Qalidès was the gathering of 10 top Penedès wineries organised by Gloria Garriga and Oriol Ille or Els Jelipins.
The presentation took place in the large cellar of restaurant Mas Granell in Moja, situated on the east ridge of mountains between Penedès and the coast. At twelve in the afternoon on this frosty day there were diamond blue skies and dazzling sun. Looking back across the vineyards, villages and valley there was a extra special finish of snow on the tips of Montserrat to mark the occasion.

Albet i Noya, Bodegas Torres, Can Feixes, Can Ràfols dels Caus, Gramona, Jean Leon, Jané Ventura, Mas Comtal, Puig i Roca, 1+1=3, were invited to present two recent vintages of their finest red wine to compare relative evoloution, plus one other wine that is currently being developed. A good way to keep a knowledgeable cross section of the wine industry entertained on a bright but bitterly cold Tuesday afternoon.
The objective of Qalidès is to improve the perception of Penedès, one which according to Gloria and Oriol favours Rioja on historical grounds and ignores the presence of a body of very dedicated wine makers on the North Mediterranean side of the Peninsula.
With one or two exceptions these are all very small producers. All share a love for their land, an enthusiasm for their art and a determination to create only the highest quality wines.

Gerard Jané i Úbeda of Jane Venture started my day with a Sumoll 2001, Mas Vilella from1998 and 2000. 50 years ago the Sumoll variety covered half of Penedès, however, white grape cultivation for cava has erode its ranking to less than 1 %. This clear crimson brew demonstrates the style of extracting low production per vine with an eye on maximum concentration. There’s some 15% Pinot Noir to balance it and 6 months in French oak. Very dry with a light warm nose. There’s a smooth taste of raspberry and cherry after a surprising licorice attack.
The Venturas have been working with Cabernet Sauvignon since 1998. 31/2 hectacres of sandy soil are hand picked in October. Clarifying is with egg and there is very light filtering. Their about ready for release Mas Vilella 2000 stains the glass heavily and leaves long definite legs from the rim to the stem, a sign of its 14.5ºC strength. Velvety soft red with a luscious wrap of welcoming aromas. It remained one of my favourites of the day. The ’98 vintage, was cushion crimson with aromas of coffee and coca. Fresh plum pudding and red peppers were part of the well developed delivery.

Puig i Roca, are also from the area of Vendrell in the extreme south of Penedès. They occupy 12 beautiful south west facing hectacres not far from the coast. Enric Roca is cellar master and creator of Agustus wines. Their Chardonnay is well famous and rising, their Merlot and Cabernet are benchmarks of quality and classic style. The star on this occasion was Trajanvs 2000, a traditionally made Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot aged for 14 months in oak. The result is a modern classic, great depth of colour, full flavour and that perfect something different.
A single varietal Cabernet Franc ’02. with a run of 6,000 bottles followed. Cabernet Franc has a verbacious character and not much fruit. It’s ideal for polishing and balancing. This single varietal will prove interesting for wine tastings and will be more than appropriate for everyday eating and drinking.

Torres is probably the only cellar that can bring along a wine specially selected by HRH King Juan Carlos. Reserva Real 2000 is a coupage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot in the classic mould with the emphasis on elegance and strength. Vines are grown on a tiny vineyard in hilly Mediona in North West Penedès. The climate is more continental with slower ripening. A streak of fine liquorella slate runs through the land and this reduces water retention while turning up the terroir. The Reserva Real ’97 was potent and complex but missing some fruit, the 2000 vintage is still young and could do with expert storing for at least another 2 years. Aged for 18 months in oak, these limited production Aston Martins of wines will be joining a very select group of imbibers at over 100 euros a bottle. All proceeds benefit the Reina Sofia Foundation for drug rehabilitation.
On the experimental side there was a white “Waltrud” Riesling from ’92. Half of the crop that year were affected by noble rot, which changes the tartaric acids to citric acids, altering the sugars and drying up the juice along the way. The silver gold result is a shock of Turkish delight and over mature white grapes, mildly toasted, dry and magic. Suitable for a night at the Liceu.

The Can Feixes estate has cultivated the Mediona environment for 500 years. In the hands of brothers Huguet Josep Maria and Joan, masters of oenology, husbandry, philosophy and ecology. They have created a direct pipeline to wineappreciators heaven. Until two years ago they produced one faultless red wine, “Negre selecció”. Their new Reserva Especial is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo. A handmade traditional wine , totally balanced with fruit, forest and layers of aroma and flavour to beat a celestial orchestra.

Albet i Noya is tucked into a sunny micro climate, protected by Montserrat and the Ordal mountains, Can Vendrell enjoys a geology of its own on the Barcelona side of the Penedès valley. Josep Maria Albet i Noya brought along Marti Reserva ’98 in magnums and the ’97 that is available now. Tempranillo, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon make it soft and enjoyable on the nose, the flavour is wide with strength and pepper. While the word ecological may accompany their wines in large letters, be assured that all the wines of the first organic winery of Spain are highly creative and refined.
Josep Maria could be accused of making too many wines, the last time I looked there were over thirty on his list. He is way ahead of the posse in rediscovering old and lost varieties and training them for modern conditions. One example is Garro. A 2003 specimen had lively aromas of fresh candy like a fresh Pinot Noir rosé. By contrast it was surprisingly dry, Entertaining on the palate, it will be ideal for adding an original touch to a future filly.

Jaume Rovira, enologist and original partner of Jean Leon served me a 2001 Reserva that had just left the barrels, a ‘97 reserva, and a ’79 Gran Reserva. The 2001, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc had aromas that started from a whisper and rolled out magically. The characteristic toffee and pepper meets soft strong entry. It was interesting to remember this distinctive characteristic of Jaume’s reds and follow it back through the years.
Don’t look for fruit, I was warned before the attack of the ’79 Gran Reserva. Recorked three years back, it has a lighter touch of Cabernet Franc. 3 years in Pennsylvanian oak and the kind of care and custody only one bottle in a million gets. This is historically one of the first bottles of wine made of Cabernet Sauvignon in Spain and it was created to be one of the finest in the world. Without the circumstances and excellent company it was marvellous…

Joan Milá of Mas Comtal needs no introduction to regular readers. A well trained body of wine makers and cultivators in Penedès now produce wonderful Merlots and new brews. Joan Milá produces Merlot, wine makers and wine history. Petrea ‘99 and 2000 is the work of the most hedonist of wine-makers and his oldest Merlot vines. Rich, mature, concentrated and voluptuous. Strong and modern with softening in Hungarian Oak. Produced on the Via Agusta, Alt Penedès.
Marta Mila was on hand to offer a tasting of another Mila Merlot hybrid, a Vi Dolç.
Essential as the sweet wine at a good funeral.

Academia meets boutique several times over when Jaume Gramona wields his baton and microscope over vineyards and tanks. Now graced with a fitting new cellar to match the excellence of his studies in the extreme possibilities of wine making in Penedès. The most exquisitely aged Cavas, exotic whites, and new age reds are backed by a serious technical wizardry and tour de force.
Bru 2000, a singular Pinot Noir, aged for 18 months with creamy sweetness and fresh finish is an example of nouvell wine making with nose forward maximum expression.

1+1=3 or U mes U fan Tres and a wine by the name of Dèfora, could it mean an outsider? Garnatxa was once grown all over Southern Catalunya. It continues to dominate in Priorat, Montsant and Terra Alta but is rarely cultivated in Penedès. Pep Piñol of Guardiola de Font Rubi has been preparing prize winning brews of every description for years but always for other peoples labels and it’s about time his name appeared in the credits. Dèfora is produced from old vine Garnatxa with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon. Mature, Full bodied and fine with a tannic presence that again demonstrates the potential of Penedès.

Can Ràfols dels Caus has had a hard few years as bad health visited Carles Esteve and a car accident took the life of commercial director, Ramon Marin. Carles, a member of the select band of pioneering wine creators of Spain is back on his feet and in fine form. His Can Lubis 2000 was lusty in flavour but showed it’s youth, the Can Lubis ’98 was as it should be with mouth filling flavour, softly sweet, silky and fresh. A totally original Merlot varietal grown in poor marine soil on the Garraf/Sitges side of Penedès.
Ramon was the charming dedicated ambassador of the house. In a suit he would blow you away but often prefered to meet clients in an interesting big wooly jumper. Like a good Barsa forward he had a natural way of sticking around until the ball went in , not a one shot wonder. On my first visit he sat an inexperienced wine writer down to a vertical tasting of Can Rafols white wines spanning 10 years. The kitchen, the house, the wines and the man left me very impressed.
As a special tribute to Ramon Marin, Can Rafols dels Caus have released 1700 bottles of Syrah 2000, aged in 12 months in French oak. It is the wine Ramon wanted to make.

With the odd exception all of the above wines are available for between 8 and 15 euros
Albet i Noya, www.albetinoya.com. Bodegas Torres, www.torres.es. Can Feixes, www.canfeixes.com. Can Ràfols dels Caus, [email protected] Gramona, www.gramona.com Jean Leon, www.jeanleon.com. Jané Ventura, www.janeventura.com. Mas Comtal, www.mascomtal.com. Puig i Roca,[email protected] 1+1=3, [email protected]

Paddy Mannion, [email protected]

What’s on in March,
8 – 11 March , Alimentaria Fair Barcelona, Wines (Intervin) on the Gran Via.
12 – 20 March, II Reus Jazz Festival, 8 – 11 March, Teatres Fortuny and Bartrina
12 March, Michel Camilo trio inaugural concert.
13 March, Kenny Garrett quartet.
16 March, Alexis Cuadrado.
18 March, Ignasi Terraza.
19 March, Mulgrew Miller trio,
20 March, Monty Alexander,
21 March, jam session directed by saxofonist Llibert Fortuny

20 March Arthur Kell Quartet, Jazz Equinox concert, Can Festís, Sant Pere de Riudebittles. 93 899 70 65.
Saturdays and Sundays, Bike excursions, Calçotades and wine tastings, El Moli, Torrelles de Foix. 93 897 22 07.