February 5, 2024

Xarel-lo : The grape with the X factor & why we love it!

Xarel-lo is a Penedès icon.

One of the grape varieties to look out for in the coming years is the Spanish white wine grape  Xarel-lo. It is certainly not a new grape. However, it is one that has been little known as a solo act. Cava lovers may know it as one of the primary grapes used in Spain’s sparkling wines.Traditionally, Cava was blended three native Spanish grapes. Those are Xarel-lo,  Macabeo (which is also Rioja’s white grape Viura) and usually Parellada.       

And as Xarel-lo’s popularity increases, so too will the fortunes of the Catalunyan regions which have futures tied to that rise. Particularly regions such as Penedès and Alella. Of course, to add to another layer of complexity to the discussion, it has another name in Alella. Wine drinkers there know the grape as Pansa Blanca. 

The aromatic Parellada single variety wines are also now becoming more widely made in Catalunya, so look out for those too. They are best from higher altitudes.

According to Alvaro Ribalta MW in an excellent masterclass in 2023, Xarel-lo is about texture and not about aromatics. There is most certainly a silkiness to these wines that is in no way diminished by the freshness of the acid of these wines. 

What to look for in your Xarel-lo

It has been noted in the past that the grape can be rather vegetal. 

However, when made well, they cannot hide their citrus and stonefruit characters. Often these are joined by floral notes and plenty of ginger spice. Often, a nuttiness will also be captured and this may take on a slight bitterness as well. Perhaps, just as often, there will be some fresh green herbs coming through too.  

The grape also retains its acid structure which is why it is revered for sparkling wine production. This has the added benefit of making Xarel-lo wines worthy of cellaring. It is this acid that also keeps the wines elegant when the wine is either fermented or matured in oak. 

In saying that, some of the heavily worked versions (or not worked at all in some instances) take on more phenolic characters. This makes the ginger spice rather heavy handed and the wines can be firm and feel out of balance in the chase for richness. 

There is some red Xarel-lo too although the wines are very pale. This is the variant Xarel-lo Vermell. The paleness of the wine makes it very useful as a grape for rosado (rosé) wines. 

Oak, no oak or bubbles? Sweet or dry?

Xarel-lo really is a versatile grape that will take whatever a winemaker chooses to do to it. Therefore, you will find not only Cava wines made from the grape, but also still wines. Moreover, when you start looking at the still white wines made from Xarel-lo, you get plenty of choice. It goes without saying that there are pure citrus and floral driven stainless steel wines. Plus there are those versions fermented in barrel or even just matured in barrel. In Alella particularly, you may even find dessert style wines made from Xarel-lo. 

Then there are also those wines that would fall into the ‘natural’ wine category.

In short, these wines may have extended skin contact in any fermentation vessel. This will include wines that are fermented in vats or in amphora. There are a growing number of amphora fermented Xarel-lo wines becoming available to buy outside of Spain. 

Did you know? …..

Did you know these wines can sometimes be called ‘orange’ wines although they are more accurately ‘amber’ wines. The term ‘orange’ becomes confusing particularly to Australians and Californian wine lovers. Because Orange wines refer to the regions with the name ‘Orange’. In other words, in Australia, Orange NSW is a well regarded  higher altitude region surrounding the township of Orange.  And in California, the South Coast AVA covers Orange county adding to the confusion.

Xarello, Xarel-lo or Xarel•lo?

Apparently, all versions are use, but some are more acceptable than others. The ‘•’ is the punt volat that is used in the Catalan language to separate two ‘L’s when the two are separate syllables. Therefore, if it is being written in English, it basically still works if pronunciation follows English protocol. It is when a Spanish speaker then reads it as the equivalent of a ‘y’ such as in Tempranillo that it becomes an issue.  

Not just about Penedès

Xarel-lo is undoubtedly a very important grape for the region of Penedès. And Penedès as a region is well and truly becoming a mover and shaker region of Spain. However, it is important not to forget that to the north of Barcelona is another region that has fully embraced Xarel-lo. Alella.  Around Alella, the white wines are predominantly made from either Xarel-lo and Garnacha Blanca. 

Click here to read more about more Penedès wine! 

Look out for the following wines:

Jean Leon Nativa Xarel-lo

This is a crisp, dry savoury fruit style of Xarel-lo made by the Torres family winemakers. It has plenty of tangy grapefruit to offer that is also kept fresh by some herbal lemon verbena. But that is not the full story, it is also creamy and silky. An easy to drink style.

click here for the full review

Sumarocca Il-logic Xarel-lo

A salty version that has a minerally saline edge to the fresh citrus fruit and cream dry white wine. The citrus is, unsurprisingly, the tangy grapefruit that is common with the grape. There is also plenty of creamy texture enhanced with some time on lees.

Click here to read the full review.

Llopart Clos del Fòssils

This is a creamy lightly oaked Xarel-lo where the baked apple, garden herbs and elderflower characters meld with a distinct creaminess. The finish has a hint of bitter almond to add even more complexity. It is fuller bodied and fleshy while still remaining elegant.

Click here to read the review in full.

Albet I Noya El Corral Cremat Brut Classic Penedes

A ‘Classic Penedes’. A sparkling wine with ripe, and rich flavours coming from that long time resting on the dead yeast cells, or lees in the cellar before those were finally removed and long term cellaring.

Click here to read the review in full.

White Montrubi

See DOPenedes for more information.


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