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Cava and Spanish Sparkling wine in general is going through some changes. Earlier this year, nine of the most respected members of the D.O. left Cava to form a separate category, Corpinnat, with stricter rules and ambitions for a higher quality of Spanish sparkling wine from Penedes (this follows the departure of Raventós í Blanc in 2012 – more on Raventós and Conca del Riu Anoia in forthcoming email).
Corpinnat, it looks like, will be a useful name and category to know for fans of the Chambers Street ethos. Although new and just beginning to appear on wine labels, it provides very valuable information to the consumer of Spanish sparkling wine. Unlike the broad cava category, wines bottled under the Corpinnat category must come entirely from a relatively small area (roughly 1000 square kilometers) in the Penedes, the historical center of sparkling wine production in Spain. In addition, all producers must be certified organic, harvest their grapes by hand, and vinify all of their wines at their own winery. The wines themselves must be at least 90% based on the historical grape varieties of Xarel-lo, Parellada, Macabeu, Garnacha, Monastrell, Sumoll and Xarel-lo Vermell. Finally, in order to protect the livelihoods of local grape farmers and encourage high quality farming, all bought grapes must be purchased at a price about double the average price for purchased grapes in the area. All of these regulations help to define and clarify the identity of these wines, preserve the unique character of sparkling wine from Penedes, and promote high quality, environmentally sound viticulture and winemaking.
My visit to Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, in the heart of the Penedes, lshowed me how excited producers are to begin bottling under this new category that highlights their commitment to quality and expresses the heritage of the region. Today, I’d like to focus on one producer, a Chambers Street favorite, who is now bottling under the Corpinnat label.
Finca Sabaté í Coca may be better known to Chambers Street Wines customers as Castellroig (they bottle under both names: Sabate I Coca wines come entirely from single plot estate fruit, while Castellroig wine incorporate some purchased grapes and blend different sites and terroirs). The Sabaté í Coca family has been farming grapes in the Bitlles valley in Penedes since 1885. Now headed by Marcel Sabaté í Coca, the estate organically farms 60 micro-plots throughout the Bitlles valley around Sant Sadurni d’Anoia. From these plots they produce a range of elegant, thoughtful, and terroir expressive sparkling and still wines.
When I visted on the 29th of August the harvest was moving into full swing. Macabeu was mostly picked, and Garnatxa for sparkling rose wines was on its way. With Marcel, I visited the estate's scattered small, beautifully farmed vineyards on different soils and terroirs and at various elevations and facings throughout the valley. Here, fennel, rosemary and olives grew wild in adjacent vineyards abandoned as too difficult to work with machine. Vineyard workers in Marcel’s plots were harvesting by hand, and crates of delicate garnatxa were arriving at the cell ar.
I’d particularly like to highlight two vineyards I visited, their specific terroir, and the wines produced from them. First is Terroja, perhaps the most special of Marcel’s vineyards. Here, poor iron-rich clay soils are dotted with small limestone pebbles. About 70 centimeters below the surface lies limestone, attesting to the geological heritage of the region as former seabed. The vineyard, hemmed by historic stone terraces, is planted with a mixture of old and young vines of Xarel-lo and other grapes. Marcel does not use any irrigation, and the clay soils help preserve moisture in the long dry summers. The still wine from this plot is electric, nervy and mineral: truly a unique and intense expression of Xarel-lo. Marcel also makes uses grapes from this vineyard in a variety of his still wines, lending its Xarel-lo’s intensity to the blends.
The Terrasses del Bitlles vineyard is situated at the other end of Marcel’s holdings, perched on striking terraces of mixed clay-limestone soils. Here, the earth is pale beige with scattered sedimentary stones and the trees and wild foliage hem the vineyards tightly. The whole area smells of fennel and rosemary. In the 19th century, Marcel’s ancestors pressed the grapes in a small winery adjacent to this vineyard. From these vines, Marcel makes a zero-dosage sparkling wine with tremendous herbal character, with beautiful notes of fennel and anise.
As a whole, Castellroig is an estate that we at Chambers Street are always excited about. Marcel is a farmer and a winemaker who lives in his vineyards and has carefully investigated and documented the terroirs of his region and his holdings. In the cellar he is careful and thoughtful, only using small additions of sulfur at bottling. The wines are sincere, honest expressions of the Penedes, the Bitlles valley, and of Corpinnat. They’re fairly priced, well made, and truly pleasurable.
Thank you, Marcel, for your beautiful wines and your extraordinary generosity during my visit!
Marcel's still Xarel-lo from the Terroja vineyards is one of the more serious expressions of the grape that I've encountered. Terroja is the most treasured of the Sabate i Coca vineyards, with iron-rich clay soils over limestone. This part of the Penedes was once a seabed: fossils from the region's marine life are visible in large sedimentary boulders throughout the valley. The still Terroja is surprisingly full-bodied, showing lush density in tension with a deeply mineral and nervy acid core. Still fresh, the bottle aging has mellowed this somewhat, making for a truly elegant expression of Penedes and of Xarel-lo. Ben Fletcher
Mosset is a new Brut Nature Corpinnat from Marcel. I like to think of it as the next step up from the Brut Reserva: clearly more serious and more interesting than the entry-level bottling, but approachable enough in price and character to enjoy with abandon. As a non-dosage sparkling, you can expect a generally more intense character, but the long lees aging lends this wine a creamy, almost plush mouthfeel with very well integrated bubbles. What is most exciting for me about this wine is the herbal character that reflects the terroir of the vineyards with lots of fennel, anise, and rosemary on the nose. Ben Fletcher
Xarel-lo Vermell is the pink skinned sister grape of Xarel-lo. In many ways it is very similar in character to its white skinned sibling, with bright acidity and thick skins. In this case, the wine is a shade between pink and burnt orange, and there is certainly a light red fruit character to this wine. It is quite light and bright, with lots of citrus and herbal notes on the nose, and well-integrated bubbles. Marcel told me that he thinks that this expression of Xarel-lo may well be the original one, with the white skinned incarnation coming later. Either way, this is a really pleasurable sparkling, well suited to opening with lighter food or on its own! Ben Fletcher
100% Xarel-lo from three vineyards in the Bitlles Valley, this is a great expression of the grape in still form. Here, the soils are calcareous clay with fossilized sea shells - this shows in the wine's bright, bracing acid. The 4 months of lees aging lends body and a creamier mid-palate, but the structure here is entirely acid-driven. Look for notes of fennel, sea air, and anise on the nose, with a palate of ripe citrus, chalk and herbs. I think this is a great introduction to still Xarel-lo and a perfect wine for lighter fish or chicken dishes. Ben Fletcher
Castellroig is one of the finest values in sparkling wine and a great example of the wines of Corpinnat: it is farmed organically, harvesting by hand, aged at least 18 months on the lees, and fermented with native yeasts. Marcel Sabate and his team have a remarkable understanding of their vineyards and have mapped out every minute shift in terroir on their estate; this fanatical approach to quality shows in the bottle. The focus of this cuvée is Xarell-lo, a favorite amongst the grapes of the Penedès for its refreshing mineral qualities and notes of mountain herbs. A light-on-its-feet bubbly for everyday occasions.
A treat for lovers of Castellroig, the Rosat is a refreshing rose sparkling wine made from organically farmed Garnacha and Trepat grapes, fermented with native yeasts, and aged a minimum of 18 months on the lees before disgorgement. A lovely, rosy watermelon hue, dry and frothy, with deep and delicious flavors of raspberry, cranberry, orange rind, seas salt, and Mediterranean herbs. This rosat is always cold in our fridge at home, ready for smoked salmon brunch, a sardine snack, and fish from the grill. Ariana Rolich
The Reserva Familiar is my favorite sparkling wine from Sabate i Coca/Castellroig. This is a serious expression of the Penedes, from very old vines of Xarel-lo from the Terroja vineyard. Terroja is Marcel's most prized vineyard site, with old and young vines together on iron-rich red clay soils over limestone. The Xarel-lo from this site is intense and high in both acid and phenolic character: the wines from these grapes are broad on the palate but simultaneously possess intense and bright acid structure. For the Reserva Familiar the wine is aged on the lees for 50 months before disgorgement and bottling. Look for notes of fennel and thyme, but the herbal character is enveloped by dense ferrous minerality. Ben Fletcher