Cava, Spain’s flagship fizz, offers quite a unique array of options, from best-value non-vintage bottles for under a tenner, to premium Gran Reservas that score among the world’s finest bubbles.
It’s possibly one of the most misunderstood and underrated sparkling wines in the world, too often dismissed as a cheap option, when in fact it offers great alternatives across price points and quality levels.
What’s more, with its own trio of grape varieties, Cava has a gourmet vocation that makes it an ideal choice for festive meals, served not just as an aperitif but also as a pairing companion.
How is Cava made?
For a sparkling wine to be classified as Cava it needs to be produced following the Traditional Method (also known as Méthode Champenoise), which means that the second fermentation happens in the bottle.
It also needs to be produced within specific areas approved for Cava DO (Denominación de Origen) production. Unlike other DOs, however, the defined area for Cava production is not contiguous – while most Cava is produced in Catalunya, with the village of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia as its epicentre, it can also be produced in other Spanish provinces, namely Aragón, Euskadi, Extremadura, La Rioja, Navarra, and València.
Rather than origin, what truly differentiates Cava from other Spanish sparkling wines is the production method and regulations.
This scattered geography has been the object of intense debate within the Cava DO itself, with some producers opposing a system that, in their opinion, should focus more on terroir. This is why some famous names, such as Raventó i Blanc, have chosen to leave the DO and are instead lobbying for regional-specific classification. Others, on the other hand, have chosen to push for change while remaining members of Cava DO. Among the latter is the prominent group Corpinnat, a joint venture of top producers from Penedés.
While this might sound like there’s division and confusion, it is actually a symptom of a vibrant community of winemakers producing outstanding wines and determined to push for higher quality standards and greater consumer awareness, beyond the value-for-money proposition.
Which grapes are used to make Cava?
Another central aspect to Cava’s identity is the specific repertoire of grapes used in its production. If most renowned traditional-method production areas focus on the Champagne trio – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier – Cava has its own flagship varieties, which impart rather different aromatic and textural characters.
- Macabeu (also called Macabeo or Viura). Widely grown across Spain as well as in the French Roussillon. Although relatively neutral in flavour, it plays an important role in blends by adding body and texture.
- Xarel·lo – the grape largely responsible for the trademark herbal perfume of the best Cavas. In addition to lime blossom and hay-like aromas it adds acidity and earthiness to blends, therefore being essential to the age-worthiness of top quality Cavas.
- Parellada – Grown almost exclusively in Catalunya, Parellada contributes with fruit aromas, especially green apple and citrus notes. There are single-varietal examples of Cava that use just one of the above, but blends are by far the most common, making the most of the characters imparted by each variety.
Malvasía, known locally as Subirat Parent, is increasingly used to make Cava Dulce (sweet) and Semi Dulce (semi sweet).
Value for money? Yes, but much more.
It’s not by chance that Cava features prominently in our end-of-the-year round up of high-scoring festive buys under £20; it does indeed deliver great value for consistent quality. But it’s worth investing a bit more and exploring some of the higher quality Cavas, such as Reserva, Gran Reserva and the recently created Cava de Paraje Calificado, a single-vineyard category.
The fact that Cava is often dismissed in favour of its traditional method sparkling counterparts, especially Champagne, means that great wines are unfairly overlooked. Consumers are missing an important opportunity to discover a different, specific expression of fizz, produced by very talented winemakers
It’s worth exploring the names highlighted by Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW as key producers to know, all of whom make wines of great quality and with outstanding ageability.
That said, because often underestimated, Cava has been somewhat immune to the branding and pricing games which have inflated prices elsewhere. Wine lovers do benefit from a great value-for-money option, across tiers, quality levels and price points. So if you’re looking for a great fizz for the festive season consider Cava; but look at the top, not the lower shelf!
What can you pair it with?
Because it is generally quite dry, with most wines falling in the Brut category, Cavas are particularly versatile when it comes to food pairing.
They make wonderful festive aperitifs no doubt, but try them with a selection of canapés, buttered lobster or a chocolate-based dessert and you won’t be disappointed.
Extra-Brut and Brut styles of the traditional white blends are particularly suited for richer meat- and fish-based recipes, such as those typically served at Christmas. Rosados will pair better with dishes that include dairy and/or rich sauces — possibly a good alternative if you are having a vegetarian Christmas banquet.
Should you be considering adding some exotic flavours to your festive table, pour Cava Semi-dulce with Asian-inspired dishes. And, of course, with your Christmas cheese selection!
12 DO Cava wines to try this Christmas:
Recommendations by Decanter’s editorial team.
Wines ordered by score, in descending order.