Wednesday night, my wife and I attended a special dinner at an amazing local wine bar and tapas restaurant, Barcelona. There are several locations, mostly in CT. And luckily I work just down the street from one of them. I have had company parties, romantic dinners with my wife, and casual get-togethers with co-workers there, and all were really enjoyable experiences. They often have live music with Spanish and South American origins, and other special occasions such as this one. I unfortunately missed one of their many Rioja classes last month, but I will make it to one soon. They also have classes on cooking Gazpacho, cocktail mixology and more. So I was thrilled when I saw they were having a dinner party for the “Fiesta de San Fermin.” It is a week-long celebration in Navarra — in Pamplona specifically — that is famous for the ‘running of the bulls.’ Barcelona’s head wine buyer and director, Gretchen Thomas (who has quite an amazing resumé I must say,) put the event together and managed the wine tasting, while executive chef Gavin Blair manned the gigantic Paella Grande pan. All in all there were about 35 guests, and we had fun mingling among fellow wine lovers and getting newly acquainted. They even had a mascot, “Antonio the Bull” making the rounds in costume. He is the bull (beso) on the label of the Beso de Vino – though the cajones were a little more understated on the label than this costume! It was pretty amusing and I will stop there on that subject.
In addition to the Beso de Vino, we had a Cava from Penedès to start, followed by a nice Viura/Verdejo from Rueda, then a Catalunyan Garnacha Rosé, a Cabernet/Tempranillo/Syrah/Merlot blend from Costers del Segre, and a much-touted ‘Pasion de Bobal.’ Bobal is a local variety, often used for Valencian bulk wines, and fermented with spicy American oak to add complexity. But these Bobal are hand-harvested from up to 60 year-old vines, grown in vineyards at upwards of 300ft altitude and then macerated and fermented at low temperature in French oak. The result is a concentrated, overripe red fruit and spicy mix with grippy tannins. This and the afforementioned and excellent Beso de Vino old-vine Garnacha from Cariñena were my favorite. Old-vine Cariñena is one of my favorite Spanish wines already, and happily this one didn’t disappoint. I’d say the Garnacha Rosé was also in my top picks, and I love the French counterparts from Provence as much. But they were all good. The staff here really know their wine, and the selections were all tops. To be fair, the Cava was very nice too, though I don’t drink a lot of sparkling wine, as it goes right to my head. Usually a glass is all I need before moving on, no matter how good and expensive it may be. I did an amazing sparkling wine tasting tour on the North Fork I will of course write about, and by the end of it I felt like Charlie after too many fizzy lifting drinks at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Besides, do you ever spit out sparkling wine? I never have.
Delicious tapas was passed around during the tasting portion prior to the seated paella dinner, including hanger steak, pickled peach salad, artichokes a la plancha (with garlic, lemon, and parsley) and ceviche and monkfish – though I don’t eat much seafood or any shellfish. They were very accomodating in that respect and made me a paella free of these ingredients. Blasphemy some purists may say, but hey, that’s my picky palate for you. On Sunday they are holding a pig roast, and we are brininging my in-laws for their first visit to Barcelona. Olé!