How To Choose Your Cava This Christmas Featured
Wine professional Ryan Opaz gives BcnIn members his top tips for seasonal tipples with this guide to choosing Cava
Editor's note: Born in Minnesota, Ryan is the co-founder of Catavino.net, Catavino Marketing, Wineblogger.info and the European Wine Bloggers Conference. He also consults on the AVIN project and the social tasting note site Adegga.com. Although a chef at heart, Ryan's time is spent giving workshops and speeches internationally on social media and blogging for wineries. Examples of his work include: Wine Future, London International Wine Fair 2009, 2010, Essencia do Vinho, London Boutique Winery Tasting, Bibendum Annual Tasting, Congreso Internacional de Turismo Enologico, International Wine Tourism Conference & Workshop in Sitges, Fine Wine. A Certified Sherry Educator, member of the Wine Century Club and a Judge at Essencia do Vinho in Portugal, Ryan is always available for consulting via his personal website.
Champagne is the Cava of France, I like to say. Contrary to popular belief, Cava is NOT the lesser beverage when it comes to sparklers during the holidays. In the past 10 years or so, Cava producers have stepped up their game and gone for quality, resulting in a boom of high quality choices for consumers. Though I still find, from time to time, I need to do some persuading of those less willing to believe. So let me first lay out the Cava landscape and then offer a few key wines to look for on shelves in Barcelona.
Cava's name originates from the word for cave, which describes the vast network of caverns that house and age this noble beverage. It was in 1872 that Josep Raventós first started experimenting with wine production in the same way Champagne is made. As far as what Cava has in common with Champagne, well, it sparkles and is made in the traditional method known as Methode Champenoise.
Beyond the basic process of making sparkling wine, the two styles differ drastically. D.O. Cava (referring to a quality wine region in Spain) happens to be tied to a specific practice of winemaking, rather than a region where wine is made. Champagne can only be made in the French region of Champagne and in the traditional method, whereas in Spain, you can make wine anywhere that has proven to produce good sparkling wine, as long as you adhere to the rules of the governing body. For this reason, many people often get confused and assume that all Cava comes from its traditional home in the Penedes region of Catalonia. Today, there are over 6 regions that have Cava D.O. status, although almost 95% of production sources from the Penedes region, including Rioja and Valencia!
Knowledge is power, but when it comes to the geeky details, the most interesting in my view are the grapes. 3 main grapes with a handful of others, but if you know these three you can be considered "in the know".
Macabeo: The fragrant dancer, this one gives us the prettiness, the flintiness, the bashful wink from across the room.
Xarel.lo: Backbone and body, Xarel.lo is the white grape with a red soul. Without it you are left without a body for the flesh to stand upon.
Parellada: Acidity is king in Sparkling wines, making them fun to drink with assorted foods. Parellada is your sommelier, making sure whatever you pair the Cava is the perfect match!
So what is Cava like? Well it's clearly unique. Often said to have a more acidic edge to it, it can at its best show more of the lush creaminess that you find in the wines of Champagne. As for styles, just remember that Brut Nature is driest, not always a good thing, followed by Brut, and then Extra Dry, with various others in tow. Demi-secs are great with your dessert time offerings. However, there is a bit of a myth on these classifications. Hence, keep in mind, Brut nature is not "the best" style of Cava. It is "a style" of Cava and one that is often tough and hard to get to know. Personally, I think the Bruts out there are some of the best, with a few exceptions. Again, it's all up to the taster.
Freixenet and Codorniu are two of the oldest and popular Cava produces, and both offer Cavas that at the entry level have a great quality to price ratio. For around 10 euros or less you can find these wines in almost any wine shop in the world. Both offer great simplicity and are easy to drink. In a world saturated in high priced champagnes these little "sparklers" often do the trick and with less pain in the old pocket book. That said, you live in Barcelona and so you get to drink the great stuff!
Here are a few you'll find around town and are not to be missed:
Mestres ViSol - Insane QPR (Quality to Price Ratio)! On menus often for 15 euros or so and full of character. This is a wine to pair with food, even red meats. If you like Champers, check this out. I could drink this and most Mestres wines everyday from here on out, and never get bored. Elegance and personality to the last drop!
Recaredo - Turo d'en Mota - Bling bling, if your willing to pay for your Cava you cannot do better. Single vineyard, 100% Xarel.lo and ready to shock and awe. This wine can make any sparkling wine fan swoon. That said, they make so little you'll be lucky to find a bottle! Story is though, Recaredo are rockstars: look for anything they make, you won't be sad you did.
Dominio de la Vega - Brut Nature Reserva - For those who want to rock the boat, a Cava from Utiel-Requena, that is: Valencia! Amazing juice and if you can find it you can be the uber wine geek at your holiday party! Elegant, succulent, and ready for any food you throw at it. This a wine that makes you smile.
The tip of the proverbial iceberg has been touched, now go deeper. Spend a few more euros this year when seeking out bubbles for the holidays, and remember to not be afraid to pair it with food! Cava is made for food! And personally, I find it to be a sin to have it alone.