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HOT Cava - Get the Party Started!

Not only throughout its native Spain, but in millions of homes in hundreds of countries on all five continents around the globe, the tipple that adds fizz to the festive season and sparkle to any celebration at whatever the time of year is - without doubt - cava…


Report: Carolyn Mowlem

Made by the Champagne method, a good cava should never be underestimated. While it will rarely be confused with a leading champagne, fresh and lively in style and great value for money, it’s a very acceptable alternative and currently more than 200,000,000 bottles are produced both for domestic consumption as well as export.

According to wine critic, Carlos Delgado, “Cava is one of the few wines which can be drunk throughout a meal, simply by moving from brut (dry) to dulce (sweet), as long as there is no strongly-flavoured meat dish.” One thing is for certain, as clocks across Spain strike midnight on New Year’s Eve - and by tradition twelve grapes are swallowed in time to the chimes - the glass in everyone’s hand will be filled to the brim with cava.

Cava - Get the party started!

Meaning cellar or bodega, the name cava is used to describe both the place where Spanish sparkling wines are produced, as well as the end product itself. There was a time when these wines were referred to as champaña or champán, but under pressure from Reims, the Spanish Government decreed that growers should find an alternative name, and the one that best fitted the bill without offending French producers, was cava.

But Spain is no newcomer when it comes to producing sparkling wine. As long ago as 1872, Don José Raventós of the family firm Codorníu (founded in 1551) started manufacturing the drink by the champagne method after learning the process in Reims. Today, Codorníu and Freixenet (founded in 1915) are by far the two largest producers. The Codorníu Group recently recorded a turnover of an impressive 208.45 million Euros, with sales of Codorníu itself increasing by 40 per cent, while figures for the organisation’s Raimat brand – particularly popular in Spain – were up by 28 per cent. In the UK, Freixenet’s Cordón Negro, in its distinctive black bottle is generally reckoned to be the best-seller.

There are literally dozens of different brands to choose from, and while at the lower end of the market you may prefer to sample them in a Buck’s Fizz, Kir Royale, or with a sliver of stem ginger and a dash of ginger syrup, it would be sacrilege to add anything at all to those at the top of the range. A favourite with many wine buffs around the world, who claim it “easily rivals Chandon White Star at a fraction of the price”, is Jaume Serra’s Cristalino NV Brut Cava, for example. Others swear by Segura Viudas, Juvé Camps, Marques de Monistrol, or Castellblanch, to name but a few.

Cava - Get the party started!

And then of course there are the small-scale growers such as Vescomte Guitard with its 100 or so hectares of vines at Sant Jaumes Sesoliveres. A mere Benjamin when compared with its Magnum, Jeroboam and Nebuchadnezzar-sized peers, the family concern produces three different types of cava but with production strictly limited, you’ll never find them on a supermarket or off-licence shelf. In fact, unless you’re a friend of a friend of the family, the only way you’ll ever get to enjoy the ripe peach aroma of their Extra Brut, or to admire the delicate straw colour of their Semi Seco is to join one of the most elite of exclusive Wine Clubs.

The lion’s share of cava – around 90 per cent – comes from the Penedès region of Catalonia, principally Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, or in Castillian Spanish, San Sadurní de Noya, around 30km north of Barcelona, with nearby Vilafranca del Penedès also making an important contribution. Not far away, at Perelada, Gerona, the Castillo de Perelada claims wine-making traditions dating back to the XII century when Carmelite monks first planted the vines and where production is devoted exclusively to cava. Lérida, in the northwest of Catalonia also produces significant quantities, principally as Raimat, a subsidiary of Codorníu. With its traces of tannin and just a hint of pepper, Raimat Cabernet is a firm favourite in Spain.

Cava - Get the party started!

And in Rioja, too – perhaps surprisingly given its reputation for red wines – several bodegas, notably Bilbainas and Muga, are flexing their muscle by producing creditable cava made from the local white Viura and Malvasia grapes. Such is the quality of these Roja-grown vines that CVNE (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España) long continued to supply French champagne makers with wine when France was still reeling from the aftermath of its phylloxera epidemic.

Meanwhile, revered Spanish wine producer, Miguel Torres, affirms that “The cava wines of San Sadurní de Noya have frequently been judged superior to their French homologues”. But why compare them? At a fraction of the price, maybe they do lack just the teeniest bit of French finesse, but as every good host knows only too well, at the most sparkling and bubbliest of parties, the toast this festive season is… cava!

Please note: Every effort was made to check the accuracy of the information contained within our archived HOT Properties Magazine articles at the time of originally going to press, but may well have been superseded over the ensuing years. They are now made available as historical archival information only. The said information has not been reviewed subsequently for present day accuracy nor has it been updated and we expressly disclaim any duty or obligation to do so. VIVA cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions, nor for the authenticity of any claims or statements made by third parties. We therefore strongly recommend that readers of these archived articles make their own thorough checks before entering into any kind of transaction. Prices were correct at the time of publication but may now vary due to circumstances beyond our control. The views and opinions of editorial contributors do not necessarily reflect those of VIVA. 

HOT Properties Magazine Issue 78 - 2007

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