Sparkling wine – Cava


  1. Cava grand cru sites announced. July 2017. Decanter magazine [online]. Accessed 28/10/17.
  2. Freixenet launches its own Prosecco to compete in the Veneto. June 2017. Decanter magazine [online] accessed 28/10/17.
  3. Premium cava classification. Decanter Staff. May 2016. Decanter magazine [online] accessed 28/10/17.
  4. Consejo approves new cava category. Wong, D. May 2015. The Drinks Business. [online] accessed 28/10/17.
  5. Can a new cava classification win over consumers? Wislocki, A. March 2015. Decanter Magazine [online] accessed 28/10/17.

Cava translates to cave, but relates rather, to the networks of underground caves used for ageing wine.  Cava DO is a Spanish sparkling wine made using the traditional method, metodo tradicional in Spanish; with a fruit forward style showing green and citrus fruit, with medium (+) acidity.  All Cava is vintage, some bottles may not show the year.

Cava is commonly synonymous with cheapness, so it is hard for small producers to remain competitive, and denigrates high quality Cava offerings, which may not be taken seriously. And, Champagne is marketed so successfully, that many reach for it reflexively for a special occasion, so Cava along with others, suffer.

There are 3 types of Cava – based on the period of lees ageing, and then on the sweetness level, from brut to dulce, and there’s a rosado and vintage too.

Production is centred around Penedes (> 95%), just south of Barcelona, in the Region of Catalonia. Catalonia is in north-east Spain, bordering Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France. Eight wine producing regions have the right to make Cava DO, including Rioja and Valencia.

Altitude 200-500m, the best vineyards are at high altitude, 10-15km back from the coast. Climate ranges from Mediterranean – mild winters, wet springs and hot summers – moderated by proximity to the sea, with onshore and offshore breezes; to continental further inland, where altitude is important to retain acidity – remember the temperature lapse rate of 1C with 100m increase in altitude.

Calcareous (limestone) dominant, with gravel, sand and clay – a good combination for drainage and moisture retention.

Low prices of low quality Cava, at about €2 on the Spanish shelf, depress the market value and denigrate the higher quality wines, making it difficult for them to find a market.  It is also felt that the denomination is too wide geographically, and that this should shrink – this is somewhat reminiscent of the case of Prosecco.  As a result there is now a significant break away from the Cava DO, with more than 10 Penedes producers labelling their product outside the DO, as Spanish Sparkling Wine. (Decanter online, 02/11/12). Further, in March 2013 (Decanter online 15/03/13), a breakaway appellation has been proposed, named Conca Del Riu Anoia – with rules including organic certification; maximum yield 10t/ha; minimum grape pricing of €1/kg instead of the current €0.2/kg; minimum lees ageing of 18 months; though there is leniency on varieties which can be domestic and international.

The higher quality wines are designed to compete with champagne.  These include offerings from Codorniu and Gramona, at around the £100 point.

The main foreign markets are, in 2012, in order of volume: Germany, UK, Belgium, US, Japan, France and Switzerland.

Volume by category, bottles, 2012: Cava (min lees ageing) – 210m, Reserva – 28m, Gran reserva – 5m.

Brut dominates demand, local and foreign, at about 50% of total Cava demand.

A new top-most quality level is set to be introduced by the Consejo Regulador post-harvest 2016. This is to be called Cava de Paraje Calificado (Qualified Single Estate Cava). The rules include stipulation of climate, soil, production methods, and a minimum 36 months ageing (6 months more than the current gran reserva). This may work in the domestic market, but outside Spain cava faces dual challenges – an uphill battle for volume against cheap quaffable off-dry prosecco, and its persistent historic, though long unfounded, reputation of poor quality. This echoes the anecdotal perceptions of many, handed down through generations, of now, ill-informed bias against Valpolicella, Chianti and German riesling.

My personal view, is that rather than pouring effort into introducing new quality levels, unintelligible in export markets, a vivid marketing campaign might achieve greater market penetration. I am always surprised at ignorance of cava being made in the same way as champagne, whilst 99.99% of prosecco is tank made.

In 2012, there were 253 producers, with a total production of about 240m bottles – with 1/3 for the home market and 2/3 for the foreign market (Cava Consejo Regulador).

The two largest producers are, at No.1 – Freixenet, a family business with about 60% of total production, followed by Codorniu.

Codorniu is Catalan family owned, since 1551, and has one of the largest underground cava storage cave networks.

An interesting development, from a competition viewpoint, reported in Decanter online 04/02/13, relates Miguel Torres, Spain’s largest winemaker, move into Cava production, with a first release in 2015.  It is not clear whether these wines will be outside the Cava DO.

Generally low density bush vines, but these are being replaced by training to wires, to facilitate machine harvesting – so no whole bunch pressing then.  Southerly hillside exposures.

Traditional varieties, all white:

  • macabeo (aka viura) – the mostly widely planted white variety in Catalonia, it is late budding and ripening, and thrives in hot climates. It is aromatic and contributes a lightly floral character; acidity tends to be low; its use tends dominate in a traditional blend. Most Cava from outside Catalonia is varietal viura.  It is late budding and ripening, and thrives in hot climates.
  • parellada – early budding, very late ripening, prefers high altitude with attendant diurnal temperature range. Parellada is the star component in traditional blends, contributing body, and delicate lemony acidity.  It is the least planted of these 3 varieties.
  • xarel·lo or xarello – an early budding vigorous variety, prefers low altitude. Contributes high acidity, power and depth, and a relatively high sugar level; with apple, citrus – limey, pear, and herby notes.
    People continue to say that xarello gives an earthy note – I have not found this, indeed this is apparently a thing of the past, assumedly mitigated by improvements in vinification (Clarke and Rand, 2008).

Other, black varieties: monastrell for blanc de noir and rosado; garnacha and trepat for rosado.
International varieties: chardonnay and pinot noir; Freixenet and Codorniu blend both with the traditional varieties.  Chardonnay seems to add tropical and stone fruit notes to a blend, for example Anna de Codorniu, a blend of 70% chardonnay, with 30% traditional white varieties, also sparkling albarino.

Same pressing regs as for French cremant, that is 100l from 150kg of grapes.
Varieties vinified separately, then blended prior to 2nd fermentation.
For rosado, there is skin contact for colour extraction, this must is fermented separately from the whites with which it is blended, after the 1st fermentation completes.
1st fermentation, temperature 14-15.5C, 10-12 days duration (Freixenet).
1st fermentation, temperature 15-17C*, duration not given (Codorniu).

2nd fermentation, traditional method in bottle, at a steady 15-17C in dark quiet cellars.

Lees ageing, minimum months – 9 for Joven, 15 for a Reserva, and 30 for a Gran reserva, which must be in the brut family – natur, extra brut or brut.
Alcohol – a range of 10.8-12.8% abv.
Pressure – minimum of 4 atm.

Post dosage rest period – I can find no indication of this.

*A note on low temperature 1st fermentation (Rand, 2013)
In recent decades the 3 white Cava varieties have been fermented like chardonnay, that is at a relatively low temperature. Codorniu recognised that this shortens the finish and gives a bitter note to the wine.  They experimented by reverting to the older method of making daily additions of new must to a fermentation, albeit still with temperature control but not at cold temperatures.  This, they say, and in 2012 they fermented 30k hl in this way, lessens the bitterness and allows the grapes to express themselves more naturally – it’s easier, cheaper and better – as they say, this is not often the case when one reverts to older methods.

The majority of Cava is ready to drink directly after disgorging, there are few wines which will benefit from home cellar ageing.

Some vintage wines – millessime, a Codorniu for example, at about £10, are recommended to consume within 12 months of purchase. There are more elderly  wines on the market, many in the US, I have seen 2008 remarked by the Wine Advocate as having a 4-5 year post-vintage drinking window; in UK BBR show Bodegas Gramona vintages 2001-2008, all are noted as drinking now, with the 2001 drinking 2012-2016 at £80, and quoted as more than a worthy rival to champagne.  These wines have similarities to Champagne, with some autolytic notes, but never a lot; and perhaps a little chardonnay or pinot noir in the blend – not to give a taste of Champagne though.

Style (from the Cava Institute)
Styles are the same as for champagne, except brut styles are all in one band of < 12g/l.

Brut – <12 g/l
Extra sec –  12-17 g/l
Sec – 17-32 g/l
Demi-sec – 32-50 g/l
Dulce – >50 g/l

Tasting note
To me, the major differences with champagne, are slightly lower acidity; the presence of a limey note, sometimes strident, sometimes quite subdued, on the nose and palate; a (so far) fruit forward character, and low-key autolytic notes, if at all.

Joven Brut – medium intensity gold; medium (+) intensity, youthful, with aromas of ripe green apple, limey citrus, quince-like spice, toast and warm brioche notes; a dry wine with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) alcohol and a medium (-) body; medium (+) intensity flavours of green apple, limey citrus and toast.  A creamy mousse with long persistence, with a crisp finish on a medium length.


Updated 27/10/17

About citbp

I am interested in everything about wine, from site selection to tasting.
This entry was posted in SPAIN, SPARKLING WORLDWIDE. Bookmark the permalink.

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