Cava is one of the most popular sparkling wines in the world, made with the methode traditionelle -winemaking technique that also brought us Champagne and some of the most sophisticated bubbles around the globe- it is known to be elegant, dry and crisp.
Made in the Catalonian region Penedés since the mid-XIX century, the wine has typically been blended from three local white grape varieties: Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel·lo. The first one contributes with delicate and floral notes, the second with its high acidity and citric character and the third with an elegant perfume filled with white fruit and jasmine. Chardonnay is occasionally included in the mix, and some rosé Cavas are made with the addition of Pinot Noir, Grenache or Monastrell.
Time and success have made of Cava an empire and as national and global demand for it grew, it’s leaders have conquered more land and have expanded the areas where Cava-making is allowed. According to the Cava Regulatory Board, the current DO includes 159 municipalities from Barcelona (63), Tarragona (52), Lleida (12), Girona (5), La Rioja (18), Álava (3), Zaragoza (2), Navarra (2), Valencia (1) and Badajoz (1).
— 50 Great Cavas (@50GreatCavas) March 28, 2016
And as with all empires, kings have risen, Freixenet and Codorníu -the two biggest Cava producers- were strong players in the region’s growth and together account for the majority of Cava sales. But no kingdom is utopic and dissent bred quietly among disagreeing elders who wondered how can Cava express terroir when it can be made in such a wide array of lands?
Is Cava meant to be a consistent and high-quality product made in enough quantities to quench the global thirst for it, or is it a traditional wine heavily attached to an specific region and character? “If you ask me, there are two very different philosophies” says Josep Mitjans, oenologist and owner of Bodega Loxarel, one of the 15 wineries that renounced the DO Cava in 2014 and went on to conform the new category Classic Penedés. He acknowledges that there are many great Cava producers, but their approach is not the same.
Classic Penedés sparkling wine requires a minimum ageing of 15 months and the producers have to be eco-friendly. Cava’s minimum ageing time of of 9 months.”
While both share the same method of production, the extra time given to Classic Penedés unavoidably calls for higher prices, but those who produce it don’t mind. As Josep explains, they “aim to transmit the terroir inside a bottle.” An statement sent to TheTaste.ie by spokespeople from the DO Penedés explains that this specific region is been making sparkling wine for over a century. The communicate indicates that Classic Penedés is not a DO itself, but a category of wine within the DO Penedés. They also added that currently, five new winemakers have entered the original group that conformed Classic Penedés.
Paul Nolan of the Findlater Wine & Spirit Group and Brand Manager of Freixenet in Ireland, is an eloquent ambassador of the other philosophy: “the future of Cava is very bright. People are looking for quality and value and Cava offers a great deal of both” he says.
He also points out that the company is no sleeping giant and that it’s currently testing two new styles of Cava: one on the high-end which he describes as a “real premium, luxury Cava produced by Segura Viudas, a boutique vineyard bought by Freixenet”, and another on the entry-level. However, both approaches to the sparkling wine might not be completely irreconcilable. “All the big Cava producers are looking into it”, comments Paul about the possibility of Freixenet venturing into Classic Penedés territory at some point.
— Freixenet (@freixenet) May 16, 2016
The company, which has also bought vineyards in other countries and parts of Spain and produces a small amount to still wines (about 5 per cent of their total) might experience another important change in a not so distant future.
They received an offer from German group Henkell & Co. and even though Paul confirmed that both Freixenet and Henkell have stated that this is true, neither of them is commenting about it at the moment.
Specialized Spanish media has followed the case: After the death of Carmen Ferrer Sala, proprietress of 25% of the company, the three branches of the Spanish family in control of the company have been said to have confronting opinions about whether or not they shall proceed to accept the offer that would take Freixent’s control out of Spanish hands for the first time.
As they negotiate in silence, wine lover’s attraction to Cava is loud and clear. International campaigns to promote the product outside its traditional moments of consumption (a.k.a. Special occasions and Christmas) have been proven successful. For example, only in France, the Cava Regulatory Board foresees an annual increase in consumption of 19,21%, a growth bigger than in Spain itself.
Regarding Ireland, Paul shows informed optimism. He recalls how the recession and the high excise tax represented two important obstacles for Cava and sparkling wines in general, but he explains that the market began to show growth about one year ago and “people are looking again for quality and not just for the cheapest, we organise successful tastings, promotions, dinners and tapas nights… The future is bright for Cava.”
Clairvoyance is not really an exact science but everyone in Catalonia is pretty excited about things to come. The well established and the up-and-coming, the rogues and the royals all have one common goal: to make delicious sparkling wines that will captivate the hearts and palates of people around the world.
Long live to that!
We can taste these ones to begin with…
€20.95 at O’Briens Wine
12% ABV – Up to 18 months of ageing
Lemon and lime aromas are the base of the Cava known as “Black Bottle Bubbly”.
Delicate and refreshing, it’s name is Spanish for Black Ribbon although the fruit it releases on the palate is mostly white, which compliments the citrus in a very nice way.
€17.95 at O’Briens Wine
14,5% ABV – 18 months of ageing
Well established Riojan winemaker Campo Viejo surprises with an elegant and sharp Cava.
Balanced and persistent, with lemon notes and a very pleasant acidity.
€18.85 at Le Caveau
11,5% ABV – 12 months of ageing
A mix of floral and herbal notes set the tone of a quiet beauty. It’s low alcohol makes it very light and very refreshing. A lovely option for those wishing to taste a Cava from a smaller producer.
11,5% ABV – 109 months of ageing
A vintage Classic Penedés sparkling made by a biodynamic producer. This undisgorged wine has a minimun ageing of 109 months, hence its name, but is still alive and well. Time provides his terroir-driven sparkling with custard and buttery notes, as well as peaches, baked apples and a mineral hint that compliments the sweet fruit.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.