There’s more to Penedès than Cava at Parés Baltà

Photo courtesy of Chris Janzen

There is something very special about visiting a winery. Depending on the time of year, the place might be buzzing with the start of harvest and the arrival of grapes from the vineyard or quietly still during the serenity of maturation in the barrel room. But no matter when the visit takes place, one thing is for sure, it’s the best way to absorb the true essence of the wines and the passion of the people who bring them to life.

During a recent holiday in Barcelona, we ventured 45 minutes by train and enjoyed a day at the family-owned winery, Parés Baltà, in Penedès, Spain. We arrived just before 10am and were graciously greeted and introduced to our guide for the morning, Marc Picon, Export Manager for Parés Baltà. As we clambered into the Toyota Land Cruiser ready to begin our adventure, Marc explained that we were off to visit their vineyards, the majority of which are located in the National Parks of Garraf and Foix.

Photo courtesy of Chris Janzen

As we headed for the hills in the merciful air conditioning (we found out later it was the hottest day of the year so far!) we learned that the name Parés Baltà is the product of a marriage between the two families that occurred over three hundred years ago the 1790s. When Joan Cusiné Hill bought Parés Baltà in 1978, he kept the name as a link to the history of the estate. Today his grandsons, Joan and Josep Cusiné, are proudly at the helm and what’s more, their wives Maria Elena and Marta are the winemakers!

Photo courtesy of Chris Janzen

After a short drive, we stopped on the edge of one of their vineyards just outside the National Park and stood amongst the rows of Syrah grapes – it was here that our charismatic host, Marc, treated us to our first Parés Baltà wine of the day – the Radix 2009 rosé. If you’ve never tasted wine in the middle of a vineyard, I can highly recommend it! Standing surrounded by lush greenery, grapes hanging in heavy bunches from the vines, the rocky, arid soil underfoot and a crisp, refreshing Syrah rosé in the glass to compensate for the scorching heat, made for a perfect first impression!

Photo courtesy of Chris Janzen

As we continued to climb above the waves of vineyards into the Park itself, the landscape changed from wide expanses of vines to one of abundant trees, plants and wildlife amongst rocky terrain, throughout which were dotted small patches of vines. The existence of vines in a National Park is quite unusual and Parés Baltà is the only producer in the region to have them here – and it is a seamless syngery between the two.

The philosophy of Joan and Josep Cusiné is to give back to the environment as much as it offers them, which is one of the reasons they achieved organic certification, have an army of 300 sheep (and 3 goats!) as well as 30 beehives (which, along with the added bonus of honey production, aid in pollination during the spring). It is quite easy to see how the environment of the Park contributes a great deal to the wines themselves, almost as if Mother Nature was a third female winemaker!

Photo courtesy of Chris Janzen

Our next stop (and next wine) required a hop, skip and a jump over some craggy rocks to a tiny perch overlooking two of the smallest vineyards I’ve ever seen! Not only were the vineyards tiny, I counted 33 rows in total, but from our vantage point, we could see they were planted in a small patch containing two strikingly different soils – so much so that it looked like a topiary artist had crafted the vines into ‘V’ shapes!

Photo courtesy of Chris Janzen

As if the structure of the vineyard wasn’t unusual enough, it turns out these are Gewurztraminer vines, a grape that normally prefers the cooler climates of Alsace and Germany and is hardly seen anywhere in Penedès. We soaked up the view (and the breeze) and tasted one of only 4000 bottles produced annually by these little vineyards – the Ginestra Gewurztraminer from 2008 – an impressively fresh, ripe, minerally wine that would certainly be a commercial hit if only there was more of it!

Photo courtesy of Chris Janzen

After bumping along unpaved roads cut out from the rock (which provided a fascinating cross-section of soils, including orange, black, red and white clay), and a few more stops and samples in more stunning settings, we returned to the winery to taste several other of the 27 Parés Baltà wines.

We began with a Cava. The region of Penedès is renowned for its Cava, a sparkling wine made using the same method as in Champagne, but with the grapes Parellada, Xarel.lo and Macabeo instead of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – well usually anyway. The Cava we started with, the Blanca Cusiné, was in fact a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay! Quite remarkable considering that Pinot Noir is a delicate grape and not often grown in warm climates, but the wine was excellent!

Photo courtesy of Chris Janzen

Next we moved on to the Blanc de Pacs, a white made from a blend of the ‘cava grapes’: Parellada, Xarel.lo and Macebeo – thirst-quenching and quaffable. This was followed by two extremely interesting single varietal wines, both made from 100% Xarel.lo (pronounced Shar-el-oh). This grape is usually only seen as part of a blend so I was intrigued for my first taste of a solo version. I found it fascinating! We tasted Calcari 2009 (named for the calcareous soils in which its grown) with fresh pears, tropical fruit and obvious minerality. The second was the bigger Electio 2008, again made from 100% Xarel.lo, fermented in new oak barrels and aged for 18 months in French oak, which showed tropical fruit, significant body and rich layers of flavour.

Photo courtesy of Chris Janzen

Indigena 2009 started us off on the reds, a 100% Garnaxta (Catalan spelling of Garnacha/Grenache) bottled only four days prior – it was bright, spicy and easy drinking. Next came the incredibly complex Hisenda Miret 2007, also 100% Garnaxta, with floral perfumes, dried figs and spicy notes of oak. The Absis 2003, a blend of Ull de Libre (a clone of Tempranillo), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, was as dark and deep as the ocean at night and loaded with black fruit, savoury herbal notes and powerful, integrated tannins.

Photo courtesy of Chris Janzen

The final wine of the day was from the Parés Baltà vineyards in Priorat, a region just south of Penedès. The 2πr (two Pi R) is a resplendent combination of Garnacha, Carineña and Syrah, beautifully structured and precisely balanced with enough fruit and complexity to last for hours, and I’m not the only one who thinks so as this wine is listed at celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant, the Fat Duck.

Photo courtesy of Chris Janzen

By this time we had worked up quite an appetite and were thrilled when owner Joan Cusiné, and his wife MariaElena, suggested we all go together to one of their favourite local tapas restaurants, La Tasqueta. Plates of wonderfully fresh seafood, impeccably grilled vegetables and paper thin jamón started arriving with seemingly ceaseless regularity. We were impressed with how well the various flavours and textures of the food paired so well with the Blanca Cusiné Cava and the Ginesta Gewurztraminer which we enjoyed throughout the meal.

I took this one!

It wasn’t long before Joan and Maria Elena had to rush off to prepare for the arrival of the first grapes of the harvest, and left us to savour the last morsels and sips of a most memorable lunch and visit to Penedès.

To see many more photos of our fantastic day, visit Wine Passionista on Facebook and become a fan while you’re there!

For more on my visit to Parés Baltà, check out my article in the Haidu magazine.

Photo courtesy of Chris Janzen

I’d love to hear your stories of visits to vineyards in Spain or around the world – please share your experience in the comments below.

There’s Always Time for Wine!

Tara – Wine Passionista

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Leave A Reply (3 comments so far)

  1. Gavino
    7 years ago

    Tara, I’m sitting in Costa Coffee amidst a rain soaked Sevenoaks and I read this post and I somehow feel insanely jealous of your trip. Maybe that’s because I’m fiddling around with tedious budgets :(

    Anyway, a little closer to home, I took my 7 month old to his first vineyard trip in Cornwall a few weeks back. We went to the Camel Valley Vineyards near Bodmin and I was really impressed by the welcome. They’ve also converted a series of cottages which you can rent for vacations which I thought was a cracking idea.

    Anyway, here’s my brief account of the visit + a bizarre picture of my baby boys first drink!

    • Wine Passionista
      7 years ago

      Hi Gavin, thanks for the comment! Hope you felt a bit of the Penedes warmth while reading!

      Looks like you chose a wonderful day to visit vineyards in Cornwall! I’m sure you son will thank you for the early encouragement of his palate! Tara

  2. onirovins
    7 years ago

    I thought writing about the visit – but then I ran into your article…and felt the warmth and it served me as a good reminder of the tastes and aromas. Two Pi R was a clear surprise too.

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