Catacurian – Day 3: 80 year-old vines, a tiny winery, tomato sorbet, and fricandó

September 10, 2010

Sorry for the delay, folks – We’ve left lovely Barcelona and are now in Madrid with dear friends we haven’t seen in nearly 9 years! I hope you didn’t give up on hearing more about our adventures!

Day 3 at Catacurian was just as marvelous as Day 2. I had a good night’s sleep, and didn’t wake up once (let’s hear it for dissipation of jet lag, woot!). We were off and running from pretty early in the day to go see a teeny stretch of 80 year-old Grenache vines. Alicia’s friend and accountant Jaume had created a teeny-tiny winemaking outfit called Ficaria, which comes from the word for “fig” in Latin and Catalán. He was a delight to chat with, and the view over his small vineyard was stunning.

The view from Jaume's parcel of 80 year-old grapevines

We learned that 80 years was about as old as you can find grape vines in most of western Europe because of the phylloxera plague that killed all the grapes in the late 19th century. Even today, because the phylloxera somehow stick around in some form or another, new vines should be grafted onto rootstocks of American vines, or they will die. We also learned that as a grape vine ages, the grapes it produces becomes sweeter and sweeter, and the production becomes less and less abundant – so on these old vines, you have wonderful grapes with good sugar concentration, but only in small amounts.

I thought it was interesting that these vines were so tiny and short – seems like two careful prunings a year keep them looking like this, and this size (note the trunk diameter in the photo below) is typical for older vines.

Alicia and Jaume

Later, we returned to the heart of Ficaria to tour the winery and taste some wines.

Jaume creates artisan-style wines as he tells it – small production of high-quality product with surprisingly complex flavor profiles. We tried wines – one named Eliá, named for his youngest daughter, and the other called Pater, named in honor of Jaume’s father.

While we were there, we learned about the different kinds of soil you can find in the Priorat and Monsant regions, and how these impart different kinds of flavors and mouthfeel to the wines created there. Jaume had a really cool example of the six types of soils found in his parcels of grapes.

And look at this fine example of press: this method evidently has changed very little since Roman times.

Here are the gals enjoying their wines – it was definitely before lunchtime, but we all finished Jaume’s generous pours.

We left the winery and has a few minutes of downtime before lunch, so Meg decided to use her nothing time in a most satisfying and non-productive way: Painting her toenails. We got tickled when we realized that the fabuous purple color she’d put on her toes matched the curtains in the house beautifully!

Next up was lunch, but sadly, I missed taking photos. We dined in the garden al fresco, which was a treat since the heat had finally relented a bit. We enjoyed a beautifully-executed green salad dressed with a vinaigrette of thyme, Dijon mustard, sherry vinegar, honey, sea salt, black pepper, and a ton of olive oil – yum! We also ate roasted tomatoes and roasted trumpet mushrooms – sooo amazing. The piece de resistance, super-fresh baby squid—simply prepared with just a touch of salt. What a clean and sweet flavor it had! All items were prepared using (guess what?) olive oil from the town’s co-op.

I managed to forget to snap a photo, but if any of you gals have photos to add, email them to me and I’ll add them here, ¿vale?]

Siesta time next, and as I recall it was a pretty long time. Some of us headed out for a walk, and I stayed in with my computer and wrote a bit to finish up Day 1’s blog post. Woo!

Dinner was up next: we prepared a tomato sorbet, which didn’t really sound all that appetizing in theory, to tell you the truth. However, it was a real treat—super refreshing and with wonderful flavors. We layered martini glasses with Arbequina olive pate followed by the semi-frozen tomato puree:

And then drizzled the whole thing with a generous pour of olive oil and garnished with a sprig of thyme. Isn’t it lovely?

The main course was Fricandó, a hearty dish of veal with mushrooms. For this recipe, we used some freshly-foraged mushrooms as I recall, although I didn’t write down what they were—maybe Porcini? Anyone remember? What’s more, we had HOLY mushrooms. Observe:

Blessed mushrooms

As we prepared this dish, we learned the appropriate way to measure how much cognac to add to the sauce. You unscrew the lid, and then start pouring as you recite “Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-TA.” Think of the meter for “If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie.” Here’s Meg, showing us how it’s done:

Et voilà! Kind of makes you hungry, doesn’t it?

Fricando (Veal with mushrooms)

We enjoyed all this with a few bottles of Pater, the wine we’d tried earlier in the day, and we discovered that it was a stunning accompaniment to super-dark chocolate thanks to a bag of goodies our dear Jessica brought along. Holy cow, ¡qué delicia!

We stayed up chatting for a while, and then headed off to bed. Day 3: Resounding success!

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