Penedes, Spain: From James Dean to Sparkling Wines – Part 1

When someone asks you where the Bordeaux region in France is located, I’d bet you could point it out on a map, plus tell me what kind of wines are produced there.  But, if I ask you where is the Penedes region in Spain and what do they produce, I would probably get a blank stare.  Even me, with my years of experience learning about wines, and tasting wines, needs a bit of knowledge about the Penedes region.

Penedes is located a short 1 hour car ride west of Barcelona, making it an easy trip for visitors to visit an important wine region in Spain.  Why do I say it is important?  A few reasons.  For one, it is the primary area for the production of Spanish sparkling wine, known as “Cava“.  One of the largest Cava producers in the world (or may be the largest?) is Freixenet <pronounced Fresh-i-net>.  For another reason, it is home to the Spanish wine making house “Torres“, who now also has wine making interests around the world.

On the map below, on the upper right corner, you would see a solid red coloured region, which is the Penedes region.  I labelled the City of Barcelona which you can see is east of Penedes.

Spanish Wine Regions

Spanish Wine Regions (From http://www.winesfromspain.com/icex/cma/contentTypes/common/records/mostrarDocumento/?doc=4725286)

I was recently on vacation in Barcelona and decided to take a 1-day guided tour, which brought me to Torres as well as Freixenet.  The tour also stopped firstly at the Jean Leon winery, which is now owned by Torres.

Jean Leon Winery

The Jean Leon Winery was started by Mr. Cefferino Carion, who hailed from Santander, Spain.  He wanted a better life than what he currently had, so he started a journey to Barcelona, Paris, and New York.  He did not have any money for a ticket across the Atlantic to New York, so he tried eight times to stow away, with the eighth, being successful.  In the US, he joined the US Army and served during the Korean War. After finishing his tour of duty he became a US citizen, changed his name to Jean Leon, and moved to Los Angeles to try to make it as an actor. As his acting skills were quite poor, he took a job as a taxi driver, which was fortuitous as he was able to drive many actors and actresses around the city.  He met Frank Sinatra this way, and started working as a waiter at a restaurant owned by Sinatra and Joe Di Maggio. Through this association, he became friends with many Hollywood stars, including James Dean.  In 1965 he opened a legendary Beverly Hills restaurant together with James Dean, called La Scala.  Unfortunately James Dean died shortly before the restaurant opened, but Jean Leon forged ahead.

Jean Leon Winery

Jean Leon Winery

Menu from the La Scala Restaurant

Menu from the La Scala Restaurant

Jean Leon wanted also to be a winery owner and produce a top quality French wine.  He looked at various areas, and in 1962 settled on a 150 hectare property in Penedes.  The locals I think were a bit shocked when he pulled out the local Spanish varieties and planted French varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.  Jean Leon’s wines are poured in prestigious circles, such as the Spanish version of the Academy Awards, and was the wine served at President Ronald Regan’s inauguration. But how does the story end for Jean Leon?  In 1994, the Torres family, who has close ties of friendship to Jean Leon, bought the vineyards and the cellar, taking over the project without changing its direction, as Jean was suffering from cancer, and finally succumbed.

The winery produces both red and white wines.  I was able to try the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from 2013 (the current vintage at the time of writing) and the 2006 vintage.  They offered this odd combination so that you could see how the wine changes in the bottle over time.  Yes there was significant change, and I brought back a bottle of the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve with me.

MyWinePal at Jean Leon Winery with barrel room in background

MyWinePal at Jean Leon Winery with barrel room in background

Jean Leon Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013 – This wine does have a touch of Cabernet Franc blended into it, but I could not detect it’s characteristic cedar tones.  This wine was deep ruby in colour, with dark cherry, licorice, lees, vanilla and sour cherry aromas. Dry, with high acidity.  Purple fruit, sour cherries and vanilla, with a peppery finish.  It very much was a work in progress.

Jean Leon Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006 – The aspiration of the 2013 for us to experience in the glass.  The 2006 vintage has 1.5 years of barrel aging plus 6 years of bottle aging. It was medium translucent garnet in the glass showing slight bricking on the rim. Medium intensity nose, showing complexity of aromas covering dark cherries, smokiness, vanilla, flowers, purple fruit and a hint of capsicum. Full body.  Dry and smooth.  Higher acidity with fine tannins, which become grippy on the finish.  A mineral streak with light intensity purple fruit and vanilla flavours. A quality wine.

Jean Leon Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2006

Jean Leon Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2006

Torres and Freixenet

To keep this post from becoming a novel, I will cover Torres and Freixenet in Part 2.  Enjoy!

Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Some people prefer red wines. Some only like Cabernet Sauvignon.MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I met many great wine makers. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.

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