Wine region / Country
It can be divided into three areas taking into account characteristics such as altitude, soil, and distance from the sea. Penedès Superior is the area furthest inland, close to the Catalan Pre-Coastal mountain range (Serralada Prelitoral), and also the area at the highest altitude. The coolest part of the Penedès appellation, it receives more rainfall, has the widest night/day temperature differences, and vines are mainly grown here in clay soils. The largest area and biggest wine-producer is the Penedès Central. A basically flat plain between the other two areas, it enjoys mild temperatures. The third area, Penedès Maritim, lies between the coast and the hills of the Catalan Coastal Range (Serralada Litoral), and includes the Garraf Massif, characterized by its chalky soils and clearly Mediterranean climate, regulated by its proximity to the sea. For many years, attempts were made to define more precisely these areas and the wide variety of terroirs used for vine-growing. This work paid off in 2017 when the DO Penedès was divided into ten sub-zones: Alts d'Ancosa, Conca del Foix, Costers de l'Anoia, Costers de Lavernó, Costers del Montmell, Marina del Garraf, Massis del Garraf, Muntanyes d'Ordal, Turons de Vilafranca, and Vall Bitlles-Anoia. For a Penedès wine to include the name of its precise sub-zone on the label, all the grapes used in its production must come from that particular area — which guarantees the characteristics and uniqueness of each terroir are passed on to the wine in question.
White wines have a longer historic tradition in Penedès than reds. In general they are fresh and fruity, although the curiosity and know-how of local winemakers has led to a wide variety of styles being developed. Lighter whites are still being produced, but now they sit alongside more solid ones fermented and/or aged in wooden barrels. The three traditional Cava varieties, Xarel·lo, Macabeu, and Parellada, are easily the most commonly used grapes here too — especially the characterful Xarel·lo, the star grape of the appellation.
Xarel·lo is also known as Pansa Blanca in the DO Alella region and Cartoixa in Tarragona. It resists droughts well and is a very versatile grape for winemaking. It is used to produce a wide variety of wines ranging from young fresh ones with tantalizing aromas of pear, apple or fennel to more complete and intense, creamy crianza whites. Its wonderful natural acidity allows wines aged in oak or in the traditional local chestnut barrels to age with elegance and gain new aromas and sensations as time goes by.
Splendid examples of white wines made with Chardonnay (and often aged in wood) or other aromatic international varieties such as Riesling or Gewürztraminer are also produced in Penedès. They also use grapes such as Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Tempranillo to make pleasant fruity rosés with a good body.
Red wines are less popular although there is a significant production and some are of an exceptional quality. In recent years, international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot have been mixed with traditional ones like Tempranillo (known locally as Ull de Llebre) or Grenache. These blends are intense but silky, and deep-coloured, and their oak ageing is easily noticeable. More recently, a growing group of winemakers have made a commitment to reusing Sumoll, a grape which used to be the star here and is now making a comeback. Its wines have less colour but their excellent acidity reminds the drinker of Nebbiolos from Italy.
A large part of the DO Penedès area also comes under the DO Cava appellation and the production of sparkling wines has a lengthy tradition here. However, in 2014 some wineries, dissatisfied with the heterogeneity of the DO Cava label, decided to start marketing their sparkling wines under the name Clàssic Penedès, associated to strict conditions of quality. To be able to use this name, the wines must be made with grapes cultivated using completely organic methods in vineyards within the DO Penedès. They chiefly use traditional varieties. Only these and the French varieties of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir can be mentioned on the main label. Any other grapes used in the blend can only be named in smaller lettering on the back label. All Clàssic Penedès wines (made with both traditional methods and ancestral ones) must have aged for at least fifteen months in the bottle, which is equivalent to that of a Cava Reserva. Unlike Champagne, Clàssic Penedès wines must be vintage ones and the year and date must be clearly stated on each bottle.
Clàssic Penedès wines are just one more example of the innovation carried out by winemakers in this region. The Penedès appellation was the first one to use international grape varieties in a significant way, and also the first to work regularly with stainless steel tanks. This pioneering spirit has led to the region's recent clear commitment to organic and biodynamic wines. It is a leader in these methods, both in vine-growing and wine-production. There are also some surprising and notable natural wines currently being produced here although many are not adhered to the DO appellation.
There are also four 'Vins de Finca' (estate wines) produced here. This is a special distinction reserved only for wines from vineyards with certain soil and climate characteristics which offer fruit with an exceptional quality. The plot in question must belong to the winery and be located nearby. The wine must have enjoyed a prestigious recognition for at least ten years. Yields are set at 15% lower than the usual yields for each variety in the appellation and a group of professional wine-tasters must certify that the wine's quality is better than that of other wines without the 'Vins de Finca' label. The four wines which have earned this certification in Penedès all belong to the Jean León winery: Vinya Le Havre, Vinya Palau, Vinya Gigi, and Vinya La Scala.
The 'estate wines' are only the tip of the iceberg of the revolution in quality currently being lived in Penedès, though. Younger generations of well-travelled winemakers have an extensive know-how regarding all the aspects involved in creating great wines — vines, production, tasting, and so on. They are taking on the mantle of the previous generation whose work was sometimes unfairly dismissed. The new winemakers aim to move the focus from quantity to quality, to earn the prestige that wines produced in the privileged conditions of this region deserve. A lot of effort is being put in to recovering old vines which suffered under the excessive use of chemical products, or to replanting traditional varieties common in other areas, but forgotten here in recent years.
Few could have imagined that it would be small wineries leading the changes in Penedès rather than the large well-known wineries but their excellent artisanal wines are gaining popularity in leaps and bounds as their typicity and unique character convince anyone looking for a new experience. It has never been easy for the DO Penedès to develop an image of authenticity on the world stage — in part because it has to share the stage and territory with the DO Cava and DO Catalunya, and in part due to the introduction of international grape varieties. However, things seem to be changing. The idea that vineyards form part of the landscape has caught on, with winemakers realizing that for a wine to truly express its environment and terroir, the vines must grow alongside natural ecosystems, and not isolated from them. They have come to understand wine as a cultural value, a tradition which talks of a land and its people, and also as an element which may help promote other economic activities beneficial for different sectors. Young winemakers have refused to sell their grapes at laughably low prices, and instead use them for their own projects — which has also made the large producers pay a more respectable price to those vine-growers who do supply them. The result is that both small-scale and large-scale winemakers benefit as this contributes also to dissuading local people from having to leave the area in search of work and a livelihood. The focus on quality wines gives value back to the land and its fruit.
A true revolution is underway in the DO Penedès and it looks like it’s here to stay. New ideas have brought vines back to life and, with them, wines. Biodynamic and organic methods are becoming ever more commonly used. The use of sulphites is being reduced, chestnut or clay casks are reappearing, and traditional varieties are the order of the day. This new impetus to Penedès wine has only just begun, and promises a long and magnificent future.
£30.31 94 Parker Barrel Aged white wine, Penedès Can Ràfols dels Caus Chenin Blanc
£17.91 Barrel Aged white wine, Penedès Jean Leon Chardonnay
£29.63 Red Reserva wine, Penedès Albet i Noya Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon
£10.07 Young white wine, Penedès Gramona Chardonnay
£6.58 Young red wine, Penedès Finca Viladellops Grenache
£8.60 Rosé wine, Penedès Celler Pardas Sumoll
£42.07 Barrel Aged white wine, Penedès Enric Soler Xarel·lo
£11.38 Red Crianza wine, Penedès Mas Comtal Merlot
£7.21 Young white wine, Penedès Mas Comtal Chardonnay, Xarel·lo
£15.60 Young red Crianza wine, Penedès Can Ràfols dels Caus Sumoll
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