In the northeast of Spain, just outside the coastal city of Barcelona, a small mountain range called the Muntanyes d’Ordal wring some of the moisture out of the Mediterranean air as it reaches the hill country of Penedès.
Rainfall in parts of Penedès can be high for a winemaking region. What doesn’t fall hangs in the air above the green, rolling landscape, bathing the local wine grapes – xarel-lo, chardonnay, macabeo, parellada – in a cool mist that can come dangerously close to frost.
If the climate sounds similar to that of Champagne, the comparison is fitting; the sparkling wines made in Penedès are often made in the Champagne style (second fermentation in bottle), with Champagne grapes (the aforementioned Chardonnay).
Just don’t call them cavas...
More on that in a moment. But first, ever heard wine described as “grassy”?
This week, resident expert Julien Miquel takes us on a deep dive of one of his favorite grapes, sauvignon blanc… where you can find its purest expression… its versatile taste profile… how to pick it out in a blind tasting… and much more...
The Champagne of the South Cont’d
Cava is the iconic Spanish sparkler, like prosecco in Italy or Champagne in France. We’ve long championed cava within the Partnership for its low expense-to-quality ratio.
The tricky bit with cava, however, is that there’s a lot of it. Unlike other iconic European wines, almost always confined to a single region (or even a single winery), several Spanish regions have the right to produce cava. The right cava can rival a Moët or Perrier. The wrong cava might leave you with an aching head and not much else.
As buyers, the uneven quality works to our advantage – prices on even the best cavas stay on the lower side. Not so for top producers, whose reputation depends on a brand over which they have little control.
An exodus has begun, in which producers leave the cava brand in favor of lesser-known appellations like DO Penedès, or Corpinnat, a designation recognized by the European Union but not by the national wine classification system in Spain.
We had the pleasure of tasting a sparkling wine from one such producer recently. You’ll find their sparkler in our Spanish Collection.
The Torelló winery has a winemaking heritage dating back to 1395. Their vines grow alongside olive trees and beehives. Irked by what they felt was a decline in the quality in the cava brand, they set up shop under the Corpinnat designation.
After hand-harvesting organic grapes (a mix of locals with French chardonnay), Torelló opts for a fermentation with local yeast and natural clarification in concrete. As in Champagne, they do the second fermentation (the one that creates the bubbles) in bottle, turning each bottle by hand (remuage à main) to move the sediment down towards the cork. Disgorgement (removing the sediment from the bottle) also happens by hand (à la volée), a finicky process in which every bottle is opened and tilted quickly so that only the deposit of sediment escapes (most sparkling wine producers opt to simply freeze the bottle neck and remove the sediment as a frozen plug).
We’ve dubbed the resulting wine (91 points from Suckling), the “Champagne of the South.” Serve cold at a shivery 46 degrees. Enjoy with fish, caviar, and foggy fall evenings.
Until next week,
The Wine Explorer