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Catalonia is perhaps best known for its sparkling wines, as the birthplace and true home of Cava, the most celebrated tradition of sparkling wine in Iberia. Indeed, Penedès' chalk and limestone soils and Mediterranean-influenced climate is well-suited to the production of sparkling wines, as the wines from Marcel Sabate and Pepe Raventos attest.
But Catalonia also produces fascinating red and white still wines, from local grapes that deserve your attention, and the natural wine movement has certainly taken hold in the region, with producers like Celler Escoda Sanahuja and Partida Creus leading the way in producing high quality and fascinating wines without the use of sulfur.
Perhaps what unites these wines is their sense of place, their expression of the soils, culture and climate of Catalonia. In many of them you can smell the scents of Penedès, that I remember from my visit in August: fennel, rosemary, and olive. This transportive character is perhaps the result of these artisan producers' choice to reject international grape varieties and celebrate the indigenous grapes of the region, to make their wines with traditional methods and without unnecessary interventions in the cellar.
Castellroig is one of the finest values in sparkling wine and a great example of the wines of Corpinnat: it is farmed organically, harvested 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 Xarel-lo, a favorite among the grapes of the Penedès for its refreshing mineral qualities and notes of mountain herbs. A light-on-its-feet bubbly for everyday occasions. Ariana Rolich
(Was $24.99) Pepe Raventós stepped outside of the Cava appellation in 2012 to create the Conca del Riu Anoia designation. The de Nit rosé was the first Conca wine and continues to sate and impress us with its lively expression of calcareous soils, rich with marine fossils. This is an incredibly versatile sparkler that has crisp, pretty stone fruit and light raspberry fruit with a gorgeous minerality. AR
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
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 Penedès 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 Penedès 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. These herbal notes would complement all of the flavors of the Thanksgiving for other holiday table, and this very dry sparkler would be great to drink with dinner. 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 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 green-skinned incarnation coming later. Either way, this is a really pleasurable sparkling, well-suited to drinking before or with a hearty meal. For those looking for a sparkling wine with plenty of classical appeal but an individual profile, this is a great option for the Thanksgiving table. I think it will go especially well with pumpkin, squash, or flavors of rosemary. Ben Fletcher
A treat for lovers of Castellroig, the Rosat is a refreshing rosè 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, sea 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
An exuberant and fun blend of 7 Catalan native grapes (Trepat, Samso, Sumoll and more!), the 2018 VN is light, fresh and very drinkable. I like it with a slight chill, and it makes an outstanding apéritif.
Xarel-lo (or Cartoixa) is the best known and most treasured white grape in Penedès, used in making both still and sparkling wines. It is high in acid and precise, but with abundant texture and notes of orchard fruits. In addition, it is very terroir expressive, often showing clear notes of salt and chalk from the calcareous marine soils of the region. Sparkling wines made with Xarel-lo often show a particularly pretty mousse, and this is no exception: expect a lean, mineral sparkling wine with lots of salt spray and notes of apple and citrus. Ben Fletcher
Massimo Marchiori and Antonella Gerosa are former architects, who moved from Piedmont to Barcelona many years ago, and eventually took to the countryside and began making natural wine. This is their white blend, sourced from old vineyards of Vinyater, Xarel-lo, Moscatel, Garnacha Blanca, Parellada, and Macabeu. All the fruit is co-fermented, with no added SO2, as is the unwavering practice at Partida Creus. Surely one of the least expensive (and most) "funky" whites we have at Chambers Street! Cloudy, unfiltered, with a cornucopia of fruit and a broad but mineral finish. -EL
One of the most exciting and tasty discoveries from a recent visit to Partida Creus was this delicious, funky Vermouth called Muz. Made with their red grapes this time around, and macerated with a mixture of local herbs, it's way too easy to drink, and should be great for mixology, though I can't attest, as I just drink it with a chill and smile. We look forward to the release every year. Please, don't hold onto this too long after opening, and only store in the fridge: this is unfortified, unsulfured vermouth. Eben Lillie
In my opinion, this is the perfect middle ground between the gluggable style of the VN red and the more serious and cerebral Trepat (TP) bottling from Partida Creus. This is all Sumoll, made in the house style, with very short maceration to preserve freshness and acidity. Bright red fruit and zippy acidity are the first impression, and with some time open, the wine fills out and becomes a little deeper and longer in the finish. A complex and exciting red that can be chilled and enjoyed with all types of salty and savory foods. EL
The Trepat from Partida Creus is the only wine of this vintage that we haven't yet had the opportunity to open. In past vintages this has been more serious and thoughtful than the VN or the SM, with a bit more structure and nice savory quality.
Mas del Gaio is the top white from Celler Escoda-Sanahuja, and the 2018 is truly a stellar vintage. An old-vine expression from rustic limestone vineyards next to the winery, blending Garnacha Blanca, Maccabeu, and Parellada. Garnacha Blanca and Maccabeu are fermented together, with the Parellada harvested 10 days later and fermented separately. Once everything is combined, the wine is aged mostly in large amphora, with old French barrels also employed (sorry I'm not clear on the ratio of amphora to used barrel, but I will ask Joan Ramon to clarify!) Tasted in January of 2019 (before bottling), the wine was fresh, with stone fruit on the palate. Tasted here in New York in September of 2019, the stone fruit was still there, but now there were notes of lemon verbena, and fuzzy peach skins, with a long, fleshy and salty finish. Fantastic acidity and viscosity from the lees aging. Tropical too, with subtle notes of passion fruit. All in all, a transportive wine and a really solid vintage for Joan Ramon. EL
A beautiful, light/medium-bodied red from Escoda, the Nas del Gegant is a blend of Carinyena (Carignan), Sumoll, Garnacha, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Fermentation is together in big "beton" (2,000L barrel), and aging is in stainless steel. After a 2017 vintage that showed a bit more stewed fruit and concentration, the 2018 is more refreshing and elegant. Plums and Mediterranean herbs on the nose, with red fruit on the palate, ample acidity and light structure. It's lovely now, and should be even better in another year or two.
Pardas is a winemaking project from Ramon Parera and Jordi Arnan in the Alt Penedes dating back to 1996. Their focus has been on old indigenous grape varieties of the region, and the Rupestris is mostly Xarel-lo with a small amount of Malvasia de Sitges, both classic grapes of the region. This is a great, fresh example of Penedès terroir, with a salty mineral core enveloped by notes of citrus, pear, and melon. Ben Fletcher
What a fun, vibrant red wine from Fredi Torres! This wine is 100% Garnacha from vines planted on red clay soils in La Figuera and granite soils in Falset in Catalonia. Picked early to ensure high acidity and freshness, the grapes are partially destemmed, macerated slowly, and then fermented and aged for 6 months in old French oak barrels. The wine is unfined and unfiltered with minimal addition of sulfur.
Pepe Raventós stepped outside of the Cava appellation in 2012 to create the Conca del Riu Anoia designation. The de Nit rosé was the first Conca wine and continues to sate and impress us with its lively expression of calcareous soils, rich with marine fossils. This is an incredibly versatile sparkler that has crisp, pretty stone fruit and light raspberry fruit with a gorgeous minerality. AR