So, what exactly is Cava?
Cava is Spain’s sparkling wine. It’s a protected D.O. and makes its wine in much the same way as Champagne. Specifically, there is a second fermentation in-bottle unlike Prosecco which can be made in industrial quantities in large stainless-steel tanks with no bottle fermentation.
Has Spain always produced Cava?
No. Production was started in 1874 by a chap called José Raventos in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia after visiting Champagne.
Does Cava use the same grape varieties as Champagne namely is Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier ?
Mostly Cava is made with local grape varieties including Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello.
Champagne is made in a strictly delimited area obviously known as ‘Champagne’. Is Cava similarly delimited?
Yes and no. It can be made in the Barcelona area, Valencia, Zaragoza, Rioja and strangely at the other end of the country in Extremadura. Many feel these widely different geographical locations, with their varied climatic conditions, do nothing for either the quality of the wine nor its image.
You mentioned Cava land is on the move. What exactly do you mean by this?
There’s been widespread dissatisfaction amongst many producers with the poor image of Cava where quantity has ruled over quality. Many are trying to make premium wines out of selected patches of vineyards but under the Cava’s D.O. regulations they have been unable to mention specific locations on their labels thus preventing wines, in their eyes, from acquiring a premium image amongst consumers. This is now changing, and it will be possible for producers to label their wines with specific sub regions. It is not clear from the D.O.s web site if specific vineyards will be allowed on the labels.
What else is the D.O. doing to improve Cava’s image?
Its bringing in a new type of Cava called Cava de Guarda which implies the wine can age gracefully. Look out for these on Cava labels:
Cava de Guarda – Aged in bottle for at least 9 months.
Cava de Guarda Reserva – Aged in bottle for at least 18 months.
Cava de Guarda Gran Reserva – Aged in bottle for at least 30 months.
Cava de Paraje Calificado – Aged in bottle for at least 36 months.
How this will affect the ultimate quality of the wine remains to be seen. I for one, look forward to trying these out, after all who doesn’t want Champagne quality at more modest prices?!
Do you yourself drink Cava?
Yes, occasionally, in summer with friends. Usually, pink. I consider Cava to be better than Prosecco but inferior to Champagne. My perception follows that of most consumers. Perhaps unfairly.
Are there any wine critics out there who consider Cava to be underrated?
I suspect that most wine critics outside Spain will have similar views to the average wine drinking consumer. After having said, checking scores on some critic’s web sites I was surprised to see some seriously high scores. A producer called Gramona, amongst others, has achieved very high scores comparable to the best Champagne can offer. I was very surprised by this. Not surprisingly the bulk of Cavas received very low scores.
What’s the best Cava you’ve tasted?
Hispano Suiza’s Tantum Ergo Cava 2009. This was back in 2013. It was served blind together with Gosset Brabant Noirs D’Ay NV and Gosset Brabant Cuvee Gabriel 2002 Champagnes. We all thought the Hispano Suiza was also a top-notch Champagne!
You also mentioned that some producers have broken away from the Cava D.O. What’s the story behind this?
As already mentioned, there are many dissatisfied Cava producers with the poor image of Cava. In 2019 five of the best producers decided to break rank with the Cava denomination. They go by the name of Corpinnat and hope that with more stringent requirements such as ageing, grape yields, adopting organic practices and manual collection they can elevate their wines on a par with the best in the world. It remains to be seen of course. The first breakaway group included Gramona, Nadal, Recaredo, Castellroig and Llopart. They were later joined by another five. It will be interesting how this develops.
Three ‘Cavas’ to look out for:
Hispano Suiza Cavas (Try their Tantum Ergo Rose for 22 Euros.)
Gramona (Considered by many to be the finest sparkling wine maker in Spain. Can no longer be called Cava.)
Recaredo (Can no longer be called Cava.)