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The Xarel·lo Summit returns

Despite a looming threat of unseasonal, heavy rains, the last Monday of June 2022 bore witness to the triumphant return of ‘La Cimera del Xarel·lo’ (‘The Xarel·lo Summit’) to the region of Penedès, Spain, held on the 16th-century church grounds of el Santuari de Foix.

The idea for the summit at this remote locale came from Josep Cusiné of Parés Baltà and Ignasi Segui of Vinyes Singulars as the church sits on a ridge (‘cim’ in Catalan) at 643m in altitude. It has an unparalleled 360-degree view which opens up on the plain of Penedès and out to the Mediterranean Sea, 25km in the distance.

Starting in 2015, the first years were friendly, loose affairs and took place inside the church but interest from those in the region (as well with sommeliers and the regional wine trade) quickly outgrew the space available, which saw them move out to the terrace that wraps around the exterior.

This return in 2022 thus marked the 6th edition. As was the case with all wine events around the world, the summit was forced to be on pause for both the 2020 and 2021 editions due to pandemic restrictions.

It’s an event based upon a simple premise of celebrating the quality evolution of fine wines being produced from the white grape variety, Xarel·lo (pronounced sha-rel-lu). While it’s long-been one of the three core varieties in the sparkling wines of DO Cava (along with Macabeu and Parellada), the last two decades have seen the emergence of Xarel·lo as a star protagonist from Penedès.

The popularity has soared within Catalunya given that its orchard fruit aromatic profile, fine acidity, and structure allow it to produce a huge range of wines. Styles include fresh, fruity young wines, those worthy of barrel ageing, sparkling in both traditional and pét-nat styles, as well as many, many takes on low-intervention or fully-natural wines. Absolutely all interpretations were on display by 30 cellars in attendance.

Xarel·lo lays claim to around 9,000ha of vineyards with nearly all of that within Catalunya. Its traction internationally has been slower to develop than it has locally however. Perhaps it’s because of the difficult-to-pronounce name or because it was habitually overlooked as just being part of the Cava blend and not able to stand on its own.

Producers in attendance as well as the decidedly-local crowd seemed unworried about these issues, at least for one evening, as they’re confident in the variety’s potential. As the sun went down over the mountains behind the church, people partook of a food truck, enjoyed the music from the DJ, and excitedly chatted about the next year.

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