In our next installment of La Vuelta a España (check out the first and second installments), we’re now coming across one of our favorite regions in Spain, Catalunya. And having spent the last 3 days doing a massive road trip through the designated route of La Vuelta, the cyclists should be in for a thrilling adventure, not to mention a jaw dropping view!
So what makes Catalunya the absolute treasure chest it is? Well, first and foremost, one must understand that this is not Spain. For those of you who thought otherwise, realize that the region has fought tooth and nail to retain its unique culture, history and language after decades of oppression under Franco (1936-1975). Catalan, the official language of Catalunya, was excluded from the state education system and all other official and public use, so much so that families were not even allowed to officially register children with Catalan names. And though times have changed, rather dramatically, the desire for freedom, for independence, still runs deep. Consequently, or maybe innately, the Catalans are some of the most passionate, innovative and driven people we have come across in Spain, easily exemplified in their gastronomy alone.
And when we speak of Catalan gastronomy, it’s imperative we mention both a culinary landmark, La Boqueria, and a famed personality, Adrian Ferrian. La Boqueria is considered one of the best open air markets in the world, housing hundreds of stands ranging from fresh fish to gorgeous and sumptuous looking fruits. Dating back to 1217, when tables were housed near the old city gate to sell meat, the market today not only hosts some of the best tapas bars in Barcelona, but some of the best produce as well.
As for Adrian Ferrian, our Catalan born gastronomic wizard needs no introduction. Widely renowned as one of the best chefs in the world, primarily due to his famed molecular cuisine at El Bulli in Roses, his influence internationally has been profound. And though El Bulli will turn into a Foundation in 2014, Adrian’s reputation as a gastronomic innovator will remain a point of pride for Catalunya.
But tried and true Catalan cuisine is far different than what you’ll find in El Bulli. Catalan cuisine is Pa amb tomàquet: toasted baguette drowning in vibrant olive oil and rubbed with garlic and tomato. There is also botifarra (pork sausage) with the traditional picada, which consists of ground almonds, hazelnuts and pine nuts thrown in. Embotits, is an all encompassing name for various types of cured pork, including Fuet (a characteristic type of dried sausage) and Salchichón or Llonganissa (salami). Escalivada is a personal favorite, featuring strips of grilled red pepper, eggplant and zucchini, as are Calçots, a type of spring onion that is grilled and gorged upon throughout the season. Other traditional dishes include: Escudella (sort of a pasta and meat stew), Esqueixada (salted cod with tomato and onion), and let’s not forget the wide range of wild mushroom, including Rovellons (a meaty and delicious wild mushroom), Ceps, Cap de Morts and so many more.
As for wine, where do we begin?! First and foremost, seek out Cava, a sparkling wine made in the traditional Champanoise method that brings vibrancy to our lives – and I do mean this with all my heart. Typically showing more fruit and mineral than Champagne, it has become our standby wine anytime we need a refreshing, vibrant wine that can pair with just about any meal. And if I were a cyclist, I might very well top off my “water bottle” with a few ounces of this liquid gold.
I might also seek out wines made with 100% Xarel.lo – a white grape that not only shows immense amounts of sophistication and structure, but also a ridiculous amount of tropical fruit. Along with this, do not miss Garnacha Blanca, a perfumy treasure that not only shows immense body, but also elegance and subtly.
As for red grapes, there are many to explore from the southern tip of Catalunya in Tarragona to the western outcrops of Pla de Bages and Costers del Segre. Garnacha, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah are all leaders in their fields, and while we personally love to look for the less known grapes like Sumoll and Marselant, you’ll never have a shortage to choose from. And with native grapes continuously being reinvigorated, the opportunity to perpetually expand your vinous horizons will never lack.
As to the race, let’s check in with our passionate cyclist, and good friend, Bill Bennett…
Monday’s rest day comes at a good time for several pre-race favorites, including Carlos Sastre, Frank Schleck and Dennis Menchov, who have been battered by record heat and a hilly route with short dynamic climbs that favor riders like the three men in the lead. Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) are separated by just two seconds in the General Classificaiton. Not surprisingly, they are also sitting third, fifth and seventh, respectively, in the points classification, which denotes the top sprinters in the race. The next week of racing, with four mountain stages, stages should reveal the eventual winner. Today we look at the first three of those stages.
Stage 10: Tarragona → Vilanova i la Geltrú, Date: Tuesday, September 7, Distance: 176 km
Wine Pairing: Bodegas Capcanes Peraj Ha´abib 2006
The profile for Stage 10 is hilly, once again favoring the current leaders. There is a killer Cat 1 climb 35k from the finish. It’s only 4.4k, but the average incline is 11% with one section pitching up to 23%! Look for a bunch sprint at the end, with the leading teams doing most of the work at the front of the peloton. This stage is somewhat similar to Stage 7, won by Alessandro Petacchi over Mark Cavendish. With only six points separating the top four contenders in the points classification (Cavendish, Farrar, Anton & Gilbert) we should expect fireworks at finish line.
Stage 11: Vilanova i la Geltrú → Vallnord, Date: Wednesday, September 8, Distance: 208 km
Wine Pairing: Bodegas Naveran Perles Roses 2006
Combine the longest stage of this year’s Vuelta with a summit finish up an out of category climb and what have you got? The potential for a major shake-up at the top of the GC classification. With two relatively flat stages on Thursday and Friday, followed by three consecutive mountain stages culminating in the “Queen” stage from Gijón to Alto de Cotobello on Monday, we are going to find out who has the legs to put themselves in the Jersey Rojo coming to the final week. Dennis Menchov, so far a disappointing 20th, has targeted stage 11, saying the real tour only starts at this stage. I, for one, hope to see Menchov come to life on Tuesday. Either way, it should be a great show for those of you able to see it live or on TV.
Stage 12: Andorra la Vella → Lleida, Date: Thursday, September 9, Distance: 175 km
Wine Pairing: Cérvoles Estrats 2005
This is another “flat” stage with a Cat 2 climb 54k into the race that shouldn’t have a bearing on the finish, which is expected to be fought out once again by the sprinters. Let’s hope the teams of Cavendish and Farrar deliver them safety to the finishing stretch for another no-holds-barred sprint for the Jersey Puntos.
Till next time,
Ryan and Gabriella Opaz
Also make sure you check out these articles as well:
Catalan Wine at Festa de la Merce
Regional Profile – DO Penedès
The Perfect Trifecta: Arroz Caldo, Spanish Rose and White Sandy Beaches
Helping the World through Cava: How Cava Berdie is Supporting NGO’s
Restaurant Review: Cinc Sentits
The Spanish Cava that Saved the Party
Iberian Spotlight: My Mongetes a La Catalana Recipe
Traditional Catalan Dish: Spanish Sausage, Spinach and Garbanzo Beans
Restaurant Review: Costa Brava – Heritage And Passion: The Recipe For Success
Wine Shop: Celler d’Osona – A Pleasant Surprise in the Backstreets of Vic, Spain
Spanish Cava: The Anytime, Anywhere, with Anyone, Wine
The Icewine Debate Continues…
Barcelona: Which Wineries You Can Visit By Train
What’s Under that Tinfoil Anyway? History of the Cava Placa or Chapa
Who’s Crowned the Cava Guru and What Should I Know about Cava Wine?