I say Penedès, you say...Corpinnat? Cava? Cava de Paraje? Classic Penedès? Conca Del Riu Anoia?

Here in England we have a common reference point for the sort of situation Spanish sparkling wine finds itself in. Just mention 'The People's Front of Judea":

Quality sparkling wine from Penedès is in the unenviable situation of being unable to agree on what to call itself. In 2012 Raventós i Blanc, one of the most prominent quality-oriented producers, invented its own appellation. By 2014, sixteen producers had formed Classic Penedès under the D.O. Penedès Appellation, following Raventós (and foreshadowing the recent Corpinnat group) in resigning their right to use the term Cava on their bottles.

Amongst all of this, Cava introduced the Cava de Paraje scheme in 2016 in an effort to appease the malcontents. Cava producers that have not joined Corpinnat are still able to apply for this special status for exceptional single vineyard wines, although the absence of the likes of Gramona, Recaredo, Llopart or Torelló starts to make Cava de Paraje look like just another unresolved fragment in a slightly baffling picture.

Look beyond the squally foreground, though, and the direction of travel for ambitious sparkling wine from Penedès is actually rather unified. The producers aiming for the highest levels of quality seem steadfast in their determination to exploit Xarel-lo, Macabeo, Parrelada (and a small handful of other varieties) rather than head to international grapes for easy appeal. Organic viticulture is a must, and lees ageing times are impressive. These producers realise, perhaps, that theirs is one of the few true Traditional Method Sparkling Wine traditions outside of Champagne to have forged its own unique identity.

I attended the independent Spanish trade tasting Viñateros in London this week in order to make the most of a rare opportunity to taste a number of the leading wines side-by-side.

Gramona, Corpinnat

Gramona find a way to reference the unique physicality, grip and profile of Penedès grapes without the results creeping into bitterness or toughness. All production is biodynamic, with roughly 50% coming from Gramona's own vineyards. These refined, elegant wines benefit from extended lees ageing, with some cuvées receiving moderate dosages via a unique solera wine dating back over 100 years. Gramona demonstrate how low levels of dosage can elevate the freshness of Penedès sparkling wines even when there is no absolute need for any kind of acidity-balancing sweetness.

Length, finesse and clarity emerge from the entry level La Cuvée Gran Reserva 2015 with its classic flavours of ripe grapefruit, blossom honey and aromatic herbs, perked up with a polite snap of pithiness. The Imperial Gran Reserva 2014 is a superb wine, its 15% Chardonnay and 6 g/l of dosage lengthening and freshening the palate. I love the airy, floaty flavours of lime and green apple macaroon, followed through with a sparky brightness to a close that starts to show just a little toasty development. Although it doesn't posses the concentration or complexity of the top wines, it has a magic all of its own.

III Lustros Gran Reserva 2012 is a change of gear, with greater weight of lime oil and herbal honey layered up on rich pastry and fresh nuts. It is a much broader style of wine, with absolute dryness laying bare plenty of grip and tow on the palate. It cries out for partners on the table. Celler Batlle 2010 found a deep, sinewy balance between ripe citrus, lime cordial and deep, baked fruits shot through with a vibrant streak of acidity and a creamy length. I was surprised to find it slightly darker-toned than III Lustros on the day.

Raventós i Blanc, Conca del Riu Anoia DO

Pepe Raventós' single vineyard Mas del Serral

Raventós i Blanc has always shown an independent spirit. Speaking to Pepe Raventós made it clear just how important a sense of place is to him; yes there is the entire Conca del Riu Anoia DO that Raventós established, but for Raventós the top wines emerge from the most exceptional, pure limestone soils. Viticulture is biodynamic, and only traditional Penedès varieties are used. Although they are not members, they certainly sit alongside the Corpinnat producers in quality terms.

The Blanc de Blancs is by far the most prominent, widely-available wine. There's an element of defiance even in the name, as no Chardonnay is present. This 2017 vintage is pure refreshment, showing a gentle suaveness of texture beneath classic lime and white stone fruit. There is some grip on the back of the palate, but it is nicely balanced. De La Finca takes things up a notch, with a lovely harmony emerging between flavours of grapefruit peel, rocky chalk and some autolytic richness from white sourdough. Dry, powdery chalk on the finish.

De Nit is a rosé made by a small addition of red Monastrell. I love the succulence of the style - there is freshness and refinement to its peach, citrus and herb flavours, presented with lightness of touch and no trace of extraction or oxidation. An easy wine to enjoy, but not a facile one. Textures de Pedra uses a little Sumoll alongside the Bastard Negre red Xarel-lo Vermell to produce a Blanc de Noirs. The noticeable change here is in texture, with a little less fruitiness and more floral, pithy and herbal sensations presented with some viscosity and grip. Quite a serious, food-friendly style.

Finally Pepé brought out a bottle of Mas Del Serral 2007, his own ultra-low production single-vineyard project. This ambitious wine wears its sense of development and openness on its chest with intense baked apple and quince, honey and sherry notes enriched with salted nuts and bakery flavours. It did leave me wondering what it would have been like at 8-10 years of age, rather than 12.

Recaredo, Corpinnat

Recaredo are making some of the most characterful, individual sparkling wines in Spain. If Gramona present a suave, quiet picture of Penedès, Recaredo draw their wines in bold, modernist colours. A key member of the Corpinnat group, all production is biodynamic and all wines are presented without dosage. These are wines you would have on the table when you need something with persistence, grip and personality. There's not much to be gained from keeping them; they gain all their personality on lees so are best tasted young, straight off the shelf.

Terrers Gran Reserva 2015 offers the most freshness in the portfolio. The flavours are so engaging and expressive, with creamy yellow apple and herbs, white meadow flowers and edgy, refreshing grapefruit. There are savoury, slightly earthy tones here too, but they seem to just add to the picture. Serral del Vell 2011 offers up intense lime and honey with sweet yellow fruits and great refinement and clarity for its age. Nuts and pith keep you diving back in for more. 

Intens Rosat is, to be truthful, a bit bonkers. But I like it. Pure cherry juice over bitter herbs and lemon lead into boiled sweets and poached red fruits. It is almost slightly medicinal. Intense indeed and quite good fun. The most extraordinary wine, however, was the  Reserva Particular 2005, a conundrum of age, power, openness and persistence that, despite some oxidative characters and quite developed fruit powered through with set honey, wild herbs and earth. This was a March 2017 disgorgement; if you caught this wine one or two years ago it would have been even better. Look out for the new vintage and crack it open. 


Finally, a word on the singular wines of Colet, part of the Classic Penedès group. It's always refreshing to see something a little different, so I really enjoyed the Vatua 2017, a product of 50% Moscatell, 40% Parellada and 10%...Gewürztraminer! Pure peach, bergamot and blossom flavours with gooseberry and a tropical flourish, finishing dry with some phenolic presence. The portfolio reflects a naturalistic direction that leans towards some oxidative and funky flavours, but this (and its Rosé version) really stood out.