Everybody knows the adage, “all that glitters is not gold,” but it’s equally important to remember that all that sparkles isn’t Champagne.
Just as Champagne can only be made in the Champagne AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) of France, Cava also has Denominación de Origen (DO) status, meaning that it can be produced only in specific regions of Spain using approved grape varieties. Although Cava can come from eight places in Spain, almost 95 percent of the sparkling wine is produced in Penedès, a region of Catalonia.
Consequently, it’s not surprising that Cava has long served as a symbol of the strongly independent Catalan culture.
“This Mediterranean region has [had] its own identity and winemaking tradition for more than 2,700 years,” says Pere Ventura, owner of the Cava house that bears his name. “We don’t only drink Cava, we celebrate it. Cava has always been present at festive occasions in Catalonia and accompanies our gastronomy.”
Blending For The Best
In recent years, however, sales of Cava have declined outside of Catalonia because of the rest of Spain’s boycott of the wine during the region’s growing separatist movement. How have the proud Catalans responded? By buying more of their local product.
Cava can be made from a single grape variety, but it’s generally a blend of different types. The most commonly used grapes are local ones: Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo. Each variety has a specific aroma and unique taste. Combined, they give Cava a definitive taste profile.
“Cava—and especially aged Cavas—are complex and intense wines, with distinctive aromas of apple skin fused with dry Mediterranean herbs such as thyme, rosemary and fennel,” says Jaume Gaspà, president of the Sommeliers of Lleida. “Also present are salty reminders of the Spanish seaside, such as anchovies and other briny products, wrapped in dry, creamy textures, with a mineral base that suggests chalk or limestone.”
The geographical diversity of the Penedès region allows the different varieties of grapes used for Cava to flourish.
“Macabao prefers soils that are rich in clay,” says Gaspà. “It’s usually grown in inland valleys, and it provides volume and density. Parellada is the most fragrant grape, and it comes from vineyards situated in higher and cooler altitudes with lighter, more calcareous soils. This lends the Cava more floral sensations.”
“Xarel-lo, usually grown on the coast, provides herbaceous and stone-fruit notes, and lends structure,” says Gaspà. “It also provides Cava with the capacity to age, allowing it to evolve properly over time.” Other grapes like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Malvasía and Garnacha can also be used.
Castellroig NV Brut; $18, 89 points. Mineral, citrus and dusty aromas are textbook for brut Cava. A round, full palate shows good grip and acidity, while flavors of lemon-lime and nectarine finish with notes of lime and green banana. Nothing about this is overwhelming, but the sum of its parts add up. Regal Wine Imports, Inc. —M.S.
Paul Cheneau NV Blanc de Blancs Brut Reserva; $18, 88 points. Cidery aromas vie with bready notes to give the bouquet complexity. This feels zesty, juicy and citric, with a lean, racy body. Apple cider, green herb, lime and scallion flavors finish with a lasting taste of lime. Pasternak Wine Imports. —M.S.
Segura Viudas NV Brut Rosé; $10, 87 points. Raspberry and red-plum aromas are light and a touch smoky. On the palate this is fresh, juicy and driven by good acidity. Bright stone-fruit flavors blend with pie-cherry notes in front of a lasting, citrusy finish. Freixenet USA. Best Buy.—M.S.
Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen are Wine Enthusiast's Entertaining and Lifestyle Editors. DeSimone tastes wine from Israel and the Mediterranean Basin, while Jenssen tastes wine from Eastern Europe, including the former the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Both co-authored Wines of California, Wines of the Southern Hemisphere, and The Fire Island Cookbook. Wine educators and presenters, both gentlemen serve as frequent guests on national and local television. Email: email@example.com