Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Penedès: Not just for Cava

South of Barcelona, the Penedès is known for producing Spain's famous dry sparkling wine, Cava, from the native grapes Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo. The area is also a hot bed for experimentation and home to the likes of Miguel Torres and Jean Leon, who experimentedd with international varietals and mondern vinification techniques.

Lately, Spainish wines seem to be all the rage. So does the food, with the likes of José Andrés making waves in the food press here in the states. I think my tour guide, Paddy Manion, of El Moli Tours said it best during a recent tour of the Penedès when he stated "Spain has been discovered, forgotten, rediscovered, forgotten, rediscovered..." It looks like Spain has been rediscovered again.

And what a great time for rediscovery. The wines of Spain have taken a new turn, becoming, shall we say, more in-line with what the international palate demands. This is no more evident than in the Penedès, where the old world and new world coexist, churning out traditional styled wines along with fruit-forward modern choices.

On a recent visit to the Penedès, I visted two wineries: Parés Baltà and Jean Leon. Both producers are on the cutting edge of what the international palate craves: fruit forward, juicy, easy to stomach wines made from a variety of well-known grape varieties.

Parés Baltà, which has been family-owned and operated for over two centuries, is located a short drive from the town of Villafranca del Penedès and offers visitors a mind-boggling portfolio of wines. My visit included not only a tasting of their higher end wines, but also a bottom to top view of their vineyards and viticultural practices. We began on the valley floor and worked our way up to the peak of the valley, where the vines struggle to survive in the rocky soil.

The tasting consisted of six of their top wines:

Cuveé de Carol Cava--described by the producer as "liquid gold" and I must concur. 100% Chardonnay, barrel fermented and aged in oak for 7 months. Notes of green apple, honey, toasted oak. Well-balanced and full of crisp acid. One of the best Cavas I have tasted.

Hisenda Miret 2003 (Garnatxa or Garnacha)--notes of strawberries, raspberries, and spicy oak. Ripe, soft tannins.

Mas Irene 1999--74% Merlot, 16% Cab Franc. Aged 12 months in Allier oak. Notes of dried fruits, plum, and spice. Smooth and silky on the palate. Light tannins.

Absis 2001--blend of Tempranillo, Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc. Notes of spice, cassis, plum and black raspberry. Well-structured and full bodied.

Gratavinum GV5 Priorato 2003--a big wine. Notes of sweet, ripe fruit, strawberries, plum and spice. Silky, smooth tannins.

Dominio Cusiné 1790 1996 vintage--wow. amazing. incredible. A wine only made in exceptional years. Crafted from old vine fruit. Only 5790 bottles produced. Notes of earth, leather, ripe red fruits, and burnt figs. Beautifully integrated fruit and tannin. A stellar wine. 232 euros a bottle.

I look forward to finding the Parés Baltà wines on U.S. store shelves sometime in the near future. At the time of my visit, the winery was seeking representation in the U.S.

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