Wine tasting in Spain – Pares Balta in Vilafranca del Penedes
December 21, 2016
My last article described how to organize a wine tasting tour for you and your friends and family.
I’ve organized wine tours in Chelan, Woodinville, Cashmere-Monitor-Leavenworth, Walla Walla, Mount Vernon, Pullman, and Thurston County in Washington state and in Sonoma, Santa Cruz, Temecula, and Amador County in California.
In the United States, you can research wineries and visit three or four a day, depending how close the wineries or tasting rooms are.
However, wine tasting in Spain is different. A tour of at least an hour is offered, followed by the wine tasting, also an hour.
Recently, my daughter and I went to Penedes, a region near Barcelona known for its cava or sparkling wines. It was a fabulous wine tasting trip.
My daughter selected Vilafranca del Penedes as the city where we’d stay. My job was to pick the wineries.
The selection was vast. However, with only two days to do wine tasting we were only able to visit three wineries. My daughter wanted to go to the coast, so we visited just one winery on our second day of tasting.
I selected this winery because a review I read said it produces excellent wine.
In addition, Pares Balta is beginning to sell organic wines and it practices biodynamic farming. Sheep are brought into the vineyards to eat leaves from the vines after harvest. In the process, they fertilize the land. Additional manures also are added and no pesticides or chemicals are used. Vetch, which absorbs nitrogen from the air, is planted in the spring to enhance the soil. The vines aren’t irrigated.
The winery has five estates located around the winery and in the Penedes mountains. The altitudes vary from 560 feet to 2,500 feet which offers a mixture of soils and microclimates. Eighteen types of grapes are grown on winery’s 457 acres of land including merlot, macabeu, chardonnay, xarel.lo, pinot noir, parellada, garnatxa, and syrah.
The winery has been operating since 1790, but was very small until its modern expansion. The winery produced about 375,000 bottles of cava in 2015 and about the same number of bottles of wine. Production was down last year due to lack of rain.
Two young women chemists, Maria Elena Jimenez and Marta Casas, married two brothers, Joan and Josep Cusine, who lead the management of the winery. The women went back to school to study winemaking and are responsible for the quality cavas and wines produced by the winery.
Cava fermentation takes place in two steps. The first step is similar to how white wine is made – the grapes are crushed and fermented in stainless steel tanks.
The second step is what makes cava unique. In this step, additional yeast and sugar are added to the base wine in the bottle. As the yeast eats the sugar it releases carbon dioxide. Since the extra carbon dioxide has nowhere to go, it pressurizes the container and carbonates the wine.
At Pares Balta, the wines in the second stage of fermentation are stored in underground cellars, the cool temperatures essential for the bottle fermentation to properly occur. It is amazing to see cellar after cellar lined with stacks of bottles on pallets, four bottles wide and about 10 deep. Some were much dustier than others, indicating they’re being allowed to age longer.
After a year or longer, bottles are turned upside down so that the sediment, the dead yeast from the fermentation process, falls into the neck. The necks of the bottles are placed in a liquid nitrogen pool, which freezes the sediment, and the sediment pops out when the bottle is open. Grape juice and/or sugar is added to fill up the space. For brut nature cava, no sugar is added.
Our excellent tour guide is Judith Manero Andreu. Following the tour, she pours these wines for us to taste:
Cavas: Blanca Cusine 2010, Rosa Cusine 2012, Selectio 2015
Microcuvees or limited productions: Mas Irene 2014, Ginesta 2016
Origen or young, fresh, fruity wines made since the beginning of the winery: Honeymoon 2016
All are excellent. I buy the Rosa Cusine 2012 for a holiday celebration and Ginesta 2016, a present for my daughter.
Pares Balta also produces olive oil, also tasty, and honey.
The cost of the tour and wine tasting is 13 Euros.
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