Spain: Priorat and the Appellations of Cataluña – The Names of the Land and Corpinnat
30th Aug 2019 | The Wine Advocate | Issue 244 End of August 2019
Another big change in the wine landscape of Cataluña has the unusual name of Corpinnat. Contrary to the new initiative in Priorat, which had been developing for some time, this one caught us by surprise, and I didn’t have the chance to report extensively on the initiative. I only briefly mentioned it in my previous article Highlights from Cataluña, in which I covered the sparkling (and other) wines from Cataluña, because it was nothing disruptive. As I explained at the time, it was only that “a number of the top wineries from the Cava appellation were creating a parallel association to promote quality.”
However, things didn’t go well with the appellation, mainly because they didn’t think the Cava and Corpinnat names could be on the same label. As a result, the six family wineries from Penedès, Gramona, Llopart, Nadal, Recaredo, Sabaté i Coca and Torelló finally left the Cava appellation on January 30, 2019. They have set themselves quite strict quality measures: organic farming and manual harvests; 90% indigenous grape varieties, including the red Sumoll and pink Xarello Vermell (in the overall output of the winery, not in a given wine); 75% of grapes from fully owned vineyards or long-term leases; for the purchased grapes, a minimum price of at least €0.70 per kilo; 100% vinified on the property; long aging of the wines in bottle (minimum 18 months); disgorgement dates on all back labels (among other things), all of it verified by external audits from Bureau Veritas and CCPAE.
There are now nine of them, as the original six have been joined by Can Feixes, Mas Candí and Júlia Benet, the last of which was completely new and a great discovery to me. Júlia Bernet is a small family winery that was created in 2003 in Penedès, in the Subirats zone. They are grape growers and have seven hectares that used to go to the local cooperative before they left to make their own wine, as selling grapes to a cooperative with such a small surface of vines was not enough to make a living. They make sparkling wine exclusively from their organically farmed vineyards, and they were in the Cava appellation until they recently joined the Corpinnat group. I first tasted the more mainstream range, but I later also tasted their more revolutionary wines, which they initially produced because owner Xavier Bernet is allergic to sulfites. This is the first time I have tasted their wines. They make 40,000 bottles per vintage and sell about 50% of their wines directly from the winery.
I tasted the wines from the nine wineries that form the Corpinnat group, and I think the synergies of working together are going to be great. Some are already talking about starting with biodynamics in the vineyards, and being together, tasting each other’s wines and providing mutual direct feedback surely is a great thing. Of course, members include quality leaders like Recaredo and Gramona that are ahead of most in their organic and biodynamic approach to the vineyards. But I want to comment on the wines from Sabaté i Coca, a name that tends to fly under the radar, perhaps because the image and the brand do not really show what the wines are: soil-driven, terroir and mineral wines of terrific Mediterranean character. I invite you to taste them if you have the chance, and forget about labels, bottles and image, and think only about the wines. They are terrific.
Gramona works with biodynamics in their vineyards
Unfortunately, this all means that a good chunk of the quality producers have now left the Cava appellation, but it doesn’t mean Cava is finished. The departing producers barely represented 1% of the total volume of the appellation, but they produced half of the bottles in the top tier Cava de Paraje Calificado, the single-vineyard category introduced only a few months before Corpinnat was revealed. It remains to be seen where the appellation will go, but some keep fighting for quality from within, most notably Mestres, whose wines I’ve always liked. Mestres is going even further, extending the time their wines are aged in bottle with the lees and selling only top-quality sparkling wines. They are a very traditional Cava producer, a kind of López de Heredia of Cava. They now age their wines for at least 42 months, and they only sell Gran Reserva wines, aiming for the upper level of the market, mainly restaurants and haute cuisine. One-hundred percent of their sparkling wines are aged under cork in bottle, and all of their wines, except the entry-level Coquet, ferment and mature in chestnut barrels with the lees before being put in bottle to referment. And all bottles always display the disgorgement date on the back label.
There’s life in Cava after Corpinnat!
They also have the advantage that they used to fill many magnums and large-sized bottles when they thought a wine was exceptional. It might have seemed crazy at the time, but that craziness has now turned into a competitive advantage: They still have a good stock of older wines to sell—often in magnum. This time, I tasted an incredible magnum of their 2000 Mas Via that was aged with the lees for 225 months (that’s over 18 years!). Complex and nuanced, it had intense aromas of curry that made it really attractive, and the wine has kept its freshness and harmony, with very small and integrated bubbles.
One issue that is increasingly coming to the surface is the aging of sparkling wines in bottles sealed with a crown stopper versus a cork. The cost is very different, not only to purchase the actual materials but because of the handling of the bottles, which has to be by hand in the case of cork. But the result is incredibly different, especially with long aging. I tasted the same wine double blind at Bérêche in Champagne—one aged under crown stopper and the other under natural cork—and everybody preferred the one aged under cork. By miles. I had never seen it so crystal clear before. Some in Corpinnat, Cava, Classic Penedès and Conca del Riu Anoia do it already, and others are experimenting with it and planning to move, at least the top ranges, to this kind of élevage for their sparkling wines.
Sparkling wine bottles aging with a natural cork closure, something we’re going to hear more about in the future