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The Festival of Sant Joan and an Incredible Rosé Cava

I sometimes like to believe that my father is a master pyromaniac in the most docile sense of the word. The week before Independence Day, my brother and I would pile into the back of my father’s car and go for an hour and half car ride north to Wisconsin, where it is legal to buy firecrackers, but just not use them. I remember these times fondly, walking into makeshift tents set up alongside the highway lined with dozens of cardboard boxes overflowing with clown colored tubes with names like Bottle Rockets and Dragon Twisters. My dad would always break the bank that day, and like a kid in a candy store, he couldn’t say no to things that light up the sky and go BOOM!

But our revelry as a family lasted only one day of the year, while here in Catalunya, the Revetlla de Sant Joan, complete with enormous bonfires and imaginary beings, is characterized by a week long celebration of explosions. For approximately seven days, you hear nothing but the constant sound of warfare, until the night of June 23rd, when children, grandparents and people of all races and religions gather together to go absolutely flippin’ insane. Imagine walking through your local park, and literally having firecrackers come at you from every direction. Five year olds chucking small firecrackers at your feet, grandma lighting Roman Candles at a 45 degree angle, teenagers igniting bottle rockets directly at their buddies, smoke everywhere, and you, in the middle of it all, praying that you can just get to the other side of the 200 meter park without having your eye taken out.

Where does this complete chaos stem from? La Nit de Sant Joan, St John’s Night, honors the longest night of the year by giving homage to three important pagan symbols: fire, water and earth. Fire is one of the three symbols commonly known as the Nit del Foc, or “night of fire”. Its purifying flames intend to frighten off imaginary beings that abound during the hours of darkness. The tradition holds that you are supposed to write down those fears which you want to disintegrate, crumple up the paper and toss it into the fire. If you’re really brave, you actually jump over the fire for good luck. The second symbol is water. It is said that, on this night, water has curative powers, so it is the custom for many people to swim in the Mediterranean or moisten themselves with dew from the fields at the crack of dawn. I personally haven’t done this myself, but I have heard rumors of people taking a leisurely swim in the sea only to find their possessions gone upon their return. Clearly, this mystical night also brings out some dark beings that ‘magically’ seem to find your money. The last symbol, earth, is characterized primarily by herbs and secondarily by food. According to tradition, medicinal plants multiply their curative properties on this night, so it is the custom to collect thyme, rosemary and verbena at the first hour of the morning.

Because we grow herbs on our roof, we decided to partake in the gastronomical element of the festival by pairing a bottle of cava with a traditional “coca”. A coca is traditional flat bread that is exactly double its width in length and can either be served savory or sweet – depending on the region. Here in Catalunya, you will only find one version, sweet, very sweet, and my teeth are falling out call a dentist, sweet. We tried the very sweet cream coca that tasted like an open faced creme filled donut. Even the aroma reminded me of Dunkin Donuts, which I’m not sure is a good thing, but I enjoyed the airy fried texture and the delicious crunch of pure, unadulterated sugar embedded into the dough. This is literally a heart stopper, but with the magical properties of Cava, I’d like to believe that all the artery blocking fat molecules were magically swept away with the 2006 Bodegas Naveran Rose Brut Cava “Perles” made with 100% Pinot Noir.

To be clear, this wine is an absolute buy, that we suggest you get your mitts on right this moment. We’ve had some good rosés in the past, but this surpasses good, it’s ridiculously amazing. A light onion skin in color with active, fervent bubbles and thick, almost delicate mousse. Intoxicating aromas of cranberry, cream, sawdust, attic, mushrooms and yeast that allure you into the glass without giving away too many secrets. These little telltale aromas happen over time, enticing you to take a sip. Crisp and alive with just enough yeast and mature fruit to balance out the acidity. It’s a wine that reminds you of a Victorian tea party complete with laced cranberry and raspberry flavors with a subtle touch of bready notes. For 13.95 euros, it’s an absolute steal!

As usual, our notes and the recipe for coca is provided below. Enjoy and watch out for roaming firecrackers!


Gabriella Opaz

Coca Catalana

Recipe taken from the Barcelona Government Site

For the brioche:
300 g of flour
270 g of sugar
100 g of butter
3 eggs
1/8 l of water
Peel of 1 lemon
½ l of milk
50 g of brewer’s yeast

For the cream:
¼l of milk
1 stick of vanilla
2 egg yolks
100 g of sugar
30 g of corn flour

First, the brioche. Dissolve the brewer’s yeast in water (1/8l) and add the flour. Mix well, put on a plate, cover and leave the dough until it has risen to double its volume.

Meanwhile, mix the other ingredients, the milk, sugar, eggs and butter, with a bit of lemon peel and flour. Mix well until you have a spongy dough. Then, add in the dough that you left to rise and work together well. Leave this mixture to rise again. When it’s ready, divide it into the number of cocas you want. Dust the work surface with flour and flatten the dough with a rolling pin.

Now the marzipan. Grind the almonds, mix them with two egg whites and the sugar. In a saucepan, make a syrup mixing a bit of water and sugar. Add in the ground almonds and cook for 2-3 minutes. It is essential that you keeping stirring. Spread the marzipan over the uncooked coca without covering the edges. Grease a baking pan with butter and put the coca on it. Brush the edges with beaten egg and cook in the oven at medium temperature.

Meanwhile, prepare the cream. Bring the milk to a boil with the vanilla and let it cool. Mix the beaten eggs with the milk. Mix the starch with a bit of water, drain and then add to the milk mixture. Heat over a low flame, stirring constantly until the mixture is creamy. All you need to do then is put the cream around the edge of the coca and lick your fingers!

Ryan’s Tasting Notes
Super fine bubbles and mousse on this onion skin rose. Really a pretty wine with a delicate appearance, like lace. The nose shows earthy with bread, yeast, and mushroom notes with touches of delicate cranberry. It’s restrained and well, makes me want to taste it right away as if it’s holding back a secret. In the mouth I discover a secret, beauty and zingy acidity. WOW, this is an elegant wine, with a bright acidity that balances out the mature flavors and yeast components that too often make a cave flat and dull. This is a wine that remains, adult with complexity but under it lies a youthful child waiting to play. Fresh and with a long finish. My mouth minutes later still has strawberries and cranberries floating about.

Gabriella’s Tasting Notes
Gorgeous medium onion skin color with active, tiny bubbles and a thick, dense foam. Reserved, but elegant aromas of cranberry, yeast, strawberry, attic, bread and mushrooms, showing fantastic acidity and great tannic structure. Bright, light, and fun, this wine is a lovely summer wine that calls for a celebratory cocktail just because the sun is shining. Great cranberry, rose petal and raspberry flavors on the palate dissipated into a lovely lacy mushroom and red fruit finish. Overall wonderful sparkling pinot noir!

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