My trip to Spain was winding down, but it would be incomplete without a visit to Penedès, the capital of the country’s sparkling wine industry.
Heartland Of Cava Country
Today, however, was all about Cava. Our small group, hosted by Ferrer Family Wines, headed 40 kilometers south of Barcelona through beautifully rugged terrain.
When Spain entered the European Union, some wineries in the country that were making wine they called Champagne were forced to abandon that label. Spain’s sparkling wine is made by the “método tradicional,” the same way Champagne is produced, but can’t use that name, which is a protected geographic origin title. That means that there is now some Cava is produced outside of Penedès – but make no mistake, this is the center of Cava production and 95% of all Cava is produced here.
The Ferrer family has deep roots in Penedès, with 18 generations of winemaking at the family ranch, La Freixeneda. Meanwhile, by the end of the 19th century, the Sala family was exporting wine to parts of Europe and Cuba. The Sala family had been making wine the Casa Sala property since 1861. The two families were joined when Pedro Ferrer Bosch married Dolores Sala Vivé.
Unfortunately, the marriage coincided with the arrival of the Phylloxera plague in Spain, which wiped out most of the vineyards in Europe. Undaunted, the couple replanted the land with white varieties to make sparkling wine. In 1914, the couple released the first bottles with Pedro’s childhood nickname on the label. Freixenet has since become one of the most recognized names in sparkling wine and the best selling Cava in the world.
Our itinerary would include visits to both family homes, which have been lovingly restored and are producing superior Cava.
Casa Sala: A Focus On Heritage
The Casa Sala is aged a minimum of four years and we enjoyed a bottle of the 2006 Cuvée de Prestige. The creation of the wine is a highly manual process with the bottles being rotated in their rack three times each day in a process known as riddling.
This is an elegant wine with persistent bubbles. There are peach notes and flavor notes of bread.
La Freixeneda: Cutting Edge Tradition
It is fitting indeed that a showcase project of Freixenets’s 100th anniversary celebration was the board by board reconstruction of La Freixeneda, the 13th century farmhouse that has been in the family for 19 generations. The home, now perfectly suited for wine tourism, has a gleam of modernity – but maintains a historic feel.
We told him how much we enjoyed a recent visit with one of his winemakers. “She asked me for a raise,” he joked, “but I lost the email.”
He hasn’t lost his instincts for great wine. La Freixeneda produced its first vintage in 2013 and despite its traditional roots has some innovative twists, such as the use of Croatian oak barrels. The winery also produced a rarity: a still wine in Penedès: a smooth and delicious 2011 Garnacha-Cabernet blend.
We delighted in the bubbles of a 2009 Freixenet Malvasia Cuvee Prestige and more Casa Sala Cava as we savored our meal. We started with a dish of garbanzo beans in olive oil followed by the fish course of Turbot.
Cava is more than sparkling wine. It is an expression of the land and its people. The Spanish joy for life, food and family bubble up with each glass. Cava is produced in the traditional Champagne method. It carries the quality that comes from painstaking care in the winemaking process – but without the heavy price of its French neighbors. If you seek more sparkle in your life, remember Penedès and the wines of Ferrer and Freixenet.