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36. Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

"My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life. . .” - - Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019; Chef-partner of Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards, New York 2019


Continuing Our Tour of the Wine Routes of Catalunya: Oct. 18 The Cava Museum (Cava Interpretation Center), Cavas Codorniu visit and tapas lunch, an early dinner at Bolets Vins i Caves Castellers and Hotel Barcelona Golf.

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Fascinating interactive photo displays at the CIC Fassina Cava Interpretation Centre Cava Center in the Cava capital of Sant Sadurni d'Anoia illustrate cava production at our first stop on the Catalunya Wine Routes tour, 
Oct. 18, 2017. All photos by Gerry Dawes©2017.

Spain’s Delightful Cava, Always a Reasonably Priced Alternative
to French Champagne, Has Reached New Levels of Quality
Text & Photographs by Gerry Dawes©2017
            Over the past decade or so of sipping Cavas in some of Spain’s top restaurants, it has become increasingly apparent that a number of the country’s smaller producers are bottling some absolutely superb sparkling wines. By contrast, not too long ago, Spanish sparkling wine was little more than quaffable, mass-market bubbly widely available at bargain prices. While that still holds true for a large percentage of the staggering 20 million-plus cases of Cava exported each year (another 9 ½ million-plus cases are consumed in Spain) — hand-in-hand with quality advances on the country’s wine and gastronomy fronts — a number of Champagne-quality Cavas from a wide range of producers have emerged. Some of these exceptional wines are vintage dated, prestige brut cuvées; bone-dry, palate-cleansing brut natures (great with shellfish); and an increasingly impressive group of sparkling rosados (rosats in Catalan), some made with pinot noir, others with indigenous varieties such as trepat, monastrell and garnacha.
            Though some of these noteworthy Cavas are being produced by the larger, well-known houses, such as Codorníu and Freixenet, it is the smaller, ultra-quality-oriented firms that are making their mark. Juve y Camps, a family venture that has long been appreciated in Spain among aficionados, is perhaps the best known.

Wine Routes of Catalunya
October 18, 2016 Vilafranca del Penedès - Sant Sadurni d'Anoia -  
Castellví de la Marca -

 Phylloxera larvae figures, large enough to be carried by fiesta participants through the streets during the annual celebration of the demise of the devasting vine louse's effect on the vineyards of Catalunya (and most of the rest of Spain and France) at the Cava Museum, Sant Sadurni d'Anoia (Barcelona), Catalunya, Spain. 

 Photo of a Cava cork stopper at the CIC Fassina Cava Interpretation Centre Cava Center in Sant Saduri d'Anoia (Barcelona), Catalunya, Spain.

 A glass of Cava on old wine press in the CIC Fassina Cava Interpretation Centre (Cava Center), Sant Sadurni d'Anoia (Barcelona), Catalunya, Spain on our Catalunya Wine Routes Tour.

 A guide at the CIC Fassina Cava Interpretation Centre Cava Center in the Cava production capital of Sant Sadurni d'Anoia explains cava production at our first stop on the Catalunya Wine Routes tour, Oct. 18, 2017
More to come for October 18, 2017

  Codorníu: Where Cava Began

Codorníu, makers of some 3.5 million cases per year, laid the foundation for quality Cava production. The founding Codorníu and Raventós families, who trace their winemaking history to 1551, when Jaume de Codorníu,  a vinegrower, began making wine, are said to be the first to have produced méthode champenoise sparkling wines outside of Champagne in 1872, when Josep Raventós Fatjó  began  making  a Champagne-style wine to sell in France, whose vineyards had been wiped out by the phylloxera louse (reference above, the Cava Museum).

When Anna de Codorníu, heiress to substantial vineyards of the Can Codorníu estate, married Miquel Raventós, a viticulturist, the union gave birth to a dynasty that has now been in the business of making wine for more than 450 years. Codorníu  is  Spain’s  oldest family business, it’s oldest winemaking operation and one of the most venerable businesses in the world.  Even though the company still carries the name of the original Codorníu, the Raventós have long been the owners.

Manuel Raventós, who took over as Director of Codorníu in 1885,  after his father Josep died, proved to be a visionary and is responsible for much of the image of Codorníu.  He travelled in France to increase his winemaking skills, then, despite the fact that the phylloxera louse had begun to devast Spain as well as France, he made some bold moves.  He knew that his own vineyards had to be ripped out and re-planted with phylloxera resistant American rootstock.   Despite the financial  hard times, in 1895 Manuel Raventós opted to commissioned the modernista architect Josep Puig i Cadalfach to build the “Cava Cathedral” and Casa Pairal, which was the Raventós family home for many years and is now used as a VIP entertainment space.  

Painting of a grape harvester from the 19th Century at Codornìu.

The elegant Puig i Cadalfach-designed tower of the Codornìu - Raventós family home, Casa Pairal, on the grounds of the winery.

Distinctive moderniste architecture at Codornìu, designed by Antoni Gaudì contemporary, Catalán architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch.  The buildings at Codornìu were declared a National Monument.

The great modernized reception hall at Codornìu with repeating Puig i Cadafalch arches.

Museum space at Codornìu.

Old barrel desplay in the museum space at Codornìu.

At Codornìu, there are many miles of underground caves lined with row after row of pupitres, riddling racks, full of bottles, which one suspects are just there as dummies, since their is no evidence finger marks showing that the bottles have been grasped and turned.  Visitors are taken through these spectacular cellars on a motorized rubber-wheeled train.

Deep in the cellars at Codornìu is a bust of Anna de Codornìu, whose inherited family vineyards were the foundation of one of the world's oldest contually operating wineries.

Plaque to Josep Raventós Fatjó, a family member who ran Codornìu from 1857 to 1885 and introduced the first Cava in 1872.  Note the bullet hole near the right temple, a souvenir from the Spanish Civil War. 

 Large dummy bottles of Codornìu.

Codornìu advertisement from the Belle Epoque.

Bolet. Vins i Cavas 

The Bolet family has cultivated vinyards and elaborated wine for over seven generations.At the beginning of the 20th century, Jaume Bolet Galofré faced the phylloxera plague by replanting all of the vines on our property with white and red varieties typical of the region.

Over the years he planted new vines and today we work 66 acres. The estates: Can Planes d’en Perull, Les Conilleres and Mas Lluet, each in different areas and at different altitudes, are located in Castellví de la Marca (Barcelona).

In the 1970s, Antoni Bolet Pascual began to modernize the winery by installing machinery and stainless steel tanks.

In 1982 we began bottling wines and cavas from our homegrown harvest under the Bolet brand, tribute to the family surname, from both branches "Mas Lluet" and “Can Planes”.

 Vino Blanco Ecológico Vinya Sota Bosc Muscat - Gewurtztraminer blend and Vino Blanco Ecológico Xarel·lo, both organic wines made practicing ecological agriculture in the vineyards.

Maria Tetas (Artista  i dissenyo), Emma Pascual (Departamento tècnico) and Xavier Bolet Tetas (Enòlogo y director comercial) look on as Jose Antoni Bolet Bolet (Gerente y agricultor) pours Bolet Rosat Pinot Noir Cava for our group at Finca Mas LLuet.  The family home is an impressive Catalan "chateau" building.  Photo by Gerry Dawes©2016

My tasting note on Bolet wines at Finca Mas Lluet.

The Castellers - Human Tower - Builders Center

 Castellers (daredevil human tower pyramids, a Catalan tradition) at the Castellers Center in Vilafranca del Penedès. 

  Capella de Sant Joan, Vilafranca del Penedès.

Finally, after a long day (our fellow tour members flew in from the U. S. that morning), we reached our resting place for the night, the Hotel Barcelona Golf (Night Golf, anyone?)

Hotel Barcelona Golf, Carretera Martorell-Capellades, Km 19.5, 08635 Sant Esteve Sesrovires, Barcelona, Spain Phone: +34 937 75 68 00


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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