Claudia Bassols, 29, is an actress who currently appears alongside Gwyneth Paltrow, Mario Batali and Mark Bittman in the PBS television series Spain … On the Road Again. A native of Barcelona, Spain, Bassols graduated from that city's Coco Comin School of Musical Theater and studied at Australia's National Institute of Dramatic Art and at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She has had roles in a number of Spanish television series, including El Mundo de Chema, and will appear in the feature film Full Love, directed by action legend Jean-Claude Van Damme, in 2009. Bassols recently spoke with Wine Spectator about her favorite Spanish wines and her feelings about traditional and experimental cuisines.
Wine Spectator: How did you first become interested in wine?
Claudia Bassols: Being from Spain, and especially being from Barcelona, wine is really important in our culture. There is a Spanish phrase that comes to mind: "Con pan y vino se anda al camino." It means, "With bread and wine you can go anywhere." Bread, wine, olive oil—these are the fundamentals of Mediterranean gastronomy. Since I was a kid, those things were always on the table, and wine has always been a part of my life.
I remember the figure of my grandfather, always intertwined with wine. He would stand up with a kind of elegance and make a toast—because part of our family was abroad and part of our family was at home—he'd always say, "To the ones that are not here."
WS: What role does wine play in your new show?
CB: We went to all of these different vineyards, meeting people who make wine with such passion that it's impossible to not feel passionate about it when you are with them. We went to the Ribera del Duero region and drank local Tempranillo outdoors in a vineyard while Mario grilled milk-fed lamb over an open fire. That day, while we were waiting for the crew to get the cameras set up, the vineyard owner took me through the whole process, everything that goes into making the wine. When you see it with your own eyes for the first time and understand how important all the details are—the exact time for fermentation, the exact type and age of the wood—it makes it so much more alive to me when I drink the wine now. And to see multiple generations working together, oftentimes with such patience, with a different sense of what time means, that to me is incredibly touching, it's the best part of the experience. And my colleagues were all so knowledgeable so it was a pleasure to hear them talk about the wine and the food. Mario has incredible energy and a non-stop spicy sense of humor, and Gwyneth cooks really well.
WS: Are there Spanish wines that you consider favorites?
CB: Definitely. I love Rioja reds from Marqués de Riscal and Pago de los Capellanes from Ribera del Duero. I also love the white wines from the Canary Islands—the Verdello and the Malvasía, the Listán Blanco.
WS: What were your experiences with Spain's traditional and experimental cuisine while making the show, and do you prefer one over the other?
CB: We spent a day in San Sebastián with Juan Mari Arzak, went out with him in a little boat to see where he gets the fish for his restaurant, and spent time in the restaurant with him and his daughter, then went to eat pinxtos tapas with him at his favorite hangout. His food is more traditional, though with some modern edges. I haven't had much of the purely experimental cuisine, but we had lunch with Ferran Adrià in Madrid, and we got to eat what he serves at El Bulli. I like food that's in season, cooked in a simple but delicious manner, and accompanied with the perfect wine, so to be honest, I wasn't sure it was going to be my cup of tea, but I really enjoyed it. It's like a festival in your mouth! I think it's good to experiment. It's all valid. And whether it is very traditional cooking or extremely avant-garde, there is that very Spanish moment where you sit down with your glass of wine and your food, and you take a breath and know that you're going to forget about time for a while.