The Penedes Wine Region of Spain
Just an hour south of Barcelona lie the sheltered valleys and rolling hills of the picturesque Penedes region, one of Spain's most famous wine regions, along with Rioja and Priorat, and the world's largest producer of Cava, the Spanish take on French Champagne. Wine making has taken place on these lands since the Phoenicians first came ashore, and the fertile soils and warm weather mean that a huge proportion of the Penedes is given over to nurturing the fruits of Dionysus: amidst the quaint villages, rural churches and hedgerows lie vineyards upon vineyards growing Macabeo, Parellada, Xarello, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Subirat grapes, and many of the wineries are tourist attractions in their own right (even omitting the produce!) thanks to their art nouveau architecture. No wonder then that wine tasting tours of the Penedes are becoming an increasingly popular choice of day trip out of Barcelona, and we've got some more info on these towards the bottom of the page.
The Penedes can be divided into three sub-regions, which are the Baix-Penedes (Lower Penedes) by the coast), the Garraf, another coastal zone, dominated by a mountain park, and the Alt-Penedès (High Penedes), where the vast majority of the region's wines are produced. The prime attractions of the Baix-Penedes are the district capital of Vendrell, famous for its long tradition of castellers (human castles), and Calafell, a picturesque coastal village with great beaches, a castle and an open-air museum showcasing an ancient Phoenician settlement, replete with urns, weaponry and the odd roaming goat.
Above: The magical Montserrat mountain range looms behind the vines
The Garraf meanwhile takes its name directly from the Garraf massif, a chalky and largely bare mountain ridge that is a designated natural park and home to the abandoned village of Jafra and, bizarrely enough, a Buddhist monastery in the town of Olivella. Also well worth visiting in Garraf is the swinging coastal resort of Sitges.
Back to wine country and the Alt Penedes, and a natural starting point for an excursion is Vilafranca del Penedes, the cultural, economical and administrative capital of the region. The 40,000 population town was founded in the mid-12th century and buildings such as the Gothic Santa Maria church and the Royal Palace help it maintain a certain medieval charm. From here you're close to countless vineyards and wineries, although you might want to pop into the Vilafranca's wine museum first to brush up on your knowledge.
Along with the nearby Sant Sadurni D'Anoia, Vilafranca is definitely the place to head if you intend to conduct an independent wine tour taking advantage of Catalonia's public transport. You can easily catch the train from Barcelona Sants Station to either of the above. (Journey time around one hour). Actually within Sant Sadurni D'Anoia itself is the famous Freixenet Winery, along with others such as Cava Blancher, where you can tour the cellars and taste the local Cavas for basement prices.
For those looking for a special experience we can recommend a handful of activities that up the ante on the usual cellar tour, to include family meals, bike rides through the vineyards, extensive red and white wine tasting and in some cases private transport to and from Barcelona. There's even the opportunity to select and bottle your own personalised brand of Cava!
Penedes Wine Tours
Create Your Own Cava
This experience has all the ingredients of a great wine tasting tour, but with a great twist. As well as an indepth look at the cellars and Cava production methods, and of course a chance to sample several different varieties of sparkling refreshments, you actually don a vizor and gloves and take part in the bottling process. A tricky business since you have to disgorge the sediment from the bottle! But great fun all the same. The action takes place at a boutique winery in the heart of the Penedes where you can tour the vineyards and even enjoy a barbecue-style Catalan lunch in the 1000 year old farmhouse. Email us for info or to book.
Private Wine Tasting
Selected by Barcelona Life as one of the best excursions out there, on this private/semi-private experience, you'll be picked up by a local guide and wine connoisseur at your hotel and driven into the Catalan countryside to not one, but two wineries. The first being arguably the best Cava producer out there, Codorniu, and you'll inspect the premises in all their Modernista glory - plus of course taste the wines. The second is a family-run winery where you'll be invited to sit down for a traditional tapas meal as they crack open a delicious selection of artisan wines. Email us for info or to book.
Penedes Bike Tour
What's the best way to see the Penedes? By bike of course! Fast enough that you can cover plenty of ground, including several of the region's best wineries and the charming capital of Vilafranca, but slow enough that you can take in the gorgeous scenery as you go. Click the title above to read more, or email us for more info and prices.