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.