Penedès is located thirty minutes south of Barcelona and is home of some of the finest wines from Catalonia. This region is facing the Mediterranean Sea and is divided in three big areas: High Penedès (near the inland mountain range), Penedès Marítim (along the Mediterranean Sea) and Central Penedès (the plain between these areas). These three areas are further subdivided into 10 different sub regions, of those Massís del Garraf being one of the most important ones. It’s a limestone mountain range that dates back to the Paleolithic era and that used to be underwater twenty million years ago.
Xarel·lo and Merlot are the most cultivated varieties, but the tempering influence of the Mediterranean Sea and the different ranges of altitudes that go from sea level to 800m allow the cultivation of a vast variety of grapes and the production of a large range of wine styles.
The Greeks and Phoenicians brought vines into this region. Sources also show that Romans produced wine here as early as 2700 years ago.
The history of Can Ràfols dels Caus is not as old but still significant old, dating back to 992, as evidenced by the oldest document found mentioning the estate. The modern history of this family owned winery starts in 1939 when the grandfather of the current owner and winemaker Carlos Esteva purchased the estate. The Esteva family lived in the city of Barcelona and made a significant change of lifestyle by moving to the countryside.
For 40 years the estate mainly produced wines of Xarel·lo, Macabeu and Parellada, the traditional and local varieties of the region. After the death of his grandfather, Carlos Esteva took charge of the winery and from then on the winery’s transformation began. Besides the traditional varieties that were planted from the beginning, nowadays the winery has fully organic grown vineyards of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Incrocio Manzoni (a crossing of Riesling and Pinot Blanc). The average yearly production of the winery is 300.000 bottles, produced inside a stylish and gorgeous cellar designed by the Italian architect Paolo Deganello who finished it in 2016. When you enter the cellar you feel that you are going inside the Massís del Garraf with walls that are a perfect fusion of the actual mountain with concrete architecture. As a first time visitor I was stunned by the level of detail and thought that went into designing this winery.
During my recent visit to the winery I could taste a wide selection of wines that included:
2017 Terraprima White
80% Xarel·lo-20% Riesling
The fermentation of all Can Ràfols dels Caus wines is done using natural yeasts. Part of the Xarel·lo for Terraprima ferments in chestnut barrels, the rest is fermented in inox.
The nose has a medium intensity and is filled with aromas of fresh white peach and citrus. The mouth is light, fresh and direct with a crisp acidity.
2018 Xarel·lo Brisat
This wine is a very fine and elegant style of brisat,a term given to Catalonian white wines with skin contact. Instead of fermenting with the skin, this wine only has around 2-3 days of whole cluster maceration, which makes it rare for its kind.
Approximately 800 bottles of this wine were produced in 2018 and the money from its sales is donated to social causes.
The nose has intense notes of hay, dried apples and dried lemon peel. The mouth is more rustic but fresh with a vibrant acidity, light volume and a nice touch of tannins coming from the short skin maceration. The aftertaste is slightly bitter.
2016 La Calma
100% Chenin Blanc
Fermented and aged in new French oak barrels for 4 to 5 months. Prior to its release, the wine is kept for 24 months in the bottle.
It has intense aromas of stone fruit with nicely integrated notes of oak and vanilla. The mouth is a perfect balance of richness and freshness. The crisp acidity is a common characteristic in all of Can Ràfols dels Caus wines and is mainly a consequence of the limestone soil where the grapes grow.
2016 Xarel·lo Pairal
Xarel·lo Pairal is one of the signature wines of the winery. The grapes for this wine come from old vines with low yields. The grapes are fermented and aged in chestnut barrels for 4 months. It is also kept for 24 months in the bottle prior to its release. Carlos Esteva ages many of his wines in chestnut barrels because he believes that it’s the perfect type of wood to age them without overpowering the wines with tertiary aromas. He never applies batonnage, because he wants to keep the focus on the freshness and minerality. This Xarel·lo has a ripe nose with aromas of ripe nectarine, apricot and marzipan. The mouth has a fuller body and is more gliceric than La Calma, balanced by a vibrant acidity and a medium aftertaste.
2015 El Rocallís
100% Incrocio Manzoni
The grapes were fermented and aged in new French oak for 4 to 5 months with 24 months of bottle aging.
Very fresh nose filled with lemon, under-ripe pineapple and wet stone. The mouth is electric and direct. It has a lighter body than the two previous wines. This was a favorite!
2018 Gran Caus Rosat
The grapes macerate for 18 hours and the free-run juice is fermented into a medium colored rosé filled with strawberry jam aromas and hints of fresh spearmint. The mouth has a fantastic volume and concentration with a touch of tannicity, all balanced by a great level of acidity.
Older vintages of this wine are sometimes found in the market and are very worth trying thanks to their capability of aging.
Autochthonous grape variety of Catalonia, mainly planted in the areas of Tarragona, Pla de Bages and Penedès. Can Ràfols dels Caus was one of the pioneers in producing a 100% Sumoll red wine and made a significant effort in rescuing vineyards with this almost extinct variety.
Sumoll produces light colored red wines and Carlos Esteva describes it as having intense red fruit aromas similar to Pinot Noir and the rusticity and tannicity of Nebbiolo. It is an oxidative variety that tents to have high levels of acidity. When produced in fertile soils with high yields it produces unbalanced and hard to drink wines.
In the other hand, when produced from 50 year-old vines planted in poor soils with small yields it can produce one of the most elegant examples that I’ve tried.
The grapes for this 2016 Sumoll from Can Ràfols dels Caus are fermented and aged in used chestnut barrels. The resulting wine is pale in color and has intense aromas of red cherries and dried leafs. The mouth is fresh and fine with marked tannins and a light body.
2018 Petit Caus Red
Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Ull de Llebre
The grapes were fermented in inox and blended to create a style of wine that is very different from what it used to be a few vintages ago. The profile of this wine has changed over time, going from a much riper and concentrated style to a much lighter and less extracted wine with a fresher personality.
The nose is filled with fresh strawberry and red cherry aromas. The mouth is fresh and light with soft tannins and great acidity. Perfect red wine for the summer!
1998 Reserva Especial 20 Aniversario Magnum
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine was the surprise of the afternoon. It is a special edition made for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the winery (the 20th vintage after Carlos Esteva took charge)
This magnum was decanted and served blind. The nose reminded everyone of an old vintage of Bordeaux, probably a Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend. Of course, we were visiting a winery in the Penedès region and we were not expecting a wine from Bordeaux by any means. Everybody was very happy to discover that it was a magnum of a 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon from Can Ràfols dels Caus.
This wine has a very intense and complex nose filled with aromas of black currant, oak, vanilla, black pepper and pencil shavings. On the mouth it shows a great balance of concentration and freshness. The tannins are silky and smooth.
1998 Caus Lubis
The nose is remarkably young showing intense aromas of fresh red cherry and plums. Thanks to the northern orientation of the vineyard where this Merlot is planted, the grapes ripen slowly and retain a good level of acidity. It has a much fresher and younger personality than the previous wine.