Josep Roca is the head sommelier and one of three brothers who run the Michelin three-star El Celler de Can Roca. Located in Girona, about 75 minutes northeast of Barcelona by car, it was named World’s Best Restaurant 2015 by a panel of nearly 1,000 restaurant experts. Known for his humility and warmth (and a 60,000-bottle wine cellar), Roca uses wine to help create a complete gastronomic experience worthy of the number one spot.
First of all, how did you celebrate the win?
We set up tables in a parking lot and made huge pans of paella with the staff, drinking Cava and easy-drinking Catalan wine from ¿Vamos? ¡Vamos!
What makes the wine service at Can Roca so special?
We try to make an emotional wine pairing. With the dozen dishes on the tasting menu, we generally match 14 wines. This matching is different for every table. Within the first few minutes, we try to read the personality and preferences of the table to make choices for the wines. People come off a bit like the style of wines they like, and we also try to pick up clues in how people speak about wine. The food at Can Roca reflects our own emotions and history, but with the wines, I try to reflect the table.
In addition to the major pairing rules, you can alter many small factors to make the pairings perfect. For example, I adapt the temperature of the wine to how long I want the flavors to stay in the mouth. We will also serve the wines at different intervals in relation to the dish. A complex wine might need more attention from the diner, so we serve it well before the dish, while a tannic wine might require the mitigating effects of meat, so it’s served seconds after the first bite has been consumed.
Your cellar at Can Roca holds 3,360 different wines and over 60,000 bottles. How have you chosen the wines?
The wine cellar isn’t mine, so it shouldn’t reflect only what I like to drink. It’s built to represent the different styles and mentalities in the world of wine as well as the wines of the world. I like to bring in a few natural wines in every pairing, but I’m not radical.
How do you keep track of such an immense cellar?
I have a full-time sommelier to keep track of inventory and what is ready to drink. We have no database. The styles are pretty much all in my head. But I’m developing a “periodic system” for wine. The plan is to use it to describe and order the wines based entirely on the factors that are useful in matching them to food.
What do you drink at home?
I’m passionate about Sherry, but I also love Riesling, Champagne, Burgundy, wines from Priorat and Jura. In my fridge right now, you can find Fino Inocente from Valdespino, Amontillado from Coliseo, German Rieslings from Egon Müller and Peter Jakob Kuhn. I have a preference for wines made by honest people who are close to the earth.
Roca’s Simple Rules for Pairing Wine
Salty, high-acid foods go with high-acid wine.
Fatty dishes go with broad, “fat” wines.
Oily fish goes with light, red wine.
Poultry or white meat goes with white wine.
Stuffed meat, ragùs and stews go with mature red wine.