The only Spanish wine that has real name recognition is albariño. A few of you might know Rueda as well, but for the most part, the Spanish wines conjure up the color red. This is starting to change as white wines made from a variety of grapes are popping up all over Spain.
Leading the way in this new wave is xarel-lo (zuh-rel-o). It may not be the easiest grape to pronounce — but if you are a fan of white wine, it is one that you might want to learn, and fast.
One of the primary grapes used to make cava (along with macabeo and parellada), xarel-lo is plentiful in Penedès. It is believed to be of Spanish origin and is grown almost exclusively in Catalonia.
There are a surprising number of old xarel-lo vineyards left in Penedès’ higher-altitude, cooler spots that render intense and complex fruit. It is often marked by a floral and mineral fragrance with hints of apricots and tangerines, so if you enjoy crisp, mildly fruity wines, xarel-lo is probably going to be up your alley.
Many of the still wines made in Penedès are made by folks who also produce cava. If you see one made by a reliable cava producer, chances are it is going to be at least a pretty good wine. Here are three that are sure bets.
Bodegas Raventós I Blanc, Silencis, 2010 (Penedès, Spain): Raventós is a noted cava house founded by Josep-Maria Raventós, who is from the original Cordorníu family. The majority of the grapes in this bottling come from 40- to 45-year-old organic vines. Grown in chalky loam soils, it is mineral-driven with citrus tones and a long, squeaky-clean finish. Suggested retail: $19.99
Parés Balta Calcari, 2010 (Penedès, Spain): Organic viticulture has been the norm since grapes were first grown on this estate in 1790; in 2004, it became certified ecological. The estate has passed down through several generations in the Carol-Cuisine family. Today, the wives of Josep and Joan, who are trained enologists, make the wine. With flint and lime the nose and a hint of underripe melon, this super-elegant wine is fresh, pungent and lively. Suggested retail: $19.99
Segura Viudas Creu de Lavit, 2008 (Penedès, Spain): Given its size, Segura Viudas does a super job with Cava. Founded in 1954, Freixenet has owned it for almost 30 years and this still wine came on board a decade ago. Clean and bright with tangerine rind, grapefruit, pear skin and soft mineral notes, this is an obvious charmer. Suggested retail: $24.99
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.