Why Penedes? Part Three

My last two days in Penedes were a whirlwind of top flight wines, some angry growers, sexually frustrated cellar staff (perhaps I’ll leave that one to my biography), and Catalan imitations of Bordeaux blends. Not a bad way to finish the week.

Thursday morning saw a visit to Albet I Noya. This small, family-run business offers glorious views of the local vineyards. The owner, Josep Albet, has become something of a poster boy for the region. Funnily enough, we tasted very little of the wines, instead spending over an hour chatting with Josep about his grand plans for Penedes.

As the recently elected president of the Regulatory Council of the Penedes Appellation (and very proud he is!), Albet is leading a campaign to demarcate the Appellation into five or six further sub-regions. He will have quite a fight on his hands with the local authorities but remains confident that it will happen. Albet and his supporters are currently in the process of undertaking a study to establish the boundaries for each sub-zone. Once that work is done they must then submit a proposal for the approval of the Penedes Wine Council.

What motivated this large amount of research and paperwork, I wonder?

“‘In our region vines grow along the Mediterranean coast to 800m above sea level, on the top of our mountains. There is nothing uniform about Penedes, the current system betrays the massive diversity of teroirs,” he exclaimed.

Watch this space, ladies and gentlemen …

Our next port of call–Can Rafols dels Caus–are producing some of the best whites and reds in the region today. The very lovely Export Manager, Amanda gave us a great tour of estate before settling down to the real business at hand–wine tasting!

Can Rafols dels Caus produces a range of impressively structured and concentrated reds and whites; the Gran Caus Bordeaux blend is a wine of formidable extract with dark, spicy berry fruit–St-Emilion on steroids. All their wines offer vibrant fruit and power, but were also counterbalanced by good freshness and balance, despite the weight.

A fantastic, wine fueled day was rounded off nicely with a BBQ at my host Pablo’s (owner of Vinum Nature). I needed something to soak up all that lovely fruit, tannin, and alcohol.

The theme during my last day in Spain was definitely, “pissed off grower’.” Everyone we visited on Friday had a story, and I knew to listen. Our first destination, Mas Comtal, again a small, family-owned and run property that produces a sparkling and range of whites and reds. During our vineyard tour, Marta Milà, our hostess with the mostess ( trying to control a hyperactive four-year old) expressed anger that in 2011, growers in Penedes were only paid 20 cents per Kilogram of Cava grapes by the big, global houses of Freixenet and Codorniu. Naturally, they dominate the market in bulk Cava production and their vast grape purchases are a unfortunate, vital source of income for many growers in Penedes. With a certain sadness, Marta admitted that more and more growers in Penedes will have to abandon their livelihood. ““The lack of respect shown to Cava as a high-end product does not help,” she said with great sadness.

Hardly surprising then, that Mas Comtal has left the Cava Domination. Several other growers in Penedes have followed suit, Marta simply now markets her wine as own brand sparkling, feeling that the Cava brand is detrimental – not beneficial – to her commercial needs. She hopes, but paradoxically doubts that the mass image of Cava can ever rise above the Cheap & Cheerful for consumers. Is more Chardonnay and less indigenous varieties the answer?

The debate rages on in Penedes about whether Cava would benefit from a region wide cull of the traditional varieties in the blend. Certainly, high yield Macabeo (Rioja’s Viura) and Parellada produce totally neutral and indifferent base wine for blending. Yet estates like Raventos I Blanc and Gramona have proven what can be done, Gramona, for example, focus heavily on the indigenous varieties with impressive results. Their III Lustros is solely indigenous varieties, Xarel-lo and Macabeo, aged for 6 years on its lees, it offers fantastic value and a real alternative to Champagne. The Raventos wines are uniformly excellent and age wonderfully!

There was no doubt, in my mind, about the potential for high-quality reds, whites and sparkling in Penedes. Our final visit to the estate of Can Ramon confirmed that much. Can Roman, situated on the Costa del Garraf near the Spanish party town of Sitges, have resurrected a long forgotten Catalan variety, Sumoll with great results – think Touriga Nacional with extremely dry and grippy tannins. In fact their entire range impressed as did the hospitality and warmth from the passionate owner, Manel Avino. If your in the vicinity of Sitges, Spain’s premium party town then I insist you pay a visit. Manel will be happy to show you around the cellars and open a few bottles.

Sites was, appropriate enough, our final destination of the tour. Barely half-hour away from Barcelona by train, Sitges attracts everyone from jet-setters to young back-packers, families and a internal gay crowd for which it is famous in the summer months. We took a stroll along the lovely beach before having dinner at Komokieras, locals view it as the best restaurant in the town and we were certainly impressed with the food. In the summer months ask for a table under the starts on their romantic terrace attached to the restaurant. Heavenly!

Sitges has been fashionable in one way or another since the 19th century, when it became an avant-garde world hang out. Anything, within reason, goes in Sitges and its close to Barcelona to boot. A beautiful town and the perfect destination if you fancy a day-trip away from the city and a change of scene.

With a great sadness, I bade farewell to my friends, both new and old and boarded my crammy-jet flight to London. I now understand why Catalans are proud people and sometimes look down on their counterparts in the rest of Spain. If I lived in Catalunya, then perhaps I’d feel slightly smug too. It has everything – a bustling, vibrant capital, picturesque Roman towns and villages, the Pryenes, the Costa Brava, and of course, wine! My tour through Penedes left me feeling that the region could benefit from a greater marketing campaign, if growers are to get a fair price for their grapes. I had encountered everything, the good, bad and the undrinkable but the best, at the very least could match the top-flight wines from Priorat and Ribera Del Duero. In fact, if you want real (and often better value) alternatives to the above, Penedes would be a good place to start!

Komokieras Restaurant
Calle (street) Espalter, 23, Sitges, Spain, 08870
00 34 938146115 | komokieras.com

Why Penedes part 1 ? – http://www.wineandfoodtravel.com/travel/why-penedes-part-one/
Why Penedes Part 2 ? – http://www.wineandfoodtravel.com/wine/wine-101/why-penedes-part-two/

James Lawrence

James Lawrence is a self confessed wine obsessive, passionate about discovering and promoting the lesser known wines and wine regions of the world. He is a frequent contributor to decanter.com and runs an interactive, community led wine forum, thewineremedy.com In 2004, he went to study in Bilbao, Northern Spain. Luckily for him, the famous wine region of Rioja was just over an hour away by car. He began to spend a great deal of time there, visiting the wineries in Rioja and speaking to local wine makers. Their passion for the subject and their pride in the wines was infectious. He began to realise what an amazing subject wine is and how wide and complex the world of wine could be. Subsequently James moved into wine retail while finishing his degree, and was hooked. James also enjoys food and travel writing - he lives for Italian and Thai cuisine!

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