The discovery, in 1997, of the protohistoric site of Font de la Canya in Avinyonet del Penedès represented a pivotal moment in the understanding of the winemaking traditions of DO Penedès – and of the Mediterranean basin as the cradle of wine culture. 26 years on, ongoing excavations are yet to unveil the full dimensions of the settlement and the scale of its winemaking operation. It added context and relevance to the previously verified fact that Catalunya’s first vineyard was planted in Penedès.
Active from the late seventh century BC (625-600 BC) until the third century BC, when the Roman invasion of the Iberian Peninsula disrupted local settlements, Font de La Canya was an impressive hub of wine production and trade. Oenology was at the core of a very complex and highly organised community, with wine at the epicentre of its economic, social, cultural and religious framework.
However, the most important outcome of Font de La Canya’s finding was, rather than a look at the past, a fresh view on the pioneering spirit that animates the region’s community in the present. Today, as in the heyday of Font de La Canya, there’s a sense of restless optimism and passionate commitment to the landscape of Penedès and the fruits it yields.
One DO, many terroirs
Indeed, the common denominators across all producers in DO Penedès are a passion for the land and a fierce devotion to quality and terroir expression. The latter is particularly relevant in a region where diversity and contrast take centre stage. Not many wine regions boast two very identifiable landscape markers, both with geographic and symbolic value: the Mountain of Montserrat and the Mediterranean. The land and the sea; the sun and the wind; the past and the future – this dance of contrasts is what best defines the essence and exciting complexity of DO Penedès.
Different subregions (see fact box), with distinct soil profiles and mesoclimates, offer a distinct facet of a region shaped by seemingly opposing forces, which in fact compliment and tease each other in a beautiful choreography.
The many faces of Xarello
Terroir diversity is also integral to the importance of the region’s flagship variety, Xarello. The grape’s strong character allows it to retain a perceptible identity across sub-regions while expressing the specificity of each site. Xarello is, therefore, an ideal ambassador for the region and its many terroirs. The ‘100% Xarello’ stamp seen on the most representative single-varietal expressions, now offers a marker of quality and character that invites consumers to discover the many declinations of a fascinating grape.
The path to resilience
Penedès is not, however, a tale of one grape. And its future – winking at the past – is being built upon an exploration of the potential of other indigenous varieties, some of which are facing the risk of oblivion. Home to a vibrant community of winemakers committed, beyond the production of terroir-driven quality wines, to tradition (and to a tradition of innovation), different research projects are leading the way. There is an active effort to recover ancestral varieties which, inscribed in the region’s history, convey a strong sense of place while also being climate resilient and very adapted to local conditions. Among those with greater oenological and commercial potential are Forcada (white), Moneu and Sumoll (reds).
These efforts run alongside a long-standing sustainability project that has set an ambitious goal for the DO’s producers: from the 2025 harvest, all the wines released as DO Penedès must be organic. Yet another manifestation of the pioneering spirit of the first Spanish region to release organic wines more than 40 years ago.
As DO Penedès braces, as all wine regions, for a challenging future, it does so with the confidence of an ancestral pioneer, having weathered many storms and faced many sceptics with determination and hard work. And being proven right, as each bottle of DO Penedès shows, each time around.
DO Penedès at a glance:
Area under vine: over 2,500 ha
Altitude range: sea level to 800m
Styles of wines produced: Still white, rosé and red, and sparkling white (as Classic Penedès)
10 different zones:
Alts d’Ancosa – cooler highlands with most vineyards on the mountain slopes.
Conca del Foix – gentle hills, mostly the product of the accumulation of alluvial sediments, with average rainfall of 500-600mm per year.
Costers de l’Anoia – hills with a variety of different soil types, including granite, gravel and slate, with great east-to-west geological variation.
Costers de Lavernó – undulating hillsides with mostly young, shallow loam-based soils.
Costers del Montmell – a climatically varied area, with dramatic topography and vineyards concentrated on alluvial fans at the foot of the hills.
Marina del Garraf – a clearly maritime- influenced zone, with average annual temperatures of 16-17o, made up of gentle slopes along the coast.
Massis del Garraf – geologically rich terroir, mostly limestone and marls, with high calcium carbonate content.
Muntanyes d’Ordal – vineyards at the foot of the mountain massif, with limestone and marl-rich soils.
Turons de Vilafranca – rolling hills of alluvial origin, with varying degrees of calcium carbonate content.
Vall Bitlles-Anoia – terraced valleys along the Bittles and Anoia rivers and their tributaries, with sediments of different textures and geological origin.
Key indigenous varieties (white):
Xarel·lo – the region’s flagship grape, contributing the typical fruity and herbal character of Classic Penedès and still whites.
Macabeu – grown mainly in Penedès Central, used to add bright acidity to white blends.
Parellada – a traditional grape of the area with delicate aromatic qualities.
Key indigenous varieties (red):
Garnatxa – planted in the warmer Penedès Maritim for fruity, full-flavoured rosés.
DO Penedès: 20 wines to try
AT Roca, Cantallops 2021
A beautiful, classical wine, very expressive of terroir. Lovely saline character, with great mineral tension. Pear and quince dominate, with touches of fennel, toasted almonds and sweet vanilla. Very complete in the mouth, the vertical structure offset by volume and mid-palate width. Great ageing potential. Organic certified. Alc 12%
Sumarroca, Marger, Vi de Mas 2021
Very accomplished blend of grapes hailing from old vines. A fleshy layer of yellow and green apple, lemon zest and pear peel is topped by toasted almonds and dry hay. Wood is very well worked, adding complexity to the firm structure. Great ageing potential. Organic certified. Alc 12%
Albet i Noya, El Fanio 2021
A very complete and round wine, fermented with selected indigenous yeasts in acacia, concrete egg and stainless steel. The result is a textural, mouth-filling wine (the lees work is apparent) without loss of freshness or drive. Gentle herbal aspect. Lime zest, crispy pear and white grapefruit structure the palate’s core, lifted by a quintessentially Xarello wild fennel note. Organic certified. Alc1 3.5%
Avgvstvs Forvm, Xarello de Mar 2016
A beautiful wine, showing an elegant development with further potential. Flavours of fresh and toasted almonds, peaches and apricots, all lined by a vibrant salinity. Rich and wide on the mid-palate but with a good verticality on the long finish. Lingering toasted and honeyed notes. Organic certified. Alc 12.5%
Can Feixes, Blanc Tradició, Vi de Mas 2021
Distinctly elegant aromatic profile offset by a robust structure which has an almost tannic grip. Grape, peach and pear flavours with a delicious saline touch. A touch of blanched almonds will evolve beautifully in time. Very accomplished lees work giving width and texture. Long finish. A wine with so much character and gastronomic appeal. Organic certified. Alc 13%
Can Rafols dels Caus, Gran Caus Blanco 2015
An elegantly robust wine with classic strength. Still showing incredible liveliness and mineral precision eight years on. Lively acidity and a refreshing grip, over a core of ripe orchard fruit with a saline lining. A great food wine, perfect alongside fish, cheese or poultry. Organic certified. Alc 13%
Familia Torres, Forcada – Varietat REcuperada n23 2020
Subtly aromatic, with floral, vibrant citrus and deep orchard fruit notes. The aromatic allure is balanced by a good acid drive and a nutty weight on the palate. There’s complexity and mineral depth but also a very approachable drinkability. Only 150 cases produced. Alc 13%
Jean Leon, Xarel·lo 2022
Refreshing, elegant and appealing expression of Xarello, perfect for everyday drinking. Juicy melon, pear and yellow apple are lifted by a vibrant acidity and characterful texture. The perfect companion to tapas or summer salads. Organic certified. Alc 13%
Albet i Noya, El Bosc Negre 2021
Although fermented on the skins, it’s not easy to categorise this wine, such is its Burgundian elegance. Masterful use of oak boosts the fresh almonds, lemon zest, white grapefruit and pear flavours, with tannic grip and earthy depth. Structured and wide, with a long smoky finish. Very good development potential in the next five to 10 years. Organic certified. Alc 12.5%
Sumarroca, @CV Extrem – Vinya del Queto 2021
Having fermented spontaneously and spent three weeks macerating on the skins, this wine has a distinct, crunchy texture which makes it gastronomic and memorable. A core of crunchy red apple and pear is wrapped by refreshing orange zest, pink grapefruit and nectarine. Lovely phenolic grip. Long finish, with lingering notes of spiced herbs. Organic certified. Alc 11%
Can Rafols dels Caus, Gran Caus Rosat 2022
Intense and playful nose with deep red cherry, plum, red apple and raspberry, as well as just a hint of crushed roses. The seeming sweetness of the nose is followed by a structured, mildly savoury palate. Firm texture, with substance and a pleasant tannic grip. Lingering expressive notes of pomegranate and pink grapefruit. Very distinct, gastronomic rosé. Organic certified. Alc 13.5%
Jean Leon, Vinya La Scala Gran Reserva, Vi de Finca Qualificada 2016
A modern classic, with a fine, vibrant energy. The deep blueberry and blackberry fruit is carried by a good acid line and refreshing gravelly tannins. Cedar, dried oregano and eucalyptus oil linger on the palate, held by a firm zesty grip. Organic certified. Alc 14.5%
Sumarroca, Bòria, Gran Vi de Mas 2015
A really interesting take on Syrah, with a playful reductive edge hovering over the deep black fruit and wood notes. Although secondary notes are coming to the forefront, the fruit is still very vibrant and well defined. Firm tannins, lifted by good acidity. Only new wood. Very classic, with balance and elegance. Organic certified. Alc 13.5%
Can Feixes, Negre Selecció 2021
Very fruit driven, with deep red fruit (cherry, strawberry jam, raspberry and red plum) supported by gentle yet firm tannins. A touch of liquorice adds savoury nuance. A very accomplished everyday drinker, elegantly rustic. Very food friendly and with a delicious long finish. Organic certified. Alc 13%
Avgvstvs Forvm, Cabernet Franc 2020
Quite a rustic, meaty nose – a savoury tease to the taste buds. The palate is complex and deep, with plum, dried oregano, cardamom and tobacco. A pleasant touch of volatility adds intrigue. Tannins are firm but well integrated, as is the wood. Lingering spicy notes (cardamom, nutmeg, pink pepper). Alc 14%
Can Rafols dels Caus, Sumoll 2021
Such a refreshing and enjoyable wine, with bags of character showing all the potential of the Sumoll variety. Cranberry, pomegranate and crunchy red plum flavours are lifted by the citric freshness of blood orange and pink grapefruit juice. Lingering zesty pull. Best enjoyed slightly chilled. Organic certified. Alc 12%
Familia Torres, Clos Ancestral 2021
An intriguing, balanced nose with ripe red fruit (wild strawberry, sweet red cherry and raspberry jam) topped by a subtle savoury note. The firm acidity gives it a lovely fresh lift. The tannins are soft, perfectly weaved into the fruit core. A very appealing wine, with balance and softness but also a poised structure. Notes of dry wood and prune add an interesting rustic touch. Organic certified. Alc 14%
Albet i Noya, El Corral Cremat 2012
Disgorged 23.03.2023. Holding all its energy and definition 11 years on, this is a fine sparkling, with complexity and freshness in equal measure. There’s a delicious core of nectarine and quince, filling layers of flaky almond croissant. Top notes of amaretto, wild flowers, mediterranean herbs and dried hay add nuance and linger on the delicious long finish. A wine to enjoy at length, alongside a platter of cured cheeses or a buttered lobster. Organic certified. Alc 12%
AT Roca, Els Gorgs Lot n1 2013
Disgorged December 2022. Having spent 10 years on the lees, this wine shows incredible vibrance as well as complex depth. The nose remains expressive and fresh, and the palate retains a beautiful minerality. Outstanding persistence, with lingering notes of yellow apple, pear, lemon curd and wild-flower honey. Very vinous, unctuous and elegant in its intensity. A fine layer of turmeric and curry adds nuance and energy. Organic certified. Alc 12%
AT Roca, Reserva 2021
Disgorged May 2023. Expressive nose, bursting with lemon zest, yellow apple peel, peach and crunchy pear, followed by a superbly mineral palate. Subtle pastry notes – more buttered toast than croissant – add poise and depth. Textural, with assertive but creamy mousse. Organic certified. Alc 12%
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