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Pazo de Señorans vertical at El Celler de Can Roca

The perks are plentiful in the life of a wine writer, but every now and then an invite comes along that’s so incredible, it feels like all of your birthdays have come at once. Earlier this month I was invited to a historic vertical tasting by Albariño alchemists Pazo de Señorans at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona – voted the World’s Best Restaurant in 2013 and 2015.

The dining room at El Celler de Can Roca

Flying a cherry picked bunch of European wine writers to Barcelona for the event, and back home again the same day, I felt like a fugitive walking through security at Heathrow Terminal 3 with just my handbag swinging by my side and half expected someone to ask me where the rest of my luggage was hiding.

We rocked up at Celler de Can Roca in the sleepy city of Girona at 1pm expectations high and appetites whetted. The restaurant is run by the three Roca brothers – Joan, the head chef; Josep (known affectionately as ‘Pitu’), the head sommelier; and youngest brother Jordi, the pastry chef. Opening in 1986, the restaurant won its first Michelin star in 1995, second in 2002 and third in 2009 for its traditional Catalan cuisine with a contemporary twist.

Playful canapés including frozen olives and truffle brioche

The 45-seater, glass-fronted space is light, airy and contemplative. Full of blonde wood and smooth stones, it’s a calming environment with very little in the room to detract attention away from the food.

We were seated in the private dining room, an equally light and tranquil space looking out onto a lush garden. Hosting the lunch were Marisol Bueno, owner of Pazo de Señorans, and her daughter Vicky Mareque Bueno, who manages the estate.

Rías Baixas based Pazo de Señorans was founded in the ‘80s by Bueno and her husband Javier Mareque – a revered traumatologist from Pontevedra.

Having snapped up a charming 16th century country house in the Salnés Valley in the ‘70s, the pair embarked on the ambitious project of making ageworthy Albariños that could stand shoulder to shoulder not only with the best whites in Spain, but in the whole world, believing the grape’s natural low pH and high acidity provided the ideal tools to work with to create age-worthy whites.

“Rías Baixas’ microclimate is hard to replicate and Albariño is perfectly adapted to it, so we make inimitable Albariños that are the best in the world,” Vicky said as we were presented with the first wine – Pazo de Señorans 2016, a fresh, crisp drop with notes of lime cordial, lemon peel and wet stones.

All of the Albariños made by the estate are grown on granite soils, hand harvested, then fermented in stainless steel tanks where they are aged for up to 30 months on lees for added complexity and depth, with further age in bottle before release. Production across the range has increased from just 7,000 bottles in 1989 to 30,000 today.

More intricate dishes including oysters five ways and a twist on calçots

On the food front, our five-hour long feast began with each of us being presented with a black lantern, which, when opened, revealed a quintet of playful canapés that aimed to distill the essence of five global cuisines: Thailand, Japan, Turkey, Peru and Korea.

The most successful interpretations were Japan, with its eruption of miso cream, and Korea, with its crispy coating of Panko breadcrumbs and pleasing peanut hit from an injection of sesame oil.

Next we were given a pop-up book that turned into a makeshift kitchen with five tiny canapés presented on plinths, including a boozy Campari bomb that exploded on biting, a tube of crispy breaded squid and an incredibly rich and decadent bosom-shaped kidney parfait laced with sweet Sherry.

Capping off our dazzling opening round of amuse bouches was a soft globe of sweet brioche that oozed truffle cream, which was so warm, comforting and intense, it was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten.

The most playful element of the lunch arrived early on when our waiters arrived carrying bonsai trees. Dotting them around the table, we were encouraged to pick off the olives from the tree and pop them in our mouths.

On doing so we discovered all was not as it seemed. The olives were frozen and had been blended with anchovy for the ultimate, ice-cold salty hit – a flavour experience you’ll either love of hate depending on your opinions on anchovies. I loved it. The procession of playful canapés offered flashes of El Bulli brilliance in their cutting-edge complexity and exquisite execution.

Some of the wines in the impressive Pazo de Señorans line-up

During the culinary fireworks we were served the 2015, 2014, 2010 and 2009 vintages of Pazo de Señorans. The 2015 had an appealing salinity to it, while the 2014 was all crunchy green apple and white flowers.

The 2010 was one of my standout wines of the lunch, offering a honeyed, waxy texture, notes of cooking apples and a lick of salt. Its older sibling, the 2009, was more reserved, with notes of pear and fennel.

There isn’t space to talk about the following 14 courses in detail, some of which were created specifically to pair with the wines, but what they did share was an exhaustive attention to detail, technical brilliance, a respect for local produce and a fearlessness to turn traditional dishes on their head.

Catalan classic calçots, for example – long strips of green onion usually eaten by hand with lashings of garlic-laced romesco sauce – had been repackaged into an intricate, onion-led dish enlivened by cubes of smoky eel and an aioli foam.

The restaurant’s signature dish of silky raw prawns marinated in rice vinegar served with a rich prawn’s head sauce and crispy prawn legs perfectly encapsulated the idea of nose to tail (or antenna to tail) dining and offered a wonderfully intense flavour experience. Equally clever was an iridescent sliver of mackerel served with beans that had been fermented for one, two and four weeks, the oldest of which had a similar flavour to sweet miso.

More fish focused dishes like langoustine with vanilla oil and turbot with sea cucumber, and a meaty offering in the form of Iberian suckling pig

While the majority of the dishes were remarkable, with ceaseless innovation comes the occasional miss and I found the elderflower foam accompanying a white asparagus dish far too sweet, while the punchy spice in the pil pil sauce of the hake dish overpowered the delicate flavour of the fish and didn’t really work.

With our final few dishes we moved on to the estate’s top white – Selección de Añanda – of which just 15,000 bottles are made each year.

The inaugural 1995 vintage spent 14 months on its lees but today the wine can spend up to 30 months on lees, depending on how long winemaker Ana Quintela Suarez believes it needs, with the estate preferring not to work to a recipe.

Made from Albariño grown on weathered granite soils in the oldest and highest vineyard on the estate, the wine sees no oak to allow the character of the Albariño to fully express itself and for each year to serve as a snapshot in time. Given the time it takes to make, its £30 release price offers incredible value for money.

We were treated to five vintages of Selección de Añanda: 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004 and 2001, all of which had their own distinct character reflecting both their age and the vintage in which they were made. The 2008 had a green fruit focus, with apple and pear playing with fennel and lime.

The signature richness of the wine started to come through in the 2007 vintage, and by 2005 the wine glinted gold in the glass, offering notes of honeycomb, cooking apple and an exquisite texture and depth that makes it hard to believe it doesn’t see any oak. The wine of the lunch for most of us was the 2001 vintage, which was in a league of its own with pretty floral aromatics and immense intensity and concentration coupled with effortless elegance and finesse.

Going, going gone! Jordi Roca’s orange colourology and the 2005 vintage of Selección de Añada

Lunch ended on a high with three of Jordi’s playful desserts including ‘orange colourology’ – a golden globe of spun sugar, which, when smashed, revealed edible flowers nestled in a creamy orange mousse.

Cigar box meanwhile, was a decadent marriage of dark chocolate and dried plums that paid clever attention to texture.

It’s easy to see why El Celler de Can Roca was voted the world’s best restaurant twice.

From the warm welcome we received from head sommelier Josep, who looked after us throughout the lunch, to the unobtrusive military precision of the waiting staff who seemed to anticipate my needs better than I ever could, rather than stuffy and pretentious the restaurant is a place of frivolity and fun.

Dishes have Surrealist touches but almost never falter on flair and execution, yet never feel fiddly or over-wrought. Having learnt how to cook Catalan classics, Josep has the confidence to deconstruct dishes from his childhood and rebuild them with a modern identity for a new audience.

Dining at El Celler de Can Roca is as exciting, beguiling and entertaining as a night at the theatre, and the culinary fireworks are well worth the pilgrimage to Spain.

With lunch still in full swing at 6pm, we nearly missed our flights home, and had to be dragged from our seats before the petit fours came out. Replete but in no way uncomfortably full, dosing off on the flight back to London, my head slightly fuggy from the wine, it already felt like a dream.

El Celler de Can Roca, Carrer de Can Sunyer, 48, 17007 Girona, Spain; Tel: +34 972 22 21 57

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