Strolling down the streets of El Clot, you’ll encounter all the usual suspects of a typical residential Barcelona neighborhood: a small butcher, a multigenerational deli, a hole-in-the-wall bar and, of course, a couple of bodegas. Bodegas are the social and culinary epicenters of Barcelona – this is especially true for more residential, working-class neighborhoods like Clot, where eating out at a proper restaurant is a rare event kept for special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries. So for a casual mid-week get together, locals go to their neighborhood bodega for a small copa of nondescript red or white wine and a tapa of boquerones or some simple cold cuts.
One of El Clot’s bodegas, however, stands out from the rest. Walking into Vins Per Tu, we immediately felt like we were walking into a friend’s home – if we had a friend that spent all their money on wine. Here, the generic, mass-produced bodega wine is replaced with carefully selected boutique natural wine, and instead of the standard tapas menu, you’ll find innovative dishes, all for fair barrio prices. Brightly lit shelves packed with bottles are the first thing we noticed upon walking in. The second was a tall, broad-shouldered man with a warm smile and deep voice coming over to greet us.
The man behind Vins Per Tu is Brazil-born William “Willy” Rezende. In 2005, Willy decided to take up an offer from some friends to visit Barcelona. After two weeks of beach-filled days and party-filled nights he decided not to return to Brazil, leaving a banking career and a very surprised girlfriend behind.
During his visit, Willy also fell in love with the hospitality industry, but with no prior experience, his only “in” was to start working as a busboy at a well-known nightclub. He later joined the prestigious Omm hotel (where the Sir Victor hotel is now located) as a waiter at their Michelin-starred restaurant, Roca Moo. It was there, under the guidance of Catalunya’s leading restaurateurs, that he discovered the fascinating world of wine, and especially natural wine. “It’s where I gained my experience with fine wine and tasting fine wine – and also where I realized how little I know,” he explains. Willy decided to go back to school and get his sommelier diploma, and worked his way up to become the restaurant manager before switching to a more relaxed atmosphere at Bar del Pla in the El Born neighborhood, where he worked until the pandemic.
Though Willy dreamt of owning his own place, for many years it seemed impossible with Barcelona’s rising rent prices, especially in the central neighborhoods. But the pandemic brought with it new opportunities: rent prices dropped, many bars and restaurants closed and, as Willy points out: “Since the pandemic, locals are spending more time in their own neighborhoods.” During the spring of 2020, after the first lockdown, Willy realized that rather than competing with countless other bars and restaurants in the city center, which are highly reliant on tourism to survive, he could create a new gastronomic space in his own neighborhood and serve his fellow barrio locals.
By definition, Vins Per Tu is a vinoteca first and foremost – a space to enjoy a glass of wine and maybe take a couple of bottles home with you. There is no wine menu, instead, Willy will open a few different bottles every evening to choose from, depending on the season, the weather, or simply what he’s feeling that day. This means every visit begins with a personal interaction with Willy, who will pick out something for each customer. “I enjoy surprising people, giving them something new to try,” he explains.
It was thanks to a chance encounter that the food offered to accompany the wine is as exciting and unique as it is. “My initial plan was to have classic bodega food – conservas, some cold cuts – keep things simple,” says Willy. But shortly before opening, he crossed paths with Mariano Citterio, an Argentinian chef who offered to revamp the menu. The result is a selection of elevated bodega classics that incorporate fresh, seasonal ingredients and modern presentation.
On our visit, we started with succulent oysters which pay homage to Willy’s Brazilian origins with a cachaça sour foam, followed by crispy pan con tomate made with artisanal coca de cristal bread and an umami-filled matrimonio (“marriage”) of pickled and preserved anchovies. The special of the day was coca de caballa, perfectly moist mackerel on a bed of slowly cooked confit tomatoes. To round out the meal, we finished with an another play on Catalonia-meets-Brazil with a dish of tender secreto ibérico –thin, marbled cuts of pork – with a corn cream and pickled onions.
Willy is still playing around with the dishes and wines he offers, and learning what his customers like the most. His goal for Vins Per Tu to continue to open up the minds and palettes of his patrons. “I’m not here to sell wine or food, I’m here to offer sensations and experiences,” he says. In the future, he also wants to host small concerts, art exhibitions and wine tastings – and to continue to challenge what a neighborhood bodega can be.
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Published on July 04, 2022