After visiting the dank cellars that lie deep beneath the vineyards we make our way back to a tasting room, where a spread of traditional dishes and contemporary tapas has been laid out to accompany our cava tasting session. Llopart guides us through pairings, starting with three rustic classics: pan com tomate y jamón, or toast rubbed with fresh tomato and a slice of jamón Ibérico; coca de setas y butifarra, the regional take on pizza with forest mushrooms and a Catalan sausage whose recipe dates to Roman times; and plates of escalibada, smoky grilled vegetables drowned in virgin olive oil. Everything is local and—true to Adrià’s assertion—works wonderfully with the wine.
“It’s the fruitiness and freshness that really makes cava special,” Llopart tells us, as she pours the last drops of a well-structured, creamy Imperial Gran Reserva Brut into my glass. “And its flexibility,” she adds, opening a bottle of Leopardi Gran Reserva Brut Nature, which she suggests having with the sausage, its spicy notes matching well with richer, heavier dishes. “I love Cava because you can have it at any time—winter or summer, with or without food, with all moments.”
Over the rest of the trip, we wash down an array of Catalan specialties with countless glasses of the wine. There’s fideus, the humble Catalan version of paella made with fried noodles, at the Cuscó Berga winery in Avinyonet; a sublime array of pica pica sharing plates—tuna tartare, plump scallops on creamy mashed potatoes, piping hot croquettes, and fried quail eggs with trumpet mushrooms—served in the chandeliered dining room at the Bohigas winery in Òdena. One of our most epic meals unfolds back in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, where we dine at Juvé y Camps, renowned for producing some of the finest cavas in the world—and the food is made to match. After a marathon-like tour through their tremendous multi-storied cellars, we sit down to mountains of cured ham and cheese, escalibada with herring, duck cannelloni, seafood stew with octopus, cod with spinach, and chicken with pine nuts. Each dish is matched perfectly with a cava, from a fun Brut Rosé through to the big Gran Juvé y Camps.
However, it’s our final meal that shows the wine’s versatility the best. At an old-fashioned restaurant in the cellars of Canals & Munné in the center of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, our hosts, the winemaker Oscar Canals and his charming export manager Natalia de la Calle Zancajo, demonstrate the most quintessential of Catalan rituals, the calçotada. It’s the act of peeling and eating the first of the season’s calçots, enormous spring onions, which involves dipping them into Romesco sauce, bending one’s head back, and letting the sweet, soft morsels slide along the tongue before washing them down with a mouthful of cava. I could never imagine doing the same with Champagne.
As I wipe the sauce from my mouth with a paper napkin, I recall something else that Terns told me years ago in Barcelona: “The best way to really feel Penedès is to go and drink the cava.” Mission accomplished.
Bohigas (Finca Can Macià, Òdena; 34-93/804-8100)
Canals & Munné (Plaça Pau Casals 6, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia; 34-93/891-0318)
Cuscó Berga (Les Gunyoles, Avinyonet; 34-93/897-0164)
Juvé y Camps (Carrer Sant Venat 1, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia; 34-93/891-1000)
Llopart (Subirats; 34-93/899-3125)
Mas Codina (El Gorner, Puigdàlber; 34-93/898-8166)
Vinícola de Nulles (Nulles; 34-977/602-622)
Singapore Airlines flies daily to Barcelona, both nonstop and via Milan. From Hong Kong, Swiss Air offers the most direct connections to the Catalan capital. The Penedès region is 40 minutes from Barcelona by car, and easily accessed by train as well.
Where to Stay
Those opting to visit Penedès as a day trip from Barcelona will want to base themselves at Hotel Omm (265 Carrer Rosselló; 34-93/445-4000; doubles from US$270) in the fashionable Gràcia neighborhood. Home to the Michelin-starred Roca Moo restaurant, it also features a rooftop pool terrace that looks across to Gaudí’s Casa Milà. For something closer to the wineries, consider the 12-room Hotel Mastinell (34-93/115-6132; doubles from US$265), which sits next to a cava vineyard just outside Vilafranca del Penedès, the region’s main town.
This article originally appeared in the April/May print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Cava Country”)