The sparkling wines of Champagne have been revered by wine drinkers for hundreds of years, and even today they maintain their reputation for excellence of flavor and character, and are consistently associated with quality, decadence, and a cause for celebration. Their unique characteristics are partly due to the careful blending of a small number of selected grape varietals, most commonly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These grapes, blended in fairly equal quantities, give the wines of Champagne their wonderful flavors and aromas, with the Pinot Noir offering length and backbone, and the Chardonnay varietal giving its acidity and dry, biscuity nature. It isn't unusual to sometimes see Champagne labeled as 'blanc de blanc', meaning it is made using only Chardonnay varietal grapes, or 'blanc de noir', which is made solely with Pinot Noir. Ever since the Phoenicians and Romans brought their knowledge of vine cultivation to Spanish soils, the country's culture has grown alongside wine production, with wine being a vital part of Spanish identity and Spanish traditions. Each region of Spain has a wine quite distinct from the others, and it is produced by smallholders and families as much as it is by large companies and established wineries. From the relatively mild and lush regions of La Rioja to the arid plateaus that surround Madrid, grapes are grown in abundance for the now booming Spanish wine industry, and new laws and regulations have recently been put in place to keep the country's standards high. By combining traditional practices with modern technology, Spanish wineries are continuing to produce distinctive wines of great character, flavor and aroma, with the focus shifting in recent decades to quality over quantity.
The vital, active Penedes wine region is located in the province of Catalonia along the northeastern Mediterranean coast. Marine influence allows production of many different styles of wine in three separate elevations (Bajo, Medio and Superior, between 825 ft (250 m) and 2600 ft (500-800 m)). Beginning in the 1960s, the active Torres enterprise helped to revive the area, starting with experimental vineyard plantings of native, French and German varieties. They also introduced modern vinification methods and temperature-controlled fermentation in stainless steel, with the result of clean, dependable wines in a reasonable range of prices. Many Penedes red wines are well made and well priced. Common red varietals are Garnacha, Carinena and Monastrell, with some Tempranillo (here known as Ull de Llebre) and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Modern methods were also critical in sparking the region's cava (sparkling wine) industry centered around the Penedes town of San Sadurna de Noya. After old red vineyards were lost to phylloxera around the turn of the century, replanting featured white varieties that came to be most used for sparkling wines: Macabeo (Viura), Xarel-lo, Parellada, and increasingly, Chardonnay. Cavas are produced in huge quantities with automated production that allows the traditional methode champenoise, but these sparkling wines, described as earthy, mushroomy, or rubbery in taste, have distinctly different flavors from Champagne and may be an acquired taste. The best cavas contain more chardonnay and can have notes of pear, peach and mandarin orange. For still white wines, Parellada is favored, supplemented by Riesling, Muscat of Alexandria and Chardonnay.