Despite the eradication of a large proportion of Penedés vineyards during the phylloxera nightmare, the region's response helped ensure the renewal and long-term survival of the industry. The vintners upgraded their vine stocks by substituting high quality, plague-resistant white grape varieties for the red grapes previously used to make bulk wines. This strategic choice eventually bound the region to Cava production.
Nevertheless, the social turbulence of the early 20th century -- two world wars and Spain's civil war in between -- delayed the arrival of prosperity until the 1950s. Government oversight of the Denomination of Origin appellation, beginning in the 1960s, helped the region's agricultural economy consolidate its gains. A separate regulatory council for the area's sparkling wines arose in 1972 [source: DO Penedés]. The Cava appellation, established in 1986, is unlike Spain's other DOs in that it attaches to the winemaking process rather than the geographical indication. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Spanish Cava is produced in Penedés [source: Parode].
The area possesses nearly ideal conditions for vine cultivation. The soils are primarily limestone and clay, with some variations depending on the altitude and proximity to the sea. The climate is mild and warm, with higher temperatures in Bajo Penedés [source: CIV]. And average amounts of sunlight and rainfall are more than satisfactory [source: DO Penedés].
A large selection of wine grapes can thrive under these conditions. Black varietals, such as Garnacha, Tempranillo, Cariñena, Monastrell and Cabernet Sauvignon are grown in Bajo Penedés [source: CIV]. In Medio Penedés (the source of more than half of the region's total grape harvest) the leading varietals are Xarel-lo and Macabeo (also called Viura). These grapes are used primarily for Cava. Additionally, international vines such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc have acclimatized to the moderate temperatures of this zone. The Parellada, a native vine and one of the principal varieties in Cava, is the leading grape in Alt Penedés. Other whites are also grown in its high altitudes, including the foreign varieties Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Gewürztraminer [source: DO Penedés].
Ready for a glass of red or white? Read on to learn about the Penedés region's famous wines.