As I was planning my wine tours of the Penedès and Cava appellations, about half an hour drive from Barcelona, I asked for my sister’s husband’s help, knowledge and understanding. His name is Marc and he works for Torres and studied oenology (wine production).
Having grown up in the region and in a winery myself (as my father also produces wine) I knew a lot of brand names and the families attached to the wine businesses. But this is precisely the reason it was so hard to choose and distinguish between them.
There are almost 180 cellars and 2,800 wine farmers in the Penedès Appellation, a wine region where you can drive from end to end in less than an hour. The concentration of wine cellars here is incredible. Vineyards cover most of the landscapes, together with other Mediterranean trees like olive groves and cereals. Wine making is therefore in the life of almost everyone living in the Penedès.
Denominación de Origen Penedès or DO is the Catalan name given to the appellation (more about DO here). It’s also a region that produces a lot of the Cava. So choosing to visit this area also provides a chance to experience Cava production end-to-end. In terms of numbers, there are 280 Cava producers, some of which are also listed as wine producers in the Penedès DO.
When there is so much choice, it is difficult to understand who the key players are, what the most scenic or picturesque wineries are and which wineries you should put on your “top winery” list. So let me help you – along with the combined knowledge and experience of my father (a wine producer himself) and my sister’s husband – to suggest the best wineries near Barcelona.
Tip: the best way to explore the area is by car. So check out these tips for renting a car in Spain to help you choose.
1. To understand the origins of organic wines in Spain – Albet i Noya
It is thanks to a Danish wine importer that organic wines arrived in the Penedès and in Spain itself. Young Albet i Noya was already a vegetarian in the 70s when he shared his idea with the Wine Growers Association, volunteering to try it out. 40 years later, around 60% of the Penedès wineries are organic. A tour of Albet i Noya is a great way to find out more and also to enjoy a lovely day on the garden under the shaded trees.
2. Spanish wine royalty and one of the most acclaimed wineries in Europe – Torres
Torres wines are some of the better known and most widely acclaimed wines in Spain. They are also one of the largest producers, with the widest reach of vineyards spanning from Chile to California. They have been producing fine since the 70s. In Spain, Torres has estates in several wine appellations beyond the Penedès including Priorat, Rioja and Rueda. One cannot visit the Penedès and not stop at Torres.
3. For a hand made genuine Cava family business – Gramona
This is one of the smallest and most beautiful cellars in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, the Cava’s Capital. Book a visit and they will guide you down several basement floors under the busy streets of the city and through the dark. They will finally lead you through silent aisles that are lined up with Cava bottles resting and waiting to be disgorged. It was one of the most fascinating, genuine and beautiful tours I have ever taken.
4. High-end modern Cava – Agusti Torello Mata
Not as long term a Cava producer in Catalan terms, Agusti Torello Mata, coming from a tailoring family, wanted to enter the wine industry from an early age. He opened the first ever wine lab in the 70s and then started the Cava Guild where he is Honorary President. A visit will most likely allow you to meet him, since he likes to wander the shop and cellar on the weekends. His famous Kripta wine is shaped like the ancient Roman Amphoras that were used to transport wine to Rome 25 centuries ago. Consequently, it is one of their most awarded Cava wines.
5. Internationally acclaimed and pioneer in Cava – Codorniu
The Cava name is undoubtedly associated with Codorniu. They started Cava production in 1872 and have built a family empire ever since. The cellar and visitor center sit in quite a famous building, designed by Gaudi contemporary Puig i Cadafalc. It is a great representation of Modernism and is worth a visit on their own. Codorniu also produces wine under the Raimat brand and owns several other estates.
6. For the largest Cava producer – Freixenet
The largest Cava producer and the brand name most commonly found outside of Spain is Freixenet. Selling over 100 million bottles a year, Freixenet have expanded into several other wine appellations and geographies after purchasing many other brands. Freixenet started exporting wines to the US in the 1930s and its international profile has only but expanded. Today, Freixenet exports to over 100 countries and produces wines in 16 wine regions from California to Argentina to Australia. Christmas in Spain does not start until the Freixenet Christmas ad has aired. It’s the most anticipated advert in the country year after year, probably because it features celebrities. It’s the company’s way of sharing their best wishes for the holiday season. It is therefore akin to switching the Christmas tree lights on.
Despite its size and international presence, Freixenet continues to be a family business in its 5th generation. Produced in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, Freixenet impacts the life of 2,000 farmers in positive way because it purchases their grapes.
7. For Cava with the best views and tradition – Cava Llopart
After Codorniu decided to make sparkling wine or Methode Champenois, local winemakers followed. One of them was Cava Llopart, selling their first bottle in 1887 and are still using the same label today. They Gran Reserva Tour is a great all round 360 degree visit of the vineyards, the cellar and the tasting room. Situated up in the Subirats hills, the views are a lovely way to kick off the day. It’s also easy to reach by car, like most other wineries near Barcelona.
8. For pioneer in biodynamic wines – Recaredo
Although this family business started making Cava in 1924, they are best known for being the first certified biodynamic winery (2006) in the Cava and Penedès wine appellations. The brand’s name is the first name of the owner’s grandfather, who started the business in the 1920s. Of all the wineries near Barcelona, Recaredo has an outstanding profile in the biodynamic world.
Recaredo’s focus on the land and the vineyard extends into their Cava. Some of the bottles they have released since that 2006 certification include single-vineyard Cava with a long ageing period of over eight years.
9. For traditional Catalan life and heritage – Finca Viladellops
This relatively new winery has a history dating back to 1877. Although they stopped producing wines, closing their cellar in 1980, they re-opened in 1999. What makes this winery interesting is the location in the tiny 18-country house village of Viladellops. The town was founded in the 10th century when the Spanish conquered the castle of Olèrdola from the Moors and the area was repopulated. The castle’s tower is intact so you can visit it after seeing the winery. You can also visit the Chapel the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem built at the same time as the castle.
10. For a Hollywood wine fairytale – Jean Leon
Jean Leon was actually born in the north of Spain as Ceferino Carrion. He wanted to be an actor, so he left Spain at the early age of 19 as a stowaway to New York. He eventually landed in Hollywood, where he first worked as a waiter at Frank Sinatra’s restaurant La Villa. In addition to this, he then opened the well known Beverly Hills restaurant La Scale with James Dean. But he eventually returned back to Spain and used his english acquired name to open a winery in 1963 which has become synonymous with high-end premium wines. He is also credited with bringing some of the French grape varieties to Spain. Jean Leon is part of the Torres Group that acquired the winery in 1994, but is managed as an independent company.
If you’d like to read more about Spain, check these posts…
- 7 Spanish cured meats and cold cuts to get fat on
- Guide with Sagrada Familia tickets, sights, history and other info
- Catalan Christmas traditions – The shitter, the pooping log and the wise men
- Top 10 wineries near Barcelona to visit – Penedès and Cava wine tours
- Guide to Siurana, a legendary village on Priorat’s mountains