Penedés

Penedés is the most important viticultural area in Catalunya, northeastern Spain, in terms of both volumes produced and the diversity of wine styles. Its Penedés DO title covers dry, sweet and sparkling styles in all three colours (red, white and rosé), and as if that were not sufficient, its vineyards also generate vast quantities of Spain's flagship sparkling wine, Cava.

Red Penedés wines have traditionally been made from such classic Spanish grape varieties as Garnacha, Carinena, Monastrell and Tempranillo (known here as Ull de Llebre), but the local winemakers are increasingly turning to the "international" Bordeaux varieties Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The white wines are made from the varieties otherwise used for Cava: Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel.lo, and more recently Chardonnay.

The name Penedés is not that of a town or village, but of a former administrative district in the coastal hills between Barcelona and Tarragona. It lies just a few miles down the Mediterranean coastline from the bustling Catalan capital, Barcelona. Such proximity to Spain's second largest city provides the local wine industry with a significant local market, as well as a gateway to export destinations via Barcelona's busy port.

The climate here is predictably Mediterranean, with warm summers, mild winters and moderate rainfall concentrated mostly in spring and autumn. Due to the complex topography of the coastal hills, however, there is notable climatic variation from site to site, allowing winemakers to generate a relatively wide range of wine styles. Broadly speaking, Penedés can be divided into three climatic sub-zones. Baix Penedés, as the name implies (Baix is Catalan for "low") covers the lower lying, warmer areas, and specialises in the production of full-bodied red wines. Higher up in the altitude cooled hills, between 1,640ft and 2,625ft (500 and 800m), is Alt Penedés, where the freshest white wine styles are produced. In between the two is Medio Penedés.

Penedés' long viticultural history began, as is the case with so many European wine regions, when the Romans arrived in the area. The region's wines attracted little attention, and were rarely exported. It wasn't until the 20th century that they began attracting any attention on export markets.

In 1960 the Penedés DO was introduced, followed almost immediately by sweeping changes in the region's approach to quality wine production (spearheaded by Miguel Torres). The introduction of stainless steel tanks and temperature controlled fermentations ushered in a new era of cleaner winemaking, complemented by experimentation with non-traditional grape varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. For a few decades it was hoped that the new style of Penedès wines (particularly the reds) would become a gleaming example of modern Spanish winemaking. However, although quality has remained relatively high, the wines have failed to garner substantial support from the world's wine critics (whose attention was, in any case, distracted by the new-wave wines from nearby Priorat).

Sparkling Penedés Espumoso is arguably the most area's most interesting development in the 21st century. Made in the traditional method, these stand in direct competition with those made under the Cava title. They have a few differentiators in their favour, however – most notably that, from the 2017 vintage onwards, they will be made exclusively from organically grown grapes. Also, unlike Cava, sparkling Penedés Espumoso wine can be made in the "ancestral" method, lees-aged for four years and undisgorged ("No Degorjat" or "No Degollat"). For this style, the addition of sugars for tirage or dosage is prohibited. Whether these differentiators are sufficient to distinguish Penedés' sparkling wines from Cava, and bring them commercial success, remains to be seen.
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