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An Ode To Xarel.lo: The Spicy White Mistress of Spanish Grapes

A few years ago, Ryan and I visited the Eudald Massana Noya winery located 50 kilometers just south of Barcelona in the Alt Penedès. Arriving by taxi as the sun dappled small patches of yellow light upon patches of rust colored grass, I distinctly remember the quaint, warm feeling I received the minute I stepped out of the car. Simple, unassuming and familiar, it was the type of place you would envision in a 19th century novel, complete with traditional winemaking instruments composed of wood and iron. As poignantly stated on their website:

“These are cavas and wines produced with fruits grown organically and bio-dynamically  and that transmit to me a myriad of feelings which I’d like to share with you. Every day that goes by I am more aware of how pleasant my role here is. And I  realise that I am part of this land, which has no beginning or end,” Eudald Massana Noya.

Our tour was brief, but winemaker and founder, Eudald didn’t skimp on expressing his heartfelt passionate to peruse organic winemaking practices, nor did he forget to impress us with is 100% monovarietal Xarel.lo wine called, Avi Ton. However, 4 years ago, Xarel.lo was still very new to the Spanish table wine scene, and organic winemaking was merely a consideration for the winery. The 2007 Avi Ton showed rich lychee and cream on the nose under a thin veil of citrus and mineral aromas. Classy, structured, elegant and unbelievably memorable, it opened my eyes as to the potential of not only white wines in Spain, but also wines made from Xarel.lo.

I envision Xarel.lo as a cross between the coquettish and cute Drew Barrymore and the spicy sultry side of Charlize Theron. She’s the grape that gives Cava its gorgeous structure and acidity, when paired with Parellada and Macabeo, while offering just enough citrus and stone fruit flavors to entice you in for a second sip. She’s extraordinarily vivacious, capable of producing grapes at a rapid pace, but gets hurt rather quickly when frost bites upon her thin-skinned exterior. What can I say, she’s the studious girl next store with a sweet smile, serious features and soft heart; and beyond a doubt, she’s one of my favorites.

Last week, while visiting one of our favorite Barcelona wine shops, Vila Vinateca, we decided to indulge in our Xarel.lo addiction by purchasing the 2009 Can Dez Mas L’Equilibrista and the 2007 Pardas.

Since 1548, the 26 hectares of Can N’Estruc has been situated alongside the steep, jagged mountainside of Montserrat in the town of Esparreguera. Cultivated, managed and owned by Francisco Martí, the vines are located at 165 meters above sea level, sheltered by the frigid northerly winds that rip down the searing mountain edges. To their great relief, these pampered grapes enjoy gentle, cool summers and warm, relaxing winters. Not a bad life! The 2009 Mas L’Equilibrista shows a unique side to Xarel.lo, expressing more herbal characteristics, though still highlighting her citrus side. In the mouth, the wine is subtle, creamy and inviting, giving just enough citrus and tropical flavors to tantalize the palate, but not enough to provide a harsh and searing flavor.

Where the L’Equilibrista shows brightness, the 2007 Pardas screams lush. The Pardas project was born of oenologist, Ramon Parera, and agronomist, Jordi Arnan, in 1996, when they decided to turn their combined 30 hectares of forest and 30 hectares of grainland and pastures into vineyards. Having restored the medieval country house, propped in the center of their estate, into a thriving winery and expanded the estate to include vacant cemetery land (the best kind) and an adjacent vineyard, their project was launched around 2005. With a passion for sustainable winegrowing, their vineyards are never irrigated, are minimally worked and never plowed, and are protected from harsh chemical treatments. In short, sustainable appears to be the mission statement of this winery; and potentially, one of the many reasons why their 2007 Pardas Xarel.lo is drop-dead gorgeous. This is a wine I’d pair with a grilled swordfish over a bed of couscous and a side of fresh garden vegetables with a touch of basil. And while you’re add it, open up a second bottle and pair it with a lemon sorbet with freshly baked Spanish Almendrados.

Like many Spanish white grapes, Xarel.lo can age. It can sleep sweetly in your cellar for years to come before showing a more mature, lush and broad side of itself. Though Xarel.lo does have a vivacious and festive side to herself if enjoyed today, her acidity and structure can offer a very serious and elegant wine in the future.

What Xarel.lo monovarietals or blends are your personal favorites?

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz

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  • Anonymous

    Can Ràfols makes a nice one – most of their wine is pretty good. Vinya dels Taus is the one that was a game changer for me…drinks like a great Burgundy. In the “closer to everyday” price range I remember liking a wine called Macizo or something like that – it might be a blend and I thought xarello was the main component but not sure.

    It seems like there are more xarello wines on the market these days – is that what you guys are seeing? Oddly enough as far as wine shops and xarello options go, Colmado Quilez (Aragon and Rbla de Catalunya) had several options…at least that was true a year or two ago.

  • http://twitter.com/NicoJamesBCN Nico James

    Nice post Gabriella: Love your descriptions of Xarello, they’re dead on! I know Ramón and Eudald personally, both important players in the Penedès region with impressive wines. I was invited to a Xarello pairing back in February in el Pla del Penedès, and it has to be said that no Xarello tasting is complete without Pardas. It could be considered as one of the benchmark Xarello wines in the region. I hope you don’t mind posting this link to the article in my blog where I talk about the wines briefly and also the pairings http://www.iamvino.com/?p=310

    When we talk about Xarello in the Penedès, we shouldn’t forget Finca Viladellops, from the Garraf sub-region. Nor should important wines such as Nun go unnoticed. Last but not least, QX, Quatre Xarellos, from Celler MAS CANDI. A wine originating from 4 different parcels of Old Xarello vines and a unique cuvée of 4 different barrel types (French oak, American oak, Chestnut and Acacia), also needs to be mentioned. A couple of years ago it won the Platinum Medal, the best wine overall, in the official D.O. Penedès tasting. To finish off, there are an increasing amount of 100% Xarello Cavas appearing on the market. let’s see how this positive Penedès Xarello mistress keeps entertaining the region.

  • http://twitter.com/neusescas Neus Es Cas

    A fresh post about Xarel·lo! Thank you Gabriella, also for not changing accents in Catalan names. Your writing transmits so much enthusiam! Among my favorites are the Nerola from Torres, a blend of Xarel·lo and Garnacha blanca; and the Castellroig, Xarel·lo 100% (Terroir Rigolet, Boja i Marges – Penedès). Both pair fantastically with salads, fish, soups and poultry.

  • Rick

    Gabriella, I am a huge fan of Xarel-lo, but it is just really starting to find it’s way to the U.S. (or at least the West Coast). I have run across one that I really enjoyed from D.O. Alella in Cataluña – 2008 Marques de Alella Blanc. This was an extremely refreshing wine made from Pansa Blanca (aka Xarel-lo). I’m always on the lookout for other interesting and unique wines…

  • wine fan

    FERRET GUASCH makes a very gut Xarel.lo and cava as well. I recomend you their products which you can find in their web page http://www.ferretguasch.com

  • http://twitter.com/albertmoreno albertmoreno

    Don’t forget about Castellroig. Its winemaker Marcel Sabate was one of the first to produce a xarelo wine in Penedes (1989). Castellroig Xarel.lo 2009 and obiouslly terroja 2007 from 90 year old vines are a must. Probablly the purest xarel.lo you can find; no wood but creamy and great evolution. Those wines are even better 2 or 3 years later than botteling. Don’t miss its 100% xarel.lo cava called reserva familiar sabate i coca.