In association with DO Cava

The region's dozen best single-vineyard Cavas are now officially recognised as Cava de Paraje Calificado. Pedro Ballesteros Torress MW explains more...

In association with DO Cava

Cava de Paraje Calificado: Cava’s top classification

Recently Cava producers have taken the final step up the quality ladder by legalising single-vineyard Cava, now recognised as Cava de Paraje Calificado (CPC). The selection process for CPC wines is understandably strict, with stringent eligibility conditions.

Vines must be at least 10 years old, with lower yields, and all wines must be brut, extra brut or brut nature, and bottle-aged on the lees for at least 36 months.

There is also a requisite for full traceability, meaning all CPC vineyards must be owned or contracted on a long-term basis by the wineries.

If all of these criteria are met, the wines are then tasted blind by a panel made up of a majority of ‘outsiders’ – wine judges and experts who aren’t Cava producers themselves. Winemakers also have to explain to the judging panel what makes their vineyard a unique terroir.

‘Cava must be aspirational’

The initial group of CPC wines (see below) form the vanguard of the category. It is hoped that these single-vineyard Cavas will become known for providing a genuine expression of terroir. For Pere Bonet, president of the DO Cava, the path is clear.

‘We need to concentrate our efforts in developing distinguished premium categories in Cava,’ he says. ‘Cava must be aspirational, and Cava de Paraje Calificado is one of the summits.’

Indeed, the new regulation recognises a small number of wines that already comply with the requirements and are already recognised by wine experts for their higher quality. Because of the ageing requirement, all of the initial CPC candidates were prestige wines nearing the end of their maturation period. Not all were selected, but the ones that became CPC are, unsurprisingly, among the top Spanish sparkling wines.

Cava top classification

Thanks to different approaches to vineyard management and grape varieties, in a typically Spanish way, there isn’t one standard definition of the tasting profile of a CPC. This is partly because producers have different philosophies, but also because CPC wines showcase the diversity of the Catalonian landscape.

Cava de Paraje Calificado wines come from a varied range of soils: saulò (sandy granite), llicorella (slate), calcareous, clay or loam. Microclimates are also diverse, because of the mountainous topography and uneven influence of the Mediterranean sea.

When it comes to grape varieties, the native Xarel.lo is probably the most preferred, either used on its own or blended with Macabeo and/or Parellada. However, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are used in two single-varietal CPC wines and present in a few blends.

Finally, in the winery, only a few producers stick to the 36-month minimum period of ageing; most age their wines for much longer.

The only factor uniting all of these wines is their excellent quality. They captivate, thanks to their balance and complexity. Some add power and length to the picture, while others show delicacy or intensity of expression, and others are simply one of a kind. So it seems that Cava de Paraje Calificado can best be defined by their uniqueness and personality.