Enjoying Malvasia Wine with Chocolate in the Company of Royalty (Sort of) At Vega de Ribes

20 08 2009

Wine tourism in SpainMalvasia has a place in history, Shakespearean literature and Vega de Ribes, as I learned on a recent trip to the winery. Legend has it that the Duke of Clarence, brother to King Edward IV, chose to die of drowning in a cask of malvasia when sentenced to death for treason. Napoleon supposedly brought malvasia wine with him to enjoy in exile in St. Helena. Shakespeare makes several mentions of malmsey, the English term for malvasia wine, in his plays; in “Henry IV”, the Prince of Wales is accused of having sold his soul for a glass of malmsey (“an absolutely penetrating wine”) and a chicken leg. At Vega de Ribes, malvasia is their featured wine. Twenty years ago the Bartra family began growing the grape, which was taken from the only other vine in the region (at the Hospital Sant Joan Baptista in Sitges).

The family’s ownership and involvement on the land, however, dates back Family tree Vega de Ribescenturies – specifically, the 16th century A.D. In the tasting room, Enric Bartra proudly showed us the family tree drawn up in 1869, which traces his ancestors and the property back to 1540. Just as impressively, some parts of the house though are from the 13th century when a castle and its fortifications stood on the land. While we strolled through the vineyard and winery, Enric pointed out some examples of the history that visibly remain: the dry stone walls still standing, the carob trees that are hundreds of years old, and the old and “new” wine cellars. The new cellar is Cellar Key Vega de Ribesunlocked by an oversized key that could be used in a movie set in the Medieval Ages. Engraved on the key is the year the new cellar was built – 1766. He estimated that the old cellar, still functioning and in use, is from the 15th century.

Vega de Ribes produces several other wines besides malvasia, including a sauvignon blanc, a merlot and syrah. Wine Pleasures was lucky enough to try their newest wine, a sparkling malvasia (likely the only one on the market so far). The 100% malvasia bubbly is less than a year old, undergoes only one fermentation, has no added sugar, and derives its bubbles naturally from the pressure built in the bottle rather than artificial injection. As Enric said, the best way to judge it (and the only way to enjoy it!) is to taste it. Sadly, for those of us not in Northern Spain, due to limited production the sparkling malvasia will be available only at the winery for the time being.

The Bartra family still lives on the land today and grows a large variety of chocolate tree Vega de RibesMediterranean fruit trees and aromatic plants. Aside from producing grapes for wine, Enric spoke of the family-pressed olive oil used at family dinners and the fruits picked and enjoyed during the warmer seasons. All plants are grown organically as a result of the family’s respect for and sustenance from the land. The family also appreciates their history and place in the local community. In fact, the Slow Foods Foundation for Biodiversity has awarded Vega de Ribes with its Presidium title for the cultivation of a local grape to accompany locally grown foods.

Anne Shih Wine travel writerOn offer at Vega de Ribes are several options for touring the vineyard and learning more about the estate or wines. Each tour is five euros and lasts approximately one hour. The tours range from wine tasting (a general tasting of their wines, or a tasting of their malvasia paired with chocolate “Malvasia de Sitges Tour”) to bird watching (“vineyard Birds Tour”) to specific vineyard tours (“100 Vineyards Tour”, “Centennial Carob Tree Tour”, “Dry Stone Walls and Cabins Tour”, “Mediterranean Aromatic Plants Tour”). Additionally, the property is wheelchair accessible. And of course, the only way to try the sparkling malvasia wine is to visit the winery!

Anne Shih, wine travel writer for Wine Pleasures

Enric Bartra tells us about the Malvasia de Sitges grape variety:

Tasting Vega de Ribes wines including the famed Malavasia:





ArtCava lets YOU DECIDE: tailor – made Cava

14 08 2009

bikeWe saddle up for our 2 hour ride to the Artcava Winery at 9 am needing to be there by 11:30. The beginning of which was a wonderfully winding 12k downhill. I remember feeling a bit guilty that I had the pleasure of cruising down the mountain upon seeing the faces of several unfortunate souls riding up. Speeding along, wind in my face, Rod Stewert in my ears, a Zen-like feeling overwhelms me – one with everything. As I also feel I AM the one with everything. Life is good this morning.

I reach the bottom thankful to see the petrol station, as that was what Anthony said our landmark was for this first leg of Wine Pleasures bike tour round two. Going inside, a blast of cold air hits me in perfect timing. Making a bit of conversation with the lady behind the counter, ever practicing my Spanish, I remember that Catalan is the language here, and I feel a bit foolish. I purchase my lemon flavored Fanta and head out to wait for the others. Mmm, Fizzy, cold, citrusy, all the qualities of my favorite Cava (minus the sugar of course). Finishing my beverage, up rides Anthony asking if I have been here long. I suspect he wants to get an idea of how difficult it might be to get home first. Emily and Nic arrive after Anthony, cruising around the parking lot, shifts my bike into the fastest set of gears.

Biking through a seemingly empty town, up this side street, and down the next, we pass a vineyard; Right in the middle of town! I am beginning to understand how dedicated this area is to it’s grapes, and therfore wine… Much of the rest of the ride to the winery is fairly nondescript other than that it is a nice ride through rolling hills and Back roads twisting and turning.

Although there is one thing I must mention.. We reach Vilafranca some 20 km from the Wine Pleasures base. Upon realizing this, I can’t believe how far we’ve ridden!

ericOn time at 11.30 we arrive at our destination, Art Cava, desaddle, and head inside. I am hit with the smell of fresh paint as I come through the door. I can see they are lighting up the entrance a bit, white washing the interior walls. Eric Enguita is there to greet us and asks if we’d prefer the English tour or the Spanish one. I am hoping the only difference is the language!

The first bit of the tour is in the “museum.” Inside there are all sorts of ancient looking, wine making devices along with many old looking bottles of wine from when I can only imagine. He leads us over to a glass case and flicks on a light inside. There on the shelves are bits of Pre-Roman pottery. Many of which had contained wine since this was the major wine making region, and the major marketplace of its time.

pupitreThe next part of the tour is about the process by which Cava is made. Artcava also caters to groups that come here and make their own! There are seven steps, I can’t remember them all but basically they fill the bottles with ‘base wine’, add yeast and suger to make the carbonation, then cork the bottles. Once corked they are refrigerated and aged in the cellar, tilted at such an angle so that the yeast will fall to the neck of the bottle for easy removal.

degorgeTo remove the yeast, the neck is frozen and the bottle uncorked. The yeast is forced out by the newly carbonated Cava. The bottle is then recorked and ready for consumption. One more thing to mention about this process is the amount of ageing while the yeast is still inside the bottles. The more time that the wine is in contact with the yeast, the more full-bodied flavor the Cava will have. The longest being 30 months, earning the title “Gran Reserva” and, not surprisingly, the heftiest price tag. Artcava’s is quite reasonable at about 20 Euros.

olivoEric continues to lead us around the facility, showing us restored rooms of an authentic wine making home centuries old. There is a central courtyard which overlooks the vineyards rather pleasantly. The courtyard is also adorned with an olive tree more than 1000 yrs old. I am told it weighs in at over 5400 kilos. Short and Squat looking, it is something out of Tolkien’s Shire. While looking out over the vineyards I ask Eric about the vines and their ages. 15 yrs being the oldest vineyard, and there is one within site that is the baby at just one year. Six years is optimal for maximum harvest; Although, older vines, produce the better grapes and have much less harvest.

As we are led to the next part of the tour I am really hoping it is the tasting. After the long hot ride, a craving to consume Cava is building inside me. It is also probably the result effective tour strategy. We sit down in a small theater for a 10 min long video, which results in the ever-increasing infamy of this beverage. Probably translated from Catalan, many of the words used to describe Cava are a bit “out there” to me as i can’t help but to giggle to myself. All in all the video is quite informative and yet another effective strategy toward creating Cava cravings.

Just before the climax of the tour, we are shown the cellar in which the bottles are stored. At a chilly 16c the bottles age with the yeast still inside. The air conditioned cellar is also a welcome change from the unrelenting heat I’ve come to know since in Spain.

copsa de cavaWe are led upstairs and Eric motions towards a small bar where we all gather on typical looking bar stools. Voila! An ice cold bottle is brandished from a cooler behind the bar. As Eric opens the bottle I can’t help but notice just how silently he does so. No matter how hard I’ve tried in the past, I can’t keep from producing a small “pop” upon opening. He pours us all a glass, and pleasantly, himself a glass too. It’s all I can do to not to wolf it down! Lucky for me, the only type that is produced here is “Brut Natura” which contains no added sugar. I believe sugar to be an additive to disguise poor quality in wine. We try two varieties, first their standard economy variety and one aged for 12 months. The first is very light, and because of its “light body” the carbonation really flourishes. The second tastes a bit more full bodied, almost like a carbonated Chardonnay with less emphasis on the “fizziness.” I must confess i prefer the first, although most wine enthusiasts would probably go for the older variety because of it’s meal drinkability.

chocsWe spend the next hour or so drinking, eating chocolate coated almonds and talking of many things Catalan. Eric tells us about his family (he and his parents run Artcava) and his interests outside winemaking. After polishing off about three bottles, we decide that we had better head out and find a spot to refuel for the ride home. Looking forward to, and somewhat dreading, the challenge of the 300m elevation increase, we gear up and ride off in search of protiens and white carbs.

Alec Cruickshank cardman9to5@yahoo.com
Photos courtesey of Nic Myers





Water to wine bike tour (Penedès) – taste the difference!

4 08 2009

panormaic view montserratI am quite pleased to say that I survived the 30 km excursion winding through the hills (sierra) of the Penedes wine region. We started out on a 3 km trek up the hill where, Wine Pleasures base is located.  Road winding this way and that, magnificent, panoramic views jump out from around the next bend as we ascend to the top.  Just as we get there, Nic’s bike gives out, and our breakdownexcursion stalls until Anthony can zoom down and retrieve another bike.  Seemingly moments later, up pulls the support vehicle and we pull the bikes out and Nic familiarizes himself with his new ride. 

We are off again, this time a pleasantly winding cruise down the other side of the hill leads us to our first scheduled stop, a natural spring (Els Canals).  The clear, fresh water pours from a rock just at the perfect spring waterheight for filling our water bottles.  Once refreshed and bottles no longer empty, down the little gravel road we shoot, skidding a bit here and there only adds to the excitement.

Our next stop after about a 20 min. ride is an ancient oak tree over 1000 years old.  Its massive trunk juts up to about 2m where several thick, gnarled limbs curl their way toward the sky.  Nic, all the while snapping photos, climbs the trunk to a perfect spot to sit and have your picture taken in this arborous wonder. 

Continuing along, not far from our oak stop, Anthony pulls his bike off the road and stops.  Seemingly there is something wrong, there doesn’t seem to be anything in sight.  He motions for us to follow, and nearly falling into our next sight I realize what we are stopped for!  A pot hole some 30m deep opens at our feet.  Only about half a meter wide and a meter and a half long, very little light is shed into the potentially massive cavern below.  There is just enough light to see some impressive stalagtite formations near the rim.  Without any climbing gear we are unable to explore any deeper than we can see; but all is well, It is rumoured that past inhabitants of the area used it for disposing of dead livestock, and who knows what else!

Before reaching the pinnacle of our bike tour, one more stop is made. abadoned houseThis time at a vacation house of Belgian Royalty used 200+ years ago.  Nearly intact, the structure is beautifully constructed from locally found stones.  A well house is also on the site. Nearly 3m across, I am impressed with the size and depth, and peering down the well there are still thousands of litres of water contained within.

abandoned monasteryAfter a short ride we reach the monastery ruins that we set out to see.  One partial exterior wall is all that remains.  All around though, we see the outlining foundation where the walls once stood.  Walking from room to room I can almost picture how the ancient inhabitants lived.  Several fairly small rooms (maybe 4m x 3m), probably living quarters shared by two or more monks at a time, connect to a larger, likely communal room.  Erected in 1155, these monks only lived here until until 1168 when lack of water forced them to move on to nearby Santa Creus. 

Water bottles empty, the same has forced us to do as well.  Only drops of the crystal clear spring water remain from our first stop.  Anthony tells us of another spring nearby, and we’re off.  Once again an exhilerating downhill leads us to this much needed refreshment.  Like the one previous, the water rushes from a hole, seemingly pierced into the face of a rock.  Strangely enough, the cool water has a distinctly different taste.  More like a difference in texture explainable only to the palate.  Drinking our fill, we top off our bottles and head into La Llacuna for lunch, fine wine, and La Fiesta Mayor…

                                         To be Continued…

Alec Cruickshank – cardman9to5@yahoo.com

Photos Nic Myers

Here’s a video we took during this fantastic wine country bike tour organised by Wine Pleasures:





Wine tasting tours in Catalonia’s Cava region, Spain

8 07 2009

Before today, I had not realised that some 95% of all cavas are produced in the Penedès region. Armed with that knowledge, it was with mounting excitement that I looked forward to my visit to one of the renowned cava producers of the region, Pages Entrena. Joan Pages Entrena met us as we exited the car and took us along with him whilst he shared with us the benefit of his experience as a winemaker. 

pages entrena 4On first sight, Pages Entrena is an impressive mixture of the rustic and the sophisticated. The premises are an old 18th Century paper mill, now filled with state of the art wine making equipment. With Ivy creeping up the walls and dogs milling in the yard, it comes as a shock to enter the wrought iron doors and be greeted with a plush, high-tech and professional environment to learn about wines. It is a small operation, with a staff of only four, but nevertheless produces a large amount of wine. A huge emphasis is put on quality, to the extent that although they grow their own grapes, they bring in other grapes if they believe their own not to reach the standards they have set. Owing to year on year differences in climatic and other factors involved with grapes, each year the highest quality is selected for their wines. 

pages entrena1We move straight past the stainless steel fermentation tanks, familiar to me from previous winery visits, and downwards to the cellar. Cava wine has a second fermentation once the wine is in the bottle, which takes place in the cool environment of the cellar. The wine is left to ferment in the bottles with sugar and yeast for months in the dark, whilst the winemakers wait patiently. Juan took me downwards, explaining the process of fermentation and holding the bottles to the light to elucidate his statements. All the while, my attention was partly on my surroundings, the atmospheric and gloomy rooms with dim lighting, stacked with thousand and thousand of cavas. The temperature is always kept between 18 and 21 degrees, a cool and refreshing change from the constant summer heat of Spain. The cellars smelt incredibly welcoming, aged and balmy; exactly what I would expect from a well stocked wine cellar. Some of the Cavas in there, for example the Gran Reserva, will have to wait at least 40 months until they see the light of day again. 

Emerging from the cellar, we took a tour of the grounds, seeing the tasting rooms, the  lab where they test quality of wines and an old, separate building, where Joan voiced long term plans for conversion into a hotel, as a retreat for visitors to Barcelona. horseWith the property surrounded by vineyards and attached to a stable with 12 thoroughbred horses, it was easy to see it as a haven against the vibrant bustle of Barcelona. I went up to have a quick peek at the horses and stroke their noses, and was slightly overawed by their obvious quality.

pages entrena2Finally, it was time to try one of the cavas, I´d heard so much about. We tried the Cava Pages Entrena Rose, made of 60% garnacha and 40% monestrell grapes. To earn the title of Cava, it must be aged for at least nine months. However, all the cavas they produce are aged for an absolute minimum of twelve months. Unlike the wines you buy at a supermarket, the bottles are dated from when they have completed second fermentation, ensuring that you always know precisely how old the Cava you are drinking is. The nose was aromatic and intensive and upon drinking it I found it fresh, cool and fruity. The taste was pages entrean3definitely that of a summer wine, for drinking on balmy evenings outside. I was favourably impressed by the overall experience of the Rose. 12,000 have been produced.

Amy Wilkerson Wine Travel writer for Wine Pleasures





MASET, THE CAVA SPECIALIST

23 02 2009

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Good news for buyers travelling to participate in the Wine Pleasures Workshop: Buyer meets Spanish Cellar! Cava is often a preferred wine for buyers and Maset del LLeó have some excellent cavas to consider.

masetHere’s some background info on the winery: Since 1777, the Maset family is closely linked to the world of wine.  A legacy that resists the pass of time, generation after generation, working in the industry for over 200 years.  As one of the founders of the Cava wine region, Maset, offers a wide range of sparkling wines: Brut, Brut Nature, Semi-sweet, Rose, a variety that has positioned us as the Cava Specialist what allows us to supply any specific demand of each of our customers.   SPANISH WINE AMBASSADORS   The winery produces its prestige wines carefully, only selecting the best grapes and following a strict quality process. Currently, the winery has a wide range of top quality products, wines from the most important regions Currently, Maset is focussing its efforts on the international markets and we are looking forward to contact distributors interested in collaborating with a solid firm and a leader in its market.

Looking to add Cava to your portfolio? Come and visit the Wine Pleasures Workshop: Buyer meets Spanish Cellar (15 – 17 March)





COMUNICADO DE PRENSA: El Wine Pleasures Congreso y Workshop Internacional de Enoturismo reunirá a más de 300 profesionales procedentes de más de 30 países.

4 01 2009

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Los próximos días 24 al 27 se celebrará en la cuidad mediterránea de Sitges (Barcelona) en el Hotel Port Sitges Resort la 1ª edición del Wine Pleasures Congreso y Workshop de Enoturismo.

Un Congreso a medida

Con antelación al evento, los asistentes pueden confeccionar a su medida su propio programa de ponencias ya que se impartirán 3 ponencias simultaneas en aulas diferentes. Así el asistente sólo asistirá a las ponencias que más le interesa para su caso concreto.

Los asistentes, procedentes de muchas zonas vitivinícolas de España (P.ej: Utiel- Requena, Rioja, Penedès, Pla de Bages, Madrid, Priorat, Montsant, Conca de Barberà, Cava, Jerez) y también profesionales de más de 30 países diferentes: Alemania, Bélgica, Reino Unido, Estados Unidos, Estonia, Latvia, India, Noruega, Dinamarca, Portugal, Suecia, Finlandia, Holanda, Italia, Francia,……Cabe destacar el alto porcentaje de participación de bodegas portuguesas.

Precio entrada 43 Euros (3 días) o 25 Euros por día.

Programa “After Congreso”

Para fomentar el networking entre los participantes se ofrecerá un programa de actividades enoturísticas por las tardes que comprenderá de visitas bodegas y culturales así como actividades enoturísticas en el mismo hotel. Algunas de las empresas que winepleasures2colaboran son las siguientes: Art Cava, Bohigas, Haciendas de España (Cava Village), Bodegas Torres, Vilarnau y Vinseum.

Workshop Enoturístico (26 y 27 de enero)

El Workshop Enoturístico tiene por objetivo ofrecer a proveedores de productos enoturístico la posibilidad de contactar en profundidad con TTOO/AAVV internacionales interesados conocer y comercializar productos enoturísticos. Mediante la participación en el workshop, tanto las vendedoras como las empresas compradoras se benefician de la posibilidad de conocerse mutuamente en un entorno eficaz, de bajo coste económico y cómodo, permitiendo la realización de transacciones comerciales favorables para ambas partes. Cabe destacar que participará en el Workshop una bodega (Kristall Kellerei) ubicada en Namibia.

Fam Trip Enoturístico

En paralelo al Congreso, 12 Tour Operadores (18 personas) estarán participando en un Fam Trip organizado por Wine Pleaures en el cual colabora el Patronat de Turismo de Tarragona y la Oficina de Turismo de Priorat. Durante el programa de 5 días visitarán bodegas, hoteles, lugares de interés cultural y restaurantes en el Priorat, Montsant, Garraf, Conca de Barberà, Penedès Cava y Tarragona. Este grupo, junto con más TTOO/AAVV participarán en el Workshop Enoturístico y el día 28 harán una ruta enoturística en bicicleta en la Conca de Barberà y Costers del Segre terminando con una visita, cata y comida en una Bodega DO Costers del Segre. 

Aún quedan plazas para participar en el Congreso y el Workshop





Vijazz Penedès: Matching Penedès Wine & Cava with International Jazz

1 12 2008

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Wine Pleasures International Wine Tourism Conference & Workshop

Speaker: Francesc Palau Viarnès Acadèmia Tastavins Penedèsfotografia-francesc-palau11

Vijazz Penedès offers a complete weekend for wine and jazz lovers. The most famous Penedès wineries offer their wines and cavas in a fair in the historical centre of Vilafranca del Penedès together with and International Jazz Festival with free entrance. An enomusical event that mixes wines&cavas of 50 cellars of the Penedès area with concerts of cutting age international artists or jazz bands.

Vijazz Penedès is a wine fair for general public and an international jazz festival with free entrance. It’s an enomusical event, mixing wine with jazz music. It is organized by the Academia Tastavins del Penedès, an independent and non-profit wine academy with 600 members, with the support of the public administration, wine institutions and sponsors. The presentation exposes the Vijazz as an example of cooperation between the wineries and the administration and institutions to create a successful event that associates the Penedès wine with a high cultural festival, attracting premium consumers and sponsors. And this cooperation is held by a non-profit wine academy, that offers independency to the wineries and flexibility and capability to the administration and institution. The academy is able to discuss with sponsors, music intermediaries, media, wineries and politicians without being seen as an interested party due to its position of a non-profit organization. We present the marketing and communication plan, the sponsorship strategy, the artistic direction and the activity programme for the visitors. We will show how we attract wineries to the fair, how we get some of the best international jazz artists, how we prepare Taylor-made sponsorship plans and how we prepare an atractive programme to the visitors, with all the alternative activities. Finally we present the communication plan to attract visitors and media. We will present the most interesting figures of the first and second editions, including the results of evaluation questionnaires to the wineries.