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Spanish cava: five sparkling wines to try for Christmas 2021

Cava is making a comeback, with a new generation of drinkers having developed a thirst for this dry and fruity fizz.

Today, most cava is made in the Penedès region, to the west of Barcelona, but it’s also made elsewhere — up in the Ebro Valley, in the north, for example, and in the Viñedos de Almendralejo, in the west.

Photograph by Getty Images
By Fiona Beckett
Published 21 Dec 2021, 06:08 GMT, Updated 22 Dec 2021, 11:34 GMT

Historically, cava has been starved of affection in the UK, having been eclipsed by prosecco and never been seen in the same league as champagne. But why haven’t we taken to it more? Partly, it’s a question of price — it’s often almost too cheap, which has diminished the perception of quality. But taste is a factor; at times, I admit, I’ve struggled with its slightly coarse, too obviously yeasty flavour. However, upon revisiting it recently, I’ve been surprised how much the quality has improved.

The Cava DO (designation of origin) was established in 1986. Before then, the term ‘cava’ was used for almost all Spanish sparkling wines. Today, most cava is made in the Penedès region, to the west of Barcelona, but it’s also made elsewhere — up in the Ebro Valley, in the north, for example, and in the Viñedos de Almendralejo, in the west.

Cava undergoes a similar secondary fermentation and ageing process to champagne, although it’s based on different grapes — usually macabeo, parellada and xarel-lo. And all cavas are now classified as either cava de guarda (aged for at least nine months), reservas (aged for 18 months) or gran reservas (aged for more than 30 months), although many exceed these requirements.

It’s distinctive because it’s produced in a climate that’s much warmer and sunnier than Champagne. This results in riper, fruitier, often positively peachy wines that don’t need the same level of ‘dosage’ (added sugar). In fact, many cavas are labelled extra brut or even brut nature (no added sugar). The climate is also drier, which makes it easier to cultivate the grapes organically.

As the quality of cava has improved, it’s gone from being merely cheap to great value for money. This is reflected in sales, which were up 65% at London’s The Whisky Exchange (which, despite the name, also sells wine).

“At the start of lockdown, there was a lot of uncertainty,” recalls head buyer Dawn Davies. “People still wanted to drink fizz but maybe didn’t want to spend the money or didn’t feel it was appropriate to buy champagne. Cava has a flavour profile that’s more akin to champagne than prosecco — and at a better price point. It’s just kept on selling.”

You’d think, then, everything would be hunky-dory for cava producers. However, asin other wine regions, some makers have broken away from the denomination on the grounds that regulations aren’t stringent enough and don’t require producers to use grapes from the region or grow them organically. It’s certainly worth trying some of the breakaway producers, like Colet, Gramona and Raventós, whose wines are impressive, if a bit steeper in price.

Five of the best cava bottles to try

1. Asda Extra Special Mas Miralda Cava 2017
This has consistently been one of the best supermarket own-label cavas — and it’s currently better than ever. It’s outstanding value, and is often on promotion, too. Enjoy with fish and chips. £8.

2. Pere Ventura Primer Reserva Cava
This option from a lesser-known producer is one of my favourite cavas of the past year. It has that trademark peachiness that comes from Catalonia’s sunny climate and pairs well with tapas, especially croquetas and prawns. £12.99.

3. Pago de Tharsys Medusa Brut Nature Cava
Made in Valencia from the classic grape varieties of macabeo, parellada and xarel-lo, this wine shows that cava isn’t just a speciality of Catalonia. Light and elegant, it’s perfect for party drinking. £10.75.

4. Cygnus Giennah Organic Brut Rosé Cava
Rosé or rosado cava is generally quite deep in colour, but this whisper-pink wine is as pretty as a picture. It’s dry enough to go well with seafood, too. £12.95 (or £11.65 per bottle if you buy a case of six).

5. Vilarnau Brut Nature Cava 2011
An impressive, complex cava that bears comparison with vintage champagne, although it’s just a touch fruitier. Sensational paired with grilled lobster, lobster spaghetti or any full-flavoured seafood dish. £32.

Published in Issue 14 (winter 2021) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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