Newsletter November 2010

Brava Cava!

By: Anthony Dias Blue

Spain's regional wines-from the expressive reds of Ribera del Duero, Rioja, and Toro to the crisp, seafood-ready whites of Rías Baixas-have become increasingly prominent players on the world stage over the past decade or two, assuring Spain a high rank among world-class wine-producing nations. But this Iberian country has another wine that is far different, and which deserves its own sort of recognition: Cava.

Spain's signature sparkling wine was first made in the late 19th century by Josep Raventós, head of the large Codorníu winery, after a visit to France. Originally called Champaña, the name was changed to Cava (Spanish for "cave") in 1970 to appease the French. Codorníu is still a major producer of Cava. [CORRECTION: In the email edition of our November newsletter, we mistakenly referred to Cordon Negro as a Codorníu brand; Cordon Negro is actually a brand from Freixenet. We regret the error. —Ed.]

Cava is made with the same méthode champenoise in-bottle fermentation technique used in Champagne and can now even be made from French grape varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in addition to native Spanish grapes. But Spain's sparkler has never received the respect lavished on its French model—perhaps its affordability works against it. This is a shame, because at its best Cava is delightfully vibrant, and those with extended bottle aging can take on the same toasty, biscuit flavors found in French bubbly.

Although other regions are included in the official Cava D.O. (Denominación de Origen), ninety-five percent of all Cava is made in Catalunya, in the area called Penedès, southwest of Barcelona. "Cava is what the Catalans drink every day," declares Eva Bertran, a Barcelona native who acts as the U.S. spokesperson for Freixenet, one of Spain's largest Cava producers. "It's our daily white wine."

But in addition to affordable non-vintage Cavas for daily consumption, some producers are making vintage-dated cuvées at prices that approach those of Champagne and which are appropriate for celebrations and special occasions. Here are a few expressions of Cava to stock up on for the impending holidays.


Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad ($23)

Freixenet bought Cava producer Segura Viudas in the 1980s and revived the languishing winery, turning it into one of the most acclaimed of all Cava brands. With its distinctive packaging in a bottle with a pewter base and family crest, the non-vintage Reserva Heredad is the label's top offering, made only from Macabeo and Parellada grapes. It shows bright acidity and mineral notes, making it a great match for seafood.


  Raventós i Blanc 2003 Elisabet Raventós ($45)

From the same family that once controlled Codorníu, the Raventós i Blanc label was created in 1986 when Josep Maria Raventós decided to make a small-production Cava from the 120 hectares of estate vines in San Sadurní de Noya that he had inherited as an eldest son; the vineyards had been in the family since the late 15th century. Today, Manuel Raventós heads up this fine boutique winery. Elisabet Raventós, one of several different cuvées made, contains a good deal of Chardonnay (around 30 percent) and is aged entirely on the lees for more than four years and show gobs of white fruit with yeasty-toasty overtones.

  Gramona 2001 III Lustros Gran Reserva ($45)

Five generations and 125 years in the Cava business makes this house one of the most respected in Penedès. Among Gramona's wide range of sparkling wines, from daily quaffers to stately reservas, the III Lustros is a standout for its extended bottle age. A lustro (lustrum in Latin) is a period of five years, and this wine was formerly aged for three lustros, or 15 years; today it is given five years in the cellar. Creamy-textured and yet crisp, it delivers nutty flavors with hints of crème brûlée. A very fine Cava for special occasions.

  Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut ($18)

Elyssia, the upscale label from stalwart Cava house Freixenet, shows the influence ofinternational winemaking in its components; native Spanish grapes Macabeo (30%) and Parellada (20%) are blended with the French Champagne varieties Chardonnay (30%) and Pinot Noir (10%) to create a scintillating and nicely complex non-vintage bubbly that remains consistent from year to year. There's also an all Pinot Noir Rosado (rosé) version.

  Llopart 2007 Rosé Brut Reserva ($22)

The Llopart family has been involved in viticulture since the end of the 14th century and started producing Cava 500 years later, in 1887. Dedication to handcrafted wines marks this house; every bottle is hand-riddled and hand-disgorged. Made from red varieties Monastrell, Garnacha (Grenache), and Pinot Noir, this festive and nicely structured rosé has translucent strawberry color, an assertive nose of red fruit and well-rounded flavors backed with keen acidity.

  Marques de Gelida Brut Reserva ($16)

Smooth and floral with clean, fresh peach fruit and rounded flavors; bright and crisp with balance and a charming finish; creamy and long.


Kila Cava ($8)

Fresh and juicy with ripe fruit and bright acidity; clean, rounded and balanced with good length. For this price, you can hardly go wrong.





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