August 2023 — Catalonia & Beyond
Catalonia! (Turns out it was not hard to find a picture of a cat with sparkling wine — but it’s not hard to find a picture of a cat doing just about anything. It’s a rule of the internet afterall 😉 ) Wine in Catalonia dates back to the time of the Phoenicians, and by the middle ages Spanish wines were one of the most wildly traded products of the Mediterranean. Today the area has the highest concentration of certified wineries in Spain, with a total of 11 designations of origin (DO, name protected wines of the region, guaranteeing standards of style and practice), best known among them is Cava. Centered in Penedes, just west of Barcelona, in the Catalan region, Cava takes bubbles seriously. Styles range from very dry (brut nature) to dessert sweet (dulce), white or rose, can be served young and fresh, or aged for more than three years. The Cava region is one of the largest sparkling wine producing regions in the world.
Catalonia is home to more than bubbles — rich whites and reds can be found there as well, also even some delightful aromatized wines and vermouth (more on that later). This month we’re hangin in Spain, mostly Catalonia, with some side ventures for delightfully quaffable Albarino, and a warm weather friendly and surprisingly nimble Tempranillo to balance out the mix.
Sip along, and count down these waning days of summer (it is waning, right? right?) Stay Cool Y’all!
Vins el Cep ‘OT’ 2020
Grapes: 100% Xarel-lo
The unique terroir, as well as qualities of native grape varietals, allow Cava to stand on its own in the world of fizzy bubblies. Chief among those grapes is Xarel-lo, which is also sometimes written as Xarel.lo, or just plain Xarello — a lean thin skinned berry, offering up high acid and vitality. Though usually at home in cava blends — Xarel-lo is being increasingly offered as a still (not sparkling) white, standing strong on its own as we find here. The “OT” gives zesty and mineral nose with green apple, lime and oyster shell, and easy lemonade vibes on the palate.
Vins El Cep is owned by four different families who, since 1980, have come together with the dream of making stunning, sustainable wines from their families’ lands. The estate was first developed by Berenguer Raspall who built the masia, or farmhouse, in 1393.
The winemaking for this wine is very gentle, using a low-pressure pneumatic press, with only a 45-50% must extraction, representing the most elegant percentage of the must. The balance of the must is sold off to large, local commercial wineries. Fermentation begins spontaneously and is carried out in small stainless steel tanks. The wine spends four months sur lie with battonage in stainless steel. Certified vegan.
Can XA Brut Cava NV
Grapes: 50% Xarel·lo, 25% Macabeo, 25% Parellada
Cava sparkling wine finds its roots in Champagne. In the late 1800’s Phylloxera devastated the French winemakers, some found their way to Barcelona, and brought with them styles and methods — including method champenoise (Though years earlier Josep Raventos sourced his inspiration for Spanish Cava from visits to the Champagne region.)
Pale yellow, fine bubbled, zesty and toasty citrus, the Can XA drinks wicked clean, vibrant and hinting of almond. We find the Xarel-lo here balancing the richness of macabeo and parellada.
From sustainably farmed, 20-40 year-old estate vines. Soils are clay-based, magnesium-rich and low in organic material. Harvested fruit is chilled quickly and pressed in an effort to avoid oxidation. Secondary fermentation occurs in bottle below ground ( a naturally maintained 57°F is maintained in the emblematic dome-shaped caves that meander thirty feet below). Aged for 9 months before disgorgement and made in the traditional method from their estate fruit.
Bodegas Hornillos Ballesteros ‘Mibal’ 2021
Region: Castilla y Leon
Grapes: 100% Tempranillo
Fresh, savory, nice mineral structure, cocoa and figs and smuckers jam, the Mibal is a complex but nimble Tempranillo, just the thing.
This bodega is one of the most artisanal producers in Ribera del Duero. In concept, neither a business nor a factory, this tiny garage is a place where raw material, selection and precision culminate in great wine making. It is juicy and full with blueberry, black cherry, and dried herbs. This bottling comes from 20 year old tempranillo vines planted at 700-900 meters in elevation. After a manual harvest, the fruit is destemmed and then fermented with natural yeasts.
They sell most of their grapes to some of the region’s most prestigious wineries. And with the meager 10-15% of the harvest they save for themselves, they create uniquely soulful, hand-crafted, unoaked wines. With ultimate respect for their beautifully rugged vineyards, they are committed to producing ecologically farmed wines. They follow biodynamic philosophies and treatments with minimal intervention in the winery.
Benito Santos Igrexario de Saiar 2021
Region: Rias Baixas
Grape: 100% Albariño
Single vineyard offering, which means this albarino has a quality of integrity that invites you right on in. All organic, subtle nose, lemon curd, sharp acid and salinity, fun Lending to more ripe and tropical fruit as it opens.
Benito Santos is a central figure in the modern history of Albariño and the Rías Baixas D.O. He began working in his grandfather’s vineyards in the 1930s and made wine for serving in his bar – wines that repeatedly won prizes in the annual Fiesta de Albariño in Cambados. He was instrumental in the creation of the Rías Baixas D.O. in the 1980s. The current owners now farm three vineyards in the Val do Salnés subzone of Rías Baixas, each of which is next to and named after an ancient church: Saiar, Bemil, and Xoan. All of the vineyards are now certified organic – a rarity in rainy, mildew-prone Rías Baixas – and winemaking uses only native yeasts and minimal sulfur.
Kiki & Juan – Blanco 2021
Grapes: 90% Macabeo, 10% Sauvignon Blanc,
Here again, playing with cava blend grapes in still white wine. Kiki and Juan Blanco is savory, waxy, and surprising. It finishes nicely, inviting the next swig. Green orchard fruit, green fig, chamomile
Certified organic, minimal intervention — Kiki and Juan produces approachable but intriguing wines with the value of a litre bottle. They leave skin from the Sauv Blanc in contact for a short while in early process, lending to some of the wines complexities.
Multiple small lots, scattered across the high elevation calcareous soils of Requena, create the unique qualities of their wines. Warm days give ample ripeness, but are chased away with very cool nights which preserve acidity. The Macabeo vine age is 40yrs on average, and the SB was planted in the 90’s. The most unique quality of Requena is it’s high elevation, where the UV spectrum allows phenolic development to fulfill at low sugar levels. Basically that means great flavor and low alcohol.
Fot Li Vermut Rojo NV
Grapes: White Grenache, 10% Viura and Airen
This one is a treat, my friends. This vermouth tastes like a memory of a cola from a soda fountain when you’re a kid and the world impressed more easily. Very fun, very tasty. Enjoy on its own with ice and a swath of orange peel, or with soda — or sub it out for your regular vermouth in a manhattan — for some warm and spiced, someday it will be fall dang it, vibes.
Fot-Li is a vermouth made in Reus, the Catalonian town renowned for being one of the most important centers of spirits production (especially vermouths) in the 19th century. The town in Tarragona (Catalonia) is still a large producer of aperitifs and a popular destination sought-after for its bars and restaurants.
Toni Omedes Alegre, the creator of Fot-Li is part of a family that has been making wines in Catalonia since the early 1900s.
Grapes from Tarragona (DO Terra Alta and DO Montsant) and also from the Penedes (Barcelona) area and La Mancha (Castilla La Mancha).
The makers won’t share all their secrets, but some of the the botanicals they use: vanilla, orange peal, anise, cardamom, nutmeg, laurel, oregano, fennel, sage…