The Cava is a specialty from Spain: Spanish sparkling wine is produced mainly in the region of Catalonia. Cava is not an ordinary sparkling wine: Cava is made according to the traditional method, that is, fermentation in the bottle. In addition, cava must be aged on the lees for nine months at constant temperatures. If a Cava is stored for 15 months, it receives the addition “Reserva” and after 30 months of storage, a Cava carries the addition “Gran Reserva”.
The name Cava
The name Cava comes from the storage location where the sparkling wine matures: low temperatures are crucial during the second fermentation. Therefore, Cava matures in cool cellars – the Spanish name for these cellars is Cava.
Grapes from which Cava is made are harvested from the end of August to the end of October. The sparkling wine is made from white grape varieties such as Parellada, Xarel·lo and Macabeo. Red varieties are often added, including Monastrell and Pinot Noir.
The white grape variety Macabeo is one of the most important components of cava: in northern Spain, Macabeo is the most widely grown white grape variety.
Xarel·lo is a high-sugar grape variety: it gives light sweetness and body to the wine. Macabeo provides the fruity note of a cava with an apple aroma. Only recently has it become common to press varieties such as Pinot noir for a Cava.
“Pure“ Cavas, made only from selected white wine grapes, are gaining in importance.
The production of Cava has a long tradition in northern Spain: It’s likely that the first bottles of cava were bottled by Spaniard Antonio Gili in 1862. Ten years later, Josep Raventós i Fatjó produced the first cava using the traditional method, also called méthode champenoise. This is reminiscent of French champagne, and not without reason: at the time, Spanish cava was a response to champagne from France, which had long been the top dog among sparkling wines. For a time, Cava was also known as Xampán and Champána – Spanish names for Champagne. Since the eighties, however, these designations are no longer used and sparkling wine from Spain bears the name Cava.
In Spain, almost 160 municipalities are authorized for the production of Cava: The quality requirements for the production of Cava are similar to those of Champagne. Over 90 percent of Cava production is made from grapes grown in the Penedès wine region, which is located west of Barcelona. The town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, located 50 kilometers west of Barcelona, is home to numerous cava wineries.
The town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia is built on chalk cliffs, which makes it a wonderful place to build chalk cellars for storing and aging sparkling wine. Sant Sadurní d’Anoia is home to several hundred cava producers: the cellars are connected by underground railroads that transport bottles and grapes back and forth.
French champagnes are also often stored in chalk cellars.
Usually, a cava has the Brut flavor. There are many other flavors, including even drier varieties than Brut, but also variants with significantly more residual sugar.
A Cava may not enter the wine trade until at least one year after the grape harvest. In Spain, Cava has a protected designation of origin: the name Cava itself, however, is not protected. Although most Cavas come from Catalonia, there are also Cavas from the Spanish wine-growing regions of Rioja, Aragón and Navarre.
Simon von Ludwig
Cover picture: © Simon von Ludwig