Albet i Noya – Saviours of the Planet

15th May 2023

Albet i Noya Saviours of the Planet

Big words, aren’t they? However, the first organic estate in the whole of Spain sacrifices even the 70% of the crop in some vintages to remain organic. What is more, they seriously work on “Plan B”, research resistant grapes already with some promising results. And on top of all: they offer one of the most enjoyable vineyard visits in Penedès.

A glass always half full

What is the usual screen play of a winery visit? A welcome speech at the entrance, more speech about the history, walk through the boring stainless steel tanks, then comes the cellar and after two hours of ‘dry visit’ comes the warmly welcomed sentence: “And now we have arrived at the best part of the visit, the tasting!” If they admit that it is the best part, why should we wait until the end?

At Albet i Noya our guide started the welcome speech with a glass of sparkling wine on the sunny terrace. She was not talking about Clàssic Penedès, she commented a Clàssic Penedès sparkling wine in our glass, and it really makes a huge difference.

When I launched, I was sure that something like would exclude a whole range of producers, for example the 18 members of Clàssic Penedès appellation. As our guide explained, their reason for leaving CAVA DO was the lack of style due to the introduction of more and more official cava producing regions to the DO. “A wine reflects the varieties and the terroir, but if grapes for cava can come from so many different wine regions, how could it have a constant style?” So they left in 2013 and formed Clàssic Penedès appellation with only organic producers.

Albet i Noya efecte 2020 (the name comes from ‘butterfly effect’, hence the butterfly on the label) was made of the three classic grapes of Penedès: Macabeu, Xarel·lo, Parellada with a bit of Chardonnay and it was aged for 18 months (it is the minimum for Clàssic Penedès). The first impression on the nose was a charming brioche note from the ageing on the lees, then came a basket of peaches. The palate was crystal clear full of refreshing citrus fruits and peach.

No more heavy metal

We continued our tour in the vineyard, again, it was much better to see the surrounding 40 hectares of vineyards (plus they have another 40 hectares farther) than just hearing about it. 17 different grape varieties are grown, all of them are cultivated organically. Albet i Noya was literally the first organic vineyard in Spain – they have been ‘bio’ since 1878. As every beginner wine nerd knows, organic farming does not allow chemical pesticides and other sprays, but sulphur and copper are allowed for spraying. However – and telling you the truth I never heard anyone talking about this –, there is a maximum amount of sulphur and copper to be used, and in some vintages it is not enough. Plus, since copper is a kind of heavy metal, it is not good for the soil at all. Natural, but still not good. In 2020 the weather conditions were not the most ideal, thus they had to use the maximum amount to avoid fungus. And it still was not enough. The estate was left with no option: if they want to remain organic, they can’t use any more copper. In that vintage they lost 70% (!) of the crop in some vineyards. It became obvious that they need a Plan B, so they initiated a research project with two other estates, Alta Alella and Cellar Pinyol. They planted resistant varieties in an experimental vineyard in a cooperation with the German (and by now international) PIWI brand.

A ‘Clandestino’ wine

Clandestino is one of my favourite Spanish words, you might know it from Manu Chao. It refers to something secret, something illegal. Like the wine La Volada 2022 that we tasted in the experimental vineyard. Since few of the resistant grape varieties turned out to be poisonous (producing methanol instead of alcohol), not every EU country allows the use of PIWI grapes, even though there are more than 100 varieties with no negative health effects at all. I come from Hungary, in my home country PIWI grapes are legal and recently a certain Nero grape became really popular with some international acknowledgements. (One of the best producers of Nero rose wines is Eszterbauer Winery in the Szekszárd wine region of Hungary.) In Spain these grapes are not allowed at the moment, but we could still taste the fruit of the first experiments. La Volada is a blend of Sauvignac and Muscaris, and as the originals of these varieties anticipate, the wine is easy going, aromatic, charming.

However, it is not enough for Plan B. The wine is nice, but Penedès is about Macabeu, Xarel·lo and Parellada, so what they need is a resistant version of their own grapes. Genetical modification cannot take place in a laboratory due to the organic regulation, thus the only way is the natural one: pollenization. But it takes time, a lot of time, as our guide says they need at least 5 more years even though the research has been going on since 2013 and they have had more than 2000 different vines by now.

El Fario Xarel·lo – the playground of the winemaker

From the vineyard we stepped into the cool old cellar and we did not have to wait long to get some pleasure in our glass. Again, the screen play writer did his job well: we tasted El Fario 2021, a single vineyard wine made of 100% Xarel·lo, in whose production the cellar plays an important role. After manual harvest the grapes were pressed here, in the old cellar (there is another processing plant further) and ageing took place in three different containers in equal proportion: stainless steel tank, concrete egg and acacia barrel. This latter is said to add a softer, more floral character to the wine as opposed to oak barrels. The wine is crystal clear with an intense nose full of green apples and fresh herbs. Crispy, creamy, balanced with great structure and really long aftertaste.

Segway, Bike, Truly Blind – a whole range of activities

Albet i Noya offers undoubtedly one of the widest ranges of wine related activities. The ‘basic’ visit, which I tried, contains the tour as I explained above and altogether 4 samples to taste. The 4th one arrived again on the terrace accompanied by local food products: fuet, the Catalan salami, cheese, codonyat (Catalan quince cheese). The wine was a red this time, Reserva Martí 2016 made of 4 grape varieties: Cabernet, Ull de llebre (aka Tempranillo), Syrah and Merlot. It aged two years in French oak, and the barrel notes are so finely integrated! Lovely Christmas spices, yet the palate is absolutely fruit driven and refreshing. The 4 samples are not written in stone, the tastings are flexible, but visitors should not be afraid: whatever tour or tasting they choose, there will be great wines to taste and great people to speak about them with. The truly blind tasting is not an exaggeration: it is a game of senses with a blindfold covering the eyes of participants. And it is just one of the many activities, shorter or longer, active or relaxing, technical or purely for pleasure.

Ágnes Németh

Hungarian wine writer living in Penedes (Spain), in the heart of bubble production. Apart from passionately promoting Hungarian and Spanish wines, she constantly travels and tastes wine wonders of the world.