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Taking in the view at Mastinell, Penedès, Spain.

How I did not realise this sooner, I will never know. The booming, tonnes-to-do city of Barcelona is only a 40 minute drive from Penedès, the motherland of cava (it is also accessible by train for less than €10 return). Upon realising this, my Barcelona holiday was quickly re-routed south for one day of cellar door action.
I struggled to find much DIY wine tour information online. Most Google searches brought up links to rather expeny wine tourism companies that were not about to give up their routes to non-paying self-guided explorers.  Feeling confident at having successfully explored a fair few wine regions in my time I decided to wing-it.


For the most part the day was filled with mountainous scenic beauty, historic bodegas (wineries), and Spanish wines from near and far. However, much of the day was spent driving in circles looking for clues as to how to get to the bodegas and figuring out if they were actually open for tastings. To make sure that you get to spend more time in the wineries than in your car, take a look at my five tips to navigating Penedès.


Wine Tasting at Torres, Penedès, Spain.

Wine Tasting at Torres, Penedès, Spain.

1. Getting to Penedès
Penedès is the name of the region winos are taught to associate with cava. It is a huge area and once you near it you will be bombarded with road signs for the Alt Penedès, Penedès Central, and Baix Penedès. When you’re on the road, its hard knowing which place to go towards. I recommend aiming for either the town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia or Vilafranca del Penedès. Both of which are well sign-posted and where many of the caves (cellars) are based. Sant Sadurni has the lion’s share of wineries based in the region, and the town center also boasts a lot of specialty cava bars. Vilafranca del Penedès has its fair share of wineries, too, along with a wine museum.


2. Finding the Wineries
My plan was to follow the winery road signs until I reached a cellar door, as one might do in North America, Australasia or Argentina’s popular wine destinations. There I hoped to collect a vinotourism map and make a quick agenda of wineries to visit that day. Well Toto, we’re not in the new world anymore. There are few winery road signs and, of those, many are difficult to spot and follow – certainly not enough information to guide you on a full day of tasting.

A map is needed to explore this region so I’ve linked to three that I found most useful. The first shows all of the bodegas in the greater Penedès area, but does not give specific details of where wineries are located inside the towns of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia or Vilafranca del Penedès. Tourism maps to these two towns are also linked. I recommend taking each of these maps with you.

Many thanks to Commerce and Tourism Vilafranca City Council and Enotourism Penedès for providing the maps.

Over looking the Garraf Massif mountains and Vinlafranca Vilafranca del Penedès, Spain

Overlooking the Garraf Massif mountains and Vinlafranca Vilafranca del Penedès, Spain

3. Winery Tours
A lot of the tourist information suggests that you call ahead to book a tour or visit, and I suppose that is the safe option to make sure wineries will be able to receive you. However, I didn’t book anything and I was given a tour or guided tasting at each bodegas I went to, so long as they were open for business.

The cost of tasting the wines ranges from €5 to €12 for a selection of four to ten wines.  Tours cost a little more than that, but your tasting is usually included in the price.



4. Cave (cellar) opening, closing and siesta times
There isn’t a uniform set of rules as to when wineries open and close. Generally  they are open from 10:00 AM, then close from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM for siesta, and shut for the day at 5 PM. That being said some places open earlier, close later, and stay open through siesta. I also learned the hard way that closing times are strict when, shortly after 5 PM, I was chased out of the Codorniu driveway by a woman blowing a police whistle and repeatedly yelling at me ‘‘It’s not free!’’.


The walk up to Freixinet near, Sant Sadurní d'Anoia, Penedès, Spain.

The entrance to Freixinet near, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Penedès, Spain.

5. Where to eat
Touring a wine region, for me at least, is synonymous with splashing out on a beautiful meal overlooking the vines. However in Penedès, the function of a winery is to make and sell wine. Food is not really part of the wine tourism formula at most cellar doors. However, two wineries that do offer winery lunches are Mastinell and Ferré I Catasús. If you can suggest others please let me know in the comments section.

On the bright side, restaurants in the area are taking advantage of the unique breed of food loving wine tourists trickling through. Try a local’s recommendation or consult Trip Advisor for more details on where to eat.


6. The big estates                                                                                                                        Finally, if you’re blasting through the area and want to stop by the most famous bodegas you will want to check out these places:

  • Torres offers a winery tour by trolley train, and have a huge range of wine for tasting from their properties in Spain, Chile and the USA.
  • Freixinet offers a full cellar tour and has a fantastic collection of cars on display from their long history in advertising, including one shaped as a cava bottle.
  • Codorniu is noted for the architecture of their cellars and beauty of their gardens — just don’t be late!

Overall Penedès is an area steeped in history, natural beauty and offers a plethora of wine styles, even beyond cava. And it’s all located on the door step of Barcelona. Vamos cariños, get amongst it, and let me know how it goes!

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Vines as far as the eye can see.

According to research by global financial services firm Morgan Stanley, the world is headed for a wine shortage. Authors of the report, Australia-based analysts Tom Kierath and Crystal Wang, say that although there are a million wine producers throughout the world making 2.8 billion cases of wine per year, it’s just not enough to keep up with worldwide demand.

But before you stop reading and race out to the local wine shop to stock up, or start hoarding what you have, let’s take a look at some of the reasons you need not panic.

The report says that on-going vine pull and poor weather have contributed to a large decrease in the production of wine in Europe. Fortunately for us new world wine production is on the rise. In the United States supply is up. California’s harvest is expected to reach four million tons, nearing last year’s record. The same for South America: Chile hit a new record at 12.8 hectolitres (hl) and Argentina’s vinified harvest was 15 hl, up 27% after a poor year in 2012. New Zealand reported a record year and Australia continues to increase its production.

Even more reason to keep seeing your glass half full, is that we’ve heard this type of speculation before. In 2010 and 2011 there were reports of a scarcity in the United States, but 2012 was a record production year.

But it doesn’t end there. The International Organization of Vine and Wine has released its own report predicting an 8.8% increase in wine production, a record high for the last seven years.

And the list goes on: California is the fourth largest wine producer in the world behind France, Italy and Spain and has had 19 years of consecutive growth. Plus there has been an oversupply of wine in Europe for many years, hence the reason growers have been pulling their vines in the first place. Meanwhile, Treasury Wine Estates has dumped six million bottles of wine  due to poor sales, and Italy is facing a huge drop in domestic wine sales. How can there possibly be a global wine shortage?

So rest easy, everyone. Drink and be merry. The wine will flow for the foreseeable future.

More vines. More grapes. More wine!

More vines. More grapes. More wine!

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New Zealand DroughtNew Zealand’s North Island has been suffering the worst drought since World War 2, so much so that it has made headlines throughout the world. The majority of this year’s agricultural crops are said to be a write-off and the government has stated that it is likely to cost the country NZ$2 billion, yet the wine industry is toasting what could be its most successful growing season yet. How is it possible that the grapes are going gangbusters in the face of such a severe water shortage?
Like any living thing, a vine will go into survival mode when its life is threatened. It redirects its energy away from producing leaves and climbing and puts it into reproduction. In these conditions, a vine will produce more berries, and in order to attract those seed-sowing, life spreading birds, will develop rich ripe flavours and more intense colours.
During a typical grape growing season, viticulturalists will try to coax the vine into putting its energy into the grapes instead of the greenery by clipping off leaves. But this year, because of the drought, this is happening naturally, saving wineries both time and money.
During a drought the vine’s roots will burrow further into the ground in search of water. They can also tap into nutrient deposits, which, as well as providing sustenance, are widely believed to contribute those coveted mineral-esque flavours to the wine. To top it off, deeper roots increase the vine’s chance of surviving future freezes, floods and droughts.
Goldwater Estate, Waiheke Island, New ZealandLess water in the ground means less water in the grapes, too. The wine will taste more intense and concentrated, and have many subtle flavours and aromas. The only problem is that if there is a downpour right before harvest the grapes can swell and even burst their skins leaving the door wide open for disease.
The dry weather also naturally controls mould growth in between the grapes and leaves on the vine, where moisture can get trapped. This, again, saves growers a lot of hassle as they don’t have to spray chemicals on the grapes to control infection. It also means that we consumers get a purer product.
While the optimal grape growing conditions continue in New Zealand’s summer, there is still plenty of room for the weather to affect the grapes adversely and for things to go wrong in the winery. Even still, I’m confident 2013 will be a vintage where we’ll see some of the less famous New Zealand wine regions bear fruit. Watch out for regions like the Hawke’s Bay, Gisbourne or Waiheke Island to break through as a worldwide household names. I’m hopeful that Waikato, Northland, and Matakana can cash in on the drought’s silver lining too.


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Malbec hanging on the vine in Mendoza's Uco Valley

Malbec hanging on the vine in Mendoza’s Uco Valley

I love Malbec. I even worked in it’s spiritual home of Mendoza, Argentina to get a behind the scenes look at what goes ito the world’s best Malbecs. But lately I’ve been exploring it from other parts of the world, too. For this variety, so far, it’s most popular examples come from Argentina and France. For a quick comparison of the Malbecs from these two regions check out this post I wrote for The Vines of Mendoza.

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Outstanding customer service

It’s hard not to take it to the internet when you receive bad service. But sometimes you need to spread the word when people get it right, too. Today, I salute Odd Bins.


A while ago I purchased a mixed case of wine from Odd Bins to practice blind tasting. One night I had the misfortune of opening two bottles of spoiled wine. The first had a severe case of cork taint. Yep, cork taint strikes bottles at random and is an ever present bummer in the wine industry. In fact, some pros say that up to 5% of bottles are affected. If you spot it, normally, you’ll be able to exchange it.


The second wine of the night was just really dull. I suspected that it could be due to mild cork taint, but I thought I picked up on that due to odour residue in my glass from not rinsing it sufficiently. At the time I thought it was just of a low quality that past the best time to drink it.


When I peeked at the wine label my blood started to boil. It was a Beaujolais-Village from 2009. Beaujolais is a wine that you want to drink while it’s very young for the most part. Getting bland Beaujolais that was more than three years old led me to believe that yucky old warehouse stock was being cleared out in mixed cases at the customer’s expense. Imagine it!


An email with a disappointed overtone was in order. I told Odd Bins my story and said that I was unpleasantly surprised that they chose to include a Beaujolais that was clearly past its best. A reply from customer service arrived promptly apologizing for my bad experience and telling me that I could replace my two gnarly bottles at my local Odd Bins. Result! I was happy, but Odd Bins was just getting started with me.

Odd bins signShortly after that I get another email, this time from their head of buying, apologizing and informing me that the wine would be reviewed by their tasting panel and that my comments had been passed onto the supplier. I was so impressed by how seriously they were taking me, if, now, a little sheepish about my snarky email.


Next though, I got an email from the managing director of the agency representing the wine in question. He too apologized, then offered to send a bottle to try again…and then invited me to taste their entire portfolio! My socks were officially knocked off, my tail well and truly between my legs.


Several days later a box arrived. In it was one bottle of the same Beaujolais-Village along with a bottle of Beaujolais Cru Morgon; which they thought would be more to my tastes.


I exchanged several more emails with the wine buyer, and when I apologized again for my initial catty email she said that they appreciate honest commentary from their customers. She said that the feedback I gave was useful as it potentially red flagged an issue with the type of bottle closure used.


Several weeks have passed, and I’ve blind tasted the Beaujolais-Village again. My tasting notes from the two bottles of Beaujolais Village couldn’t be more different.  The second bottle was bursting with cherry and strawberry aromas. It was vibrant and light, not very complex, but enjoyable nonetheless; the way Beaujolais is supposed to be. I think it’s fair to say that the first bottle was suffering from cork taint. As I said earlier, it’s something that happens quite regularly unfortunately.


It is also fair to say that Odd Bins is thoughtful in their wine selection, genuinely want customers to enjoy their products, and that they are a company that take discrepancies seriously. This rare and awesome example of great customer service has certainly made a loyal customer out of me.


If you're interested in trying Beaujolais after reading this article, why not go to Japan and swim in it on Beaujolais day. More info of that here: http://www.wineangel.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Beaujolais-Japan.jpg

If you’re interested in trying Beaujolais after reading this article, why not celebrate Beaujolais Day in Japan, where you can swim in it. More info on that at http://www.wineangel.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Beaujolais-Japan.jpg


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