“Nothing Catalan please.” is my refrain as I ask for wine recommendations in London, Paris and Bordeaux this summer. “But this is a Xarel-lo!” they exclaim “Pronounced Sharelloo.” they will delightedly insist. I know Xarel-lo and its distinctive Catalan spelling and I know about the ubiquitous Macabeo. I want to try something different. It’s difficult, however when Catalan wine is having a moment.
And so while the world clamours for Catalan wine in general and Xarello – the mostly organic wine-growing region of Penedès is a short 1-hour drive from Barcelona. The cityscape abruptly gives way to gentle hills with rows of vines. If you time it right, you might get stuck behind an open truck piled high with grapes, its load quivering precariously with every bump in the road.
The Penedès wine region comprises small producers and Catalan blockbuster names you will recognize like Freixenet Cava and Torres. What is notable about the Penedès is that most of the vineyards are organic. Something they are required to do by 2025 to qualify for the DO Penedès certification. (Decanter)
Here are 5 Penedès Wine Experiences that I have been to and recommend.
Chateau Leon, s/n, 08775 Torrelavit
(+34) 93 817 76 90
Jean Leon weaves a compelling story of a young man who suffered family losses during WW2. Leon escaped to France during the Franco years, keeping his promise to his father to never serve under General Franco. He then went on to the US where he worked as a dishwasher, and a taxi driver and improbably became one of Frank Sinatra’s most trusted assistants. A restaurant with James Dean followed. In 1969 Jean Leon bought 150 hectares in Penedès and the rest is history. History that is well documented and makes a tour at Jean Leon today
Jean Leon runs tours, pairings and workshops which you can book easily (and in English) through their website: (tickets.jeanleon.com/en).
In 2017, I went on a tour with them that included a bicycle ride through their vineyards. You can read more about that here: (foodieinbarcelona.com/jean-leon-wine-tour)
L’Avellà, 08736, Font-Rubí. Alt Penedès
(+34) 93 394 64 78.
Mont Rubi is a hotel and restaurant set against a softly undulating vineyard. The young thirty-something offspring have taken up the running of the estate. Mont Rubi offers a tour of their property and grounds. It’s here that you can learn about the grapes used in the wines they produce. Fifteen of them on my last count and an olive oil. They have a delicious sweet wine made with the Xarel-lo grape that I love.
Mont Rubi offers a range of activities which are priced accordingly. From a 5-hour tour and gourmet meal with wine pairing in their elegant, well-restored main house for 90€. To an affordable 1.5-hour tour with a pairing of wine, charcuterie and cheese. This takes place on the well-appointed terrace under the dappled light of a trellised overhead grape vine. Or perhaps you fancy a picnic for two priced at 38€. MontRubi offers something for everyone.
Ctra. Vilafranca a Sant Martí Sarroca, km 0.5, 08720 Vilafranca del Penedés
(+34) 931 156 132
For a high-end wine experience in Penedès, I recommend Mastinell. Opened in 1980, in 2013 Mastinell opened its 5-star hotel and the distinctive Rima restaurant. The hotel was inspired by the Trencadís mosaic technique of Gaudi in Barcelona. Head on, the building looks like a series of connected round honeycombs and from the side, like a stack of bottles. Although, there is the option of booking an a la carte lunch at their striking but intimate En Rima restaurant.
Albet I Noya
Can Vendrell de la Codina, 08739 Sant Pau d’Orda
(+34) 938 994 812
A small vineyard that goes back 5 generations (initially as farmers) who put sustainability first. The Penedès wine-growing region suffers from a variety of fungal diseases. Being certified organic means chemicals are out of the question and even the natural application of copper and sulphur is capped at a specific amount. They are working on a project to cross-pollinate naturally resistant grape varieties to come up with one that can thrive in the conditions of Penedès.
Albet i Noya offer 3 main tours. A standard one comprises a tour of the grounds finished off with a tasting of 3 wines, local cheese, and charcuterie for (22€). The same with a light lunch at 28€ per person. And then a more elaborate brunch offering (40€).
5 Penedes Wine Experiences
On my list to try
Can Rafols dels Claus
For further reading on Penedès Experiences: penedesturisme.cat
Wine Alphabet is a good source of information about Spanish wine.
Can Feixes does not offer tours but the estate is gorgeous and worth a detour.