Xarel Lo – A Spanish Tasting Adventure

By Jean Engelke, Wine Wise Guy Reviewer

There is just nothing better to do on a snowy, wintery day then to taste good wine. I am fortunate that I have been recognized as a wine reviewer by the Wine Wise Guys. I know this because the WWG administration presented me with new business cards that confirm my prestigious status. And, since that Parker guy is out of the way, the sky is the limit on becoming the next wine reviewer of notable fame.

The bottle to review today is an uncommon grape to most. It is Xarel Lo, a white grape from Spanish origin and found in the Catalonia region, southwest of Barcelona.  I found this bottle at a local shop, and knew that I had to taste this standalone bottling of a grape that is traditionally found in Spanish Cava.  Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel Lo are the three primary grapes used in cava production.

Cava is the sparkling wine of Spain produced in the champenoise traditional method. Previously referred to as Spanish Champaign, this reference is no longer permitted since Spain joined the EU and Champagne has Protected Geographical Status.  95% of all Cava is produced in the Penedes area of Catalonia where the region is identified as Penedes DO.  Xarel Lo is rarely made into a standalone wine, and investigation into professional (and not so professional) reviews reveals mixed results.

Xarel Lo has been characterized as acidic, smooth, medium bodied and aromatic. The qualities prized when creating a superior Cava. However, the acidity and delicate floral notes, often combined with a lingering minerality, have some reviewers leaving this wine on the shelf.

The Xarel Lo tasting today is from Vins El Cep, a group of six family growers in the Penedes DO. The Marques de Gelida is famous for producing some of the best Cava in Spain. (I know this because Mr. Parker said so.) This single varietal bottling is a new venture for them.

Marques de Gelida Xarel Lo 2011 is produced from old vine, organically grown grapes near the village of Gelida. The Penedes area has three zones and is primarily a Mediterranean climate. The Penedes Maritim (Baix Penedes) is near the sea with a mild coastal climate, Penedes Superior (Alt Penedes) is located further inland at higher elevations and is characterized by higher amounts of rainfall and more temperature fluctuations. Penedes Central lies between the two and has a mixed climate. Gelida is a municipality located in the Alt Penedes. It is near Sant Sadurni, home of several famous Cava houses. The area is known for low yield and high quality grape production. It is mostly clay and limestone basis. The Gelida vineyard of Vins El Cep produced the Xarel Lo grapes for this bottling.

The visual appearance of the wine is a pale straw color. It appears to have good body and legs to match. It has citrus on the nose, with lemon and floral notes. First taste shows mild acidity, honey and a creamy body. The finish is citrus and a bit of mineral, a hint of pear.

This bottle was paired with a Tuscan bean soup consisting of celery, carrots, onion, garlic, cannoli beans, plum tomatoes and fresh basil. This soup is excellent on its own, the garlic and basil give it a wonderful aroma and flavor. Paired with the wine, the creaminess of the beans and soup brought out the acidity of the wine.  It was noticeable, which made the wine taste more acidic and drew away from the flavorful soup. I’ve paired this wine with a lemon, caper, and white wine sauce over chicken breast recipe. It was excellent, complimenting the lemon of the sauce and the pungent caper flavor. It tamed the acidity and brought out the floral nature of the wine. Since the results of the tasting varied greatly with the food, I brought out a tomato salsa, favoring a lot of lime and pepper. After just two chips with the salsa the taste of the wine changed completely. My taste buds were excited by the acidity of the tomatoes and the citrus of the lime. The acidity of the wine disappeared and featured the honey and creaminess and floral notes seen before any food was introduced. Incredible! Note to self: pair acidic wines with acidic foods!

This wine is a definite keeper paired with the right food or on its own. At about $13 for the bottle, I will buy again. It will be interesting to follow the acceptance of this wine in the marketplace. A big thank you to Wine Wise Guys for letting me share my experience.


Submitted by Jean Engelke

This is a pleasant white wine from Muxika, Spain, just South of the France border in the Basque region.  Txakolina is a traditional white Basque wine made by blending indiginous Hondarrabi Zuri grapes. In this case it is a blend of 90% Hondarrabi Zuri, 6% Folle Blanche, and 4% Reisling.

The region is actually part of the Catalanas region, more commonly known for Cava. Prior to phylloxera, the region was heavily planted in reds. After phylloxera, the area was replanted in whites that complemented CAVA production. Included was Folle Blanche, a traditional white grape of Cognac and Armagnac regions of France used in Cognac production.
The region is the Denominacion de Origen, Txakoli de Bizkaiko – Bizkaiko Txakolina DO. The region has a Mediterranian climate.  The soil is limestone surface ad sandy sub-soil. The wine was feremented 25 days on lees in stainless steel.
Robert Parker gave it a rating of 89. It has aromas of citris fruit, ripe fruit, herbs and flowers. Nectar, pear and white flower, minerally, with green apple. It is crisp yet is savory, well balanced and a fuller body than you would expect.
It was enjoyed with a spice rubbed Lake Ontario lake trout, steamed broccoli and wild rice. The wine was a little on the warm side, it would be very enjoyable chilled on summer deck. Would probably be enjoyable with any seafood and would stand up to rich buttery sauces.
Wine, one bottle at a time rating = Enjoyable, will buy again, serve on the deck.

Wrongo Dongo

 Submitted by Laura Hatch – Jan 2011

Producer: Bodegas Juan Gil
Grapes: 100% Monastrell
Appellation: Jumilla (DO, Spain)
Vintage: 2008
Alcohol: 15%

During the holidays, our fellow wine-loving friend, Greg recommended a nice “house wine” to have on hand. The 2008 Wrongo Dongo is 100% Monastrell from the Bodegas Juan Gil family estate vineyard. Smooth and with dark berry flavors, it goes well with hearty meals. Ranging in price from $6.89 to $9.98, it’d a great value to have on hand.

Altos De Luzón Jumilla 2006

 by Laura Hatch – October 2010


I love Spanish wines, and this one did not disappoint me! Rich and full-bodied, this wine has a nose that draws you in. And when you taste, your mouth is filled with deep dark fruits, coffee, and chocoloate. Mature, rich tannins. Great finish that lingers. Wine Advocate’s recommendation to drink between 2010 to 2018 is right on. For those that like their wines big and bold, this one’s for you!


Wine Information:
50% Monastrell, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Tempranillo, aged for 12 months in new French and American oak
Spain : Jumilla
Producer: Finca Luzon
Alcohol: 14.5%

Garnet-purple, violet rim. Aromas of mature fruits, blackberry, plum, hints of vanilla, roasted coffee, balsamic. Ample, mineral notes, mature tannins, sweetness, round and polished, long finish.

Conde de Siruela Tinto 2003 — Ribera del Duero

by Laura – July 1, 2010

Made of 100% tempranillo grapes, this wine has a complex nose, rich with vanilla and dark berries. On the palate, the powerful, chocolate-rich flavors come through, and the finish is smooth, long, and elegant.

We tasted this wine for the first time in a tiny restaurant set on a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean in Mijas, Spain. After a long day of driving south from Madrid, we were ready for a hearty dinner and a great wine. This did not disappoint us. In fact, the wine was so good that we purchased another bottle to go! If only we could find it here in New York State!

Justin 2002 Tempranillo Reserva

Submitted by Laura Hatch


“A potpourri of spices and flavors can be found in this homage to the great wines of Rioja. Flavors of smoky plum and rich mocha predominate, while the lean minerality and firm acidity add complexity and give hints of great ageability.” – Justin Wines

We purchased this wine untasted at the winery, based on the quality of Justin’s other offerings, and we weren’t disappointed. Rich, smooth, and full-flavored, this tempranillo transported me to to Spain. Well worth the $30 ($24 to their wine club members), I recommend adding a few of these bottles to your wine cellar, to drink now or to age for a few years.