Holiday Wine Series: Cava

by mary on January 6, 2008

Cava Mirgin 2004Cava is the bubbly of Spain…more specifically it is sparkling wine made by the traditional method within Spain.  So, yes, all cava is theoretically Spanish, just as all champagne is theoretically from Champagne.  I don’t know of many new world sparkling wine producers that are taking the cava name, so cava has less of a problem with definitions.  Cava, unlike champagne, is not made in a specific region of Spain, but rather in five different regions…though in practice 95% of all cava is made in Cataluña, its birth place. 

When I say traditional method, read champenoise method, a term that has been banned within the European Union.  The champenoise method means that sugar and yeast are added to a still base wine in a bottle and a second fermentation occurs in that same bottle that makes the wine sparkling.  This is the same bottle that eventually reaches the consumer. 
This is the method by which the top sparkling wines of the world are made. There are other methods such as the tank method, in which the second fermentation occurs in bulk in a tank, that are used for less expensive sparkling wines.  

The traditional grapes varieties are Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel.lo, though the use of Chardonnay is on the rise. The minimum aging period for cava is nine months.

Cava is not champagne and never will be…the wines are made from different grapes in different terroirs.  However the growing quality of cava is undeniable.  In my personal drinking experience, the top champagnes are unmatchable, but in lesser price ranges, many times cava offers much better quality for value.  A good example are some of the excellent cavas in the 10-20 euro range that I would much rather drink than almost all of the basic cuvees of the large champagne houses (which all cost 30-40 euros here in Spain). 

Some of my favourite cava producers are:  Gramona, Raventos i Blanc, Agustí Torelló, Sumarocca, Parés Baltá, and Albet i Noya

A word on rosé cavas:  do not expect the same quality as the white cavas.  They are often quite coarse and lack elegance.  They have never been a major focus and are a tiny part of the production.  There are some better ones coming out, but I have yet to be very impressed.  The main grape here is Monastrell, with Pinot Noir being used more and more. 

I recently had a head to head tasting of two cavas of very different price ranges…and the cheaper cava came out on top.  Be wary of some of the more expensive cavas…they too can be as over priced as some champagnes!

1. Cava:  Imperial 2003
Bodega: Gramona
Wine Region:  DO Cava (Penedés, Cataluña)
Grape varieties:  50% Macabeo, 40% Xarel.lo, 10% Chardonnay
Category:  Gran Reserva Brut
Aging: aged 36-48 months over lees
Alcohol: 11.5%
Residual sugar: 3-10 g/l
Price:  12-14 euros
Tasting notes: Small, consistent bubble.  Leesy, toasty and red apple aromas dominate nose.  Quite a round mouth, with lovely integrated CO2, smoky notes and elegant acidity….quite vinous.  Not the most complex sparkling wine, but very balanced and quite elegant.  Great value
2.  Cava:  Mirgin 2004
Bodega: Alta Alella
Wine Region:  DO Cava (Penedés, Cataluña)
Grape Varieties:  Chardonnay with a small percentage of traditional grapes
Category:  Brut Nature (Organic)
Aging: 20% of base wine barrel fermented, 26 months aging over lees
Alcohol: 12%
Residual sugar: 1.5 g/l
Price:  28-30 euros
Tasting notes:  Small, weak bubbles.  Honey, spice and toast on nose, but there is something strange, plastic or chemical that persists.  Can’t get beyond that on the nose.  The mouth is excellent though, toasty, elegant.  Finer, more elegant bubble than Gramona…smoother finish.  BUT, the plastic note in the nose is very off-putting and makes the wine defective.  Not a cava I’d repeat in this vintage.

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