Blind Wine Tasting: Practical studying part IV

Every week I head over to Monvinic, Barcelona’s largest international wine bar, to practice blind tasting. Typically this involves a flight of 6 wines, split equally between white and reds from all across the world. I’ve long been a believer that blind tasting is an incredibly useful study tool, and I’ve decided to track my sessions here in all their misery (mostly) and glory (very rarely!). As a result you may seem some confusing measurement terms as I am currently using the WSET Lexicon as a frame-work for my tasting notes partially trimmed down here for the purposes of brevity.

Monvic is open once again after the summer break, hurrah! With a little over 4 months until the Unit 3 exam, it seems like a good idea to get back practicing again. To ease myself in a little more easily, and also due to meeting a friend for lunch on the same day, I thought I’d do a quick 15 minute, 2 wine tasting. 1 white, 1 red, both mono-varietal. Whilst blind tasting isn’t an easy discipline, this should be about as easy as it gets!

White Wine

The wine has a pale lemon colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of ripe citrus fruit, green apple, green pear, fresh stone fruits and a chalky, stony quality. A touch of white flowers and no discernible oak.

On the palate the wine is dry with high, bracing acidity, medium alcohol, a medium body and a medium+ intensity and finish. This tastes like either an incredibly young wine or a grape variety that naturally has a lot of natural acidity, although there is a nice texture to the wine; it certainly has some weight. Relatively neutral in terms of profile with a nice, fresh character and a gorgeous, saline finish, but as with the nose I couldn’t discern any obvious wine-making. Really delicious stuff but feels tight, like it’s being drank very young.

Guess: Godello from Valdeorras, Spain, from the 2014 vintage

Reality: Chardonnay from Chablis, France, from the 2014 vintage

Wine: Daniel Dampt and Fils Cote de Lechet 1er 2014

From a long lineage of vintners, Vincent Dampt continues the family tradition of excellence at Domaine Daniel Dampt et Fils, which was established by his father. The estate currently consists of 30 hectares, including 16 hectares of Chablis and 14 hectares of Chablis 1er Cru. The recently constructed cellar is equipped with stainless steel tanks which is intrinsic to the fresh, mineral style of Chablis produced here. The purchase of modern, powerful cellar equipment has enabled the group to increase its production of bottles, which now stands at 150,000 bottles per year.

Conclusions/Learning points: Gah. This is very much a case of thinking about something too much and coming to an overly obscure conclusion. Reading my tasting note back, it’s screaming Chablis. Prominent acidity, fresh citrus and green fruit flavours, no obvious oak but a decent weight with some texture… of course, Godello. Still, the profile matches for both, it’s just a case of playing the game a little bit and going with the more likely choice. On the positive side, this was a really delicious wine from a producer I hadn’t tried before. Really looking forward to finding more of his wines!

Red Wine

The wine has a pale cherry-red, ruby colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of ripe red berries, currants and a hint of strawberry. Nicely perfumed, there’s some violet, floral notes here as well as some earthiness and just a touch of stalkiness – whole bunch fermentation? Hints of toast, pepper and a subtle char might be coming from old oak and there’s also a high toned, volatile aroma that lifts everything quite nicely. Very old world and slightly minimal intervention in style.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium ripe, firm tannins, medium+ alcohol, a medium+ body, a medium intensity and a medium finish. Whilst slightly generous on the nose, this is a leaner wine on the palate with some grip and bite to the tannins. Much leaner in terms of flavour profile as well, with that fresh berry fruit and herbal character coming to the fore. Still fresh and well balanced, but not at the same level as the Chablis before it.

Guess: Gamay from Beaujolais (Morgon cru), France, from the 2013 vintage

Reality: Gamay from Beaujolais (Morgon cru), France, from the 2013 vintage

Wine: Foillard Morgon Eponyme 2013

Jean Foillard is a disciple of Jules Chauvet, a noted enologist who believed in fashioning Beaujolais in an altogether different way from the modern standard of semi-carbonic maceration. Foillard’s 8ha (cultivated organically though not certified) include one of the best sites in the whole Beaujolais region, Morgon’s Côte du Py. Important to the style are low yields and very ripe grapes, which are subject to a long cool vinification, practically zero use of sulphur and minimal or no filtration.

Conclusions/Learning Points: Thrilled to nail this wine, particularly as I followed a very logical process to get there. Possible grape varieties included Gamay, Pinot Noir and Syrah, almost definitely old world, suggested by the firmness of the tannins and the lean/mineral flavours. Lack of a strong black pepper and/or smoked meat character made Syrah from Croze-Hermitage unlikely and the tannic structure and slight peppery note made it unlikely to be Pinot Noir, so Gamay it is. Morgon was a bit of a shot in the dark, I’ll admit but most of the more minimal interventionist styles I’ve tried have been from producers with land there, including of course, Foillard! Very happy to get one of these completely right, even if I messed up the Chablis. Onto a full tasting next week!

Barcelona by the Glass: Monvinic

Established: 2008

Style of establishment: Bar and Restaurant

Price by the glass – 2.50 (half glass) up to 50 euros (depending on what’s available by Coravin)

Price by the bottle – 20 euros to 5000 euros

Address – 249 Carrer Diputacio, 08007, Barcelona

Phone number – +34 932 726 187

Opening Hours – 11:00 to 23:00 from Tuesday to Friday (No wine served before 1pm)

                              19:00 to 00:00 on Saturdays and Mondays (Dinner reservations from 8pm)

                              Closed on Sundays

The first entrant into ‘Barcelona by the Glass’ simply has to be Monvinic; one of the most famous wine bars in Europe and with probably the largest cellar in Barcelona at a whopping 10,000 bottle capacity. Despite its fame within the wine industry, I’ve been surprised a few times by how few people know about it, even those visiting the city who are expressly interested in discovering the wine scene here. I hope this post will go some way to showcasing what I consider to the most complete wine bar in the city as well as the only viable place to study for those wanting to taste an international selection of wine by the glass!

Monvinic was founded in 2008 by Sergi Ferrer-Salat, a businessman who’d experienced great success within the pharmaceutical industry and wanted to create a centre of wine culture within Barcelona. As co-owner of the Ferrer Bobet winery in Priorat, there is clearly a passion for fine wine and it shows within Monvinic, with the same no-expense-spared approach and clinical architecture. The result is incredibly elegant, if a little cold at first experience, but the wine takes centre stage here and everything is built around it. In an age where everyone is rushing to make wine appear simple and friendly, there’s something quite refreshing about this old-fashioned approach, where the intellectual pursuit of wine isn’t played down or hidden in any way. That’s not to say there isn’t something here for anyone looking to stop by and grab a glass of wine, but ultimately it is designed as a wine bar for wine lovers.

The interior is roughly divided into two halves; the wine bar and the restaurant, both of which have access to the goldmine of a wine-list that has come to define Monvinic.

The Wine List

The main reason to go to Monvinic is their unparalleled choice of wine. The first time I went into Monvinic I was floored by the selection available. Aside from the rotating 50 wines as a ‘by the glass’ option, there are a good few thousand wines available to choose by the bottle as well. As a wine geek, this is the sort of list I can sit down and read for hours, made infinitely easier by their use of i-pads as menus; I have seen people criticising the i-pad menu but frankly it’s misplaced as it’s a choice between that or reprinting the menu every single day, which is simply not feasible. I regularly practice blind tasting at Monvinic using their ‘by the glass’ menu as a base, which allows me to practice with wines from around the world for around €30 a week, a unique proposition in a city (rightly) dominated by Spanish wine. It’s worth noting that the ‘by the glass’ list is listed as either a full or a half glass, making it the perfect place to try a lot of different wines with the same budget.

However, what impressed me the most was the sheer diversity of the wines available. There are many restaurants where the crème de la crème of wine is available at exorbitant prices, and should you want to sample older vintages of Vega Sicilia Unico, Sine Qua Non, Romani Conti and 1st Growth Bordeaux, Monvinic have you covered as well. However, what sets them apart is the keenly priced and extremely well sourced wines from all across the world, including a host of lesser known names in addition. Tissot’s wines from Jura are available from as a little as €35 a bottle, Stefano Lubbiana from Tasmania for not much more. Want a delicious, aged Pinot Noir? They have a host of aged Burgundy from lesser known Domaines between €40 and €60 a bottle. Even some well known names from older vintages haven’t been speculated upon and it’s possible to find wines with 10-15 years of bottle age with the same price you’d expect to buy their current vintages for at retail prices.

Whilst this still isn’t cheap when taking the average salary of Barcelona into account, it knocks the trousers off the same wines priced in most restaurants around the world and there are a host of gems available for those prepared to look through the list. Oddly, if there is a weakness it’s actually the Spanish selection but as every other bar and restaurant in the city focuses around this, I don’t mind it at all. Champagne could use a little love but really I’m splitting hairs; it’s the best wine list in Barcelona by some distance.

The Space

You enter through a sliding glass door from Carrer Diputacio to a small reception area, where you can either wait to be seated or head on past yourself. Just past the reception there is a darkly lit row of low tables, backed against a wall and surrounded by comfortable chairs; welcome to the wine bar. This area of Monvinic is for casual dining and drinking and it suits the purpose well. The bar menu differs slightly to the restaurant area and this is where the €20 Menu del dia is served, as well as a good selection of tapas, although the Menu del dia offers far greater value.

The restaurant area is to the rear of Monvinic and encompasses a large, well lit dining area, an out-door terrace at the back and a chef’s table within the kitchen itself. The a la carte menu is primarily served here and it makes for a delicious, if slightly pricey, evening. The venue is also popular with groups, so don’t be surprised to find a full dining room even on week-day evenings. Booking ahead is highly recommended and a summer evening on the terrace, with a good bottle of wine is hard to beat!

The Food

Honestly, a year ago I wasn’t excited by the food that was on offer. Whilst the prices have remained on the high side, in 2016 Monvinic hired a new Head Chef, Ariadna Julian, which has transformed the kitchen considerably. With an emphasis on slow-cooking and seasonal ingredients, you get what you pay for and the food I’ve had over the last 6 months has been excellent. A recent highlight was the best Fish and Chips I’ve eaten in Barcelona, paired beautifully with a crisp Fino Sherry.

There are also two tasting menus available at €55 and €75 that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to try. This doesn’t include wine but with the huge selection available by the glass, does open up an opportunity for a very fun, creative evening!

Conclusion

I’ve long been of the opinion that anyone who is interested in wine should spend a substantial amount of their time at Monvinic. I find it slightly odd that more people don’t find their way here, especially anyone studying wine and preparing for exams and I wonder if that has anything to do with the slightly cold interior design. If there is anything I would improve it would be a warmer welcome and a more attentive service from the staff, although this too has improved in the few years I’ve been frequenting Monvinic.

With the beautiful restaurant area in the back and investment into new, better food I should really be recommending a formal dining experience but truth be told, the strength of Monvinic is, and probably always will be, their wine list. Their wine bar is the heart of the experience and a must-visit for anyone interested in wine in Barcelona.

Tips

Make sure you book a table well in advance – if you’re going for an evening meal don’t forget they have an outdoor terrace at the back of the restaurant.

Take the time to search through the wine list; a keen eye will be rewarded!

Whilst Monvinic would no doubt say differently, this is not the sort of place where I would bring children

Unusually, payment is always done at the reception as you leave Monvinic so don’t be surprised when payment isn’t taken table-side

Some of the sommeliers are quite eclectic in their wine preferences; beware asking them for their personal preference if you’re not of an adventurous nature!

As with all restaurants and bars that employ sommeliers, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The list is enormous and if you don’t have the time to search through it, a quick moment with the sommelier regarding your preference of style and budget should yield something delicious and well priced.

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