Learn why enthusiasm for Cava is growing. Discover the unique Mediterranean terroir and versatile attributes of this traditional method, European bubbly.
There is growing enthusiasm for sparkling wines from around the world, and one of the essential categories is Cava. This bubbly has earned a reputation for being the finest in all of Spain, made primarily with local grapes that answer a variety of gastronomic challenges and are synonymous with their Mediterranean terroir.
Where is Cava produced?
While the Catalan region of Penèdes is the birthplace of Cava, there are actually four recognized Designations of Origin (D.O.): Comtats de Barcelona, where over 90% of Cava is produced; Ebro Valley, the northernmost production region; Viñedos De Almendralejo, in the southwest part of Spain; and the Levante Zone in the eastern highlands of Valencia, which is still waiting for an official name at the time of this story. As of 2020, new subzones allow for further distinction within the Ebro Valley and Comtats de Barcelona regions. Approximately 13% of Cava vineyards are currently organic, a number that is expected to climb with recent ecological commitments and engagements.
How is Cava made?
Cava is crafted with the same technique as Champagne, often referred to as the traditional method. Grape varieties — primarily with Xarel-lo, Macabeo, and Parellada — are first fermented separately and then blended according to the direction of each winemaker. Next, a tirage liqueur is added to the bottle, kick-starting a second fermentation responsible for creating bubbles. Bottle aging on the lees, riddling, and disgorgement bring the wine almost to the finish line. Unless it’s a brut nature wine, some amount of dosage is added to replace what was lost during disgorgement and to ensure the sweetness level of the style. Finally, it’s bottled with a cork and wire cage, waiting for its moment on your table or in your glass.
What are the styles of Cava?
Cava presents a versatile portfolio that can satisfy apéro hour as well as gastronomic meals. Styles range from bone dry brut nature, which contains 0 to 3 grams of sugar per liter, all the way to dulce, which scales 50+ grams of sugar per liter — several categories step up the sweetness level between these two bookends. There are also rosé or rosado styles crafted with the inclusion of red-skinned varieties such as Garnacha, Monastrell, Pinot Noir, and Trepat.
Who makes Cava?
Many consumers around the world may have only tasted Cava from a big name such as Freixenet, which enjoys global distribution, but there are more than 200 producers fashioning Cava with their own fingerprint, and with nearly 70% of the total volume is being sent to foreign markets (Germany and the U.S. in the lead). This makes it the perfect time to explore this growing tranche of European sparkling wine — in 2022, Cava lifted in both volume and value, a highlight in the bubbly category where many segments experienced loss or stagnation.
What are the aging requirements of Cava?
There are categories based on the amount of time the wine ages in the bottle. Cava de Guarda clocks in with a minimum of 9 months of age, resulting in a generally crisp and fruity style. Next is Cava Reserva, which experiences a minimum of 18 months of bottle age, which adds complexity. Cava Gran Reserva is regarded as gastronomic and layered, thanks to at least 30 months of aging in the bottle. Wines that can bear the label of Cava de Paraje Calificado age for at least 36 months and are produced in a small area with outstanding and distinctive characteristics.
With plenty of options available under $20 in the U.S. Cava represents an excellent value featuring many of the characteristics today’s wine consumer seeks: local varieties, a fresh profile, and quality production methods. Join the Cava fan club and find your new favorite.