Shootout at the George

The Hotel George V, Paris, was the scene of a very special two Denomination of Origin wine challenge. In one corner the brews of Rioja, the best known red wine region of Spain and in the opposite corner the nouveau arrivées from Penedès. A total of 17 wines were tasted under the supervision of The International Office of Wine with judging by a panel of Europe's top sommeliers. The challenge was limited to wines valued at 15 euros or less. The judges were not informed of the origins of the wines (a proper blind tasting) and their conclusions were quite interesting. The first six wines classified came from Penedès.

For some wine historians and growers this came as no surprise at all. Before the outbreak of Phylloxera plague at the end of the 19th century Penedès was an established and well renown red wine region. As the same plague had affected France ten years before it would be reasonable to follow their example and adopt the American “foot” and graft-on the traditional or new red vine. Perhaps it was the expense and effort, the suspicious farmers or the emerging Cava industry but subsequently most of Penedès was planted with white varieties and things remained that way until an adventurous group of individuals emerged in the 1960s. Jean Leon, Miguel Torres, Huguet de Can Feixes, Joan Milá of Mas Comtal (who organised subventions for conversion to new varieties), as well as Carles Esteve of Can Rafols de las Caus, Josep Maria Albet i Noya and Josep Roca (Puig i Roca). These pioneers replanted red “nobel” varieties, often against the advice of the Concell Regulador (anyone who does the latter is almost always destined for success).
The finest wines come from older vines. That and the accumulated experience of an enthusiastic bunch of wine-makers is what brings the wines of Penedès to the level they enjoy today.

Classification of wines tasted
Position Origin Cellar Vintage
1 Penedès Jean Leon Merlot 2000
2 Penedès Martí Serdà 1998
3 Penedès Torres Atrium Merlot 2000
4 Penedès Can Feixas, negre selecció 2000
5 Penedès Puig i Roca, Augustus 2001
6 Penedès 1+1=3 Defora 1998
7 Rioja Remelluri 1998
8 Penedès Vallformosa 1997
9 Rioja Marqués de Cáceres 1995
10 Rioja Barón de Ley 1997
11 Rioja Conde Valdemar 1997
12 Penedès Albet I Noya 1999
13 Penedès Torres Gran Coronas 1999
14 Rioja Marqués de Arienzo 1997
15 Rioja Marqués de Riscal 1999
16 Rioja Faustino V 1996
17 Rioja Marqués de Murrieta 1998