Low prices may have made basic Cava popular, but don’t forget the high-end wines that offer all the quality and style of Champagne, says Sarah Jane Evans MW.

Consider a bottle of sparkling wine: it’s made according to the traditional method, a vintage wine carefully matured in underground cellars on its lees, finally bottled with zero dosage. Clearly, it’s Champagne. Actually, no, not at all. This is Cava, Spain’s much-maligned traditional method sparkling.

There are some fascinating wines being produced in and around DO Cava. But Cava’s problem is Cava. That’s to say, it’s the wine’s reputation as a bargain-basement fizz. While low prices gave Cava popular appeal, the same low prices prevented some of the producers recommended here from exporting their pricier fine wines. But the recent success of Italy’s Prosecco as a budget sparkling has encouraged Spanish producers to focus on the high ground.

Sarah Jane Evans MW’s top 18 premium Cavas

What has changed? First, the economic crisis in Spain, meaning that producers have to export. We can now buy wines that were only sold on the domestic market. Second, recent years of careful viticultural work are showing through. Notable are the wines of producers such as Recaredo and Loxarel – established biodynamic growers, who are joined by others such as Gramona.

Third, exciting results are being realised from long-term work with local grape varieties. Cava’s classic varieties are Parellada, Xarel-lo and Macabeo. None of them performs well at high yields, so it’s no wonder that producers moved to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But that was then. Now try some of the new Xarel-los (also known as Pansa Blanca) – it’s a remarkable transformation.

The 18 wines above are all reservas (minimum 15 months ageing in bottle) and gran reservas (30 months). In terms of style, most of the premium Cavas here are zero dosage. It’s a style Spain particularly likes, accounting for a quarter of all Cavas consumed in Spain but only 2% of exports (in 2013).
These were the best of a selection of Cavas retailing at £15 and over, tasted non-blind at Decanter in February 2015.