There are few sights more welcome at a party than a chilled bottle of Cava. One of Spain’s finest exports, this delicious sparkling wine can be found in most supermarkets for a very reasonable price. Of course, like most wines, there is much more to Cava than meets the eye, with all sorts of varieties to choose from.
Now, imagine you are sat in a bar in Barcelona’s picturesque Plaça de Catalunya, looking to order a bottle of the city’s finest Cava. Would you know what to ask for? Our beginner’s guide offers an introduction to this beautiful beverage.
What is Cava?
The name Cava comes from the Spanish word for ‘cave’ or ‘cellar’, and reflects how the wine is stored as it ferments and ages.
It was officially given this title in 1972 to distinguish it from French Champagne, which is made in a very similar way. You probably already know that Champagne can only officially be called as such if it is manufactured in France’s Champagne region, using a traditional process known as the Méthode Champenoise.
Cava operates under similar rules, in that a sparkling wine may only be officially termed a Cava if it is made in specific regions of north-east Spain.
The vast majority of Cava is produced in the Penedès region of Catalunya, just outside Barcelona. It is often made using Spanish grape varieties such as Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello, but French grapes may occasionally be incorporated.
While its preparation features the same basic steps as the Méthode Champenoise, Cava’s creation is referred to as the Método Tradicional, once again to distinguish it from Champagne. The key principle of both methods is that the bubbles are created through the fermentation process, rather than the artificial adding of CO2 that is a feature of many sparkling wines.
Which Cava should I buy?
Well, that will depend on your personal tastes. There are a number of different ways to distinguish between different varieties of Cava: chiefly its grade (or sugar content), age and brand.
Like any wine, Cava is available in dry and sweet varieties. These range from the crisp, dry Brut and Extra Brut to the sweeter Semi-Seco and Dulce.
Brut varieties contain very little, if any added sugar. They are generally considered higher in quality than the sweeter varieties, and as such are usually among the more expensive Cavas. Your choice may also factor in any accompaniments to your Cava. For example, it is traditionally enjoyed with salty Iberico ham, which may favour a pairing with a Semi-Seco variety.
A quick check of the label will reveal the grade of your Cava, and will also tell you the age of your chosen bottle. As you will have guessed, the older the Cava, the more expensive it will be.
Cava is fermented for at least 9 months to achieve its unique flavour and texture, but if you’re really looking to push the boat out, look for the Gran Reserva varieties that have been aged for over 30 months. If you’re after a good vintage, any bottle from 2006-08 can be considered a strong year.
There are plenty of Cava manufacturers to choose from, but if you’re looking for the bottles with the best reputation, there are a few big names you can look out for.
Codorniu is one of the world’s oldest manufacturers of sparkling wine, dating back as far as 1551. Having had over 460 years to perfect their process, you can be sure of a good bottle here. Other well-known Cava makers include Freixenet, Segura Viudas and Cristalino, all of which would be a welcome addition to any dining table.
How should I drink it?
Cava is best served chilled, so if you’re planning on enjoying a glass or two in your hotel room you should make sure it’s refrigerated beforehand. Purists will tell you not to put Cava in the freezer, even for a short time to chill it quickly, as this will affect its quality.
To preserve the bubbles, Cava should be poured into flute glasses. The science here is that the bubbles will have longer to travel before they reach the top of the glass. Some bars or restaurants will chill the glasses too, just to keep the Cava at its optimum temperature for longer.
Where should I drink it?
There is no better place to enjoy Cava than its Catalan source, and we offer plenty of walking and cycling holidays to this awe-inspiring region.
Take in the wondrous scenery and sun-kissed coastline of this unique corner of Europe at your own pace, and don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for a bottle of the local bubbly!