There are plenty of sparkling choices if you’re selecting bubbles for the festive season. From Champagne, Crémant and Prosecco to English sparkling wines. But there’s only one type of fizz that combines signature Spanish style with quality and value.
Cava, Spain’s flagship sparkler, offers something for everyone. World-class gran reservas and vintage wines will please fine wine lovers. Meanwhile great-value non-vintage bottles are ideal for bargain-hunters.
What’s more, with its own trio of grape varieties, Cava has a gastronomic character that makes it an ideal choice for Christmas meals. Serve it as an aperitif or pair it with a variety of dishes (see below).
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How is Cava made?
For a sparkling wine to be classified as Cava it must be made using the traditional method (also known as méthode Champenoise). In this process the second fermentation happens in the bottle.
Cavas must also be made 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 made in other Spanish provinces. These include Aragón, Euskadi, Extremadura, La Rioja, Navarra and València.
Rather than origin, what truly differentiates Cava from other Spanish sparkling wines is production method and regulations.
This scattered geography has caused intense debate within the Cava DO itself. Some producers oppose a system that, in their opinion, should focus more on terroir. As a result some famous names, such as Raventós i Blanc, chose to leave the DO and lobby for region-specific classification. Similarly the Corpinnat group from Penedés is now making wines under a new quality label. Others have chosen to push for change from inside the DO.
While this might sound like division and confusion, it also signals a vibrant community of winemakers. Producing some outstanding wines, they’re determined to push for higher quality standards and greater awareness, beyond the value proposition.
Which grapes are used to make Cava?
Another key part of Cava’s identity is grape varieties. Most renowned traditional-method production areas focus on the Champagne trio: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. However Cava has its own flagship varieties, which impart distinctive aromatic and textural characters.
While Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are also permitted in the Cava DO, the traditional and most commonly used varieties are:
- 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.
For Cava rosado (rosé), Garnacha, Pinot Noir, Mataró (Mourvèdre) and the local Trepat are the most commonly used red grapes. They are often blended with at least one of the flagship whites.
Malvasía, known locally as Subirat Parent, is increasingly used to make Cava dulce (sweet) and semi-dulce (semi-sweet).
Is Cava good value for money?
It’s true that Cava delivers great value: you can pick up reliably good bottles for under £10. But it’s worth investing a bit more money to explore some of the higher quality Cavas. Reserva, gran reserva and Cava de Paraje Calificado (single-vineyard wines) are well worth seeking out.
The fact that Cava is often dismissed in favour of its traditional method sparkling counterparts, especially Champagne, means that great wines are unfairly overlooked. Wine lovers are missing an opportunity to discover a different, specific expression of fizz, produced by very talented winemakers. It’s worth exploring the top Cava producers. All of them make wines with outstanding ageability.
On the flip side, Cava has been somewhat immune to the branding and pricing games which have inflated prices elsewhere. Wine lovers can 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 Cava with?
Because it’s generally quite dry, with most wines falling in the brut category, Cava is particularly versatile when it comes to food pairing.
It makes a wonderful festive aperitifs, no doubt. But try it 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 go well with meat- and fish-based recipes. Rosados will pair better with dairy and/or rich sauces. They’re a good alternative if you are having a vegetarian or vegan Christmas banquet.
If your festive table features more exotic flavours, try pairing Cava semi-dulce with Asian-inspired dishes. It’s also a surprisingly good match for your Christmas cheese selection.
Whichever style you try, here are a few suggestions to get you started…
Top Cavas for Christmas
Recommendations by Decanter’s editorial team.
Wines ordered by score, in descending order.