Sunday, January 10, 2010

¡Feliz Navidad y Pros-Bear-o Año!

It’s a New Year – or rather an año nuevo – and I’m blogging to you all from sunny (and alternately wet) Spain. We’re spending the holidays in Nerja where my female bipedal attendant’s mother is in hiding from a very cold Canadian winter. Although I guess that since my bipedals are unemployed again (someone, please give them a job!), technically I'm on holiday but they’re not. They’re just freeloading. Again.

Anyway, although I’ll blog about the town of Nerja in a few days’ time, I want to share our New Year’s Eve festivities with you. In Spain, it’s customary to ring in the año nuevo with two very important accessories which at one time shared a life: uvas and cava, grapes and sparkling wine.

Wine production - wine in general - has a very long history in Spain. In Roman times, thousands of vessels of wine sailed across the Mediterranean to all corners of the Empire, gracing its tables and orgies. Many many centuries later (in the 1500’s), a certain Josep Raventós uncorked the first bottle of cava, but it was vintners from France in the 19th century who, recognizing the soil and climate of the area to be similar to Bordeaux’s (the home of champagne), made the cava industry what it is today.

As the best-selling sparkling wine in the world, Spain’s answer to champagne is giving its French cousin a run for its money. I just like the word cava. Cava – it reminds me of the word cave where many of my friends live and it's also the maiden name of my female bipedal's mother. The word comes from the Latin word "cava" which (not surprisingly) means cave, where wine growers aged and preserve their sparkling wine.

Among its many attributes – cava’s bubbles tickle my little grey nose quite nicely – it’s a very inexpensive tipple. Spaniards are practically suckled on cava: babies are given a finger or pacifier dipped in cava to suck on during their baptisms. I love Spain.

Anyway, being that it was New Year’s Eve, my female bipedal decided to throw caution to the wind and bought the most expensive bottle for sale at the grocery store down the road: an extra brut at €3.99. Honestly! – given that she’s now unemployed, you’d think that the €1.19 bottle of cava would have been good enough for her.

Well lubricated by their bottles of cava, Spaniards ring in the New Year by swallowing one uva - or grape - on each of the final twelve strokes before midnight. For those in Madrid, or anyone near a television, the "official" countdown chimes from the clock on top of the Casa de Correos building in the Puerta del Sol. Fortunately, we were able to watch it live. Those twelve grapes – if successfully swallowed – grant good luck for each of the twelve months of the year. You have to swallow each grape completely before you pop the next grape into your mouth and cheating is not permitted … although I suspect someone I know crammed her mouth when no one was looking. So pathetic – like she doesn't need all the luck she can get! A word to the wise: buy seedless grapes.

Interestingly, this New Year's Eve kamikaze grape swallowing tradition started 101 years ago when vinters in Alicante figured it would be a great way of getting rid of their extra stock of grapes. So thanks to enterprising grape growers across Spain (who gave us both cava and New Year's grapes) we bade adiós to 2009 with several bottles of bubbly and then hola to 2010 with a mouthful of grapes – and then some more cava. Well, lots of cava: I think it’s very important to support the local economy. I don’t remember much about nodding off but I did wake up feeling definitely bearish. In fact, I think I should've just hibernated for a few days.

Let me just wind this up with a final word about cava. Cava is made in different parts of Spain but the region of the Penedès, outside of Barcelona, is the best-known. And wouldn't you know it? - I'm blogging en route to Barcelona right now! I'm definitely going to make this road trip a "scientific" taste test as well.