Beyond Cava: Loxarel and Gramona Organic Sparkling Wines #WorldWineTravel

Penedes Spain grape vines

Xarel·lo vines at Masia Can Mayol in the Penedès

February is the second month our new #WorldWineTravel group comes together to celebrate Spain, a country we virtually explore this entire year. Our topic today is Catalonia, which includes not only the regional Catalonia DO, but also ten other DOs including the more popular Cava, Priorat and Penedès. I’m focusing on two families: one producing sparkling wine under Classic Penedès and the other, Corpinnat.

Where is Catalonia (or is it Catalunya? Cataluña) and what’s happening with Cava?

Located in the northeast corner of Spain, Catalonia is home to Barcelona, beautiful coastlines, abundant parks including Montserrat and of course, fantastic food, wine and sunsets. In case you’re wondering, the Catalan spelling is Catalunya and the Spanish is Cataluña.

Map courtesy of vineyards.com

Within Catalonia is D.O. Penedès (dry, sweet and sparkling wine) and within that lies D.O. Cava (Denominación de Origen), dedicated to sparkling wine made in the traditional method. But things get complicated when it comes to the bubbles in these two areas.

In Catalonia, producers questioned the high volume and lower quality that seemed to hang over the mass-produced wines, similar to what happened in Rioja with reds. They began pulling out of D.O. Cava and established separate wine designations that focused on quality and terroir specificity. The first three were Conca del Riu Anoia (led by producer Raventós i Blanc), Clàssic Penedès (a sparkling wine legal designation developed by the D.O. Penedès and recognized by the Consejo Regulador and the EU, currently used by 18 producers), and Corpinnat (a collective of 10 quality, terroir-driven producers launched in 2018). As a result, the D.O. Cava Consejo Regulador ended up creating Cava de Paraje Calificado, then for sparkling wine in Rioja the Espumoso de Calidad de Rioja. But those additions were not enough.

Approximately 95% of the sparkling wines produced under D.O. Cava are from three massive producers, the big two being Freixenet and Cordorníu.

(Hudin 2016)

Defining Subzones in Penedès

It’s understandable why the smaller producers wanted more recognition of their specific locations and ultimately pulled out of D.O. Cava.

When you dig into the geography and geology of Catalonia it’s quite evident a large variance in elevation, soils and microclimates exists. In Penedès, there are three sub-zone bands across the region to delineate higher elevation from valleys and coastal areas. Yet those don’t go far enough because within these, there are numerous differences. These bands alone are similar to saying Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley and the North Central California Coast.

Eventually several Penedès producers who pushed for more stringent requirements struck out on their own establishing Classico Penedès in 2013. What stands out in the long list of requirements (they were more stringent than those of Cava) is vineyards producing grapes for Classico must be organic. Note Classico is not a D.O. but a brand name under the D.O. Penedès.

Catalonia D.O. Cava vineyards

Photo credit: D.O. Cava

Eventually in 2020 the D.O. Penedès went further, defining eight subzones that are much more accurate. They reflect not only the three previously delineated areas (elevation, valley floors and coastal) but more specifically different geographical items, microclimatic conditions, soils, and exposure of vineyard areas.

At the same time, things were brewing in D.O. Cava. They established four new zones and within them a total of seven sub-zones.

 

The details behind the Penedès and Cava changes are many. Spanish wine guru Miquel Hudin and wine writer Lori Love wrote articles on the topic, both are packed with the details and sources I used.

In addition, our host this month, Susannah Gold from Vigneto Communications discusses the varied topography and climate of Catalonia in her preview post here. 

With this background, let me introduce you to two, non-Cava, sparkling wine producers.

Small yet mighty – Bodega Masia Can Mayol

The Masia Can Mayol winery located an hour south of Barcelona in Vilobí del Penedès (in the D.O. Penedès) is run by fifth generation winemaker Josep Mitjans and his wife Teresa Nin. He farms roughly 20 hectares of organic and biodynamic vines under his Loxarel brand, Loxarel being a play on words from the Xarel·lo grape.

What stands out in my research is Mitjans’ respect for the environment and his vines. He notes the raw material- the land and its composition, landscape, fauna and the climate- as one of the most important parts of the process of making good wine.

We’ve always been organic. Then a friend introduced me to biodynamics I realised through biodynamics the terroir is best captured in every bottle and therefore in every glass of our wines. At the same time, thanks to the biodynamics we find a natural balance with the biodiversity of the soil. We have healthier and balanced vines.  (Josep Mitjans via email exchange)

Another stand out item is his use of ozone water to treat the vineyards as a preventive of fungi and bacteria. As of publication time, I’m waiting for additional information on this topic and will share more once received. In the meantime, click here to watch a video about it in Spanish.

On the wine side of things, he makes a range including orange, ancestral method, pet-nat, no sulfite added, and wines with the lesser known Xarel·lo Vermell variety that’s indigenous to Penedès.

And on the D.O. side, Mitjans pulled out of D.O. Cava some time ago in support of crafting wines in his own manner. He wants to represent the identity of his various micro-terroir in Penedés without the limitations of D.O. Cava. That independent nature shines through in these delightful bubbles bottled as Classic Penedès.

I  note Loxarel is part of TerraDinàmica, an association promoting and supporting biodynamic agricultural in Catalonia since 2008.

We tasted the 2015 Amaltea de Loxarel Brut Nature Reserve a blend of Xarel·lo, Macabeo and Parellada. It’s a ‘Classic Penedès’ wine meaning organic, all grapes are from Penedès, and production occurs at the producer’s premises. The wine aged on lees 15-months before disgorgement. This is the minimum for Classic Penedès.

TASTING NOTES: This pale yellow, dry sparkling wine with super fine and persistent bubbles has a fairly intense nose reminiscent of Champagne. Highly focused yeast, biscuits, lightly toasted bread, and green apple aromas give way to a clean and crisp palate. Medium-intensity flavors are green pear and citrus with barely a smidgeon of yeast. It has medium-high acidity and a lingering crushed stone finish.

Classic Penedès sparkling wine

Loxarel Amaltea Brut Nature was excellent with a butternut squash, swiss chard and goat cheese tart. Price: between $13 and $25.

Gramona decides on Corpinnat

At Gramona, the fifth and sixth generations of the family run the operation today in Alt Penedés 30 kilimeters west of Barcelona.

Although they are a larger producer- an average of 700,00 bottles of sparkling and 500,000 of still wine annually- it’s definitely all in the family and community. Together with several growers they created Aliances per la Tierra, an association committed to working in an environmentally respectful way- organic and biodynamic.

In fact, Gramona and all their vineyard partners have farmed organically for quite some time. Gramona is both DEMETER biodynamic (2014) and Biodyvin (2018) certified, and also Consell Català de la Producció Agraria y Ecològica in Spain.

They carry this philosophy to the winery too, using 100% geothermal energy, using collected rainwater and recycling wastewater.

But these items were not necessarily being promoted by the D.O. Cava, who has rules allowing grapes from many areas of Spain with minimal regard to the varieties and land. After trying to work with the D.O., they ended up leaving and are one of the founding members of Corpinnat. For this reason they no longer display Cava on the label.

Gramona truly built a self-sustaining ecosystem on their property, loaded with animals, bats, and vegetation from which they make their biodynamic preparations. Their website is a great source of information.

Gramona Imperial Grand Reserva 2013 Brut

Gramona sparkling wineGramona’s approach to winemaking revolves around extensive aging and low sugar dosage with their entry level sparkling wine aged 4.5 years (the average for Cava is 9 months) and the most sugar used is barely 8 g/liter but usually much less.

We tasted what’s considered their entry level sparkling wine, yet it tasted anything but. This blend of 50% Xarel·lo, 30% Macabeo and 10% Chardonnay explodes with green apple, lemon, ginger, and light nutty and yeasty aromas. The first sip has a creamy feel and the mousse is fine. Flavors showcase apple, lemon, white floral highlighted by a doughy-bread note that’s a testament to the long aging on the lees. Medium plus acidity and a long finish on this impressive and rather elegant wine.

We enjoyed this wine with oysters and a mixed salad plate, yet I would pop the cork anytime!

Gramona Imperial Gran Reserva BrutGramona makes a range of aged sparkling and still wines that are imported by European Cellars. Imperial price: from $20 to $30.

World Wine Travel in Spain

Thanks to Susannah from Vigneto / Avvinare for hosting this month. Find us on Twitter the fourth Saturday monthly at 11am ET, 17:00 CET chatting up our topic, sharing wine producers and great food. Look for hashtag #WorldWineTravel !

Citation: Hudin, Miquel. An Introduction to Classic Penedes, March 2016. 

Information Links:

19 thoughts on “Beyond Cava: Loxarel and Gramona Organic Sparkling Wines #WorldWineTravel

  1. Andrea

    I am so fascinated by Bodega Masia Can Mayol! The video is so interesting, I can’t wait for you to be able to tell us more about this process. And that Loxarel label…come on!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Josep at Masia Can Mayol appears to be fairly progressive in his thinking. The label definitely caught my eye!

      Reply
  2. Allison Wallace

    We’ve tried the Gramona before and loved it…didn’t realize it was Demeter-certified which makes us like it a little more ;). Really interested to learn more (and taste) the one from Bodega Masia Can Mayol!

    Reply
  3. robincgc

    What a great breakdown of all the different and interesting classifications of Sparkling wines in this region. It’s a little overwhelming right now and this explains it well. Thank you also for including your resources (it will allow me a good deep dive down the Cava rabbit hole!).
    These wines are both really fascinating and on different ends of the size spectrum. You found great wines for the price with both of those.
    Lastly, that tart! Did you make that? It sounds delicious and looks so beautiful!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Thanks Robin, I agree about sparkling wine in Catalonia being a bit overwhelming. Hudin is one of my go-to people for anything Spain wine. The tart- yes I made it. In fact I’ve made several times this winter, each just a bit different. I’ll be posting a recipe soon.

      Reply
  4. Camilla M Mann

    What a gorgeous label on that Masia Can Mayol. I will have to get my Spanish-studying kid to help me with the video later today. Thanks for sharing. Now I have to see if I can get my hands on a bottle or two.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      I thought the label was great too and inquired. It was done by the illustrator Elena Hormiga. It is the goat Amaltea, the one that fed Zeus. The label is kind of allegory of the goats that once a year come to their vineyards to green prune-they eat the leaves. Here is a link to Elena’s site: https://www.elenahormiga.es/wp/

      Reply
  5. Payal

    I absolutely love your wine picks… refreshingly different! And the butternut squash+goat cheese tart is a genius pairing!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Thanks Payal! The tart is a keeper, I change up ingredients slightly each time I make it, very wine friendly.

      Reply
  6. Nicole Ruiz-Hudson

    Thanks so much for laying out the changes in Cava. It’s been interesting to watch over the last few years. That butternut squash tart looks amazing, and I have to say I love the label for the Amaltea.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the changes Nicole. Has anything in particular popped out in your watching what has transpired? I left the info about the label for Camilla. Elena Hormiga is doing some very cool illustration work!

      Reply
  7. MARTIN D REDMOND

    A great overview of Cava and its challenges, along with the Classic Penedes and Corpinnat off-shoot. Both of these wines sound amazing. I tasted a different bottling of Loxarel a few years ago. It’s so cool, he’s also doing orange, ancestral method, and pet-nat wine + use of the lesser known Xarel·lo Vermell. I’ve heard so much about Gramona, but didn’t know about the extended aging. Will definitely looks for it here in the US. Loving the organic/biodynamic nature of both! Brava Lynn!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Thanks Martin! I’m waiting for Josep’s orange and a few other wines. He’s doing some interesting side projects too. I’m betting you’ll quite like the Gramona Imperial once you taste it!

      Reply

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