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Tim Atkin

The Wine-List Inspector

Girona has the world’s top-ranked restaurant, and wine is half the story

Tim Atkin | March/April 2014

There are two Can Rocas in the Catalan city of Girona, separated by a brief stroll across a car park. The first is more of a local bar; the second, El Celler de Can Roca, is number one on Restaurant magazine’s “World’s 50 Best” list. Can Roca is run by Señora Montserrat Fontané Roca. El Celler was created in 1986 by her three sons: Joan (head chef), Josep (wine director) and Jordi (pastry chef). 

El celler is Catalan for “the winery” and, as the name suggests, wine is a huge part of what makes the place special. Josep Roca’s wine list is one of the greatest and most cosmopolitan in Spain, and he is as famous in wine circles as his two brothers are among foodies. Many diners begin their visit with a tour of the kitchen and end it with a look at the temperature-controlled wine rooms, complete with music, visual props and commentary from Josep.

There are 2,800 wines on the El Celler list—or rather lists, since there are three of them, wheeled around the restaurant on bespoke trolleys. A wine-lover could happily spend several hours reading them over an amuse-bouche of caramelised olives stuffed with anchovies. He might have to. The lists don’t appear on the restaurant’s website and are never allowed to leave its glass-walled confines. 

You’ll have to take my word that they contain everything you’d expect and more, from vertical vintages of Vega Sicilia Unico, Spain’s most famous red, to a palate-watering array of Grand Cru Burgundies and a wealth of less famous labels. Prices are very reasonable, too, especially given El Celler’s standing: there aren’t many three-star restaurants where you can drink a 2009 Domaine Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin Vieille Vigne for only €60.

Around half the wines on the list are Spanish, so I asked the sommelier Carles Aymerich to choose from these to partner the 14-course tasting menu. The delicious food is nothing like as surreal and hard to pair with wine as it was at El Bulli, Ferran Adrià’s equally celebrated but now defunct Catalan restaurant, but it is still advisable (and more enjoyable) to drink by the glass than the bottle. Not many wines could cope with white asparagus and truffle viennetta, followed by mackerel with pickles and mullet roe, and a pigeon trilogy.

Aymerich did a wonderful job of matching wines and dishes. Along with one German Riesling and a Japanese Sake, we drank glasses from Jerez, Penedès, Priorat and Rioja (twice each), Valdeorras, the Basque country, Madrid and Tenerife. Two stood out: the 2011 Vidonia Suertes del Marqués (€50 a bottle), a tangy, saline white from Tenerife’s Valle de la Orotaba; and the 2011 Las Umbrías (€80), a delicate, floral, old-vine red from the mountains outside Madrid. After such a meal, you won’t need any more to eat or drink. But you might just fancy a walk uphill towards the other Can Roca.

€250 per person including wines; cellercanroca.com

Where else to go and what to drink

COMPARTIR

Daring, flavoursome food with a Catalan accent and a great wine list. Around €40pp for two courses Best white: 2012 Masia Serra Ctònia, Empordà One of the region’s finest whites, made entirely from Garnatxa Blanca. Powerful and profound with a dry, minerally bite. €17
Best red: 2010 Licis, Franck Massard, Ribera Sacra Supple, aromatic, grassy red made from 50-year-old vines from the under-rated Mencía grape. €25
Cadaqués; compartircadaques.com

VILLA MÁS

Spain’s best and cheapest Burgundy list, with tasty seafood to match. Around €57pp for two courses Best white: 2010 Meursault, Les Tillets, Domaine Roulot A top-notch Chardonnay with subtle oak, freshness and real class. €55
Best red: 2009 Vosne-Romanée, Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg Incredible-value Pinot, showing sweet, succulent flavours—typical of Vosne in a warmer vintage. €55
Sant Feliu de Guíxols; restaurantvillamas.com

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