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Stir It Black

At an elaborate laboratory bar along the quiet Carrer d’Aribau in the Balmes neighborhood of Barcelona, legendary cocktail master Javier de las Muelas is poised to add a dash or two of Catalan excitement to the world of professional stirrers and shakers, much the same way that fellow Catalan Albert Adria earlier inspired top chefs of the world to tear up their conservative five-course tasting menus and savor life one bite at a time.


It has been only two jet-lagged days since two colleagues and I pulled up stools at de las Muelas’ bar – The Academy at Dry Martini – while two of his white-jacketed barmen poured one after another creative concoction for us to savor.


The drinks are part of “The Black Collection” of cavatails created by the de las Muelas team in partnership with Freixenet and its Cordon Negro brand.  The introductory campaign begins its rollout this week in Spain and will soon be coming to America.


Like many hospitality entrepreneurs, de las Muelas has a growing empire of restaurants and bars, most with “Dry” in the name, from Barcelona to Madrid, Bali to Singapore and consults with hotel chains such as Four Seasons and Starwood.  It is this combined reach of de las Muelas and the Freixenet brand that promises to pull a few thousands cases of Cordon Negro, the world’s most famous black bottle, from their traditional position on the shelves of American retailers and establish them firmly in coolers behind the nation’s cocktail bars.


Of course, sparkling wine cocktails are not new, but The Black Collection has some distinctive potentialities in elevating the category beyond the de las Muelas/Freixenet leverage:  Cava is much less-expensive than Champagne, it is more blendable than the fragrant sparkling Moscatos and Proseccos and it is already extremely well-known and readily available.  The collection has also been smartly formulated into two categories – de las Muelas’ riffs on sparkling classics, such as the Mimosa and the Bellini, plus his signature creations served – at least at The Academy – in memorable drinking vessels.


“We wanted to get beyond the flute,” one of the cocktail mixers told me, “and we wanted to have people try Cava at other times of the day and in situations where they might not normally be having a glass of Cava.”  The ink was barely dry on the beautiful Black Collection brochure in front of me as I read about some of the creations as I simultaneously tasted them:


DaVinci (Freixenet + raspberry syrup, Martini rosso, Cynar, Galliano) served in a sake decanter on ice into small balloon glasses with an orange peel.


Garden Party (Freixenet + bitters, Mojito mint syrup, Rose’s lime, elderflower liqueur, Martini rosato) served in a clear tea pot with a stemmed tea cup and garnished with red fruit and edible flowers.


My favorite – Passion to Share (Freixenet + passion fruit syrup and juice, lime juice, Galliano, Pisco) made by the pitcher and served in small juice glasses with fruit and mint.


Dates have not yet been firmed up for the American rollout, but it will part of a very busy 2014 for Freixenet, coinciding with its 100th anniversary of producing its first Cava in 1914 at Sant Sadurni d’Anoia just outside of Barcelona.  There will also be the introduction of the Freixenet “Mia” line of five millennial-styled, fruity and mildly sweet table wines and sparkling Moscatos; Casa Sala, a luxury sparkling Cava made mostly in the ancient tradition of hand pressing and cork aging; the 2011 La Freixeneda, a first-rate Garnacha-Cabernet Sauvignon blend that is veteran winemaker Josep Bujan’s homage to the Amarone style, and the first Freixenet kosher bubbly.


For Freixenet and the Ferrer family that owns and has grown the brand, there will be plenty of accomplishments to toast in this centennial year – and some delicious new cavatails from the Black Collection with which to toast them.

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