Along with Priorat, Penedès is one of the most important Denominacines de Origen (DOs) within Catalonia, Spain. If wine drinkers think of Catalonia or Penedès, it is for Cava, the sparkling wine made in the same traditional manner as Champagne, but using three other main grape varieties, Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo, though increasingly with Chardonnay too.
It was since 1872 when the very first Cava was produced and proven to be successful that nearly all wineries in Penedès have been getting into Cava. However, there are still ambitious smaller producers going the other way and make still wines from these Cava grapes or focus on other even lesser-known indigenous varieties. On the first day of ProWine Asia 2019 in Hong Kong, I had a chance to meet one of these passionate producers – MontRubí, a small winery lying just 60km west of Barcelona, with vineyards standing at over 600m above the sea, in the Catalan PreCoastal Range. I tasted their monovarietal wines made from Cava grapes!
First came Durona White 2017, 100% made from 40-year old vine Parellada and has been matured on the fine lees for 6 months in custom locally-made clay amphora, the use of which in Penedès can be dated back to the 7th century BC. Parellada is the most delicate of the three Cava grapes. This wine was pale straw in colour, very elegant with subtle nose of orchard blossom but rich in minerality, which I think it can be well paired with fresh oyster, crab meat and green salad.
Then came WHITE 2017, a single varietal Xarel-lo. In Cava, the Xarel-lo grape contributes a generous, round body and good acidity and is considered by many producers to be the one that contributes the most personality to the resulting Cava. The first sip of this 100% Xarel-lo did raise my eyebrows – a concerto of fruits, flowers, herbs, spices and mineral playing a harmonized rhythm lingering around my palate. Green apple, pear and pineapple are the principal with faint notes of sage, flint and white peppers, all integrated into the round body with refreshing acidity. Really a special personality!
What followed was montrubí mac 2017, 100% Macabeo, which was made from grapes from double harvests: one early to capture the freshness and acidity, and a second late harvest for the riper fruit and greater texture. It was deep lemon in colour. The palate was vibrant, concentrated and very flavoursome, showing such tropical fruits as apricot and pineapple, some South Asian spices like galanga or ginger, layered with notes of slate, flint and pine cones.
All the three wines were subject to a short maceration with the grape skins before fermentation in order to raise flavour intensity and texture; all of them are quite characterful, good alternatives to the norm.
What's more, this winery also makes wine from a nearly extinct black grape – Sumoll, which was once planted all across Catalonia, especially in Penedès, mostly used in blends in those days. It is very late-ripening and difficult to grow. As such, after the Phylloxera epidemic in the early 20th century, most vineyards have been replanted with the more popular Cava grapes or other international varieties. Since 2000, MontRubí has been recovering old Sumoll vines and planting new vines in order to revitalize this native grape. They have found that Sumoll is best grown at higher altitude (i.e cooler area) with slate and granite soils which retain heat to facilitate ripening. They have now used Sumoll to make monovarietal wines of a diversity of styles, ranging from rose, red and sweet!
Gaintus One Night's Rose 2017 was made from high-elevation 50-year old vine Sumoll, with one-night maceration on skins, fermented in 700-litre concrete eggs. The wine was pale orangery pink showing aromas of fresh tart red fruits and some yeasty notes, possibly from the concrete fermenters. Dry and very crisp, yet very juicy and lively.
Then, there were two 100% Sumoll reds.
The first was Gaintus Radical 2017, made from Sumoll planted in 2006 at 535 m. The wine was bright cherry red displaying intense aromas and flavours of red fruits, wild flowers and fresh herbs, well balanced with the lively acidity. Again, very characterful!
The second was Gaintus Vertical 2008, the most iconic in the series, made from 35-year old vine Sumoll. It was deep cherry red in colour, again showing intense aromas of ripe red cherry, this time layered with cedar wood and some herbal and early notes, some signs of maturity. Grainy tannin and lively acidity make this a good food wine.
It was quite surprising that with such small acreage of plantings, the winery also spares some Sumoll to make it into a dessert wine, Gaintus Sobremadurado 2016, made from a selective harvest of the best clusters of Sumoll, which were hung dry for more than 4 months before they are fermented and matured in French oak barriques for 9 months. The wine was deep tawny, with aromas and flavours of cooked apricots and raisins, with orange-blossom honey, palm sugar, toffee and mushroom. The sweetness is well balanced with the acidity.
Wine tasting is just like art, music or performances, something reaching out of the norm would always give you some elements of unpredictability and excitement.