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The Case for Cava

cava

We’ve all chuckled about cava. We’ve laughed loudly in the faces of those discretely placing cheap Spanish bubbles on the sideboard before pouring themselves something French, crisp and expensive.

Well – we all need to collectively wise up. If you know cava – I mean really know it – then stop reading and go and drink some. Me? I’m new to all this and therefore humbly present some initial insights in the hope that we can travel the cava road together.

Cava is mostly produced in the Penedès region of Catalonia. Who knew? Only wines made using the traditional champenoise method earn the right to call themselves cava. Other methods produce merely a ‘sparkling wine’.

In order to regulate cava production, Spanish law – after an awful lot of discussion – specified that cava may only be produced in eight specific wine regions. Catalonia’s Mediterranean climate with searing summers and gentle winters quietly nudges along the macabeu, parellada and xarello grapes which are the traditional varieties used for producing cava. Although mostly white (blanco), rosé (rosado) cava is also produced by adding small quantities of still red wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha or Monastrell.

Like Champagne, cava comes in varying degrees of dryness: brut nature, brut, brut reserve, sec (seco), semisec (semiseco), and dolsec (dulce). Why not try a bottle or two from one of the two major cava houses of Codorníu or Freixenet? You simply cannot go wrong.

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While staying at Catalan Manor, I spoke with the owner, Paul, about his recent foray into making cava. While vines on the estate have been cultivated using an ecological approach since 1890, it was only in 2008 that he made the move to producing his own branded product. The estate produces a brut nature cava using the best 20% of the xarello grape harvest and traditional winemaking techniques. On the 340 acres of estate, 35 acres are southern facing and dedicated to wine growing.

Paul reflected on the first year, “I knew I enjoyed drinking cava, and that we had the potential to make some. The decision to engage local expertise and the skills of those who’d been working the land for decades was important… in fact essential to making the whole thing work.”

The grapes are monitored throughout August and September to determine the optimum moment for harvesting. Picking is done by hand in September in the vineyards of the Penedès Appellation and grapes are transported in small boxes to Can Ramon winery to avoid damage. The grapes are de-stemmed, crushed and transferred to large vats. The must is cleared by a settling process to remove solid parts such as grape skins and pips. The must is then transferred to temperature controlled stainless steel vats.

The result is a gracious and sensuous, boutique cava with production limited to 4000 bottles in any vintage. A limited amount is sold and the rest is saved for guests staying at Catalan Manor.

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