Sparkling wine has been part of Eva Bertran's life since the day she was born, when her father placed a drop of it on her lips.
Descended from a family of Spanish wine merchants, Bertran was raised in the northeastern province of Catalonia, where most of Spain's sparkling wine, or cava, is produced.
Sparkling wine was an essential part of her family's daily meals ― and of the wider culture. "When we say 'wine' in Catalonia," says Bertran, "we mean sparkling wine."
Now the executive vice president of Sonoma, California's Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves ― a subsidiary of the Spanish sparkling-wine producer Freixenet ― Bertran and her husband, David Brown, often invite friends over for a laid-back meal of small dishes, or tapas, that they typically have outside.
"All the recipes come from my mother and grandmother, who cooked with a 'little bit of this and a little bit of that, " she says.
Of course, Bertran has definite opinions about the best wine to serve. "Sparkling wine is so versatile. In it, you have acidity, which cuts fat, and sugar, which cuts heat. Most wines only have one or the other."
For her tapas menu ― which includes rich and sometimes pungent foods like potato omelet, garlicky tomato-rubbed Catalan bread, chickpea salad, salty serrano ham, anchovy-stuffed olives, and nutty manchego cheese ― only sparkling wine will do.
"When you graze like this, you could pair the food with seven different wines," she explains. "But sparkling wine will give you a range of flavors that works with everything."
INFO: For details on Gloria Ferrer's annual Catalan Festival, held July 22-23 this year, visit www.gloriaferrer.com or call 707/996-7256.
Eva Bertran's pantry
• Manchego cheese. Get it from a reputable shop that knows how to buy and care for the cheese ― and will let you taste it.
• Serrano ham. For small parties, says Bertran, buying sliced ham makes more sense. "Salt crystals on the surface means it's dried out," she cautions. "Also, it should have a good amount of fat."
• Olives. Mellow anchovy-stuffed green olives are what her family loves best. "We have to keep the kids away from them," she says. Peregrino and El Serpis are two good brands.
• Spanish olive oil. Bertran uses extra-virgin oil pressed from arbequina olives grown on the Gloria Ferrer grounds. She prefers the rich, mild flavor of arbequina oil "because it's the one I grew up with. Also, it lets you taste the food." La Amarilla de Ronda is one of her favorite brands.
Which bubbly works best?
Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves produces sparkling wines the way they're made in Catalonia, using the traditional French méthode champenoise (in which the bubble-producing fermentation takes place inside the bottle). Each of the three sparkling wines that Eva Bertan poured went well with the menu overall, but some pairings were particularly good.
• Brut. Typically made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, with pear and apple flavors and some toastiness. Especially tasty with the chickpea and tomato salad and the roasted peppers.
• Blanc de noirs. Made primarily from Pinot Noir grapes and often lush with strawberry, cherry, and warm spice flavors. Pairs well with the sweet dates wrapped in salty bacon.
• Blanc de blancs. Made entirely with Chardonnay grapes, generally producing citrus and pear aromas and good acidity. Delicious with the potato omelet and grilled bread with tomato.