Cava: Traditional Method Sparkling Wine That Offers A Taste of Spain

Cava has its origins in the Penedès region of Spain near Barcelona and is made in four zones around the country. Both local grape varieties and those used in Champagne are used in winemaking and as a result Cava offers a unique flavor profile along with mouth-filling bubbles. Today we are tasting a range of Cavas to help us understand their differences. We received these wines as tasting samples.

According to Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible, José (Josep) Raventós of Codorníu winery is credited with bringing the idea of traditional sparkling wine to Penedès after visiting Champagne in the 1860s. Raventós and a small group of Catalan winemakers then developed the idea of making Penedès Spain’s Champagne region. The first Cava was released in the municipality of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia in 1872 and later named Cava, after the Catalan word for cave. 

Cava: The Details

Cava must be made using the traditional method of making sparkling wine with the bubble-inducing second fermentation taking place in the bottle. The most common grape varieties used are Macabeo, Xarel·lo and Parellada, also the most widely planted varieties in DO Cava. Chardonnay, Garnacha, Subirat Parent (Malvasía), Trepat, Pinot Noir and Monastrell are also authorized grape varieties. 

Cava wine zones map from the D.O Cava website photo
Cava wine zones map from the D.O. Cava website

Sant Sadurní d’Anoia remains the heart of DO Cava. The four Cava zones include: Comtats de Barcelona (where 95% of Cava is made), Ebro Valley, Viñedos de Almendralejo and Levante. The first two zones are further divided into sub-zones.

Aging plays a significant role in the complexity and flavor profile of Cava and the wine is classified according to the minimum time spent aging: Cava (9 months), Cava Reserva (15 months), Cava Gran Reserva (30 months) and Cava de Paraje Calificado (36 months and sourced from a small distinguished location). The longer aged Gran Reserva and Paraje Calificado may only be made in the Brut Nature, Extra Brut or Brut styles (see below). Cava Rosado, (rosé Cava) is also made and may be aged according to Cava, Cava Reserva or Cava Gran Reserva aging minimums.

The style of Cava is determined by the dosage at disgorgement. Cava is categorized from Brut Nature to Dulce by the amount of sugar added at disgorgement: Brut Nature (0-3g/L) is the driest, Extra Brut (0-6g/L), Brut (max 12g/L), Extra Seco (12-17g/L), Seco (17-32g/l),Semi Seco (32-50g/L), and Dulce (+50g/L) is the sweetest. 

Let’s Taste

Alta Alella Mirgin Brut Nature Reserva, 2017, Cava photo
Alta Alella Mirgin Brut Nature Reserva, 2017, Cava

Alta Alella Mirgin Brut Nature Reserva, 2017, Cava — pale yellow with aromas of honeysuckle, wild honey and yellow apples. Flavors include yellow apples and gravelly minerality with a clean, citrusy finish. The acidity is notable, bubbles are intense and mouth filling. 12% abv. SRP $27

Xarel·lo, Macabeo and Parellada were hand harvested and fermented separately. The wine is certified organic (Made with organic grapes on the bottle) and carries the CCPAE certification seal on the back label. The wine is aged in the bottle for a minimum of 30 months and released just after disgorgement. The disgorgement date is also printed on the back label. Love the bright, clean flavors and notable acidity — just what I hope for in a Brut Nature sparkling wine.

Maset Aurum Brut Nature Reserva, 2018, Cava photo
Maset Aurum Brut Nature Reserva, 2018, Cava

Maset Aurum Brut Nature Reserva, 2018, Cava — light golden with very floral aromas of honeysuckle with notes of cinnamon and yellow apples. Citrusy flavors lead, backed by crushed rock minerality. The wine is lean with bright acidity and a very clean finish. Bubbles are soft. 11.5% abv. SRP $12

The aromas and flavors of this wine are very different. The aromas suggest a sweet, fruity flavor, but the flavors are what I expect from a Brut Nature – lean and clean, but with fruit flavors. Love the contrast. Xarel·lo and Chardonnay are blended together and aged for 24 months.

Segura Viudas Brut NV, Cava photo
Segura Viudas Brut NV, Cava

Segura Viudas Brut NV, Cava — light golden with aromas of green apples and citrus. Flavors tend toward ripe yellow apples, damp earth and citrus with a clean finish. The ripe apple flavors suggest sweetness, but the wine doesn’t taste obviously sweet. Bubbles are soft with a clean finish. 12% abv. SRP $12

The blend is 50% Macabeo, 30% Parellada, 20% Xarel·lo assembled from eight base wines, two of which aged on the lees for three months prior to blending. The wine aged in the bottle for a minimum of 12 months. The aromas and flavors of ripe apples are delicious and balance. Segura Viudas has a long history of winemaking in Penedès.

Bodegas Faustino Rosado Brut NV, Cava photo
Bodegas Faustino Rosado Brut NV, Cava

Bodegas Faustino Rosado Brut NV, Cava — medium salmon with generous aromas of strawberry compote and raspberries. Flavors are a combination of ripe strawberries and tart raspberries with citrus zest and a clean finish. Subtle background notes of dried herbs float in the background. Bubbles are angular. 12% abv. SRP $20

Technical notes are brief, and this wine is described as Rosé Garnacha and it was aged a minimum of 9 months in the bottle. The aromas and flavors are fruit forward with good balance.

Bodegas Faustino Brut Reserva NV, Cava photo
Bodegas Faustino Brut Reserva NV, Cava

Bodegas Faustino Brut Reserva NV, Cavalight golden with aromas of yellow apples and hints of cedar. Flavors follow with yellow apples, gravelly minerality and earth. Subtle background notes of dried herbs float in the background. The finish is clean and slightly citrusy with soft bubbles. 11.5% abv. SRP $19

The blend is Macabeo and Chardonnay and the wine is aged in the bottle for a minimum of 15 months.

Interestingly, both Faustino Cavas have a distinctive herbal note in the background flavors that make them distinctive and give them a signature of their own in this group.

Vins el Cep Gelida Brut Gran Reserva 2016, Cava photo
Vins el Cep Gelida Brut Gran Reserva 2016, Cava

Vins el Cep Gelida Brut Gran Reserva 2016, Cava — medium golden with aromas of toast, ripe golden apples and earth. Flavors follow with ripe golden apples with citrusy acidity and a very clean finish. The bubbles are pinpoint in a very long finish. 12% abv. SRP $20

Xarel·lo comprises 50% of the blend along with 20% Macabeo, 15% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir. Aging in the bottle exceeds 40 months. The wine is certified organic by CCPAE and Made with organic grapes appears on the back label. The flavor profile is layered and complex with great balance.

Vins el Cep brings together four families and a winegrowing history dating back to 1448. They are also early adopters of Biodynamic practices in the region and are Demeter certified.

I particularly appreciate the balance, low abv, delicious flavors and excellent affordability of these wines. They are just the thing for a weeknight meal and will pair well with lots of dishes. Then there are the two organically-certified wines — I always appreciate the additional effort and commitment it takes to achieve organic certification in the vineyard and the wine cellar.

I highly recommend the D.O. Cava website for additional information about the region and its wines as regulations have recently been updated. And thanks to O’Donnell Lane for organizing our tasting.

Cheers!

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