While in case of French Champagne the appellation is a geographical region as well, in case of cava the appellation is more complicated. Spanish sparkling wines are allowed to be named cava if they are made according to DO CAVA regulations, and are made in one of the regions permitted by DO CAVA. These regions are in different parts of Spain: Aragon, Castile and León, Extremadura, La Rioja, Basque Country, Navarre, Valencia and the Catalonian Penedés – this latter one is the most important with 95% of all cava production.
Most cavas are blends, but of course there are varietal cavas as well. The traditional and most frequent blend is that of the 3 indigenous white varieties: Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada.
Cavas are made with different sugar levels, like most other bottle fermented sparkling wines of the world: brut nature, extra brut, brut, extra seco (extra dry), semi seco (semi sec), dulce (doux). However, a greater proportion of cavas are vinified without any dosage to make brut nature cavas – the purest expression of the grapes and the terroir. Brut nature is the most consumed category in Penedés region.
In a nutshell: cava is a bottle fermented (méthode traditionnelle) sparkling wine rigorously controlled in Spain. Only certain regions are allowed to make cava and the grape varieties are also regulated. Minimum ageing on the lees is 9 months.
Confraria del Cava
What kind of glass do you drink cava out of? For many years flutes were said to be the best options, but by now opinion has changed. As Guillermo Cruz sommelier says “They are too elongated and fail to let wines express their full potential. Thus sparkling wines come straight into the mouth and cannot expand on the palate”. He – like many others – believes that a glass with wider bowl shows much more of the complexity of cavas. If the rim is narrower (tulip shape), the bowl concentrates all the beautiful aromas and keep them in the glass. For especially long aged cavas a still white wine glass is even more appropriate.
According to the length of bottle ageing, cava is divided into 4 categories, Grand Reserva is the third of them in term of length. For a Grand Reserva cava the minimum ageing on the lees is 30 months. The result is a complex sparkling wine with notes from maturation (brioche, yeast, nuts) and subtle, integrated bubbles.
For cava the following white grapes are allowed: Macabeo, Xarel.lo, Parellada, Chardonnay and Malvasia. As for black grapes, Pinot Noir, Trepat, Garnacha and Monastrell are the permitted grapes.
The Spanish word for sparkling wine. This term applies if the wine does not meet any of the DO CAVA criteria, for example the wine is made of grapes which are not allowed or the wine is made in a wine region not allowed to use DO CAVA.
Known as Viura in Rioja, this white grape is widespread all over the country and also planted in France (Roussillon). Macabeo (or Macabeu) most likely originates from Vilafranca del Penedés, where it was mentioned first in 1617. Ripe, exotic citrus and stone fruit aromas, exotic and waxy floral notes (bergamot, chamomile) – adds elegance, and is the base of most blends.
Parellada originates in Aragón in north-east Spain. One of the most used white grape varieties. Fairly aromatic grape with floral notes and yellow fruits. Moderate alcohol and fruity acidity. Less capable of being aged, therefore it is not much used in Grand Reserva cavas.
According to the length of bottle ageing, cava is divided into 4 categories, ‘Cava de Paraje Calificado’ is the fourth of them in term of length. For a Paraje cava the minimum ageing on the lees is 36 months. The grapes from Paraje cavas should come from a single vineyard with crop of outstanding quality.
According to the length of bottle ageing, cava is divided into 4 categories, Reserva is the second of them in term of length. For a Reserva cava the minimum ageing on the lees is 15 months. A Reserva cava is still vibrant, fresh and lively, but notes of maturation also appear – dried fruits, delicate bakery products.
A word used for the lines of bottles ‘sleeping’ in the cellar for months or years with the lees inside. A rima is built carefully and also it is a pleasure for the eyes during winery visits.
Sant Sadurní d’Anoia
This little town in the province of Barcelona is called the ‘Capital of Cava’. There are more than 80 cava houses (for a population of only 17.000), including the two largest ones, Freixenet and Codorníu.
Each cava bottle has a little round sticker on the top, on the capsule of the cork. The white sticker stands for young cavas (minimum 9 months), the green stickers sign Reserva cavas (minimum 15 months), while the black labels cover the cork of Grand Reserva cavas.
A Spanish black grape, originating from Conca de Barberà in north-east Spain. Nowadays almost all Trepat vineyards are found in Catalonia. Trepat gives fruity wines with red berry fruits, hay and some spiciness.
The most important grape for most cavas. It is the ‘Chardonnay’ of cavas, because it has sufficient acidity, great structure, distinguished aroma profile plus it has a long ageing potential. Xarel-lo was first mentioned in 1785 in Sitges (Penedés, Catalonia, Spain), and this city is its most likely place of origin.