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This winter, after weeks of tromping around France visiting winemakers and attending wine tasting events, I attempted to take a very short vacation in Barcelona. I had promised Manel Arinyó from Clos Lentiscus that I would visit the next time I was in the area, so I reached out to his US importers, Ana and Alvaro from Selections de la Vina. As it turned out, Alvaro was going to be in Barcelona for the same weekend, and he had no plans on Saturday, the day I had put aside for a visit to Manel. Alvaro suggested we visit Manel in the morning and then swing by Partida Creus as well. For those who are not familiar with the estate, it was started by two Italians - Massimo Marchiori and Antonella Gerona - who moved to Barcelona around 2000, and then to the countryside in the Massís de Bonastre (Penedes). Though they are "outsiders" in Catalunya (let alone in Spain), they love the region and are committed to preserving indigenous grape varieties that are systemically being torn out in favor of international varieties. They also don't seem to care what anyone thinks of them, so that helps! Both of these estates are responsible for some of the wildest and most deliciously pure natural wines of the region, and hence have contributed to countless joyful evenings with friends, so I was of course delighted to have the chance to get to know them!
The Clos Lentiscus estate is located just south of Vilafranca del Penedès, and is situated in the middle of a national park. The winery is housed in a 14th Century building and is surrounded by vineyards and forest. It's a rugged and wild terrain, as I can personally attest from riding in the back of Manel's Land Rover to the top of the small peak overlooking Penedes and the Mediterranean Sea. There are wild herbs and flowers growing everywhere, and the smell is this wonderful combination of garrigue and sea salt.
The house is a maze of bottles and barrels, with sparkling wines resting on the lees, demijohns strewn about, pot stills, and tanks of various sizes and shapes.
There are also some really nice paintings and an old library.
After the visit to the vineyards, and the top of the hill, and a tasting of pretty much every wine Manel and his daughter Nuria make, I didn't want to leave! But alas, it was time to continue on to Partida Creus!
After another bumpy ride, we arrived to find that Massimo and Antonella were hosting an afternoon party that happens around this time in Catalunya. Fresh spring leeks are charred on the fire and then pulled out of their husk, dipped in romesco, and consumed by holding them in the air and lowering them into one's mouth. Having been introduced to this pastime by Pepe Raventos a few years ago, I jumped right in, much to the surprise of some locals who had never seen an American attack leeks with such gusto.
To be fair, it wasn't all fun and feasting. We did tour the winery, and Massimo spoke about their commitment to local varieties like Garrut, Sumoll, and Cartoixa, while a group of visitors tasted wines from barrel. Philosophy was shared and questions were asked, and then the magnums appeared!
Finally, the sun set and we packed up and headed back to Barcelona. This most beautiful day made quite an impression on me, and left me feeling like we had stepped back in time. I was already a fan of the wines and the winemakers from these two estates, but I came back from Penedes with deep respect for what these humble people have done to preserve local traditions, and for the simple and inspiring lives they lead.
From a series of Pet-Nats made by Manel and his daughter Nuria, this is 100% Parellada, a local grape found in Catalunya. The nose is quite subtle with stone fruit and a touch of crisp green apple. On the palate it’s really dry - maybe too dry for some people but right up our alley! Though it’s rare that I have any Pet-Nats on day two, I was impressed enough by this one to save a bit and it was well worth it! The aromatics evolved and opened up and the palate was more savory. Still very dry but with more complexity and layers. Many thanks to Nuria and Manel. Keep up the good work!
An ardently autumnal Blanc de Noirs from our friends at Clos Lentiscus, made of 100% Sumoll from a biodynamically-farmed single vineyard planted in the 1930s in the Garraf National Park, just south of Barcelona, on sandy calcareous soils. The second fermentation is spurred by rosemary honey from Clos Lentiscus' estate apiary, which adds a heady, honeyed component (with no sweetness whatsover) to the palate of tart red fruit skins, gently gingery spice, with bold structure and complex umami notes from aging 30 months on the lees before disgorgement with no dosage. Zero added sulphur. Ariana Rolich
Sumoll is an oft overlooked and underrated red variety from Catalunya. It's raw and wild in its youth, but beautiful when given proper time to integrate. This Sumoll from 2011 shows some reduction on the nose upon opening, but reveals pure, crunchy red fruits when given some time to open. The label on the bottle is a reincarnation of one of his grandfather's designs from the 1920s. The wine has a similar old-fashioned, unhurried feel to it. Linger with a glass of perfectly resolved Sumoll and enjoy!
BN (Blanco Natural) is 90% Macabeo and 10% Cartoixa (aka Xarello) Vermell, a vibrant, pinkish-red-skinned mutation of Xarello. Light tannins and gentle acidity with vegetal hints and gooseberry. Funky and fresh, and always no SO2 added.
This is a pink-hued ancestral sparkling wine from the local grape Cartoixa Vermell. Grapes undergo direct press, and ferment in stainless steel. Lees aging is close to a year, and no SO2 is used at any stage. This fleshy pet-nat plays with freshness and acidity, while also delivering some tangy tropical fruit. A great food wine, or perfect festive bubbles for a party.
Tinto Natural is a big welcome hug in the form of a red wine. A blend of equal parts Sumoll, Bobal, and Ull de Llebre from several vineyards around the winery. Boisterous, pure fruited, with red cherry and plenty of pep. 2017 was a warm year, so there is some flesh here, and a touch of structure. Light to medium bodied on the palate, we'd recommend a light chill, but this is still a somewhat serious red wine, so don't drink it too cold! Eben Lillie
One of the most exciting and tasty discoveries from a recent visit to Partida Creus was this delicious, funky Vermouth called Muz. Made with their red grapes this time around, and macerated with a mixture of local herbs, it's way too easy to drink, and should be great for mixology, though I can't attest, as I just drink it with a chill and smile. We look forward to the release every year. Please, don't hold onto this too long after opening, and only store in the fridge: this is unfortified, unsulfured vermouth. Eben Lillie
Garrut is a local grape to Penedes, that nearly went extinct due to the trend of tearing out old local vines in favor of international varieties. Luckily Massimo and Antonella discovered some old vineyards and had enough funds to buy or rent from old farmers in the area. Reminiscent of Gamay, but brighter and juicier, with fantastic acidity, a bit of tart cranberry buoyed by less tangy ripe red fruit. 2016 is not as low alcohol of a vintage, so we'd recommend giving the wine a little time to open up, as it may have some volatile aromas on opening. Eben Lillie