CAVA Goes Classy

Cava, Spain’€™s gift to the sparkling wine world, has been an old friend. It is well priced, flavorful, and a quick answer when your customers are looking for some bubbly for brunch. It’€™s also a perfect answer for sushi. But now is the time for you to explore the newly arriving cavas. Cana production is 200,000,000 bottles a year ‘€“ the same amount as in Champagne.

Cava dates back to1872, when vineyards were replanted after the Phylloxera devastation. Producers learned from the French, and created the first sparkling wines in Spain. Almost 100 years later, in 1986, the EU granted a DO to cavas from the Penedes area, which has deep soils that contain minerals, calcium carbonate and limestone. The nucleus of activity is in Sant Sadurni d’€™Anoia. All are made by the traditional method, Método Tradicional, which means that the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. The phrase ‘€˜Méthode Champenoise’€™ may no longer used.

[In all fairness, besides the cavas from the DO Penedes, I recently tasted an excellent Spanish sparkling wine, not officially a cava, with the DO La Mancha, produced by Bodegas Alcardet. Their Brut Nature Oro 2008. which is bottled in clear glass, has edible gold added at the time of dosage, and is quite festive.]

The main grape varieties of DO Cava are the thin-skinned white Macabeo, which gives body and flavor, the thicker-skinned Xarel-lo for acidity and anti-oxidant properties, and the Parellada for floral notes. White grapes recently added to this list are Chardonnay, and varieties of Malvasia. Rosé (Pink) cavas are made with the red Trepat, Monastrell, Garnacha. and Pinot Noir. Red grapes may be used in the white blends when taken off the skins immediately at the winery. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, most notably, are being made into single varietals.

Aging requirements set down in 2007 are 9 months minimum to be called a ‘€œcava.’€ A Reserva must be aged on the lees for at least 15 months in the cellars, and a Gran Reserva must spend a minimum of 30 months on the lees before disgorging in the cellars, and is only produced in the drier styles. More Reservas and Gran Reservas are coming to market. While only Gran Reservas used to be vintage-dated, now all cavas may be vintage-dated. Further, all cava bottles are now numbered.

Sugar levels for the dosage were first defined in 1972, starting with Brut, which can go up to 12 grams/liter. Also defined were Extra Seco (Extra Dry) going from 12 to 17 grams/liter, Seco (Dry) ranging from 17 to 32 grams/liter, Semi Seco (Medium Dry) ranges from 32 to 50 grams/liter, and Dolce (Sweet), used for anything over 50 gms/liter.

In 1991, Brut Nature was added, and is a maximum of 0.3 grams/liter sugar, which is below the threshold of taste. Extra Brut can range up to 6 grams/liter.

Recently, a group of cava producers who are members of the Confraria del CAVA, came to town showing cavas expressive of these aging requirements, dosage levels, and produced with grape blends that mix native Spanish grapes with international varieties. They are also vintage-dated. A tasting proved that cava is moving up to the next level.

Here are my personal favorites, all of which were delicious: Codorniu Pinot Noir Brut Reserve, 100% Pinot Noir, and first Pinot Noir rosé cava. FYI, Cordoniu planted the first Chardonnay in Penedes in 1984; Freixenet Reserva Real, which spends 5 to 7 years on the lees; Gramona III Lustros 2004, 5 to 6 years on the lees, with no added dosage; Sigura-Viudas Reserva Heredad (Estate) with over 5 years on the lees; Torello 225 Gran Reserva 2007, made from 40-year-old vines, no dosage; Vilarnau Albert de Vilarnau Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend, 30 months on the lees.

Also, at a recent tasting of ‘€œValues and Best Wines’€ from the 2011 Penin Guide, I also liked the cavas from El Xamfra, Josep Maria Raventós i Blanc, and Hispano-Suizas.

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