Xareŀlo, like so many indigenous Spanish grapes, often flies beneath the radar of the international fine wine world. Native to Catalonia, Xareŀlo is probably best known for its role in Cava production, providing much of the refreshing acidity and crisp, green fruited and subtle herbal flavours to the base wines. However, for those in the know, it’s greatest expressions arguably come in the form of still wine.
You can find Xareŀlo all across Catalonia, including its predictably complicated synonyms. To the North in Alella, it’s known locally as Pansa Blanca, to Tarragona in the South as Cartoixà and as Premsal Blanc on the island of Mallorca, to name a few. However, few would argue that its spiritual home is in the Penedès wine region, a short drive from Barcelona. Xareŀlo thrives here, particularly at the higher altitudes of Penedès Superior where cooling breezes, deposits of limestone soils and old vines combine to create the perfect eco-system for quality grapes. Excitingly, the potential for Xareŀlo as a still wine has only just started to be realised, with few producers known outside of local circles.
In the vineyard, Xareŀlo has few defining factors; it neither ripens early or particularly late, it produces evenly formed bunches and perhaps most importantly, it performs well on a variety of different soil types. Is it any wonder that it’s beloved almost as much in the field as it is by winemakers? It has some sensitivity to poor fruit set and both downy and powdery mildew, though in the Mediterranean Springs of Catalunya, this is rarely an issue.
At its simplest Xareŀlo has a signature aroma of green apples, fresh herbs and a lemony, citrus character. Combined with the naturally high acidity levels of the grape, these fresh flavours make for a very refreshing wine. However, Xareŀlo also responds well to time in oak and many of the more ambitious wines have sought to pair the natural energy of the grape with extra depth and texture provided by a careful oak regime. Producers like Can Rafols del Caus have even experimented, with great success, with less aromatic woods such as chestnut whilst others have looked towards amphorae and clay vessels. It would take a very skilled blind taster to pick the best wines out of a line-up of quality White Burgundy, with the same undertow and verve found in some of the famous villages of the Côte d’Or, with perhaps the subtle, herbal character the main point of difference.
The charm of Xareŀlo won’t stay undiscovered forever. There’s a huge opportunity here for adventurous drinkers to explore, whether it be adding an extra dimension to a wine list or opening the eyes of their Francophile friends; serve a top bottle without revealing its identity, and see where people think it’s from! It’s a truly exciting time for fans of Spanish wine.