Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Visit To Penedès, The Heart Of Spain’s Cava Country

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

My recent trip to Spain ended with a stay in Barcelona and a visit to nearby Penedès. The evening before embarking for our final winery visits, we enjoyed dinner at Bodega Granados in Barcelona, an intimate little restaurant that served great wine and an array of tapas. I was particularly enthralled with a potato croquette that featured a small squeeze tube to inject it with a special sauce.

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

Cava at Casa Sala is produced with Xarel·lo and Parellada grapes and is an exclusive wine. Production is 20,000 bottles annually and the winery’s original press, which came from Champagne and dates back to 1900, is used in the process.

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.

Following our tour of the winery, we had a surprise. We “saddled up” on burricletas, bicycles with electric motors that kick in to give a pedal assist. We rolled through dry countryside and vineyards with picturesque Montserrat on the horizon. We paused to refresh with some Casa Sala Cava in a vineyard next to a stone hut used by vineyard workers to escape the mid-day heat.

La Freixeneda: Cutting Edge Tradition

Ferrer Family Wines is an international success, with 150 million bottles sold in 140 different countries around the globe. Still, it is all about family. Five generations have been involved in the company and today the organization is overseen by Pedro Ferrer, the grandson of founder Jose Ferrer.

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.

After a tour, we sat down for lunch and were joined by Pedro Ferrer. Pedro is an engaging conversationalist.
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.

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