On the trail of the Xarel-Lo grape

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Xarel-lo is one of those grapes that most wine drinkers have probably had at some point in their lives, though many of them may not be aware of it. It is grown on over 20,000 acres of land, nearly all of them in Spain, and it forms the backbone of one of the most popular and widely available wines on earth, but few people are even aware it exists. Xarel-lo is kind of the ultimate team player. It is an indispensable component of the wine that it has helped to make famous but it still plugs along in virtual anonymity. It’s a underrated grape that hasn’t been given its due so let’s take a moment and have a look at Xarel-lo and its charms.

Xarel-lo is one of the three traditional grapes used in the production of the Spanish traditional method sparkling wine known as Cava. Cava is made in the same way as Champagne and at one time was known as Spanish Champagne, though that practice had to be abandoned when Spain joined the EU in 1986 (it is still known locally as champán, champaña or xampany depending on where you are in Spain). The other two grapes are Parellada, which we’ll get to in a future post, and Macabeo, which is perhaps better known as Viura, the great white grape of Rioja. Most Cavas are blends of some or all of these grapes, but the producers aren’t under any obligation to inform the consumers about which grapes are used and in what proportions. Most Cava bottles that you’ll find in your SAQ shops are mute about the components of their blend and it seems that most consumers really aren’t that worried about it.

Many wine enthusiasts are under the misapprehension that only Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo are used in the production of Cava, but this is not the case.  Most of the Cava that is produced is made from these grapes, but there are other grapes that are allowed.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Garnacha, Monastrell and Subirat (which may be some form of Malvasia) are permitted for the production of your basic white Cava.  There is also rosé Cava which is made by adding in some still red wine made from Pinot Noir, Garnacha, Monastrell or Trepat (which is only allowed for rosé production) into the finished sparkling wine prior to bottling (most rosés are made by keeping the juice from crushed red grapes on the skins for a brief period of time to extract a little bit of color).  Cava is also a little bit different in that it is not a single geographically delimited area but is rather a collection of about eight different regions throughout Spain (though over 95% of it is made in Catalonia).

The only way to tell if the hype over Xarel-lo is genuine is to try some wines made from the grape. Unfortunately, the only wine available at the SAQ is the Calcari from Pares Balta which i reviewed before on my blog. I enjoyed very much and I would go out of my way to pick it up again. I will have to consult the private importation market to see if there is more still Xarel-lo availables.

In the meantime, I will leave you with these cava reccomendations in which Xarel-lo plays a supporting role.

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Raventos i blanc brut reserva 2009. Price: $20.40. SAQ Code: 11140615

Unlike any other wine denomination in Spain, “Cava,” born in 1986, does not refer to a specific geographic area but rather to sparkling wine made using the Champagne method. This lively sparkling wine offers nuanced but concentrated flavors of lemon blossom, brioche and almond, with a delicate hint of fennel blossom. The wine is complex and balanced, with tiny bubbles and a delightfully long, clean finish. 93/100.
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Seguras Viura Lavit Brut. Price: $17.25. SAQ Code: 10467940

Pale salmon in hue, this Trepat-Monastrell-Garnacha blend has fresh, minerally raspberry aromas and a palate of nuts, citrus, bright cherry, pomegranate and wild strawberry.  Nice fruit sweetness makes this appealing to a wide audience, and sparkling always makes an occasion more festive. 90/100.

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