October 3, 2018
Intelligence and sensitivity
Thirty years ago, this now quintessential figure in the world of wine, liqueurs and spirits, coffees and herbal teas – this sommelier – started out in Spain.
Fernando Gurucharri, president of the Spanish Union of Wine Tasters, commented that it was our dear, late Cristino Alvarez who said, ‘In 1980, we knew what a sommelier was: the person who was in charge of the wines at a restaurant.’
Fortunately, since then, that definition has changed considerably. They say that Josep Roca – Pitu Roca to his friends – dreamed of being a goalkeeper for Barça, but that he was also seduced by the universe that wine offered him. The second of the brothers at the restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, he is a quintessential benchmark when it comes to talking of wine, of innovation in the world of spirits and is, needless to say, an all-round authority who is consulted by winemakers, colleagues and wine aficionados.
He has, on occasion, said that ‘wine is a way of bottling landscapes and ways of life. It is a chance to understand the dialogue between man and nature: you intervene, but she is in command and puts you in your place.’ He has received the National Gastronomy Prize for Best Maître d’Hôtel (2004), the National Gastronomy Prize for Best Sommelier (2010), the International Academy of Gastronomy Prize for Best Sommelier (2005 and 2011). He wrote the book Tras las viñas, together with the psychologist Imma Puig, travelling from one end of the planet to the other in search of the people behind the best wines that have ever been made. It is impossible to sum up, in just a few words, the knowledge accumulated by this demiurge. His presence is always required in different places, and he now works with six sommeliers at El Celler where they take care of over 70,000 bottles, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. Piled on the shelves are bottles whose labels are hard to read, and impossible-to-find vintages. I have been immensely lucky to taste wine with Pitu on a few occasions in Zaragoza, in Barcelona and other places, and I been utterly captivated by the way he expresses himself. And , in particular, I recall a tasting of Alsatian wines...unbeatable.