Cava, known around the world as the cheaper and rougher cousin of Champagne. Deservedly? Not always. We would like to help you to be better informed about this vastly underrated bubble.
Cava is sparkling wine from Spain, produced using the following grapes, Macabeu (white), Parellada (white) and Xarel·lo (white). Other grapes are also used, including garnacha (grenache) and chardonnay. The majority of the wine comes from Penedes in Catalonia. It is made using the champenoise method, this is also a strict requirement for being labelled Cava. If it is made another way, it can only be labelled sparkling wine.
The generic flavour profile of Cava is fruity and balanced, with each grape bringing its own subtle tastes and aromas from bitter and lemony to floral and herbal. There can be incredibly complex flavour compounds in Cava, much like Champagne. As you can also find pinot noir and chardonnay, you will also find yeasty, toasty and nutty flavours though they are not so prominent and mainly found in the older vintage Cavas.
The overall ageing process is what separates Cava from Champagne. Cava is typically aged for a minimum of 9 months, to anything over 30 months. You can tell how long they have been aged by looking at their classification on the labels:
Cava: Minimum of 9 months
Reserva Cava: Minimum of 15 months
Gran Reserva Cava: Minimum of 30 months
Most Cava is the 9 month old one, produced to be a vibrant young wine best enjoyed as soon as it is released. Ageing Cava is not the norm in Spain, however more and more producers are creating vintages and using non traditional grapes to aid the ageing process. We just bought a 2010 vintage bottle back from Barcelona, and I cant wait to try it. These aged Cavas exude more baked fruit aromas of apples and raisins as well as yeast and toast.
Cava comes in a number of styles including: brut, extra brut, brut nature, semi secco (sweet) much like champagne. You can also find rose varieties, often made with the addition of still red wine from mourvedre, garnacha and pinot noir. We found the brut nature to be quite prominent in the bars in Barcelona, it is drier and less sweet than brut or semi secco and it cuts very nicely through the delecious fatty iberico ham and chorizo.
Do not be so dismissive of Cava next time you are in your local supermarket, it can be decadent and delicious and makes an admirable alternative to champagne. Cheaper? Yes. Rougher? Sometimes. Worth a try? Absolutely. Keep an eye out for the Reserva and Gran Reserva varieties, as these are the ones to rival champagne in flavour.