Penedes Visit 2015

In the latter months of 2014, we had invited samples from wineries in Spain's Penedes for both Cava and still wines. The general quality was decent but one Bodega stood head and shoulders above the others and this was Parés Baltà. So come early February, we packed an overnight bag each and went to Spain to see just what was different about this place and what was causing such a wealth of great wines.

On a rather rainy Monday morning we arrived in Barcelona to be met by Maxime Bazart, a rather jovial Frenchman who was the export director for Parés Baltà. An hour later we were in Vilafranca del Penedes where we stopped for a light lunch and to meet Josep Cuisine one of the two brothers who own the winery. It soon became clear that here there was a great passion for wine and for creating a wealth of individual cuvees that each represent the origin of the grapes. But although the passion was clear to see, what we were about to discover in terms of vineyard sites could not have been expected.

After a brief stop at the winery in Pacs del Penedes to meet Josep's wife and one of the two winemakers at the Bodega, we climbed into the four by four and went out to explore the vineyards. There was a sea of vines around the Bodega but only a small proportion belonged to Parés Baltà, the rest were the source of everyday cavas and still wines for numerous other producers. We gradually climbed some gentle hills to a point where we could see an array of individual vineyard plots - some of great age and some that were younger plantings but all of which were being farmed organically.From here you could also appreciate the variety of altitudes and exposures that impact on the growth cycle of the vines.

We then continued up into the higher reaches of the Penedes and certainly were glad of the four by four! Having started on roads, we went through small tracks until we ended on unmade dirt tracks that took us through a forest to a clearing where there was a great array of bee hives that were part of the organic project of the winery. Through the trees we could just make out a small vineyard that was like an island in a sea of trees. We continued on until we came to the actual vineyard that we had just seen, around 2 hectares in size. By now we realised just how incredibly difficult it must be to work these small plots. And from here, Maxime explained that centuries ago, the land here had been formed into terraces to make it possible to work and as we traveled on upwards these small parcels, some just 1/10th of an hectare, all planted with different grape varieties, were unveiled to us one after another. In total there were in excess of 60 different sites, all of which require individual control during the growing season and at harvest time.

The final stop was at the summit of the mountain where a new vineyard was being planted but more importantly for us, where we could look over the whole of the viticultural Penedes to the sea which was only 10 kilometeres away. This was a major influence on the climate of the region, tempering the heat of the summer. We were also at close to 800 meters of altitude, another influencing factor which delayed the harvest at this point between 4 to 6 weeks.

Back into the four by four to return to the winery. This had been one of the greatest vineyard visits we had had in the whole of the 30 years of our company. You normally get to see a few rows of vines and then the growers want to show you the state of the art fermenting rooms with an array of stainless steel. But to see exactly what gives Parés Baltà the edge over the other bodegas made it much easier to understand the wines we were about to taste back at the winery. And there was another surprise for us too when we got there. We didn't get to see the shiny tanks - once you've seen one you've probably seen them all - but we did get to see the amphora that they use to produce a micro-cuvee. They are striving to push the bounds of winemaking or indeed, to return to the very roots of production.

The tasting lived up to billing too.

Parés Baltà Cava Brut N/V. This had a full and fruity nose, a clean palate which was fresh and lively with good balance and a crisp, dry finish. 6 to 7 grams of residual sugar

Parés Baltà Cava Brut Nature N/V This opened with a fresh and mineral nose that was quite stunning. It had a light, clean and elegant palate with hints of yeast and a mineral finish. Quite stunning. 2.4 grams residual sugar.

Parés Baltà Cava Rosado N/V In the glass this was a delightful pale pink with a superb red fruit nose. The red fruits were mirrored on the palate which was fresh and elegant. This was delicious and we can see some great drinking for everyone in the summer, out in the garden with a cool bottle to hand.

Origen Range Blanc de Pacs 2014 The first of the still wines. A blend of Parellada, Xarel-lo and Macabeo aged for 7 months in older French Oak. This had a fragrant, floral nose reminiscent of roses, a fruity and floral palate with good balance which finished well with decent length.

R-Evolution Range Calcari 2014 Pure Xarel-lo (the first time we had tasted this alone) fermented in stainless steel and with no oak influence. It had a clear, mineral nose with some floral notes and a hint of virginnia tobacco and aniseed. A crisp fresh palate with good clean fruit and a tight mineral finish. This had only been bottled that day but we were craving a plate of fresh seafood by this stage!

Amphora 2014 This micro-cuvee was something else! It had been fermented in an amphora quite naturally and was 100% Xarel-lo from higher altitude where the clay for the amphora also originated. The nose was huge and packed with stewed pear aromas. The palate was full and juicy with a blend of nuts and fruits together combining effortlessly with the fine acidity. A good juicy finish.

Origen Range Mas Petit 2013 A red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, aged for 7 months in older French oak. Moderately intense in colour with spicy cherry aromas. Chewy cherry fruit on the palate with good structure that culminates in a dark fruit finish.

R-Evolution Range Indigena Negra 2012 100% Grenache aged for 5 months in new and 2nd fill French oak. Moderately intense with a fresh, floral bouquet, a juicy and lively palate of red fruit and some exotic spices that run through to the long and generous finish. A great bottle of wine.

We tasted through a far larger range than this including the ones from their estates in Priorat and Ribera del Duero but more of that in another article. By now it was 9 o'clock at night so we had a less bumpy trip along the motorway to Barcelona where we had dinner in Can Valles Restaurant (http://www.canvalles.es), a small, friendly restaurant where the food was sublime. We opened up with the Cava and continued on with the Calcari, both were great with the various dishes which consisted of a Carpaccio of Reindeer with a red fruit sauce and grain mustard, Octopus on a slice of aubergine layered with caramelised onions and mashed potato, a broth of pork with very young peas, a cannelloni of wild mushrooms with bechamel and grated mushrooms and a hint of parmesan and finally a piece of grilled seabass.

A great meal in the company of Maxime and Josep which was the culmination of a wonderful and educational day. When we started to look for Penedes wines we were not searching for organic wine, just something of high quality at affordable prices. What we found was something very special which we hope you will all enjoy over the coming months and years. To see our Parés Baltà wines just click here.