Tucked away between the coastal hills to the south-west of Barcelona is the Penedès wine making region. Considered by many to be a close second to Rioja in the popularity stakes, it is also one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the whole of Europe. In an area of predominant white grape varieties, Penedès is best known for its sparkling Cava wines but is also well respected for its oak-aged reds and its white wines from the likes of the Torres winery in Pacs.
Wine enthusiasts visiting Barcelona should consider a short excursion from the city into this famous wine growing region which is centred on the towns of Vilafranca del Penedès and Sant Sadurní d’Anoia to the south-west of the Catalan capital.
Penedès Wine Tours and Tastings
Getting to Penedès
Penedès By Train: There are regional trains to both Vilafranca del Penedès and Sant Sadurní d’Anoia from Arc de Triomf, Plaza Catalunya and Sants train stations in Barcelona. The journey takes approximately 60 minutes.
Penedès By Car: The 55km drive from Barcelona via the AP-7 motorway takes just 45 minutes.
Penedès By Bus: There are frequent bus services to Vilafranca del Penedès from Barcelona’s Maria Cristina bus station which also take less than an hour.
History of Penedès Wine Production
The Denominacio d’ Origen Penedès is centred on the town of Vilafranca del Penedès which is home to the Catalan Wine Cultures Museum. The museum displays evidence of wine production dating back to 6BC when the Phoenicians introduced Chardonnay vines into the region. There is also known to have been a major export market for these local wines during the Moorish occupation and large scale demand from South America during the 18th century.
The first cava production dates back to the 1870s after the phylloxera plague forced producers to when the Along with other wine producing regions, Penedès suffered the consequences of the phylloxera plague and this was the main reason for the change from red to white grape growth, which resulted in the production of Cava during the 1870s. Although varieties of red wine from this area have since picked up some ground, red wine only plays a small part of the overall wine produced from the Penedès region.
In the 1830s the phylloxera parasite entered Europe on vines imported from America and had devastating effects on the wine industry. It destroyed harvests in the Penedes region during the 1870s forcing wine producers to seek alternative grape types. As a result the region moved almost exclusively to the production of white wines and the Cava industry was born. Some reds are still produced in the region but they represent a small percentage of the regional production.
Soil and Grapes of the Penedès DO
The soil in the Penedès region is mostly limestone and perfect for viticulture and the area is known for producing a wide variety of grapes. The main grapes used for white wine and Cava production are Parellada, Macabeo, Xarel.lo and Chardonnay and are required by law to be aged for a minimum of nine months following fermentation.
Ninety five percent of Spanish Cava comes from the Penedès region, although many varieties of grapes from other regions are blended to make this sparkling wine. The Penedès region is widely acknowledged to be the home of many modern day wine producers such as Bodegas Torres which is well-known for its red ‘Sangre de Toro’ and the famous Freixenet and Codorníu Cava producers.
Within the Penedès wine region there are three sub divisions. These are Bajo, Medio and Alto which are the Spanish words for lower, middle and upper.
Penedès Bajo: The lower of the areas is located on the coastline where the climate is very hot and with a mix of limestone and clay the soil is best suited for growing the Garnacha and Tempranillo grapes.
Penedès Medio: The middle section expands along the hillsides and has a cooler climate than the Bajo area. This area alone is responsible for around sixty percent of the total harvest of the Penedès region and focuses mainly on varieties of white grapes such as Xarello and Macabeo. Penedès growers have been known to experiment with smaller plantations of German and French grapes and this has helped to increase the range of grapes used for blending when producing Cava.
Penedès Alto The Alto region is, as the name suggests, the highest in altitude and also boasts the most humid temperatures of all of the sub divisions. Light and lemony flavoured white wines such as Parallada dominate the Alto region which has vineyards that are rated the highest in Europe at anything up to 800m above the level of the sea. It has to be said that the huge success of sparkling Cava produced in the Penedès region has provided both the funding for and the improved quality of the still white wines produced in this area.
Cava Production in Penedès
Although cava is produced in the same way as champagne, representaives of the industry in France persuaded the European Commission to prevent Spanish producers using the phrase “Méthode champenoise” on their wine labels which effectively led to cava becoming a household name. Interestingly it also reduced the market share of French champagne producers considerably.
The two main producers are Codorniu whose production dates back to 1551 and Freixenet who only began production in 1915 in Sant Sadurni D’Noia, the same town as Codorniu. Although sales within Spain are very similar, Freixenet accounts for 67% of the export market.