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Cava, sunsets, and summer.

Two weeks ago, temperature hit 40 degrees Celsius, and we all sat in the sweltering heat and dripped sweat off the tips of our noses. I don't really like to drink (alcohol) when it's hot, unless it's something long and ice-cold like beer, or a citrusy, not-too-sweet cocktail, or a crisp, white wine, or an even crisper sparkling wine. Okay, maybe that's still a long list of alcoholic beverages, but you get my drift. No heavy red wines when the weather is so hot that a cold shower becomes, at best, a lukewarm shower. I'll stick to champagne, thank you very much, or actually, cava, since I can't afford good champagne all that often.

Cava and champagne are made using the same method, but different grapes. That is generally what is known as champenoise or the traditional method, wherein the wine undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle to give it bubbles; and a labor-intensive method (called riddling) of removing dead yeast sediment called lees from the neck of the bottle that involves turning each bottle a few degrees every day--by hand. Cava is the Catalan word for "cave" or "cellar." In the early days, cava was aged in caves. Cava is generally not sweet. It runs more toward fruity and refreshing, or nutty and toasty (think of the yeasty smell of fresh-baked bread). It costs less than champagne because the Spanish use advanced mechanization (therefore, less labor-intensive) to produce, bottle, and store cava. In other words, it's great value for money--because it is reasonably priced. You can drink it without waiting for a special occasion.

I was invited to an outdoor cava dinner at the poolside of Sofitel Philippine Plaza. The dinner was organized to introduce Bodega Codorniu, the world's largest producer of cava. The beginnings of cava in Spain could, in fact, be traced to Josep Raventos, whose family married into the Codorniu family in 1659, uniting the two families with long wine traditions. Raventos produced cava for the first time in Spain in 1872 using the method champenoise. The cava producers in Catalonia also invented the gyropallet, a machine that replaced the labor-intensive method of hand riddling.

The flagship cavas of Bodega Codorniu were Anna de CodornAaAaAeA u Blanc Blancs and Anna de Codorniu Brut RosAaAaAeA@. They were a tribute to An Codorniu, who married Miguel Raventos in 1659, and was the last to carry the Codorniu family name. Codorniu's blanc de blancs incorporated the chardonnay grape into its blend, in addition to the traditional cava grapes of Parellada, Xarel-lo, and Macabeo. Because of the chardonnay grapes, this cava was darker, more golden yellow than the usual cava. It had refreshing citrusy flavors and just the faintest hint of toasted bread on the palate. It also paired well with pretty much everything, except perhaps red meat, so it was great for Sofitel's barbecue buffet, where we started off as an aperitif and continued on to drink it with large shrimp and plump mussels that had been bathed in melted butter. It also worked well with the seafood paella.

The Anna de Codorniu Brut RosAaAaAeA@ was a classic blend of pinot noir a chardonnay--the pinot noir adding the pretty blush pink color to the cava. It was a little less dry than the blanc de blancs, with appealing strawberry, cherry, and apple notes on the palate. It was also creamier, and had a bit more body to it, but still with a crispness that would allow it to pair well with lechon and a baked ham. That acidity cut through the fat, and allowed you to eat more than your fair share of lechon without that feeling you get when you eat too much fat.

The grilled beef, lamb, and heavier meat dishes on the buffet were paired with ViAaAaAeA~a Pomal Rioja Crianza 2011. The wine was from Bodeg Bilbainas, also part of the Codorniu group. It was a medium-bodied wine, dry in the mouth, with hints of champoy, leather, and wood--all sorts of "masculine" flavors that stood up well to the barbecued meats and roast beef. The chefs manning the grill that night were good, grilling the meats without overcooking them.

Sofitel's barbecue buffet isn't exactly by the poolside, it's situated on the lawn right next to the breakwater, which gives you an un-obstructed view of the sunset--or the fireworks shows, if one of the international competitions being held at Mall of Asia is ongoing. The breeze at night feels heavenly, especially if the afternoon has been particularly hot. And if you have a cold flute of cava in your hand, and the sunset is particularly beautiful, it's a good way to spend a summer night.

The Sofitel Philippine Plaza's Sunset Barbecue Buffet is held Friday and Saturday nights at R3,078 per person. 02 551 5555. Anna de Codorniu cava is available by the glass or by the bottle at the hotel. AWC Philippines distributes Codorniu in the Philippines. 02 817 1417.; Instagram/@eatgirlmanila


Seafood paella and bottles of Codorniu and ViAaAaAeA~a Pom

PERFECT PAIR Cava is the perfect drink for the summer. Pair it with seafood
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Publication:Manila Bulletin
Date:May 14, 2015
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