Tasting Catalunya

It began with a weeklong stay on the Russian River in September 2021.  Our plans?  Serious R&R, adventure, exploration, exceptional eats and winery visits, all from a riverside rental with its own tiny beach for our Golden Retriever, Sloan.

Marimar Estate Vineyards & Winery was a slam dunk, easily meeting our dog-friendly criteria and reeling us in with the promise of tapas.  We secured an appointment for day 5. 

Ahhhh!  The winery’s old-world flair jived with Sebastopol’s natural grandeur.  The welcome was warm.  A table on the patio overlooking the jaw-dropping vineyards was set for our tasting.  With morsels of Pastis de Cabaçó Cristina (Zucchini Cake Cristina), Gambes a l’All amb Pebrots (Prawns in Garlic Sauce with Sweet Red Peppers), sips of Chardonnay-Albariño, “La Masia” Chardonnay, “Método Antiguo” and “Earthquake Block” Pinot Noirs, Farcellets de Col (Cabbage Dumplings Stuffed with Pork, Chorizo, Pine Nuts & Raisins) and Higos Pasos Rellenos con Salsa de Chocolate (Figs Stuffed with Chocolate and Nuts in a Chocolate Sauce), each referenced to a page number in Marimar’s “The Catalan Country Kitchen” and “The Spanish Table” cookbooks, we were transfixed. 

Sloan lounged happily at our feet with her own treats.

In that moment, savoring, reveling, and taking in the accompanying menu and literature, we spied an upcoming club trip to Catalonia, Spain in June 2022.  We were offered Albariño and Tempranillo, then, without pause, we joined Club Marimar and signed up for an adventure in Spain!

What followed was first-rate in planning and execution, coordinated by Marimar Torres, owner and vintner, Marimar Estate Winery, and her California and Spain-based staff. 

Sitges, Spain

Domingo (Sunday): At ME Terramar in Sitges, a lively beach town 25 minutes south of Barcelona, our group of 21 met each other and Marimar at the long-awaited welcome celebration at 9PM.

In anticipation, my husband and I familiarized ourselves with the names, faces and statesof residence for the 21 attendees from the list facilitated the week before by Marta González Miró, the terrific Export Brand Manager for Marimar Estate. We gleefully spotted each of them in the 24 hours before the meet.  Those first introductions were congenial as each of us felt the excitement of a deep dive into this most amazing region.  I sensed that I wasn’t alone feeling somewhat star-struck as Marimar joined the party and mingled while we imbibed free-flowing Torres wines (sparkling Estalado Rose from Chile, Vina Esmerelda and Gran Coronas from Spain) and sensational tapas. 

Marimar is the daughter of Don Miguel Torres, whose family has centuries of wine-growing tradition in Catalunya (Catalonia), Spain. The Torres family business began in 1870 in Pacs del Penedès. The location adjacent to France and the Mediterranean provided great opportunity.  Innovation, experimentation and a bit of rivalry over generations resulted in wines reflecting unique, indigenous characteristics of the region.

A week of vineyards and vintners and fine wines among varying terrains and terroirs unfolded on La Carretera del Vi (the Mediterranean Wine Road).

Familia Torres Winery, Pacs del Penedès

Lunes (Monday): Stately cypress and grapevines welcomed us to Familia Torres winery.  Touring the grounds, the subterranean cellar and taking in the winery’s murals and images of family history and their path to the present, coupled with the Torres pledge for sustainability and aggressive efforts to address climate change, we were awed.  The wine tasting at the family’s Waltraud Cellars was stunning: two long tables laid with crystal stemware and Torres wines. 
At Torres Brandy cellar, we were educated regarding grape varieties, the properties each brings forward, distillation and static aging methodology in French oak barrels.  
After, we met Marimar’s brother, Miguel, at the family’s restaurant, El Celleret.  We were treated to an ambitious tasting menu/ feast of Catalan dishes (Crystal Bread with tomato and anchovies, Grilled Vegetables with cod and romesco sauce, Grilled scallops with caramelized onions, Lamb shoulder with red wine sauce, Mató cheese with honey and walnuts, Chocolate cake with custard and ice cream) and Torres wines (Forcada 2019- DO Penedès -Forcada, Mas La Plana 2017- DO Penedès – Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserva Real-DO Penedès – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc), plus Magdala orange liquer made with Torres brandy.   
Marimar calls these extensive afternoon celebrations of food and wine “lunners.”
We power-napped, showered and explored Sitges on foot later, finding Ohana, with friendly staff, yummy tapas and more wine. We were delighted to feel a connection to the local fare 48 hours in!

Codorníu, Sant Sadurni d’Anoia

Martes (Tuesday): Our next day’s destination was spectacular Codorníu in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia.  Cava, Spain’s version of bubbly, was developed here. We marveled at the modernistic “Catedral de Vi” (Wine Cathedral), gorgeous gardens, and amazing train tour of the vast underground cellar with miles and miles of wine necessitating road signs, followed by a formal cava tasting.
Jean Leon Winery was a highlight.  We were intrigued by the story of Jean Leon arriving penniless in the U.S., his connections with the Rat Pack and La Scala Restaurant in Beverly Hills and friendship/ partnership with Miguel Torres. Here we were riveted by sensuous wines and the zealous vintner.
In Sitges, another “lunner” commenced at the golf course with now-familiar Catalan specialties: coca de tomate, Iberico ham, lightly fried calamari, numerous Torres wines and lip-smacking chocolate cake, with candles and song for the two June 14 birthday celebrations.

Dali Museum, Figueres

Miercoles (Wednesday): On day 3, after a free morning in Sitges, a 2-hour journey north to the fantastical Dali Museum in Figueres began, followed by an unbelievable, multi-course, eye-popping dinner at 3 Michelin-star Celler de Can Roca in Girona.  During the once-in-a-lifetime evening of culinary artistry, our servers poured 8 Marimar Estate and Torres wines plus Sake to accompany 1 dozen delectable appetizer bites, intricately constructed marvels of nettle and macadamia nut salad, white asparagus soup, langostine, fish of the day “suquet” and poularde, followed by two dessert creations. Both of the day’s events were profound and off the charts.
We grabbed a nightcap and began packing a little after 1.

Jueves (Thursday): Bright and early, we checked out of ME Terramar in Sitges and began our day in Juneda.  Purgatori Winery, established in 1770, is a distinctive meld of monastic and modern structures and processes among cypress and vines in the middle of nowhere.  A vertical tasting of 2017, 2018 and 2019 Purgatori in austere surroundings was uplifting in this ancient place among new friends. The young vintner exuded ardent devotion to his position, the land and the wine.
We toured the striking 12th century Poblet Monastery and viewed the Torres family’s Las Muralles vineyards in Poblet, surrounded by medieval walls. Some of us climbed to the top of Milmanda Castle for forever views.
As Marimar pointed out, ”Milmanda” translates as ruler of 1,000.
An extensive “lunner” at Moli de Mallol restaurant was succeeded by a long return lengthy ride to Hotel Majestic in Barcelona.  Overly full and nearly overcome by a day of food and wine, we tried to tune into our guide Angels’ energetic commentary without success.
After check-in, we later revived with rooftop martinis, positioned front and center to La Sagrada Familia.

Viernes (Friday): Without enough sleep, we began an ambitious and memorable day in Priorat, where terraced vineyards on sloped, even steep land are embraced for its unique terroir.  
At Alvaro Palacios winery, the vintner demonstrated reverence for the grapes as we walked among the vines, noting the ambient terrain, the approach to planting and deep irrigation, and use of mules for maintenance.  An intimate tasting poured from decanters of Las Terrasses and Gratallops Vi de Vila 2021 from the barrel, each with grenache and cariñenos in varying percentages was capped by bottle tasting of 2020 Gratallops Vi de Vila and 2020 Dofi and 2020 Les Aubaguettes.
The tour of vineyards and cellar at Familia Torres’ El Lloar Winery was diverting. Here, the vintner’s fervor was revealed, even as Marimar often translated for him.  We tasted the 2019 El Secret del Priorat, 2018 Salmos, and 2018 Perpetual.  This tasting was casual, with infectious laughter.
Afterward, our group took great pleasure in a delightful afternoon at Hotel Terra Dominicata, embracing 3 hours of seafood tapas, steak tartare, pork, multiple desserts, and sumptuous Torres wines. 
Arriving back at the hotel later than anticipated, we lingered over nightcaps in the lobby bar.

Marimar Torres, Sitges

Sabado (Saturday): Grateful for a day of R&R, we walked La Rambla in sweltering heat with no desire to eat or drink. We gaped at Gaudi’s symbolic, colorfully tiled home, Casa Batllo, and experienced the bustling La Boqueria (the market) and Plaça de Catalan (Catalan Square). Much later, 1 block from our hotel, Josephine was a good find for terrific servers, spicy patatas bravas, shrimp, boquerones, and calamari tapas and bebidas (drinks)-sangria for my spouse; Pisco Sour for me.
Our group was in a festive mood that evening!  Marimar staged a gala “Catalan Country Kitchen” dinner for all of us-members of Club Marimar USA- in her elegant home in Sitges. We were graciously received, treated to 2020 Marimar Estate Albariño and passed delectable tapas, while Marimar shared her family history and put the finishing touches on the pièce de la résistance, Paella de Marisc (shellfish paella). 
We took our assigned seats at three decorous round tables, noticing the beautiful china, crystal, flowers and personalized menus. Again, each item was identified in Spanish and English and page numbers were referenced for her “Catalan Country Kitchen” book.
We supped the 2018 Marimar Estate Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir with Flam de Bolets (Mushroom Flan in Port Cream Sauce).  The 2018 Celeste Reserva Ribera del Duero was served with the splendid paella. For dessert, Peres al Vi Negra Oriola (Aunt Oriola’s Pears in red wine with a fresh cheese filling) and Ametllats (Almond Meringue Cookies) were accompanied by Brandy Torres 20.
Our table was a fun one: Judy and Jerry (KY), Don and Lisa (TN), David and Pat (KY) and the two of us (AZ).  We learned so much about each other in Catanya!  After, David entertained with an impromptu piano recital as Marimar gave a tour of the upstairs.  We were all struck by the intimacy.

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Domingo, (Sunday): Our bus tour of Barcelona was impacted by a bicycle race, massive crowds and dense traffic, typical in this thriving city.  We exited the coach at intervals and skirted attractions including the magnificent, yet unfinished La Sagrada Familia, and Plaça de Gaudi, the Gothic area, and Montjuïc (Mount of the Jews), once home to a Jewish cemetery. Growth increased here for the 1992 Olympics.  An odd highlight of our tour was a pit stop at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya atop this hill.  Waiting in long lines for the privilege of utilizing the restrooms for 2 euros each, we seemed to reset and were able to relish the astounding people and views.
Our final spectacular “lunner” was held at Botafumero, celebrated for Catalan seafood specialties.  We oohed and aahed over calamari, incredible seafood salad, croquettes, shrimps and best-ever jamon iberico, followed by an entrée of turbot and potatoes. For dessert- marvelous almond ice cream, almond cake and fresh cherries.
Full to the max, we said our goodbyes upon our return to the hotel. Many of our group were extending their stay in Europe.  We were somehow content to come home.

Catalonia is an amalgam of Mediterranean influence in art, culture, language, architecture, food and wine. After months of Castilian Spanish practice on Duolingo, we were better served by knowing a few phrases of Catalan dialect, and intrigued by the mix of French, Italian and Portuguese. Examples: thank you=merci or gràcies, goodbye=adéu, good day=bon dia.  Still, having basic Spanish skills is a plus, as English was not spoken everywhere.

Our travels in Catalunya covered approximately 1,000 kilometers.  The itinerary was well-chosen.  The wine amazed us.  We were impressed with the local gastronomy and the Catalan people.

Marimar Torres grew up in Barcelona and in a family dedicated to making wine.  Against all odds and the advice of her father, she created an extraordinary winery in California’s Russian River Valley.

Her rich experience and influence elevated this Club Marimar trip immeasurably.  We adored having her present for the duration.

In Sitges and Barcelona, we noticed the deference given to Marimar by vintners, restauranteurs, and many others along the way.   We felt we were traveling with royalty.

For tasting, wines, Club Marimar events/trips @Marimar Estate Vineyards & Winery: marimarestate.com.