Penedès is a Spanish Denomination de Origen,)for wines in Catalonia (Spain). Penedès DO includes all Penedès region and municipalities of four other counties: Anoia, Alt Camp, Baix Llobregat and Tarragonès. The area is framed by the coastal hills of the Garraf Massif and the higher inland mountains which skirt the Central Depression.
Long considered one of the country's best wine-producing regions after the Rioja, it is also one of the most ancient viticulture areas in Europe. Perhaps better-known for its cava production (a sparkling wine which has had its own Denomination de Origen since 1991) white grape varieties predominate, although the region also produces some highly regarded, oak-aged reds.
The Denominació d'Origen Penedès is centred in the regional capital, Vilafranca del Penedès, with nearby Sant Sadurní d'Anoia the acknowledged centre of Cava production. Besides these two, the principal towns are Vilanova i la Geltrú, Sitges and el Vendrell. The Penedès denomination includes 66 municipalities.
A distinction must be drawn between the boundaries of the traditional wine growing region and those of the historical administrative area. The wine-growing region is divided into three main subzones:
- Alt Penedès, the most inland and mountainous subzone, characterised by relatively low yield and high quality
- Penedès Central, situated to the southwest and resposnsible for the majority of the region's total production
- Baix Penedès, comprising mostly low-lying, coastal areas
According to archaeological evidence (some of which is on display in Vilafranca's Wine Museum) wine production in the Penedès has ancient origins, certainly dating back to the Phoenician introduction of Chardonnay vines during the 6th century BC. A large export market is known to have existed even through Moorish occupation in the Middle Ages. Eighteenth century Spanish expansion into South America generated an unprecedented demand for Penedès wines which has barely abated since.
The region did not escape the pan-European devastation of the phylloxera plague, one effect of which was a large-scale change in the predominant grape types from red to almost exclusively white, which in turn led to the first Cava production in the 1870s. Since then, red varietals have regained some ground but remain a relatively minor part of regional production.
The region has a highly varied geology characterized by very poor-quality, well-drained soils of mostly Miocene sediments, both continental and maritime, with occasional quaternary deposits. The sandy, clay-like soil is poor in organic matter and rocky in the main, the pre-littoral uplands consisting of Triassic, Cretaceous and oceanic deposits, while coastal mountains are mostly jagged Cretaceous limestone.
Whereas a largely Mediterranean climate prevails, the Penedès enjoys a wide variety of micro-climates, due to the proximity of the coast and a varied terrain ranging from sea level to over 800m. Coastal areas are hot and dry, while upland vineyards are much more prone to frosts, with some areas recording annual rainfall of up to 900l/m²
Extending from the low-lying plains of the Baix Penedès to the more temperate peaks of the Alt Penedès, the region is suited to growing an unusually wide range of grape varieties. While the more typical Spanish black grapes (Garnacha, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cariñena, among others) are found in the hot and humid coastal plains, as the land rises whites become increasingly common.
On this higher inland terrain Spanish Xarel·lo and Macabeo grapes form the overwhelming majority, but Penedès growers have long experimented with small plantations of French and German strains, with notable quantities of Muscat d’Alexandrie, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chenin blanc and Chardonnay being more recently introduced, largely to diversify the range of grapes available for blending, which plays such an important part in cava production. The Alt Penedès has vineyards which rank amongst the highest in Europe at up to 800 m above sea level, where the native Parellada is the dominant variety.
Cava is inextricably linked to still wine production in the region, as its booming success of recent years has provided the revenue and innovation behind the rise, both in quality and in fortunes, of the region's still win.