Saturday, November 21, 2020

"My Life in Wine" Episode 8

"When it comes to writing about wine, I did what almost everybody does - faked it."   Art Buchwald


In Episode 7, my Copy Editor and I lingered in Burgundy, whiling away the afternoon at Maison Joseph Drouhin, then returning to our room at Le Cep, for an early dinner with more wine to build up our courage for the long drive to Barcelona the following day, while preparing for the culture shift from Burgundy to Catalonia.  

Once the car was loaded and we set off, I was hoping my calculations were correct that the 500-mile drive, from Beaune, France to Barcelona, Spain would take about eight hours.  

No such luck.  Driving anywhere in Europe, in these times, means sharing the roads with hundreds of trucks that look much bigger than the semis on U.S. highways.  The only trucks I saw longer than those in Europe, were the "road trains" that barreled along at high speed across the flatland of Western Australia.

I had underestimated the driving time and hadn't accounted for the long backup at the Spanish frontier.  No matter what country you're in, it seems that customs and immigration agents treat you like you're an international smuggler.  

A smile and a "Welcome to Spain!," would have been nice. 

Nevertheless, we were happy to finally arrive in Barcelona, but not happy to find  that driving in Barcelona, while not as manic as driving in Paris, is unsettling, especially when you don't know where you are going.  GPS was not even on a wish list in those days, so we hoped we were going in the right direction and  to our great good luck, discovered we were.  

Our booking was at the Hotel Colon in the Gothic Quarter, and as luck would have it, there were helpful signs on the way into town directing us to our destination.  In the distance, we could see cathedral spires, towering above the buildings, acting as helpful directional beacons.  

Then, a few lucky turns and we were there.

Discover La Sagrada Familia, the jewel of modernism in Barcelona
La Sagrada Familia

Entire guide books are devoted to the sights and pleasures of Barcelona, so I'll  just say that we walked a lot, especially to see  from the outside, Antoni Gaudi's famous and amazing Sagrada Familia basilica; tours of the interior were still in the future.  Lunch was "Barcelona style," meaning late for an American, at Los Caracoles, Barcelona's oldest restaurant in the Gothic Quarter, famous for its extensive seafood menu, spit-roasted chicken and bread rolls shaped like a caracole, or snail, and to walk it off, a stroll along the famous La Rambla.  

A remembrance -- I first visited Spain in the early 1950s, as a passenger on a USAF C-41 (DC-3) out of Germany.  Spain was under the grip of Francisco Franco then, but since Spain and the United States were allies, we were given permission to land at an airfield operated by the Spanish Air Force outside Madrid.  The field would later be known as USAF Torrejon Air Base. 

As we taxied to our parking place, I remember passing a row of WWII German Luftwaffe transport planes, some still with the faint outline of the iron cross on the fuselage, painted over with Spanish markings.  During the war, Franco was not exactly a Nazi sympathizer, but he was a profiteer.

A short drive to Vilafranca del Penedes was scheduled for the following day, so we still had a few hours for a late afternoon stroll. The Gothic Quarter is a warren of   narrow winding streets and closely packed shops, that accentuate the sights and smells of the neighborhoods.  

Nearing the Ramblas, crowd noise mixed with sirens, grew louder.  The end of the street we were on opened onto a chaotic scene of riot police in full body armor clubbing demonstrators, trying to get away while shouting at the police. It was like walking out of a quiet room into a large riotous crowd.

Quickly, we turned and ran back toward our hotel and only later, found out the demonstration was for gay pride.

Dinner that night and a good night's sleep and we were ready to visit Torres the next day. The concept of winery tours and tastings in Europe were just catching on in the late 1970s in Europe, but as a visiting wine writer, covering the introduction of Spanish wine in an expanding U.S. wine market, I was able to arrange a private tour and tasting.

Over the years, Torres grew from a large winery in Penedes, to a mega-operation with vineyards and and wineries throughout Spain, in Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorat and Rueda. The Torres reach extends outside Spain, to Chile and California. All of this expansion can be directed back mainly to the efforts by the extended Torres family, with Miguel as president, who with the help of his sister Marimar and brother Juan-Maria, along with the younger generation, are maintaining the diversity and quality of Torres wines worldwide. 

Torres opens restaurant at Mas La Plana winery
Mas La Plana for two

 Before other Spanish wineries began to export non-native varieties, especially to the United States, Torres was making a Gewurztraminer called Vina Esmeralda, a Chardonnay with the descriptive name of Vina Sol and a world beater Cabernet Sauvignon known as Mas La Plana.  

There is so much more to the Torres story, but my memory from those days when my Copy Editor and I were in Catalonia in the late 1970s is a little dim.  Also, I'm a pack-rat by nature, thinking that someday I might be able to recycle a tasting note or observation, but a few moves over the last 40 years has meant jettisoning piles of paper.  

So, it's time to say goodbye to the excitement of Barcelona for the more staid experience of Alsace, France, almost at the end of our road trip. Following a few days visiting wineries in Alsace, we'll cross the Rhine river, to Frankfurt and then home.


Next Blog:  Northern Rhone Whites

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