World's first Freixenet bar opens in China
There's nothing we love more about Shanghai than its ability to fit a new idea into any size nook. Located in the basement of a clothing store, the well-appointed Alfie's by KEE is a good example.
The latest case is The Bubbles Bar, which opened last fall in the third-floor attic of Spanish restaurant El Patio.
The interesting thing about the 15-square-meter watering hole is the drinks menu, which is solely dedicated to Cava, the Spanish equivalent to Champagne.
More precisely, the bar serves only one Cava brand, Freixenet, the wine known for advertising campaigns featuring Antonio Banderas, Sharon Stone, Kim Bassinger, Shakira and others.
The world’s first Freixenet bar
“This is the first Freixenet Cava bar in the world,” says Gil Serra, 27, greater China manager for Freixenet.
The company has previously set up temporary drink stands in Brazil and Croatia, but The Bubbles Bar is the first permanent establishment dedicated to Freixenet.
The Barcelona-based brand has promoted Cava in China for more than 20 years. According to Serra, however, the Chinese sparkling wine market is very young compared to neighbor Japan, the country to which Freixenet exports more than five million bottles annually.
Serra notes that with the new bar in Shanghai, the company is “trying to understand [Chinese] drinking behaviors and taste profile."
It's a climb up a set of steep stairs to The Bubbles Bar’s attic space.
The bar is warm and welcoming, with leather benches and cushions lining both sides of the room and a private alcove off to one side. Flamenco music provides immediate Spanish atmosphere.
Two terraces filled with greenery should be a local chill-out point of choice come spring.
Open since September 2011, the bar casts bubbly twists on what might otherwise be common cocktails.
Instead of a piña colada, customers can opt for a Sparkling Colada (RMB 75), made with Freixenet Carta Nevada, Rum Conde de Cuba, coconut, pineapple, milk foam and cinnamon and served in a champagne flute. Plain old mojitos are replaced by the Bubbles Mojito (RMB 75).
"This is my first time here; a friend recommended it to me,” says customer Ken Gushiken, 31, a Japanese restaurateur. “The place feels comfortable, cozy. Like I'm at home. I'll definitely be back.”
'Smoking salmon' and other Spanish snacks
At The Bubbles Bar, every Freixenet cocktail is paired with free Spanish snacks, such as wild rice fried with cinnamon or banana chips with sweet paprika.
We order an appetizer sampler and are served a small bowl with a domed glass lid, the inside of which is obscured by a thick swirl of smoke.
“This is a creation of Franki, the chef," says Carlos, The Bubbles Bar manager. "It's a piece of fresh salmon with some olive oil underneath and a sprig of rosemary.
"The chef uses a pipe to encase it in smoke from burning oak wood chips. So it's not smoked salmon, it's smoking salmon.”
The effect makes for a unique flavor; smoke surrounds the food, it's not absorbed within it.
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Even more unexpected is the foie gras with caramelized onions and chocolate sauce -- yes, chocolate sauce. An unlikely combination, but highly effective. An excellent mix of sweet and savory flavors.
“The idea of this kind of small dish,” Serra explains, “is that people can come to the bar before dinner for a drink and appetizer, then have dinner at El Patio or somewhere else.”
Light desserts are also available.
Chinese culture vs. Cava culture
Despite the innovative cocktails and gratis tapas, Freixenet still needs to jump through some hoops in order to pour more Cava into Chinese glasses.
“While in big cities, more and more middle-class Chinese have tasted true French Champagne, most people still do not understand the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine,” notes Shanghai-based food and wine critic Lawrence Lo (卢浩研), 39, founder of LHY Etiquette Consultancy.
“Even opening a sparkling wine bottle can pose a challenge for many Chinese consumers,” says Lo.
Part of Hong Kong-born Lo’s business is to introduce Western drinking culture and etiquette to Chinese. According to Lo, the Chinese market has yet to fully appreciate sparkling wine culture.
“Cava must be drunk cold, but a lot of Chinese consumers follow traditional Chinese medicine, believing that drinking cold drinks is not good for the body,” says Lo.
Although China is now the world's seventh-largest wine market, Lo is realistic about sparkling wine's future in the country.
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"While the sparkling wine market will expand, it will never be embraced as part of the culinary culture [as it is in Europe]. In China, it will most likely be a 'lifestyle occasional enjoyment,'" stays Lo.
"Even though we see a lot more wine sold in the market, Western imported wine still occupies only a small part of the alcoholic beverage marketing in China."
The Bubbles Bar
3/F, 110 Fenyang Lu, near Fuxing Zhong Lu
+86 21 6437 5839