Mostra vins i Cavas de Catalunya — Merce Wine Festival

Note: You don’t actually have to be purple to attend this festival

Every now and again Barcelona comes together to do something on a grand scale that is equal parts fun, interesting and good value for money; Enter the Merce Festival. Historically designed to be a festival in honour of the Virgin Grace, the patron Saint of Barcelona, it is now unequivocally about doing and seeing cool things around the city and an excuse for at least one long weekend. Now, you might not be surprised to know that my favourite part of this entire festival culminates in a wine tasting quite unimaginatively titled “Mostra de Vins i Caves de Catalunya”, taking place in Arc D’Triumf for almost a full week. For the last two years I have always attended and been slightly disappointed, mainly due to the excessive ticket prices and the general organisation but also due to the lack of atmosphere generated; it always seemed quite clinical and commercial. This year however — quite a different story.

An orderly queue…what is this? Where are we?!

The concept is relatively simple: Buy tickets and/or a glass (always better to bring your own glass and avoid having to purchase one for 5 euros) and exchange these tickets for alcohol and/or food at the stalls of your choice. There were over 70 wine stalls this year and whilst the majority was dominated by large Cava Houses from the Penedés wine region, there were some wonderful surprises from DOs Costers del Segre, Priorat, Pla de Bages, Alella and some excellent quality wines on offer for very little. Tickets are fairly priced with the best value being 24 tickets for 20 euros — when you consider that a great deal of the wines on offer were worth 1–2 tickets, this works out to a whole lot of drinking should you be so inclined. Each winery presents it’s wines and allocates a ticket cost per wine, commonly around 1–3 with some great quality cavas and wines going for 4–6 tickets. The highest I saw was 8 for the particularly optimistic Mas Rodo winery, a new project from the Penedés, who had possibly overvalued their ‘Reserva de la Propietat’ a little too highly although the rest of their wines were fairly represented. It’s worth noting that these valuations weren’t necessarily based on bottle retail price and so it was entirely possible to drink full glasses of wine from 40–60 euro special bottlings for the equivalent of 4–5 euros a glass as well as sampling across a wide selection of styles and quality levels.

Two hardened drinkers sobering up in the afternoon sunshine

A real improvement on the previous years was the atmosphere: the best events in Barcelona have always entertained a broad demographic and this was no different. On the weekends there was a real local feel as friends and families flocked for good wine followed by picnics on the grassy areas. During the weekdays it tended towards a slightly older crowd with a fair number of sommeliers, established industry reps and enthusiastic amateurs (Hi!) thrown into the mix to add some spice. During the course of the few days I attended (I did say enthusiastic) I met wine-makers, sommeliers, import and export salesmen, chefs, tourists and a particularly lovely dog called Annie who may or may not have stolen a good part of her owners wine. The winery reps propping up the stalls tended towards a blend of senior sales, wine makers and junior reps of the company who were universally courteous although perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the smaller wineries that really took the time to take us through the finer points of their philosophy, production and style.

Just another day at the office..

Naturally I couldn’t make an objective post without some minor, and they really are quite minor, gripes, so here goes:

  1. Purchasing Wine: The shop despite being well stocked seemed to be confusingly priced. Some wineries seemed to be selling at cellar door prices whilst others were apparently hoping that drinking = bad decision making (Never!) and were subsequently selling at well above normal retail price for their products. Whilst not the fault of the festival, it did add an unnecessary sour note to the feel of the event.
  2. Food: Food was available for purchase by the ticket or via cash. Unfortunately the options available by ticket were quite tiny and a poor exchange in comparison to the wine whilst a reasonable sized Empanada would sell for 10 euros. I can understand the need for companies to turn a profit at these events; perhaps the organisers should consider a seperate tariff for the food vendors so as to be in line with the general offering. That or don’t be surprised when the majority of persons start to bring sandwiches.
  3. Winery selection: Really very minor but it would be nice if wineries from other Catalan DOs were encouraged to attend, as the majority were, as previously mentioned, hailing from the large Cava Houses of the Penedés. My favourite winery of the entire festival was Clos Pons of Costers del Segre and it would be great to see more small and quality focused still wine producers attending these events and showcasing their products.

All in all I have to say the festival was a real success this year. Never quiet and never too crowded, with a real opportunity to try varied wines at a fair price including some top level stuff. Speaking of which, over the next few days I intend to do a write-up of the best wines and cavas I found during this festival and give credit where it’s due — to the hardworking people that made it.

Fintan Kerr

Bliss.

Wine Cuentista: The literal translation is ‘Wine story-teller’. We run high quality wine tastings in central Barcelona, Borne area, with the intention of tasting and learning about high quality Spanish and Catalan wines in a relaxed atmosphere — perfect for a fun evening out in Barcelona! If you would like to get in touch or see our services, check out the website here: winecuentista.com Thanks!