Much has changed since our original 2017 episode (199) on Cava and Spanish sparkling wine. It’s time for a refresh and an update!
In this episode we fill you in on the roller coaster the DO has been on since 2017 and where it stands today. The story shows how Spain has moved from just being ON the radar of international wine buyers to moving to a level of sophistication that demands its regions have the kind of terroir focus of the other great wine nations of the Old World – France, Italy, Germany, and Austria, to name a few.
We review the regulations, changes, and the strife in the region and discuss what to seek out to get the best of these highly accessible, delicious, and decidedly Spanish wines.
Here are the show notes…
- We start with the statistics on Cava — it encompasses 38,133 ha/94,229 acres and made 253 MM bottles in 2021
- 91% of Cava is white, 9% is rosado (rosé)
- Various zones produce the wine, but Penedés is the heart of Cava production, with more than 95% of total output
- We discuss the early history of the area, beginning with the first sparkling production in 1872 with Josep Raventós to the point where the DO is formed in 1991 – we leave the modern history until later, as complex and muddled as it is!
We then get into the grapes and winemaking:
- Whites: Since most Cava is white, the white grapes dominate. Most important are the indigenous grapes, Macabeo (Viura, the white of Rioja), Xarel-lo, and Parellada. Chardonnay is also authorized, as well as Subirat Parent (Malvasia) for semi-sweet and sweet Cava.
- Reds: Used for rosado (rosé), native grapes are Garnacha (Grenache), Trepat, and Monastrell (Mourvèdre). The Cava DO authorized Pinot Noir for use in rosado in 1998
- We discuss the vineyard requirements for the making of quality Cava, including the importance of gentle picking and transport to the winery to prevent oxidation
- We briefly review the Traditional Method (Champagne Method) of winemaking, which is how all Cava is made
- We discuss the aging qualifications for Cava, Cava Reserva, Cava Gran Reserva, and Cava Paraje Calificada that range from a minimum nine months to several years, and what each style yields
- We review the various dosage levels so you know what to look for:
- “Brut Nature” – no added sugar
- Cava Extra Brut – very little sugar
- Cava Brut: Slightly more added sugar in the dosage, sugar is barely noticeable
- Cava Extra Seco: heavier mouthfeel, noticeable sugar
- Cava Seco: Dessert level, very sweet
- Semi Seco: Even sweeter
- Dulce – Super sweet
We discuss why Cava is such a big mess, with much infighting in its modern history, and why not all sparkling Spanish wine is created the same:
- We talk about the first fissures in Cava, with the 2012 break off of Cava OG producer Raventós i Blanc leaving the Cava DO because the quality standards were too low –Vino de la tierra Conca de l’Anoia (their own site)
Photo: Raventós i Blanc Rosado, Vino de la Tierra
- We discuss the 2015 formation of The Association of Wine Producers and Growers Corpinnat (AVEC) or Corpinnat. We define the group and talk about its requirements for the small member producers:
- Mission: Create a distinguished, excellent quality, terroir-driven sparkling wine based solely on Penedès, rather than far flung regions that make lesser wine. To raise the profile of Cava from cheap shit to good stuff
- Corpinnat Requirements
- At least 75% of the grapes must be from vineyards owned by the winery, wine must be made on the premises of the winery
- Minimum price paid for livable wages to the growers
- Certified organic and hand harvested grapes
- 90% of the grapes must be indigenous varieties: Macabeo, Xarel-lo, Parellada for whites, Garnacha, Trepat, Monastrell, for reds.
- 18 months minimum aging
- **By design: Cava’s three biggest producers can’t meet the requirements: Cordoniu, Freixenet and García Carrión – which is why Corpinnat started in the first place, to raise the quality standard and allow smaller producers a voice
Corpinnat members (2022): Gramona, Llopart, Recaredo, Sabaté i Coca, Nadal, Torelló, Can Feixas, Júlia Bernet, Mas Candi, Can Descregut, Pardas
- We discuss the qualifications of the Cava Paraje Calificado classification, created by the Cava DO in 2017 for single-estate sparkling wines with a vineyard designation, lower yield, and a longer aging period
- Cava de Paraje Calificado requirements include specifications for: lower yield, manual harvest, minimum fermentation time in the bottle at 36 months. Vines must be at least 10 years old and the wine must be produced locally in the same winery that grows the grapes.
- Issues: Includes the large wineries’ estate vineyards and (originally) some smaller ones but doesn’t address the issue of quality or cohesive terroir/flavor. It’s like a medal system – here are our best wines!
Photo: Paraje Califado Cava — Can Sala, Freixenet
- Disastrous conclusion: The Cava Paraje Calificada was the solution to the Corpinnat – it was meant to be more inclusive. But Corpinnat was supposed to be a new small producer/ quality designation within Cava. Because it excludes large producers, the DO wouldn’t allow Cava and Corpinnat on the same label, and Corpinnat left the DO. They cannot use Cava, or Gran Reserva on their labels.
Of the 12 wines approved as CPC in 2017, 5 aren’t CPC anymore, only Corpinnat
We address most recent regulations of Cava in 2020
The Cava Regulatory Council approved new zoning of the Cava DO. We review the subzones that are supposed to create a better delimitation for consumers:
Comtats de Barcelona – 95%+ of Cava production
- Includes Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, the “capital of Cava” – where the first bottles of Cava were produced in 1872
- Location: In Catalonia, in northeast Spain. Along the Mediterranean coast near Barcelona
- Climate: Mediterranean climate, slight variations inland versus coast but mostly long summer, lots of sun, hot summer and spring – easy to ripen grapes, lots of different grapes thrive
- Land: Diverse terrain – various exposures, orientation, altitudes, and microclimates
- Five Sub-zones (used for Reserva and Gran Reserva Cava, more limited yields, organic viticulture, vineyards 10+ years old): Valls d’Anoia Foix, Serra de Mar, Conca del Gaià, Serra de Prades and Pla de Ponent
- Each has a slightly different character – some more at elevation, some farther from the sea – slight variations in flavors and what grows where
The Ebro Valley area
- Northernmost part of the DO, far in the interior, near and influenced by the river Ebro
- Climate: Temperate, continental climate – summers are hot and dry with cold winters
- Two subzones (used for Reserva and Gran Reserva Cava, more limited yields, organic viticulture, vineyards 10+ years old): the Alto Ebro around Rioja, Navarra, and the Basque area of Álava and the Cierzo Valley Sub Zone. The Cierzo is near the Aragonese city of Zaragoza in the central area of the Ebro River, with strong regional winds (the Cierzo) to dry out the area
- Levante: (Eastern Highlands, no official name yet), in interior of Valencia province, with a dry Mediterranean to semi continental climate depending on whether altitude)
- Viñedos de Almendralejo (Almendralejo vineyards): Fairly flat, southwestern-most part of the DO. A very dry, hot climate, with warm wind, known as the solano
We end with an update of where Cava is today (hint: it’s huge and growing, it’s trying to improve by moving towards organics, it’s still fighting against Corpinnat) and what could be the next step for Corpinnat too.
A fascinating show that takes you on the wild ride that the region and wine has been on since we first discussed it those many years ago.
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