Cava 101

by Marine Bettler

When we speak about bubbles, Champagne and Prosecco are without a doubt the most famous. While expensive Champagne is mainly served by itself, its cheaper Italian cousin, Prosecco, is used as a mixer. However, there is a third type of “sparkling” wine, a good in-between, not too sweet, not too expensive alternative - it’s Cava. So what is it exactly?

Cava is THE sparkling wine from Spain. The roots of the cava industry took place in the 1860s when Josep Raventós was travelling around Europe promoting the still wines from the Codorníu winery. He once visited Champagne and noticed with interest the potential of using the same method for Spanish wines. He made his first “cava” in 1872. Since then Codorníu kept expanding, modernizing their methods and innovating to become one of the major cava producers, competing with Freixenet.

Codorníu recently appointed a new US Ambassador, Adriana Soley Fuster, based out of New York City and I had the chance to learn everything about Cava with her. Adriana is from Barcelona and an award-winning bartender. After being nominated best bartender in Spain, she moved to New York City a year ago.

She first explained to me that Cava is regulated by a protected appellation - DO (“Denominación de Origen”). Most Cava are produced in Catalonia and only wines produced in the Champagne traditional method may be labeled as Cava. According to the appellation, Cava could be from eight regions: Aragon, Basque County, Castile & Leon, Catalonia, Extremadura, Navarra, Rioja and the Valencian community. However, about 95% of all Cava is produced in Catalonia.

Just a few grapes are authorized by the appellation. Macabeu is the main grape used in Cava production but despite its importance, “it tastes simple” says Soley. “It has light floral aromatics and a bitter lemon flavor that makes it taste like green almonds.” The second grape is Xarello, and is “much more aromatic with rich floral aromas and pear notes.”  The last one, Paralleda, “is blended for its splendid high acidity and citrus flavors.” She adds that “those three grapes make a perfectly balanced sparkling wine that is less sweet than Proseco but not as nutty as some Champagne.” She also explained to me that Prosecco producers use the Charmat method, in which the secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks, making the wine less expensive to produce.

Regarding rosé, the appellation authorizes the use of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Mourvedre grapes. As it is forbidden to blend red and white wines to make rosé outside of Champagne region, the Cava producers have to tint the wine with the grape skins. This is a very sensitive process to get the perfect color.

Is cava sweet? Like Champagne, you can find various levels of sweetness, ranging from the driest (brut nature) through demi-sec to dulce, the sweetest.

Talking about cocktails, Soley says “you’ll be surprised to know that Cava is far closer to Champagne in terms of taste than Prosecco. If you’re looking for value bubbly, Cava might be your choice. As it is also very versatile, you can make a lot of cocktails with it.”

She shares her favorite creation with me below:

A kiss of Anna

  • 2.0 oz Pavan Liqueur
  • 1 dash Lime juice
  • Top Cava Anna de Codorníu Brut Rose 
  • 3 Raspberries 

Muddle 3 raspberries in a shaker, pour in Pavan Liqueur and lime, shake and make a double strain into a champagne glass. Top with Cava rosé. Garnish with a floating raspberry. 

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