in LA Boquería market, Barcelona. Photo by Gerry Dawes©2016 / gerrydawes@aol.com

    “No tenemos xipirons amb mongetes, pero tenemos garbanzos con morcilla (garbanzos cooked with bits of blood sausage), Jordi told us.   

    “Vale,” I responded, “bring them on.”

    “Y dos copas más de Cava, por favor” (another round of Cava, please).

    The garbanzos soon appeared with refills of our Cava glasses.  Cava Round Two, still breakfast. 



 Garbanzos con morcilla (garbanzos cooked with bits of blood sausage) at Pinotxo Bar.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2016 / gerrydawes@aol.com

  “Oye!, the rabo de toro (bull’s tail stew) is good today,” Jordi said.

    “Great, let’s have it!”

    Soon the dark rich stew appeared and we called for two more copas de Cava to wash it down.  Cava #3, but who is counting?  I looked at my Spanish cell phone. It was 11:00 a.m., still breakfast.

"The rabo de toro (bull’s tail stew) is good today."
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2016 / gerrydawes@aol.com

We sipped our Cava, ate the rabo de toro and mopped up the rich brown stew sauce with pieces of crusty pa (bread).

 Jordi came back and told me that the oeufs remenats amb gambes y esparrecs / huevos revueltos con gambas y espárragos (scrambled eggs with shrimp, asparagus and thin slivers of onion) were good.
 
Vale!  Y dos copas más de Cava, por favor.”   Cava #4. 
  
 Oeufs remenats amb gambes y esparrecs / huevos revueltos con gambas y espárragos (scrambled eggs with shrimp, asparagus and thin slivers of onion). 

Suddenly, a couple of small orbs (lamb kidneys?) appeared on a small dish in front of us.  At second look, we saw they were exquisite small saffron milk-cap (also known as red pine) mushrooms, níscalos in Spanish, rovellons in Catalan.  

 
 Small saffron milk-cap (also known as red pine) mushrooms, níscalos in Spanish, rovellons in Catalan.

We nibbled on these wonderful ‘srooms and I took pictures of Juanito Bayen with his thumbs up pose and one of the family members, the sharply dressed María José.   And we sipped our cava.  






                               Juanito Bayen                                                                         María José



 Was our room ready yet?  Not a chance, it was barely past noon!  We ordered a full ración, a plateful of the rovellons and a couple more copa de Cava (#5).  We were feeling jet lag, but the feeling had passed on into something a lot like reverie. 

 
 Níscalos in Spanish, rovellons in Catalan.

 Around 13:00 hours, as they say in Spain, we decided to free up the Pinotxo bar stools and stroll across the market.  I called Salvador Capdevila, my dear friend who is the owner of Avinova (a specialist in the best seasonal game, foie gras, snails, etc.) and President of la Boquería's Merchant Owner's Association.  He answered the call and told us to come over to his stand and meet him.  

Salvador Capdevila and Gerry Dawes in la Boquería.


After a big abrazo and some pleasantries he told us to follow him to a nearby jamón Ibérico specialist stand, which declares itself "The Boquería Ham Shop" (there are at least a dozen ham shops in the market) a few feet away on the outer periphery of la Boquería.  He introduced us to Sergi, the owner, and Sergi’s assistant Montse Benitez began to expertly carve thin slices of Gran Reserva Jamón Ibérico de Bellota (aged Ibérico ham from pig that gain weight by grazing on acorns a couple of months out in the oak covered hills of Extremadura and northern Andalucía before they are “sacrificed” to grace the palates of lovers of the world’s greatest genre of hams. 

Montse Benitez slicing Gran Reserva Jamón Ibérico de Bellota at The Boquería Ham Shop.

After Montse filled a plate with some 30 Euros worth of Gran Reserva Jamón Ibérico de Bellota (going for €210 per kilo, something over $100 per pound), Salvador took it told him to follow us to a room upstairs where Sergi was waiting with a bottle of Cava!  Yes, copa de Cava #6 was soon on it way down and Brad Haskel and I were offering our glasses for a refill and savoring the superb jamón that was laced with those compelling nutty acorn flavors (the oil in the nuts actually imbues the ham with these flavors).  


 Salvador Capdevila, Sergi (The Ham Shop owner) and Gerry Dawes.

After we polished off the ham and the bottle of Cava amongst us, I looked at my phone.  Ah, 13:30, it was time for our Breakfast of Champions to come to an end.  Now, perhaps we could finally get into the pensión for a nap, so we headed back across the Barri Goti. 

Father and son perusing items in a store window in the Barri Goti, the old quarter of Barcelona.

Along the way, I phoned my friend Agustí Torelló Sibil, who with his son, Agustí Torelló Mata, produces AT Roca, splendid sparkling wines (a Brut Reserva and Brut Rosat Reserva that are of Champagne quality, plus several first-rate still white wines from Penedès and an excellent red Montsant from the neighboring province of Tarragona.   AT Roca, along with some 12 dozen other small producers, recently left the D.O. Cava to make wines under the more exclusive Clàssic Penedès designation.

    “Meet us a the Hotel Majestic at 7:00 p.m.  We will be pouring our wines at a wine tasting there tonight.”

    “We were going to catch the train to San Sadurni d’Anoia early in the morning.  Can you give us a ride and recommend a hotel?”

    “No problem.  We will all have dinner after the wine tasting and you can ride down to Sant Sadurni with us.  I will find a hotel for you.”

    “Done!”
 

Brad and I arrived at the hotel to find our room ready and we went in to go down for a nap.  We opened a window to let some air in on this lovely warm day (for January) and saw that we overlooked the ancient walls of the old city of Barcelona and the adjacent spires of the Cathedral de Barcelona.  There was no toilet in the room, it was in the hall, but we did have a shower and a sink.  There were three beds in the room and we each staked out one and dropped into bed and at 14:30, we began to doze off into a deep slumber that less than two hours was interrupted by a horrific clatter coming from the pedestrian-only street below our window.  A small caterpillar excavation machine was jack-hammering the pavement, incessantly, as in, without pause. 

Ancient walls of the Barri Goti (Gothic Quarter), Barcelona, from the sixth floor of Pensión Casablanca.
 Pavement jackhammer machine below our window at Pensión Casablanca.

We didn’t get much sleep, but the Pensión Casablanca had at least given us a place to stash our luggage, had allowed a partial nap, was a place to shower and did not cost a fortune, even considering that we didn’t spend the night there.
 

We showered and dressed, checked out, went down with our luggage to the Vía Layetana to catch a taxi and went to Hotel Majestic to drink some more Cava.   In this day alone, we still had the wine tasting show at the Majestic, dinner with  Agustí Torelló and his son and an hour’s drive down to Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, the cava capital of Spain.  Today, our first day in Cataluna was packed with adventures and we had not even begun our official tour of the wine routes of Catalunya.  I will continue that story in my next post about our adventures in Catalunya. . .
________________________________________________________________ 


About Gerry Dawes

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 

In December, 2009, Dawes was awarded the Food Arts Silver Spoon Award in a profile written by José Andrés

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 
 
Pilot for a reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.
 
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