Spain’s greatest cyclist is unquestionably Miguel Induráin, but among the country’s other greats is the mostly forgotten Miguel Poblet. Whether it’s his lack of grand tour chops or the fact that he hails from Catalunya, the omission of Poblet is partly explained by the fact that Catalunya has never been truly Spanish, because of its independent history and separate language. Poblet had 186 professional victories, with stage wins at all three grand tours, but he was truly a star of the classics, twice winning Milan–San Remo and placing second at Paris– Roubaix by “15 centimeters”—to hear him tell it.

Words: Clive Pursehouse
Images: Cava

Poblet was born in Montcada i Reixac, a northern Barcelona suburb just off the AP-7 highway, where his father owned a bike shop. Not far along the AP-7 from bustling Barcelona, you’ll find the Catalan village of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. This town of about 12,000—where Fabio Casartelli and Kathy Watt won the 1992 Olympic road races—is in the Penedès region. This is the beating heart of cava, a Catalan original and one of the most popular wines in the world.

On the hillsides south of the jagged mountains of Montserrat, cava vineyards dominate the landscape. Row upon row of vines of the three traditional, native grape varieties that make up Spain’s flagship sparkling wine: Xarel-lo, Parellada and Macabeo. Wine-growing tradition here goes back seemingly forever—to 600 BC. But most of that history revolves around red wines that these days are far less common in Penedès, where cava is king.

One of the more famous wineries is Segura Viudas. Though it didn’t begin producing cava until the late-1950s, the estate dates to the 11th century. The intact estate house dates to the Reconquista—the retaking of the Iberian Peninsula from Moorish control in medieval times. Once the region stabilized, there was a turn toward agriculture, and a substantial investment was made in vineyard development.

Cava is one of the world’s most affordable sparkling wines, but that’s not a reflection on attention to detail or quality. Segura Viudas, like many of the region’s quality producers, uses the same production methodology as the wines of Champagne in France. In fact, it was only when a winemaker from the Penedès region was traveling through Champagne in the 1860s that the idea for cava (Catalan for “cave” or “cellar”) took shape. The production methods and resulting wine styles in Champagne were applied to native Catalan varieties—and forever changed the face of this longtime wine region.

Phylloxera also played a part in the reshaping of Penedès, because its vineyards, along with those in the rest of Europe, were devastated by that mite infestation near the end of the 19th century. The region once known for its rich red wines was replanted almost exclusively with the native white Catalan varieties that have come to dominate cava production.

While Segura Viudas may not have been among the pioneers of cava production in Penedès, it is today at the forefront of the region’s preservation. While an emphasis on sustainable wine production and vineyard development is becoming an almost standard practice these days, Segura Viudas is taking a deeper look at the health of the region’s supporting ecosystem. It is the only winery in Penedès, and perhaps the world, with an environmental biologist on staff—not studying the grapes, but the rivers, streams, mountains and wildlife that surround the vineyards.

Ricard Pintado walks the hills and riverbeds outside of Sant Sadurní. While winegrowing practices like biodynamics, which focus on the holistic health of the vineyard and its surroundings and are not new, the role played by Pintado is a first. He hikes the waterways and cliffs of the surrounding Penedès countryside, chronicling the passage of voles, wild boar and a wide variety of birds that pass through the Segura Viudas vine rows and nearby forests. Using night-vision cameras and old-fashioned tracking, Pintado is building a greater sense of the components of this region’s biodiversity and what a healthy ecosystem in Penedès really means. He has an understanding that a system in balance is good for the region, the vineyards and ultimately the wines produced here.

The caves, or cellars that cava is named for, sit three and four stories under the estate and it’s ultimately there, in those dark cool tunnels, that all of Pintado’s research and the commitment of Segura Viudas will come to bear fruit for many years to come in bottles of sparkling wine.

Segura Viudas

Brut A classic example of what the world has come to love in the sparkling wines of Penedès, this cava is bright, fresh and unassuming—and loaded with bubbles. A blend of the traditional Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo grapes, this sparkler offers straightforward effervescence that is the signature of the native Catalan varieties. All of the Segura Viudas wines go through secondary fermentation in the bottle, just like in Champagne. In a series of tunnels, bottle upon bottle of cava lines the caves for which they’re named. The wines, even those marked by their everyday affordability, spend more than a year in the bottle developing a sense of depth and richness that complements the bright, fruit-forward simplicity the native grapes offer. $10

Segura Viudas Gran Cuvée Reserva

Blending the fresh, fruit-forward character of cava with the richness of Champagne this cuvée combines the local varieties of Macabeo and Parellada with a smaller percentage of the traditional Champagne grapes: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Gran Cuvée Reserva is only produced in outstanding vintages—and, for under $20, it’s truly exceptional. The fresh-fruit character of those Catalan varieties marries well with a rich opulence from the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It has notes of lemon crème, toast and cut pear. This cava has world-class mouthfeel, viscosity and elegance and it suggests a wine three times the price. $15

Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad

Segura Viudas makes a lot of wine, millions of bottles of cava a year, so the attention and care given to its Reserva Heredad wine, the top-of-the-line bottling at Segura Viudas, is remarkable. These wines line the cellar walls at Segura Viudas in riddling racks, with the necks of the bottles facing downward. Each bottle is hand turned—a process referred to as riddling, or manual remuage—to allow the sediment and spent lees to move into the neck of the bottle for eventual removal, called disgorgement. This process is time consuming, often taking four to six weeks, with each bottle being touched about 25 times, one eighth of a turn at a time.

The Reserva Heredad spends at least 30 months in bottle before it is disgorged. It’s a blend of only two of the traditional cava varieties: Macabeo and Parellada. The wine is opulent, particularly for a cava. It has aromas of honeysuckle, smoke and baked bread. The flavors are rich with late-season pear, baked apple, key lime and honey. All of this in a bottle adorned with a pewter base for under $25 is remarkable.

From issue 56. Buy it here.