Cava Wine: “Spanish Champagne”
What is Cava wine?
Cava wine was once called “Spanish Champagne,” a term now prohibited under European law (though that doesn’t stop the locals from calling it champán). Cava is produced the same way as its French counterpart, but with different grapes.
Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine produced mainly in Catalonia. It’s predominately enjoyed white (blanc), but a growing number of remarkable Rosés are now being produced. Cava has to be made in the traditional method and originate in Catalonia to boast Cava DO status.
Interestingly, Cava is more akin to Champagne than Prosecco, and cheaper than both. Cava is lower in sugar than even Prosseco, so it’s the perfect choice for the calorie and cost-conscious consumer. If you want to bag a low-cost, low-carb sparkling wine, Cava is the perfect choice!
Types of Cava wine
- Brut Nature: very little residual sugar. 0-3 g/l
- Extra Brut: 06 g/l residual sugar
- Brut: 0-12 g/l residual sugar
- Semi Seco/Extra Dry: 12-17 g/l residual sugar
Cava is made solely with native white grape varieties, so Rosé Cava needs red grapes thrown into the mix to add that pink hue and extra flavor we all know and love. Various grapes are added to imbue hue and floral, fruity notes.
Vintage and aged Cava wine (Reserva and Gran Reserva)
Cava is best known as a lively young aperitif. However, high-quality aged Cavas are becoming more common. Vintage/aged Cavas ooze a complex body with toasted notes of apple and nuts. Cava producers look to France for inspiration in making a proper aged sparkling wine. Following French viticulture, Spanish vintners often age Cava made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, both classic Champagne grapes.
Cava Wine Grape Varieties
- Macabeau (white grape)
- Parellada (white grape)
- Xarel-lo (white grape
Rosé Cava is produced with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Garnacha, and Monastrell to give Cava a pink hue and robust, fruity flavor.
What does Cava wine taste like?
- Dry, light-bodied
- Fresh citrusy flavor
- Crisp finish
Macabeu, or Viura as it’s known in the Spanish wine region of Rioja, is the king of Cava wine grapes. With all the hype, you’d think Macabeau would offer world-class complexity and taste on its own.
But it’s actually a relatively simple grape with light floral aromas, zesty flavor, and a bitter finish reminiscent of almonds. The lesser of the common Cava wine grapes, Xarel-lo, is a much more dynamic fruit rich in floral aromas and flavors of lemon and pear. Parellada boasts a penetrating acidity and bold citrus flavors.
Alone, these grapes leave too little or too much to be desired. But together, now that’s where the Cava magic happens. The Cava menage e trois materializes a balanced and fruity sparkling wine less dulcet than Prosecca but younger tasting than an aged Champagne.
Where is Cava made?
True Cava bears the Cava DO label. Cava is made throughout Spain, but the majority is produced in the region of Penedes (just down the road from Barcelona) and the Ebro River Valley in Rioja. About 95 percent of Cava is produced in Penedes, with the village of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia boasting a large number of the region’s Cava houses. As of this writing, nearly 200 vintners are registered with the Cava Consejo Regulador, Spain’s Cava regulatory body.
How should I enjoy Cava wine?
- Flute or tulip wine glass
Which food goes well with Cava wine?
Like all sparkling wines, Cava goes well with a variety of food pairings. Its crisp, zesty flavor and bright finish cut through rich foods without diminishing your favorite dish’s flavor. ¡Buen Provecho!
- Artichokes and asparagus
- Aged cheeses and goat cheese
- White, creamy sauces
- Fried food
- Rice dishes
- Fruity salads
- Gambas al ajillo
- Egg dishes
History of Cava
What is it about sparkling wine and rich history? We see this with France’s Champagne and Italy’s Prosecco. Arguably, Champagne was invented first (by accident…hello secondary fermentation) by France, who made it mainstream and took this otherwise known wine fault into a global phenomenon.
1872 is said to be the first production of Spanish Cava by Codorniu estate. This estate is still visited today by thousands of people in the Cataluna region. Like the French, underground cellars were built for the production of sparkling wines.
Freixenet is another flagship cava estate that has reached millions globally. Hundreds of estates produce cava in the Penedes region near Barcelona. The close proximity to the city has made it possible for exporting and gaining attention early on.
Cava production also takes place in La Rioja, Aragon, Castille y Leon, Extremadura, and other places around Spain.
Styles of Cava
Just like Champagne, Cava can come in a variety of styles.
Brut and Brut Nature (Extra Brut):
AKA dry and extra dry. These are the most common styles of Cava. They are nutty, full of citrus, acidic, and have a slightly bitter aftertaste.
You can also find some sweeter cava wines that will be labeled seco, semiseco, and dulce.
The pink stuff! Rose Cava is made with red grapes. This is also usually dry.
Real luxury is aged cava called Reserva Cava or Gran Reserva Cava. It is aged on the lees (pretty much dead yeast and particles from the winemaking process), which gives it great body and flavors of almond and baked apples.
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