Cava is a sparkling wine that comes under the D.O Cava, a classification that rather protects a certain region, protects a method of production and standards of quality. It’s for this reason that we find Cavas that have been produced from all over Spain, with cava from Catalonia, cava from Extremadura, or even cava from La Rioja. Cava is a wine that undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle, maintaining a level of CO2 which gives it its bubbly character. Once the bottle has undergone a second fermentation, the cava is aged in the bottle, where depending on the time it can be classified as a Reserva or Gran Reserva. Cavas are also classified depending on the level of residual sugar present after the second fermentation, and can be classified in increasing levels of sugar as Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Seco, Seco, Semi Seco and Dulce.
The first Catalan sparkling wine was bottled in 1862 by Borràs Francesc Gil and Domingo Soberano Mestres in Reus, and was marketed as the “Champagne of Reus”. In the same year, Agustí Vilaret, an Indian who returned to his hometown, Blanes, decided to direct his attention to the production of natural sparkling wines. This was the beginning of Mont-Ferrant cavas, which in 1877 declared that it had already produced around 10,000 bottles. But perhaps the most important figure in the history of cava was Josep Raventos Cava and his winery Codorniu. Raventos studied in the Champagne region the classic manufacturing process of the world´s most famous sparkling wine, and begun to implement his knowledge with native strains in the centry old farmhouse of Can Codorniu in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, 25 kilometres south of Barcelona. It was in 1872 when he first officially presented his first sparkling wine in Barcelona that he perhaps unwittinly placed the Penedes region into a new oenological era. Josep Raventos, like his descendents that have run the winery after him, was a genius in the field. His excellence and success lead to him having to vastly expand his production of sparkling wine. Given his need for more space and inspired by the champagne region, he had to build the first underground winery, in a cave. It was here that the concept of cava (which actually means cave in Spanish) was concieved.
This new sparkling drink then went on to be known as “champán” or “champaña”. However, on entering the European Union, France claimed exclusive right to the name, the designation and all its variants, leaving Spain with no choice but to establish a valid code for the EU and seek its own concept. It was in 1986 when the Designation of Origin Cava was officially formed and recognized. Now, there are 240 wineries producing cava, responsible for producing over 240 million bottels.
Region, Climate and Terroir
The qualifier Cava is unlike any other conventional Designation of Origin in one essential aspect, it does not refer to a single region in particular. That is, although over 98% of all Cava production is based in Catalonia, spanning over municipalities in the province of Barcelona, Tarragona, Lleida and Girona, there are also production areas in municipalties in La Rioja, of Zaragoza, Alava, Navarra, Requena and Almendralejo (Badajoz), which are also entitled to use the designation of Cava, provided that they meet the required regulations. Accordingly, Cava is a unique denomination of origin to Spain that puts its method of production (“méthode champenoise” or second fermentation in the bottle)ahead of its geographical location. (Although there are clear areas of production whether their sparkling wines cannot be labeled as Cava as they are not produced in the areas or winery’s that are officially recognized.)
Therefore, the range of natural factors of each region and the expertise of the various winemakers has resulted in a wide range of various Cavas, with its their characteristics, yet all with the required quality. Similarly, the soils on which the numerous vineyards sit are varied, just like the weather. But in any case, despite the varying conditions, each cite in the D.O will allow proper evolution of the vineyard, especially in the pre-harvest phase, facilitating a staggered maturation of the different authorized varieties, in order to achieve wines basis suitable for the elaboration of Cava with moderate alcohol content, high acidity, low pH, and good overall health.
Types of Cava
Depending on the amount of sugar residue added during the final stages of production, Cava can be classified in 7 different ways; Cava Brut Nature (less than 3g per l or no sugar at all), Cava Extra brut (between 0-6g/l), Cava Brut (less that 12g/l), Cava Extra seco (Between 12-17 g/l), Cava Seco (Between 17-32g/l), Cava Semi-Seco (Between 32 and 50 g/l) and Cava Dulce (Above 50g/l).
Also, DO Cava will only allow a Cava to be defined as Reserva if it has aged for a minimum of 15 months, while a Gran Reserva would have to have aged for at least 30. Also, Vintage Cavas, Cavas de Cosecha, Milesimados, Vintage and others place their disgorgment date on the back label, which not only guarantees the ageing time, but also indicates fresness of the product and when is best to consume.
Sparkling Wines in the Penedès
As is happening in other regions of the country, some wineries in the Penedés are actually deciding to leave the D.O. Cava and intergrate their sparkling wines into the D.O. Penedès under the Clàssic Penedès label. This is to give their sparkling wines their own sense of identity. It´s a label that is more specific to the development of the production and quality and a commitment to the grapes coming from the Pendès own vineyards.In short, the new mark Clàssic Penédes within the D.O Penedès gives a more specific product, as it is can identify with a certain, climate and the soils. Clàssic Penedès is also integrated into the ambitious project to differentiate the different sub-areas of Penedès and their characteristics. For now there are 15 wineries that have joined the new Clàssic Penedès, with more sure to join in the future: Addia, ATRoca, Mas Comptal, Albet i Noya, Torre del Veguer, Bonans, Can Gallego, Colet, Clos Lestiscus, Finca Can Ramon , Can Morral of Moli Mas Beltran (Argila), Loxarel, Mas Can Colomé and Puig Romeu.
There are around different grape varieties that are authorized by the D.O. Cava for making Cava include the white varieties Mcabeo (Viura), Xarel.lo, Parellada, Malvasia (Subirat Parent) and Chardonnay, as well as the red varieties, Garnacha Tinta (Grenache), Monastrell, Pinot Noir and Trepat, although the last variety can only be used for the production of rosé cava.
Varieties and Character
Today on the market there is a vast range of styles of Cava. Some are made from a single grape variety, while others come from a single terroir, there are also white cavas made from red grapes. There are only others that are conceived through unique and unconventional mixing, even blending wines from different vintages, while more and more wineries are producing cavas using base wines that were fermented or partially/fully aged in oak barrels.
However, the classic trilogy of grape variety still remains Macabeo, Xarel.lo and Parellada for the majority of traditional Catalan Cavas. However, in recent years other varieties have been introduced and offered as an alternative to the purest palates. One of these new varieties is Chardonnay, which offers a Cava a creamy structure, and provides varied and delicious armoas of hazelnut, praline and butter. Another more recent addition is the Subirat Parent grape variety. This white grape is part of the Malvasia family, which results in a personal Cava with a very Mediterranean style, a remarkable touch of ripe fruit (apricot), while fresh (apple), nuts (almonds), and finally something savory and bitter at the end.
However, the number of cavas with the Xarel.lo grape as their main component are also on the rise, such as the Celler Batlle de Gramona, including the monovarietal such as the Turó d’en Mota de Recaredo, that make them suitable to acquire a lot of complexity in her long upbringings.
As for using red grape varieties, monovarietal Rosé Cavas have become very fashionable. Not only do they have a fresh, light and fruity profile, but this gives them a beautiful pinkish-raspberry colour, clean and bright.
Also popular are ´blanc de noirs´, which are white Cavas produced using red grape varieties, usually Pinot Noir. Usually these offer more bodied Cavas, even with their fruity nuances, it is a less delicate taste on the mouth with crispier bubbles, yet without losing freshness, finesse and elegance.
Also, a new approach in the world of cava production is taking full advantage of the barrel, inspired by great champagnes such as Krug or Bollinger. This comes from a desire to give more texture and body to Cava, while expanding its complexity and effects on the senses. Usually only a small proportion of the base wines used make light contact with the barrel, which results in a stronger structure and giving the cava a certain smoky nuance. Although the results are fabulous, this is a very risky and difficult technique, and only some experienced winemakers are brave enough to carry it out, such are Torelló, Albet i Noya and Agustí Torelló Mata, among others.
The vast majority of Cava producers still produce still wines, just as other produces across Spain. Apart from the large scale world famous producers Codorníu and Freixnet, with their number of wineries and brands under their respective groups, the majority of cava producers are relatively small ormedium-sized companies, which are usually family run and produce their products in limited numbers.
Codorníu. Dated back to 1872, Codorníu is seen as the birth of Catalan Cava, when Joseph Raventós produced the first bottle of sparkling wine using the "traditional method". It has since built new facilities and applied the most advanced technology in the industry. It currently has one of the largest wine cellars in the world: which spans over 25 kilometers spread over five floors.
Freixenet, one of the largest cava produces which also produces Champagne in their champagne house Henri Abelé in Reims. The company is the largest producer of sparkling wine in the world, and from a technical point of view, their wineries are currently the most advanced in the production of Cava.
Jané Ventura, although founded in 1914, the company did not start producing its own cava until 1990. Their objective has been to develop unique and distinctive wines that show the love that the owners feel for the land. This is also evident in the design of the labels, which feature symbols inspired by elements of the environment.
Agustí Torelló Mata, known as the ‘man of cava’, made a personal pact with his wife and family back in 1960 to create the winery. The winery focus on creating very personal cavas, as evidenced by Kripta, a cava first produced back in 1979, world renowned, it is known and complemented for its original presentation in an amphora-shaped bottle and label designed by the painter and sculptor Rafael Bartolozzi.
Finca Valldosera, a family winery located in the Massís del Garraf, that produces cavas from their own vineyards. They encourage native varieties such as Parent Subirat with the aim of obtaining unique wines and cavas that express the unique terroir of the Garraf.
Cavas Ferret. Located in Guardiola de Fontrubí in the Upper Penedes. Ferret is the surname of a family of renowned winemakers from the Penedes. An underrated winery, It is perhaps lesser known than it deserves, but well characterized its honesty and integrity in producing and portraying its products.
Cavas Torello. Located in the Masia de Can Martí de Baix, the Torello family continues to produce cavas with the upmost confidence from sparkling wine lovers. Using honest buisness princaples, they make cavas in limited production, under the label of Torelló.
Vallformosa farmhouse is a medium-sized company, offering a wide range of Cavas, from the young bruts to vintage and large reserves Cavas. Their products are characterized by good value.
Gramona, founded in 1921, is a small winery backed by the experience of four generations of the same family. Like any small family winery, they take great care in the craft, and their Cavas III Lustros, Celler Batlle y Enoteca are among the best brands of cava in the country.
Cavas Recaredo. Founded in 1924, this small family winery is traditionally recognized as the most traditional producer of Cava in the Penedès. They produce their cavas in very limited numbers, which have usually been aged for a considerable amount of time.
Cavas Juve & Camps. Founded in 1921, this is a company of great prestige and tradition. It has experienced significant growth in production and sales in recent decades while managing to maintain best traditional style and quality.
Cavas Nadal. A family business which was founded in 1943 specializes exclusively in the production of cava. It is located in El Plà del Penedes and Nadal Brut Salvatge, which is aged for four years, is a good example for those who love dry cavas.
Cavas Rovellats is a cava that started marketing its own brand in 1940, however its links to the wine world are much much older. The winery is located in the beautiful estate of La Bleda, in the municipality of Sant Martí Sarroca, home to an underground cellar which is star-shaped. Its product boast a good reputation in the market for of traditional and artisan cavas.
Cavas Llopart, founded in 1887, is a family company and is highly regarded by the seriousness that has always characterized its products.
Cavas del Castillo Perelada. In recent years this winery has had a good change of direction of its wine policy, where production of cavas develops in the Penedes itself, on the Olivella Ferrari estate, except for the Great Cloister, which is still made in the ancient cellars of the Carmelite monks in the Castle of Perelada.
Alta Alella is a family winery located in the prime agricultural spot of the ‘Parque natural de la Sierra de Marina’, which is located between the municipalities of Tiana and Alella. It is the closest winery to the heart of Barcelona, while its creator, Josep Maria Pujol-Busquets, is a pioneer in organic viticulture and the latest technology in the industry
Raimat in Costers del Segre. Part of the Codorniu group, Raimat is a pioneer in the development and marketing of Cavas made using chardonnay grapes. It uses its own vineyards and produces a complete range of products.
Faustino Martinez is an ancient cellars in La Rioja region. It is renowned for its still wines white, pink and red wines, yet only a small part of their regular clientele knows about its sparkling wine.