Cava: Just Another Sparkling Wine?
The holidays are approaching, so it's time to give a bit more thought to ... Cava! Is Cava just one of the crowd in a world full of sparkling wine?
The Cava areas are spread out across a number of different regions and comprise some 160 municipalities, a large number of which are in Catalonia (Rosell Gallart), as well as, for example, in Valencia (Dominio de la Vega) and Rioja.
Quality over Quantity
Undeniably, an enormous quantity of sparkling wine is made and consumed every year worldwide. We want to make the case for the quality of many Cavas. When you see supermarket prices, you might reasonably wonder about that.
Both Cava and Champagne begin their lives as a still (unfizzy) wine. In Spain, the grapes usually used for this (especially in Catalonia) are Macabeo, Xarel.lo and Parellada. Other grape varieties are permitted according to the D.O. Cava regulations: for example, Chardonnay has seen a strong increase.
What is essential is the way the bubbles are magicked into the bottle. That happens for both Cava and Champagne via the 'méthode traditionelle' (also called the 'méthode champenoise'). The still wine is bottled and a mixture of cane sugar, yeast and sometimes mature wine is added to it. The bottle is provisionally capped and is then put away. The additions cause the wine to start to ferment again, in what is known as secondary fermentation in the bottle, and the CO2 released mixes into the wine (logically, as the cap stops the genie from getting out of the bottle). In principle, the longer time that this 'prise de mousse' is allowed, the finer the mixing of the 'bubbles' with the wine will be. For Cava this period is fixed at a minimum of nine months. Winemakers with aspirations to quality, naturally allow this to take longer. For example, a Reserva Cava undergoes a minimum of 18 months secondary fermentation in the bottle and a Grand Reserva, at least 24. The most essential is that this way of making sparkling wine is the most refined and leads to the highest quality. And it goes without saying that it is also the most expensive.
At the end of this 'mise sur lattes', the dead yeast cells are frozen in the neck of the bottle, the cap is removed and pressure pushes the dead yeast cells out of the bottle like a plug. Before adding a definitive cork, a mixture of cane sugar and old Cava is added to the bottle. This is when the winemaker determines how 'dry' or 'sweet' he wants the Cava to be. And that's how we get the classifications of Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Seco, ...
Brut Nature: no added sugar, therefore super dry. For example: Rosell Gallart Reserva Brut Nature
Extra Brut: a maximum of 6 grammes added sugar per litre. For example: Dominio de la Vega Intimissimo
Brut: 6 to 12 grammes added sugar. For example: Dominio de la Vega Brut Reserva Especial
There are a whole lot of similarities with Champagne, but there are also clear differences. The 'terroir' is different, the grapes are different and the soil and climate are particular to each region. We dare to frame this as good fortune, after all, the wealth is in the individuality.
As is the way of the world, there are dangers in mainstream commercialism. You've only got to think of 'the long and winding road' of Cava from grape to bottle: the winemaker's work, the duration of the secondary fermentation, the more expensive sparkling wine bottles, all the other equipment, the transport and last but not least the excise duties that the government makes us pay (something like 2 euros per bottle), to realise that 5 euro Cava is actually a contradiction in terms.
It's up to you, dear reader, to make your own voyage ofdiscovery to taste and to judge. Each discovery is a blessing and the journey is a wonderful adventure. Cava has everything it takes to be a delicious sparkling wine, just like Champagne, but with its own, different and very individual character. Xpertvinum has put two mixed boxes together: the Cava Discovery Box and the Deluxe Cava Box. Enjoy!