Barcelona, Spain is home to many wonderful, amazing things. Balmy beaches. Catalan food. Fantastical buildings created by the famous architect, Gaudi. Spanish wine. Ancient, winding, narrow streets. Tapas. Towering Gothic churches. Catalan food, tapas, …. and Spanish wine. Ok, maybe we were a tiny bit biased. But we were mostly looking forward to the food and wine in Barcelona. Can you blame us? But for all of our excitement about delicious Catalan food and tapas, we didn’t know much about the wine in Barcelona. If you’d asked us about Spanish wine, we probably would have shrugged and said something about Sangria, maybe a vague offhand mention of Cava (isn’t that like …Champagne?), nothing at all about Vermouth, and certainly not been able to name a single grape grown in Spain. As it turns out, we aren’t the only ones under-informed about the wine in Spain. Although Spain is the 3rd largest producer of wine in the entire world – behind only France and Italy – Spanish wine isn’t heavily exported, and as a result, the world has a severe lack of appreciation and knowledge about the wine in Spain. Enter Devour Barcelona: a Barcelona food tour company determined to change the underappreciation of wine in Spain. We eagerly accepted the opportunity to join the Barcelona Tapas & Wine Tasting Tour, which conveniently combined all of our favorite things about Barcelona in one fantastic Barcelona food tour: Catalan food, tapas, and Spanish wine.
The Devour Barcelona food tour takes place at night, which is a nice departure from the typical food tour because you can sort of pretend you’re out with a group of friends instead of very obviously a tourist on a Barcelona food tour. We met at a small, family run bar called Bodega La Puntual in the heart of Barcelona’s Gothic district. I’m assuming this is a cute little joke made by Devour Barcelona to subtly remind its guests to arrive on time: “puntual” translates to “punctual.” Although yours truly was, as always, insanely punctual (fine, maybe “as always” is a stretch, and perhaps “insanely” is a bit much, but we did arrive slightly early this time, so I think we can get SOME credit) one of our poor fellow Barcelona food tour goers was apparently wandering through the streets of Barcelona either enjoying the views or just helplessly lost (maybe both). As we waited, we got to know the other 2 members of our Barcelona food tour (huge kudos to Devour Barcelona for keeping their food tours small – 10 people is their maximum!) and our tour guide.
Our guide for the evening’s Barcelona food tour, Fintan, was a quick-talking Brit from Manchester who, like every other English person we’ve ever met, has a fantastic sense of humor. He also happens to be a sommelier currently studying Spanish wine in sommelier school. As it turns out, he used to be in sales, before he casually strolled into a little wine shop in Barcelona one night, sipped some Spanish wine, and immediately decided to quit his sales job to become an expert in Spanish wine instead (I’m paraphrasing somewhat, but the point here is: the wine in Spain is, apparently, THAT good). Fintan takes sommelier classes by day and leads food tours for Devour Barcelona by night. In addition to being a living advertisement for wine in Spain, he was incredibly knowledgeable and gave us the sort of detailed, specific information about wine in Spain that you can only get by studying for long hours and doing a lot of drinking and spitting-out of wine during final exams.
At some point during our introductions, some tempting-looking glasses of delicious smelling, very dark amber-colored wine appeared quietly in front of us. It was sweet Vermouth: an aperitif made from wine. You may have heard of Vermouth for its use in martinis; that’s dry vermouth, and it’s clear. Sweet Vermouth is a whole different thing: tantalizingly spiced and sweetened to perfection with brown sugar, it’s wine like we’ve never had it before. All Vermouth is made somewhat differently, as each Vermouth creator is able to use their own choice of herbs and botanicals to create the flavor he or she desires. Sweet Vermouth is not just for use in cocktails: a classic Barcelona wine, Vermouth is traditionally sipped straight, with ice. Our glass was served with a wedge of orange and a salty stuffed olive. The pairing was heavenly.
At this point our missing Barcelona food tour member showed up, full of apologies. It seems she had, indeed, been both helplessly lost and enjoying herself to the fullest (wander the narrow streets of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter and you will be, too). More introductions were made, and it turns out that all of us were from the United States and thus mainly based our wine knowledge and preferences mostly off of Napa and Trader Joe’s 2 buck chuck. Not one of us knew anything about wine in Spain. Thankfully, we were all incredibly eager to learn.
Our glass of sweet, spiced Vermouth was served with the food tour’s first delicious plate of Barcelona food: a smoky, spicy rendition of the popular Tapa, Patatas Bravas. Fintan explained that this dish translates to “Brave Potatoes” because when properly made, the dish should be spicy, and thus to eat it one must be brave. We mustered up our courage and dug in. It was fantastic.
Our next little Tapas plate featured another famous Barcelona food: a Spanish croquette. A Spanish croquette is a little fried oval, crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside (they reminded us of the bitterbollen we’d enjoyed in Denmark). This particular croquette was filled with bechemel sauce and acorn-fed Iberico ham (apparently, this is a far more expensive feed that produces a nuttier tasting ham; we found lots of signs specifically calling out “acorn-fed” versus regular Iberico in the Barcelona food markets).
The History of Wine in Spain
As we happily munched our Spanish croquette tapas, Fintan gave us a little bit of background on the history of wine in Spain. Like other countries in Europe that are known for their excellent alcohol productions – beer in Belgium, for example – it’s the Catholic Church that’s to thank. It sounds a little counter-intuitive, but it’s true! Spain was first inhabited by the Romans, who loved their wine but weren’t particularly interested in its quality. Then they were inhabited by the Moors, who were Muslim and outlawed all forms of alcohol, even shitty table wine.
Finally came the Catholic Church, and that’s where the wine in Spain as we knew it today really flourished. The Catholic Church was instrumental in funding and encouraging the development of wine production. It’s mainly thanks to the Monks, living in Monasteries. What do you do with a bunch of bored men living together in the middle of nowhere who are forbidden from doing … well, most things? Why, you let them drink! The Monks, being literate, devoted themselves to crafting, studying, and improving the production of wine (and beer, and other spirits). It’s because of them that we have the knowledge that we do today, and the best quality alcohol is still often made in Monasteries to this day.
Catalan Wine… and Cava!
Filled with Catalan food, tapas, and Vermouth, we donned our coats to head through the brightly lit narrow streets of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter to our next destination, a Catalan wine bar. This bar serves only Catalan wine, meaning wine produced in the Catalonia region in Spain, and typically made with traditional Catalan grapes.
The most famous Catalan wine is Cava: a sparkling white Spanish wine (it can only be made in Spain, like Prosecco in Italy and Champagne in France.) Cava, like Papas Bravas, is named in the very literal Spanish way: cava means cave in Spanish. You need a cave, or cellar, to make wine. Thus, Cava. Brilliant! Can we use these naming conventions on our future kids? I’m going to name them Financial Stability and Intimacy.
We were given 2 glasses of bubbly, chilled Cava to taste, and a challenge: to identify the difference between the 2 glasses of Spanish wine. First, of course, we learned a little bit about Cava and how it is produced (and we all gave a silent prayer to the patron saint Monk of sparkling wine, Dom Perignon). Although the 2 glasses of Cava we had in front of us were both made from the same kind of grapes, they had been aged for different lengths of time, and tasted completely different! We paired our bright, crisp sparkling Cava with a heavenly, crunchy tostada tapas topped with fresh pesto, mozzarella, eggplant, and caramelized onions. Perfection.
Our next glass of Catalan wine was a sweet, flowery Rose – this one wasn’t planned, but the bottle just so happened to be open and the bartender thought of us. Or, rather, he thought of Fintan, who is as charming as he is knowledgeable about wine, and has – in between becoming a sommelier and leading Devour Barcelona food tours – also apparently managed to become besties with every bartender in Barcelona. The rose was a lovely surprise and just so happened to pair excellently with our next plate of delicious Spanish food: another crispy tostada tapas, this one topped with jam, sliced apples, and soft creamy cheese.
Wine Tasting in a Barcelona Wine Bodega
After we finished our 4th glass of Spanish wine, we all
stumbled gracefully glided back out to the street to head to our third and final location for the night: a bodega, a typical Barcelona wine shop. Unlike the wine shops that we’re used to in the USA, Barcelona wine shops are both markets and places to gather and socialize, with tables in the back populated by chatting locals sipping glasses from opened bottles of Spanish wine purchased from the shelves lining the store. It was here in this very wine shop that our intrepid Barcelona food tour guide Fintan decided to quit his job and become a sommelier – over a glass of Spanish wine and a chat with the bartender, of course. (They’re besties.)
The front of the wine shop is dominated by wine barrels containing bargain priced wine and Vermouth. The selection changes every day, as the barrels contain a mix of whatever was left at the very bottom of a barrel or bottle. It’s like the Barcelona wine version of 2 buck chuck, except with none of the fuss of bottling and labeling, which leaves the cost at roughly 2 cents a liter! You can purchase an unlabeled bottle of wine or vermouth straight from the barrel, which of course we did (you know it’s gotta be that good good when it’s unlabeled). On the night of our visit, there was a barrel of “black” table wine that smelled like wood and smoke, a delicious Vermouth, and a few barrels containing only wine from specific regions in Spain.
The wine in Spain is demarcated strictly by region, and each wine region has various regulations that are strictly adhered to. Most of the wine in Spain is typically sold according to region … which makes sense if you happen to know everything about the Spanish wine growing regions and the varietals of grapes from each area, but is very confusing if you’re literally everyone else in the world.
We headed into a special private VIP room set up just for us, with a gorgeous arrangement of pica pica: we don’t mean the noise that Pikachu makes in the Pokemon TV show, but actually an arrangement of little plates of Spanish food to nibble on, like manchego cheese, cured meat, and fresh olives. It’s different than tapas, I suppose, because you assemble it yourself. Over our little plates of finger food – a typical setup for a night of drinking wine in Barcelona – and a glass of Monsant wine (a regional wine in Spain) Fintan regaled us with the ridiculous tale of the Ah, So wine opener.
The Ridiculous Tale of the Ah, So Wine Opener
“Ah, So” is only one of the nicknames for this infamous little German wine opener. It’s others nicknames are “Waiter’s Friend” and “Butler’s Thief.” But “Ah, So” is the best one, because it’s a bit of German humor: its name derives from its appearance. It does not look like a wine opener. It looks sort of like a tool that might be used for sticking someone’s eyes out, or possibly some kind of idiotic decorative topping for a cake. When you see it, you have no idea what purpose it could possibly be for. Then, someone demonstrates to you how it works, and you say, “Ah! So, that’s what it’s for!” Everyone applaud Germany for this brilliant little practical joke, which has surely been used for centuries at awkward dinner parties.
After our own “Ah, so” moment (seriously you guys, it works every time. If you’re a fan of dad jokes and wine, you need to buy one of these immediately) Fintan explained to us the origin of its far more nefarious nicknames. The tool is used for gently removing a cork from a bottle of wine without damaging the cork at all – it leaves no mark and no trace, and what’s more, you can even re-cork the bottle (carefully) if you like. This is a lifesaver for the inept like me, who can split a cork into a million wine-soaked pieces just by looking at it.
It’s also a nifty tool if you’re looking to steal a swig from a bottle without anyone noticing, or – according to ancient legend – sneakily empty a bottle of fancy wine, replace it with a cheap table wine, and then sell it at full price to some poor sucker who can’t tell his notes of oak from his notes of shitty table wine. Ah, so THAT’S what it’s used for.
5 Glasses of Spanish Wine Later…
As the night wore on, the table gradually cleared of pica pica. Our little group of Devour Barcelona food tour participants had grown closer over the course of the night (thanks in no small part to the generous purveyors of Barcelona wine) and our conversation and laughter flowed like the wine in Spain – that is to say, lots of it.
It’s moments like these, filled with laughter and local food and wine, that remind us why we love going on food tours so much. It’s also at this point of the night that the copious notes I take on all of our food and wine tours start to get a little fuzzy, with less organized bullet points and more random nonsensical phrases. For example, there’s this gem:
“Box of wine: after you drink, blow up bag for a pillow.”
Yes. That is what I wrote down. I’m not sure if it was just a joke I found hilarious, or an extreme penny-pinching tip, but there you have it. Enjoy.
After what I can only imagine was a rousing discussion on the merits of boxed wine pillows, it was time for dessert. Devour Barcelona understands that a true dessert with wine must include both food AND wine, otherwise what’s the point? But dessert delivered. We were given a delicious Spanish dessert wine, the color of light amber, with notes of caramel, syrup, fig, and brown sugar. To pair it with, a Marcona almond (one of our favorite native Spanish foods!) covered with caramel and chocolate. It was pure bliss.
Happy and full, we stumbled the 2 blocks back to our AirBnb. It was the perfect Barcelona food tour, complete with delicious Catalan food, an incredibly informative (and funny) guide, and of course, copious amounts of Spanish wine.
Practical Information about the Devour Barcelona Food Tour
We highly recommend Devour Barcelona food tours. From the small, intimate size of the group, to the selection and quality of the Spanish wine and delicious Barcelona food, to our incredibly knowledgeable guide, Devour Barcelona hit all the marks that we look for in a great food tour! Devour Barcelona offers several varieties of Barcelona Food tours, all of which focus on delicious Barcelona food. Our tour, the Barcelona Tapas & Wine Tasting Tour, is the perfect fit for a wine connoisseur (or just your average lush, like us) looking to learn more about Spanish wine while eating plenty of Barcelona food and tapas.
- Website: Devour Barcelona Food Tours
- Tour Name: Barcelona Tapas & Wine Tasting Tour
- What You Get: 3 hours of exploring Barcelona by night guided by a local English-speaking expert, enough Spanish wine to get you comfortably drunk, several plates of heavenly Barcelona food and tapas, a Barcelona travel guide with local recommendations and tips, and a Barcelona wine Guide to help you continue boozing it up throughout your stay in Barcelona.
- Price: €85
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Disclaimer: We enjoyed the Barcelona Wine Tasting and Tapas food tour as guests of Devour Barcelona. All opinions, inaccurate tasting notes, bad jokes, and anecdotes are our own.