What makes Cava different from other sparkling wines?
JOSE PASTOR: Many people associate the word Cava with a region in Cataluña responsible for producing good affordable sparkling wine. But Cava is not a region itself. The word Cava translates to “cave” or an underground place for storing wine at appropriate temperature, humidity and light conditions. Unlike Prosecco, also known to many people as an option for affordable sparkling wine and which is normally produced by the charmat method (2 nd fermentation takes place in tank), Cava can only be made by the traditional champenoise method (2 nd fermentation takes place inside the bottle), a more costly, labor-intensive way of producing sparkling wine. The majority of Cava produced in Spain comes from the Penedès region of Cataluña. Yet, there are also good examples of Cava being made in regions like La Rioja, Valencia and Extremadura, to name a few. As you can imagine, all these places or regions have different type of soils, climates and grapes. And because of that, they usually tend to produce different expressions of Cava.
What types of grapes are used to make Cava?
JOSE PASTOR: Most white Cava coming from Cataluña are blends of Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada. In terms of rosé, pink Catalan Cava is usually made with Garnacha, Monastrell and/or Trepat. In my opinion some of the most interesting, complex and age-worthy Cava is made from 100% Xarel-lo grapes.
Are there different types of Cava?
JOSE PASTOR: Like in Rioja, there are some aging requirements involved with Cava. In order to obtain the Cava back label, the wine must spend more than 9 months aging on the lees before disgorgement, more than 15 months to be called “Reserva”, and more than 30 months to be called “Gran Reserva”. Of course, these aging requirements don’t necessarily guarantee any type of quality.
What are the most prominent tasting notes of Cava?
JOSE PASTOR: Interesting question. I’m not very good with tasting notes, but when I think about Cava there are two types of producers and flavor profiles that come to mind. Those who work in a larger scale with a “quantity over quality” philosophy, such as cooperatives and large wineries, who don’t farm their own vineyards, machine harvest their grapes, and use enological products in the cellar to standardize the taste of their Cava. Although there is nothing wrong with these wines, they usually tend to retail for around $10 to $15 and have a more primary, sweet (fruity) profile and seem rather boring. Then there are those producers who work with a “quality over quantity” philosophy, such as growers and small family wineries who farm their own vineyards organically, hand harvest their grapes, and don’t use enological products in the cellar to standardize the taste of their Cava. These wines normally retail for around $20 to $25 and balance the fruitiness with a more secondary, savory (mineral) profile. This second type is the kind that I prefer. Here are the producers that I believe are worth checking out:
Established: Recaredo, Raventos i Blanc and Suriol
Up-and- Coming: Pere Mata, Mas Candí and Júlia Bernet