Cava, which translates to cave or cellar, where it was traditionally aged, has been putting the sparkle in Spanish wine since the mid-1800s.
The Penedès region of Catalonia is responsible for 95% of Cava production, with Freixenet being its largest producer. In keeping with Spain’s impressive overall footprint in global wine exports, Freixenet is also the world’s largest producer in the sparkling wine category. Although other varietals are occasionally used, white Cava is made predominantly from local grapes such as Parellada, Xarel-lo and Macabeo (a.k.a. Viura). Garnacha and Trepat are most often used for rosés.
Oddly, understanding Cava relies to a certain extent on understanding what it’s not. The “not”, being Champagne. Until 1970, when European law granted France’s Champagne region protected geographic status, Cava was known as “Spain’s champagne”. This is unsurprising given the father of Spanish sparkling wine, Josep Raventós, took his inspiration from a trip to Champagne and its Méthode Champenoise or Champagne Method.
The cornerstone of the Champagne Method involves allowing the wine to ferment in the bottle for months or years, only extracting the yeast before final corking. As a result, the wine’s bubbles occur naturally during the fermentation process instead of being added later through carbonation. Only wines produced using this method can be labeled Cava.
Like Champagne, Cava is produced with different levels of sweetness. From driest to sweetest, the designations include Brut Nature, Brut, Extra Dry, Seco, Semi Seco and Dulce. Unlike Champagne, Cava generally spends less time bottle-aging, making them typically more fruit driven than their French counterparts.
The use of local grapes and the Penedès region’s unique terroirs combine to lend Cava its distinct flavour profiles. Adherence to the Champagne Method takes these elements to a higher-level, making for a range of sparkling wines that rise above many others in quality. Prices remain very approachable, so exploring Cava is something most every wine lover can enjoy.
Cava often has lower acidity levels than other sparkling wines, making it smoother on the palate and a great match for fried foods like tempuras. Sweeter Cava pairs well with white meats such as poultry, pork and lamb. The drier and more complex Brut Nature and Brut, bring out the best in shellfish and other rich seafood fare.