Mercat a la Planxa is the relatively new glitzy restaurant in the Blackstone Renaissance Hotel on South Michigan Avenue, in downtown Chicago, which features the cuisine of Catalonia, Spain. It was the scene of an eye-opening wine-tasting event, sponsored by Catalan Wines USA.
I first encountered the wines of Catalan at the recent 9th Miami International Wine Fair but had little opportunity to taste the wines as they were inconveniently placed near the food stations in the Miami Beach Convention Center and were in the epicenter of a mob scene. An invitation to visit the wine producers in a more serene environment in Chicago proved to be a golden opportunity to experience these unique, value-priced wines. Adding to the experience was the presence of the winemakers and a sumptuous sideboard of Spanish tapas (small plates), and an assortment of olives, cheeses and cured meats indigenous to Spain and the Catalonia region.
Wines of the Catalan are new to the American market, but, in spite of the unfamiliarity of the wine drinking public, they should quickly find their place. They are young, flavorful, very approachable and easy on the pocketbook. Not one wine I tasted sells for more than $24. Most are in the $10-$15 range. There were even some surprisingly good wines in the $4-$9 category. I’m sure that once these wines start appearing on restaurant wine lists and begin to gain some traction from word of mouth, that will not always be the case.
That reality may be in the distant future. The nice thing about wine is that it somehow dampens any feelings of foreboding, replacing them with a warm, satisfying inner glow.
That feeling of satisfaction permeated my experience as I cruised the tasting tables and chatted with the personable winemakers.
The first stop is the Caves (Spanish sparkling wines) of Canals & Munne where winemaker Oscar Medina Canals awaits with a ready glass of his Insuperable Brut 2006, which was rated 90 points by Europe’s version of Robert Parker, Guia Penin. At roughly $20 a bottle, this was one of the more expensive wines in the room and certainly one of the best. It had a beautiful pale straw color and bubbles that shimmered up the glass like a strand of fine pearls. There was a pronounced aroma of spring flowers and a pleasant taste that filled the mouth with hints of honey, pear and just a hint of jasmine tea. The winery only produces 30,000 bottles of this fine sparkler. Aged 25 months in the bottle, it is an exquisite of the type of care and craftsmanship that goes into Catalonian wine.
My next favorite was Mas Rodo Riesling 2009 presented by winemaker Sergi Silguero. The wine is mind-blowing! If you weren’t reading the label, you would swear that you had wandered into a tasting room somewhere in the Rheingau. Mas Rodo Riesling was, in fact, nominated as “Wine of the Week” in Germany by the newspaper “Hamburger Abendblatt this past Spring. ..Danke you very much! Again, we’re talking small production and tremendous value. At about $15 tops, this pale gold beauty truly delivers with complex aromas and a delicate perfume on the nose. Silky and elegant in the mouth, it is surprisingly well balanced, with enough acid and a long finish that allows it to stand up to food. Paella comes to mind.
There were roughly 30 wines on display and frankly, I couldn’t find a bad one in the bunch, and I went around the tasting tables twice. Needless to say, a long steam bath at the club provided the proper wind-down to a particularly delightful ‘wined-up’ afternoon!