While we’re in Bubbles Mode, let’s look at Spain’s answer to inexpensive sparkling wine – and a longtime go-to staple around these parts…Cava.
Cava, which translates from Catalan Spanish as “Cave,” refers to the underground spaces in which the sparkling wine was aged. Most of this wine is produced in the Penedes region of Spain due west of Barcelona. Made primarily from the grapes Parellada, Xarel’lo, and Macabeu, Sparkling wine was produced in the region 1851, but the Cava industry truly launched after a major Catalan wine producer, Josep Raventós, traveled through France and decided to produce a sparkling wine in the style of Champagne. The first Cava was bottled in 1872.
Cava is produced in the same method, known as Methode Champenoise, as Champagne. In this method, the wine is carbonated from secondary fermentation in the bottle. The fermentation is caused by the addition of a small amount of sugar and yeast, known as liqueur de tirage, before the bottles are capped. Carbon dioxide produced by the fermentation is forced back into the liquid. The dead yeast is removed from the bottle through a process called riddling, and the wines are then corked for sale.
The sweetness level of cava is indicated by a designation on the bottle. Brut Nature is the driest version, followed by Brut, Extra Seco (sometimes labeled “Extra Dry”), Seco, and Dulce (sweet). Cava is a traditional accompaniment for tapas, so it can pair with a broad spectrum of foods.
I’ve long sung the praises of cava as an inexpensive sparkler, especially in the holiday season. Here are a pair of these Spanish darlings that I’ve come across recently:
Anna de Codorníu (NV) Blanc de Blanc Brut Reserva Cava – Emblazoned with a profile of Anna de Cororníu, the heiress whose family’s history in Spanish wine can be traced back to 1551, her Blanc de Blanc is an interesting twist on traditional Cava., which takes a big step towards its French cousins. 75% of the wine is made from Chardonnay, which is a rarity, at least for my experience. The result is a Cava that tastes a great deal like Champagne, with a toasty, nutty nose from the Chardonnay, which is followed by lemon and pear flavors and a crisp, zingy finish. There’s a little bit of residual sugar at the end – and that mild sweetness makes it a very flexible food wine. Whether with a shellfish or soup course, or with something more fatty like cheese or fried chicken, this is a surprisingly well-balanced wine for $15. A solid offering.
Freixenet 2013 Vintage Cava Brut Nature – Longtime Vine favorite Freixenet (of black bottle fame) has rolled out a new series of sparklers – this time a vintage cava series. I haven’t seen a lot of vintage Cava, especially in this price range, so I was curious to give it a go. I thought, all in all, it’s quite good for a reasonably inexpensive sparkler. There’s It’s a few dollars more expensive than the “black bottle” Freixenet that I’m used to. Lemons and apples on the nose, with a delicate lemony flavor and zingy, lasting finish. The carbonation is quite sharp, and the finish is very clean. It’s very dry – as you might expect. “Brut Nature” means that it’s even drier than a standard Brut. It would be a great match for anything fatty – from cheeses to KFC. It’s a few dollars more expensive than the “black bottle” Freixenet that you see most commonly – the bottle I found ran around $16. If you like your sparkling wines on the delicate side, those might be dollars well spent.