Andrew Barrow - 2012-03-13
Codorníu is a veritable institution in the Spanish Pyrenees. Winemakers since the 16th century, the group produces several distinguished vintages, especially their sparkling wines. Head for the north of Spain to visit the most representative amongst the group’s eight vineyards, such as Scala Dei, Raimat and Bodegas Bilnaínas.
Located very near Barcelona, the historic Codorníu winery is most definitely worth a visit. First of all, it is one of the major producers of Cava, Spain’s celebrated sparkling wine. Perfectly equipped to welcome visitors, the site features a wine museum and a small train that winds through the cellars, where the riddling equipment, labelling machines, fermentation tanks and special wine racks are among the main attractions.
The Codorníu winery buildings were designed by the Catalán Josep Puig í Cadafalch, an eminent architect of the Art Nouveau style in Spain. The ensemble is an architectural gem, as is most evident in the tasting room where the visit ends. The winery, which blends in perfectly with its natural environment, was listed as a National Historic Monument in 1976.
Here the endless acres one sees at Codorníu are replaced by small, scrubby vines grown on terraces at the base of impressive mountains. Difficult to reach, the vineyards are also small in scale, but they do produce some of the group’s very best wines.
With its vineyards covering 90 hectares, Scala Dei symbolises small-scale, artisanal viticulture and age-old savoir-faire. It’s not surprising that Spanish wine-making took root here in the oldest Carthusian monastery of the Iberian Peninsula! Only three wines – all red – are produced from different blends of Grenache, Cariñena, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The exact composition of the wines varies according to the vineyard and the quality of the harvest.
Even if you’re not a dedicated wine connoisseur, the panoramic view of the rippling mountains beyond makes a visit well worth your while, as you will be in the heart of the Serra del Montsant Natural Park. To truly appreciate the scenery and a fabulous view of the Scala Dei vineyards, a climb to the top of the highest hills is a must. Scala Dei translates as ‘Ladder to God’ – an appropriate name indeed!
The Raimat vineyards are very different from those of Scala Dei. Covering a terrain that is as vast as it is flat, they surround a group of renovated buildings dating from 1900; the ensemble truly resembles the set of a California Sci-Fi movie. A variety of wines are produced here, from sparkling wines to experimental vintages made of Albarino, Godello and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, as well as a whole series of wines of ‘international appeal’ such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Despite the diversity of wines produced at Raimat, under the skilful guidance of Australian Mark Nairn there is a remarkable balance in the vineyards where grape growing is assisted by satellite technology. Vast though it may be, the winery does not resort to aggressive agricultural techniques or chemical warfare; it is, in fact, at the forefront of the ecologically sound grape-growing movement. With sustainable viticulture methods, swifts catch unwanted insects while rabbits discourage the quail. And instead of rows of grapes separated by strips of barren soil, the earth between the vines is covered by a profusion of wildflowers and native plants.
Sustainable grape farming is also the method chosen by the Bodegas Bilbaínas winery in Rioja. The winery is set up around a remarkable old building dating from 1901 that has been very nicely renovated to accommodate larger volumes of wine as well as an increasing number of visitors. It is one of Rioja’s oldest wine estates and also the sub-region of Rioja-Alta’s largest in terms of vineyard acreage. The Codorníu Group has invested a great deal of capital in the winery since they bought it in 1997.
Bodegas Bilbaínas proudly claim that they produce vintages that are ‘faithful to the classic Rioja style.’ This actually means that most of their wines are made from Tempranillo grapes and matured in French oak barrels. The winery’s best-known bottle is the Viña PomalReserva, easily recognized by its red-rimmed label. Other wines are also produced from the grapes covering Bodegas Bilbaínas’s 250 hectares of vineyards, from easy-to-drink table wines to the € 60/£ 50 bottle of Vina Pomal Alto de la Caseta.
– Codorníu: Ninety-minute guided tours of the cellars, buildings and gardens end with wine tasting. Several languages are available: Catalan, Spanish, English, French and German. € 8/£ 6.70. The two-hour special visit (prior booking required) includes a wine tasting and a light lunch. Available for groups of at least five people, this option costs € 15 - 50/£ 12.60 – 42 per person.
Avda. Jaume Codorniu s/n.
08770 Sant Sadurní d’Anoia
Tel: (00 34) 93 818 32 32 / (00 34) 93 891 33 42
- Bodegas Bilbaínas: The € 8/£ 6.70 price of the two-hour tour includes samples of three different wines.
26200 Haro (Rioja)
Tel: (00 34) 941 310 147
- Scala Dei: Guided tours by prior arrangement; approximately € 10/£ 8.40.
Mitja Galta, 32
43379 Scala Dei (Tarragona)
Tel: (00 34) 977 827055
- Raimat: The90-minute visits of the winery include tastings of three wines: a white, a red and a rosé. € 5/ £ 4.20. Monday through Friday it is also possible to visit the vineyards in addition to the winery and the three-wine tasting session for € 15/£ 12.50€. This option also exists every other weekend. For € 20/ £ 16.75 one can taste six different wines. Special visits may be organised by prior arrangement, such as an introduction to wine making, introduction to wine tasting, blind tastings, etc.
C/ Afores s/n.
25111 Raimat (Lleida)
Tel: (00 34) 973 259267
Raimat is located approximately 16 km from the town of Lleida, in the direction of Huesca.