Is Catalonia so different from the rest of Spain that its people are willing to officially defy the central government in Madrid and break away from the country? It's certainly looking that way. The Catalan parliament has recently voted to formally begin proceedings toward secession from Spain with the hope of declaring independence by 2017. I hope the Catalans are ready for a long and bumpy ride!
If you haven't kept up on Spanish politics lately, the level of Catalan dissension toward the central government of Madrid has become so strong that the move to secede is underway. With its own language, a 1000 years of recorded history as its own separate region, and a population around the size of Switzerland (7.5 million), Catalonia lays a strong claim for sovereignty.
On a buying trip in October 2014, I was struck by the emotion throughout Catalonia and the passionate arguments to justify its crusade toward independence. I was there a month before a November vote was to take place about whether or not the region should secede - a vote that the central government in Madrid was claiming to be unconstitutional. As you can imagine, emotions were high.
It's obvious that things ARE distinctly different here. Anyone who has experienced the electricity of Barcelona would agree that it's like no other city in Spain. If Gaudi's eccentric architecture doesn't blow your mind, La Rambla, that funky, street performer strip in the heart of the city, certainly will.
The Catalans take great pride in their culture and region. They have worked hard to preserve an indigenous language that is closer to French and Italian than it is to Spanish or Portuguese. Their innovative cuisine often mixes seafood and meats in the same dish which is something unique compared to the rest of Spain. And the wine? Well, now we're talking! This might just be one of Catalonia's biggest steps forward in making a world-class name for itself.
Having sold Spanish wines for the last 20 years, nothing excites me more about Spain than the incredible wines being made in and around Barcelona. From the big reds coming out of the hilly Priorat region to the Cava producers along the coast, there is an evolution of quality wine making that serves to establish just the kind of individuality the Catalans so deeply crave. So it's my pleasure to introduce you to a couple of fantastic new producers I discovered and now importing into the US.
Inland from Barcelona about a hundred miles lies the appellation known as Costers del Segre. Wine making goes back to Phoenician and Roman times in this region but some of the most intriguing evidence for winemaking is from the 12th Century. Local monks at the time dug out stone vats throughout the valley just like the fermentation vats you see here on the property of Costers del Sió. This valley is fed by the Segre River gushing down from the Pyrenees Mountains which nurtures some of the finest Tempranillo, Garnacha and Cabernet I have tasted anywhere in Spain.
Two brothers manage Costers del Sió and they run a truly eco-balanced property with naturally raised pigs, cows and grapes that are grown using organic and sustainable farming techniques. Modern equipment and the soft touch of a female winemaker add up to an amazing lineup of balance and style. Costers del Sió is doing everything right and one taste of Les Creus and Petit Sios will make you a believer.
From the Priorat region I'm thrilled to introduce you to Maius Estate - a micro-winery run by Josep Gomez and his father. The reputation of the Priorat has grown in cult-like fashion and today it is home to the most expensive reds in Spain. What I love about Josep is his passion for the vineyard first, and the wine second. In other words, Josep and his dad are true farmers. They understand the importance of caring for the vines and what it takes to produce top-shelf wine.
There is no question that the Catalans have their work cut out for them as they travel down the road to independence. Right or wrong, I can't help but admire their passion for preserving their language, their history and a tradition that goes back centuries. I may not be able to aid their cause directly but I'm happy to be importing their wines, raising a glass of their delicious juice and wishing them all the best. If you would like to join me, go to www.bloodhoundwines.com and order some of these stunning bottles for yourself. Salut!
If you've had it up to here with the high prices of Champagne, you're not alone. But don't give up on bubbly just yet. There has never been more, quality sparkling wine in the market than there is today, so be adventurous and taste, taste, taste. With so much affordable, good stuff out there why pay inflated prices to those over-inflated egos in the land of Champagne?
But hold it! Before I go and completely rain on Champagne's parade, it's all because of Champagne's global success that sparklers from Italy, Spain, Australia and elsewhere have effervesced their way into popularity. And why shouldn't they? Bubbles are festive, fizzy and fun. And let's be honest, with its foil, wire cage and popping cork is there anything that personifies a celebratory mood more impressively than sparkling wine? I don't think so!
For the past 5 years, the sparkling wine category has exploded to where global production has now surpassed two billion bottles. Think about it. There are over 7 billion people in the world and each year 2 billion bottles of bubbly are produced. That's incredible. But more incredible might be the fact that all this crazy growth has had very little to do with Champagne.
I'm going to guess that many of you have helped push this bubble trend by slaking your thirst with Prosecco, Cava, or one of the many other affordable sparkling wines from a distant corner of the globe. But I'm here to introduce you to the original sparkling wine; an oldie, but goodie; the "real McCoy" - a sparkling wine that trumps all of the above when it comes to history and tradition. It's called Blanquette de Limoux and many historians consider it to be the first true Champagne ever produced in France.
Limoux is a town with about 10,000 people tucked up against the Pyrenees Mountains in southwestern France. Historians believe that the production of sparkling wine dates back to 1531 in this place - long before bubbles were even thought of in the Champagne area. Folklore has it that Dom Perignon was taught how to make sparkling wine by monks at the St. Hillaire abbey in Limoux. And later he took this wine making knowledge to Champagne. It makes for a good story but no one knows if this truly happened.
So what is Limoux? Honestly speaking, Blanquette de Limoux is Champagne. It is made in exactly the same way as Champagne - only the grapes are different. In Champagne, regulations only allow for three grapes to be used either singularly or in blends - Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Menuier. In Limoux, the signature grape is Mauzac, or Blanquette as the locals call it which must make up 90% of the blend with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc allowed in the other 10%.
But aside from grape types, the wine making process for Champagne and Limoux remain constant. Per normal, the grapes are fermented and vinified but just prior to bottling, a small mixture of yeast, sugar and wine known as the liqueur de tirage is added to induce a second fermentation in the bottle. During this secondary fermentation, carbon dioxide is released and trapped in the bottle creating pressure and effervescence ultimately producing those delicious tiny bubbles we all love so much. After 9 months, the bottles are opened and disgorged (removal of the lees by freezing a small portion of wine in the neck of the bottle where this sediment has collected) before the final corking and wire basket are applied.
This process is technically known as Methode Champenoise but due to lobbying and politics by the fat cats in Champagne this term can only be used on labels of bubbly made from fruit grown in the Champagne region. Everywhere else it has to be referred to as the Traditional Method. Silly, don't you think?
So to honor the king of bubbles, Bloodhound Wines is now offering two beautifully made sparklers from Limoux. Crisp and full of apple and pear, these wines from Domaine Rosier bring a festive nature to any gathering. The Domaine Saint Nicolas is a traditional, Brut-style Blanquette spending 9 months on the lees before disgorgement. The Domaine Rosier Heritage spends 12 months on the lees and results in a softer style with an extra level of mousse that the St. Nicolas doesn't have. But hey, they are both incredibly refreshing with elegant bubbles and I dare you to find any food that doesn't go with them. And maybe best of all they're only 15 bucks. Eat your heart out Champagne.