December 23, 2011

That Perfect Gift: Freixenet Cava + Chocolates

"El niño de Freixenet," iconic ad
for the company from the 1920s
So today, apparently, is the highest volume shopping day for Christmas in Spain. (Very naughty of all of you putting it off to the last minute!) I imagine most of you late shoppers are buying perfume or watches (this is at least what all the ads on TV seem to be for). But if you've manage to skip all the other ideas I've posted, and are still wondering what to give as a gift, I have a very simple and classy suggestion: a bottle of Freixenet's "cava" (a.k.a. Spanish sparkling wine) accompanied by a box of cava-friendly chocolates.

You may recall that I visited the Freixenet bodega this past September. It was fun, and the cava I tasted was delicious. But I've actually been a fan of Freixenet's for over a decade now. They've been exporting to the United States since the 1930s, and unlike the over-touted bottle of French champagne, a bottle of Freixenet in the States is usually only a bit more than $10, which is a very cheap option for such a fun and fancy drink. (You'll recognize the bottles… they're the dark black ones with the gold lettering on the label.)

Every year around the holidays Freixenet releases its annual widely anticipated "Felices Fiestas" ad campaign, so I'm taking this opportunity to throw my weight behind this Spanish product, to recommend it as a solid last-minute gift to buy for perhaps a party, a Christmas dinner, or (hopefully) a very romantic holiday evening with that special someone. (It is also the libation of choice for celebrating your winnings from "El Gordo".) Before continuing, a clarification. Freixenet is pronounced "Frey-sha-net". The "t" at the end _is_ _not_ silent… the word, after all, is Catalán, not French! 

Photo of the main entrance to the Freixenet Headquarters in Sant Sadurní d'Anoia

So, to continue, like all high-end alcoholic beverages, Freixenet has always had a advertising presence. One of its more iconic ads was the famous boy "el niño de Freixenet" seen in its commercial posters in the 1920, and which has become a kind of company logo. But starting in 1977, with a Xmas commercial featuring Liza Minnelli, the company ushered in a new era in its advertising, inviting famous people, often foreigners, to be the seasonal spokesperson for its cava. (There's good reason for this seasonal ad campaign: about 40% of all cava produced is sold around this time of year.) The basic formula behind Freixenet's Christmas campaign is to have some famous person, or to pair up two famous people, and then mount some visual spectacle around them where the color of cava features prominently. Also regularly featured are "las burbujas de Freixenet," the cava bubbles of the drink personified as showgirl-style dancers.

Spanish actress Maribel Verdú playfully dressed as "el niño de Freixenet" in the 1998 holiday ad

Rather than try and explain it in words, and to explain how it has come to be a routine feature of Spain's holiday seasonal landscape, here I list for you the stars featured over the past 35+ years, with the occasional annotation of more memorable ads, and when possible a link on their names leading you to the YouTube video of that year's ad (this blogger gives a nice historical summary of the campaign here):

1977: Liza Minnelli
1978: Club de Natació Kallipolis de Barcelona, as "las burbujas de Freixenet"

1979: Burbujas de Freixenet
1981: Gene Kelly [with the "burbujas de Freixenet" depicted as the rain from "Singing in the Rain"]

1982: Norma Duval, Cheryl Ladd and Anne Margret

1987: Victoria Principal [then famous for her role in the TV series "Dallas"]
1988: Josep Carreras
1990: Inés Sastre and "Superman" Christopher Reeve
1991: Don Johnson [then famous for his role in "Miami Vice"]

The Freixenet ads are also fodder for cultural commentary. In this video you can see
Martes y Trece parodying the 1993 Kim Basinger Freixenet Christmas ad.

1994: The stars of "Belle Époque" [which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film the year before]
1997: Meg Ryan
1998: Alejandro Sanz, Maribel Verdú, Laura Ponte and Ainhoa Arteta [Maribel Verdú - dresses like the famous "niño de Freixenet" logo image]
2000: Lorin Maazel and "las Burbujas de Freixenet"
2001: Penélope Cruz
2002: Pilar López de Ayala [the year she won acclaim as "Juana la Loca"]
2003: Paz Vega
2004: Nieves Álvarez and Pierce Brosnan [spoofing his James Bond image]
2005: Gabino Diego and Demi Moore
2007: Martin Scorsese spoof directs a short film, that is actually a commercial for the drink 

I'm sure part of the popularity of this year's ad was the national pride in Spain's amazing
Synchronized Swimming Team, a regular medal winner in European and Olympic contests.

2010: Shakira [This makes sense given her World Cup hit song, the year Spain wins]
2011: Sara Baras and José Carlos Martínez [flamenco dancing]

Don't they just make you want to go out and buy a bottle of cava? In a way, by choosing famous people at the height of their fame, Freixenet has created a kind of yearbook of Christmas past, capturing the spirit of each year by giving the moment in time a face to remember it by. (And there are different types of cava for different tastes. This blog gives a nice explanation of the label in Spanish.)

Well, in addition to cava I recommend you get some chocolates. On our trip to Penedés, the very classy B&B we stayed at in Capellades gave us a complementary bottle of cava with a box of white chocolates that were an excellent accompaniment to the drink: Crackania from the Catalan company Casanella Xocolaters. I don't know that you can find these in the States, but you can here in Spain and I highly recommend them. They have "polpa de raïm" (grape pulp) in them, which is naturally the perfect flavoring for a sweet companion to sparkling wine. But in the US you can also order "Rabitos" through, which is a similar idea (though with figs)… a sweet extra to blend with that bubbly fun of cava.

The perfect cava accompaniment: "polpa de raïm" + coconut shavings + white chocolate

You're certain to have a Merry Christmas with this combination!

Postscript: Oh dear! After writing this entry and posting it to go up later in the week, I discovered that Sangria Sol y Siesta had already written on this topic. Needless redundancy. Though as is always the case, in these situations, I can take some comfort from the fact that our approaches to the subject are fairly different.


Chic Soufflé said...

I've already stocked up for the holiday season. Cheers! :)

Kirstie said...

I definitely want to check out those ads from the past when I get home (and am no longer on a school computer)!

When my dad came to visit me just before Thanksgiving, his hotel gave him a complimentary bottle of Freixenet, which reminded him that he and my mom served it at their wedding. He always thought it was French champagne rather than Spanish cava, but it's interesting that they served a Spanish drink at their wedding only to have their daughter go off years later to live in Spain!

An Expat in Spain said...

Kirstie, that is a funny coincidence, or fate, about your parents. It is definitely worth perusing these Freixenet ads. Many are either amazing for their artistic spectacle, or hilarious for how dated they are. Either way, quite fun.

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