Spanish Cava

by Ainhoa Barrio - 21 December 2013

spanish-cavaSpanish Cava is a sparkling wine produced using the same traditional methods used to make champagne in France.

Cava is produced only in certain regions of Spain using the local varieties of grape: macabeo, parellada and xarel-lo. The Spanish Cava regions are made up of the Barcelona, Alava, Navarra, Valencia, Badajoz and Zaragoza provinces and are all approved with Designation of Origin (DO) by the Cava Regulation Council. Outside of these Cava regions, the resulting wines will be simply referred to as sparkling wine.

Originally Cava was referred to as Spanish Champagne, because it used the same method of production. But since Champagne from the French region of the same name had a Protected Geographical Status, the European Union did not allow the Spanish wines to use the same name. So the Sparkling Wine Regulation Council was created and the name Cava granted to the sparkling wines produced in these specific regions of the country.

The mixture of the three main grape varieties adds a particular characteristic to the wine. The macabeo grape adds sweetness and aroma; parellada boosts its finesse and freshness whereas the xarel-lo variety builds up body and structure. For the rose cava the garnacha, monastrell and trepat varieties are also used.

Following the Champagne method, the grapes are pressed and left to ferment in great casks.

The next step is to bottle the base wine, mixing it with a bit of liquor de tirage, which is a mixture of yeast and sugars that will allow a second fermentation inside the bottle. During this second stage the bottles are placed horizontally in caves and left to rest for at least nine months. This second fermentation will produce the carbon dioxide that will become the sparkling bubbles of the wine.

To get rid of any sediment left in the bottle by the last fermentation, the bottles are placed with an inclination towards the neck of the bottle. When the moment comes, the bottle will be open to allow a small amount of frost to exit the bottle, carrying with it any sediment remaining inside.

Depending on the sugar content, cava may be classified in:

Brut Nature: has up to 3g of sugar content, without any extra-added sugar.

Extra Brut: reaches to up to 6g per litre.

Brut: up to 12g per litre.

Extra Seco: between 12 and 17g of sugar per litre.

Seco: between 17 and 32g per litre.

Semiseco: between 32 and 50g.

Dulce: is no longer produced but it used to have more than 50g of sugar per litre.

The time that the cava is left to mature in the bottle also varies its quality:

Joven is a young cava that has aged between 9 and 15 months.

Reserva aged between 15 and 30 months.

Gran Reserva has matured for over 30 months in the bottle.

The best-known Spanish Cava brands are Codorniu and Freixenet, both from the Penedes region in Barcelona.

spanish-cava

The Spanish like to enjoy their Cava at important family and business occasions. During business meetings or reunions, a toast for success is always best with a glass of Cava.  At baptisms, weddings, birthdays or simply good news celebrations, the Spaniards will gather around and cheers with a glass of Cava. It is usually drank after a meal and accompanied with some sweets. But it can also be mixed with lemon sorbet to act as a digestive between dishes in the ever so generous Spanish family meals.

Ainhoa Barrio is a Spanish food, drink and culture writer who lives in Barcelona.

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