Barcelona is truly a fantastic world-class city, with top fashion, gastronomy, architecture, history, and beach on the Mediterranean a stone’s throw from downtown. However it also is a short distance away from two wine regions, one being the largest region for wine production, Penedes. and the other one of the smallest, Alella.
By car you can reach Alella in 25 minutes, and you can find yourself in the heart of Penedes in 40 minutes. Both regions have spectacular views, incredible terroir, critically acclaimed wines, and distinctive history, making them both worthy stops outside of your travels in the city of Barcelona proper.
Alella as a wine region holds two distinctions. First, it is the only region in the world that is within reach of a major metropolitan area. In fact, if it were part of a North American city, it would be considered one of the first suburbs to a said city, or possibly included in the great metropolitan area of that city. Second, it has one of the oldest documented mentions of wine in historical texts, with Roman Empire era historian Pliny the Elder commenting about the characteristics of wine from the area.
Today, Alella is home to 8 wineries recognized by the appellation, or DO Alella, as its known in Catalunya. The “denomination origin” or DO ensures proper winemaking methods, appropriate grapes varietals, and strict “kilo per vine” ratios, and many other rules to protect the consumers against inferior wines. Does this mean the wines are expensive? Absolutely not, as many wines produced under the Alella appellation start as low as 3,00€ per bottle for young wines all the way above several hundred euros per bottle for the top range.
Speaking of Roman history, the local government in Alella has discovered the remnants of Roman winemaking near the town of Teia, and has painstaking restored presses in a beautiful historical park, confirming the historical legacy left by Pliny the elder. It’s quite a spectacular visit, if you’re into wine history!
Alella has larger scale operations, like Alta Alella, which produces several hundred thousand bottles per year, and boutique operations like Bouquet d’Alella, based out of a historic masia with 500 years of history. Both examples not only have won regional and national acclaim, but also international acclaim. The best part is the wineries are very open and welcoming to visitors, including vineyard picnic options and other activities geared towards both local and international visitors.
Pruning is finished at @canrafolsdelscaus as the vines get ready for the 2016 season.Great tour and interview with David by @sweeteasywinetourscatalunya for our in-depth interview series! Coming next week to catalunyawine.com! #Garraf #penedes #dopenedes #canrafolsdelscaus #mediterranean #barcelona #enotourism #wine #winery #vineyard #Catalunya #catalunyawine
Penedes has received somewhat of an incorrect reputation for production of inexpensive high volume wines and cavas, due to the presence of several major international wine companies who got their start in the region. Many also think Penedes is pretty much a big flat area that produces white grapes for the aforementioned wines.
Penedes has several different and distinctive terroirs inside its large area. From the coastal Mediterranean area of the Garraf featuring mountains and more arid conditions, to the lush plains surrounding Vilafranca and Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, to the northern parts, called “Alt Penedes” featuring vineyards as high as 900 metres. In fact you can have the same grape within Penedes that has significantly different characteristics due to these geographical differences and distinctive microclimates.
And beyond this, Penedes is home to tremendous amounts of wine history, dating back 1300s with many estates, and even Iberian ovens used for making wine amphoras, dating back to the time before Christ, as Pares Balta has discovered in their lands of the mountainous regions north of Pacs del Penedes.
One of our favourites is Loxarel, which contains the main Airfield in Catalunya for the Republican opposition to General Franco during the Spanish Civil War. The underground bunker constructed at that time extends from the owner’s winery building to 500 metres underneath one of the vineyards. Today, it houses thousands of bottles of cava, ageing prior to release.
Another favourite is Llopart, whose family’s history dates back to the 1300s in viticulture, and has been making cava since 1887. The estate contains the original masia, a military watchtower from the 1100s, and spectacular views of the Montserrat mountain range. You can travel back in time with the preserved history of the masia, including the original production room, and fast-forward to the new winery building where cavas are aged, bottled, and in the case of their grand reserve cavas, still “turned” by hand.
Of course Penedes has its wine history dating back to Roman times as well, with both Jane Ventura and Avgvstvs Forvm near the remnants of the “Via Augusta” which extended from Cadiz to Rome. Both wineries are within minutes of Tarragona, and only 50 minutes from Barcelona, and not only have Roman connections, but also more “recent” history from the 1700s and 1800s.
So from the mountains, down to the valleys, up the mountains again close to the Mediterranean, and back to the beach, Penedes offers a variety of history beyond what you may already know, and may surprise you with more than just Chardonnay, Xarel·lo, and Macabeo. If you’re looking for something a little more interesting than the typical big tours to the big international wineries, Penedes has much more to offer.
In fact, you can see many of the visits we’ve been on in DO Penedes, to experience the history, terroir, and the people. Just head over to catalunyawine.com, or even click on this link for specific Penedes visits!
In Alella and Penedes, you’ve got great options for enotourism opportunities, less than an hour away from Barcelona, and in some cases only minutes! Believe me, after my experiences here, it’s worth spending the time to discover yourself!
Tim moved to the Barcelona region four years ago after traveling the world for 15 years, working in marketing and public relations. He founded catalunyawine.com in 2014 to promote the wine region of Catalonia to the English speaking public. Now he travels to the vineyards of the region interviewing winemakers and exploring the history of the wine region.
You can follow the journey on Twitter and Instagram @catalunyawine and also on the website.
If you look around the world of wine today, you'll notice that most wine is made with the same grape varieties. Pretty much every 'New World' country produces wines made from grapes native to France; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot... the list goes on. This is no bad thing as stylistically, all the above varieties can be drastically different depending upon climate, soil, viticulture and vinification. The vast majority of glossy, bold Shiraz from Australia is, literally and figuratively, a world away from the savoury, peppery wines of the Northern Rhone, for example. However, in the last 10 years the fashion has been to move away from seeking out the 'best' examples of these well known varieties and instead to look for unique expressions, typically from grapes native to specific countries and regions. This has seen the emergence of some new stars in the world of wine, from the austere, mineral wines of Mount Etna in Sicily to the powerful, racy Assyrtiko of Santorini in Greece. Austria has re-modelled its vinous reputation with the versatile Grüner Veltliner and even as afar as South America, Bonarda and Pais are resurging on both sides of the Andes, in Argentina and Chile respectively.
However, no country has been rediscovered in quite the same way as Spain. There are somewhere in the region of 600 grape varieties on the Iberian Peninsula, the vast majority of them indigenous and regionally specific in production. Despite this, Spain was for decades synonymous with oaky, extracted wines from Rioja, and to a lesser extent Ribera del Duero, with Tempranillo the only celebrated indigenous grape hailing from the country. Short-sighted producers ripped up their old, unfashionable vineyards and replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and anything that was currently selling, not realising that in doing so they were giving up their major point of difference on the international market-place. However, this wasn't true for all producers and quietly, many went about their business as they had done for centuries; cultivating their families vineyards and producing wines of distinction and style, as their vines slowly became older, sturdier and produced better quality fruit. To look at the market now compared to 20 years ago is staggering. Shops in Barcelona are awash with local Catalan wines, Galician field-blends are appearing in top restaurants across the world and even Sherry is making a come-back! To cover the entirety of this resurgence would take a strong liver and a lot of time, but I'd like to share a few exciting varieties from my own little corner of Spain, the fiercely independent Catalunya:
Wine is a fussy product. Starting from its very beginnings as embryonic genetic material located on the buds of vines, to its moment of glory in your glass, there are countless chemical reactions, pitfalls and opportunities to be navigated and controlled in order to create a good bottle of wine. The vast majority of these is, fortunately, taken care of by the time we actually buy a bottle of wine, as the vigneron has spent the entire year wrestling against nature, ensuring the right balance of sugars, acids and flavour compounds, before handing over the baton to the wine-maker. This is where the grapes will be converted into wine through the magical process of fermentation, possibly aged and then bottled with care being taken to ensure biological stability. Then depending on where the wine is to be sold, it will go through a long or short supply route, potentially crossing oceans, continents and all sorts of checks before it finally appears on a shop shelf or restaurant list somewhere in the world.
Enter us; the consumer. We purchase the wine with the intention of one day drinking it, whether that be within minutes of the purchase, or 20 years down the line, after extended storage to allow for it to evolve within the bottle. Assuming the bottle has been purchased close to home and you intend to drink it in the near future, this is all well and good as any issues of storage are very much the responsibility of the retailer/restaurant and bottles can be returned for a refund. However, if you're buying the wine far from home, possibly, abroad, we run into some potential issues quite quickly.
Having just come back from a two week trip to the Mount Etna region of eastern Sicily we thought we'd share some of the best wine stores we came across travelling in the region. I must say I love the "enoteca" concept in Italy, where you can come for an aperitivo, taste local wines by the glass with some food, and then purchase bottles that you've tasted and liked. We loved visiting and tasting wines directly at the wineries of course, but the experience of tasting different producers side by side, and the ability to try older vintages can only be done at an enoteca.