Cava Checks All The Right Bubbly Boxes For Your Next Celebration

Drink Features Cava
Cava Checks All The Right Bubbly Boxes For Your Next Celebration

Recent studies show signs of consumer “Prosecco fatigue” but a steady increase in demand for sparkling wine. Spanish Cava emerges among the biggest winners in this insatiable thirst for bubbles, breaking sales records in 2023. 

Cava employs the same production methods used in Champagne but sells for a fraction of the cost. Equally importantly, Spain’s Cava makers are embracing innovation and sustainability in a bid to better their wines.

Crisp, refreshing, affordable and increasingly sustainable… Clearly, Cava checks all the right bubbly boxes for celebrations. 

What Is Cava? 

Like Champagne, Spanish Cava’s fizz forms from a secondary fermentation in the bottle. The name “Cava” is a nod to the Spanish name for the caves in which the wines age.  

Spain’s oldest winery, Raventós-Codorníu (founded in 1551) created Spain’s first sparkling wines in 1872. Located in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, the “capital of Cava,” Raventós-Codorníu transitioned to its current identity as a bubbles-centric house in 1885. 

Cava Zones and Grapes

As Cava’s popularity grew, so did the need for greater regulations. In 1991, Spanish regulatory authorities approved the D.O. Cava status. This status elevated Cava from a generic term to a controlled appellation, or growing region, with strict guidelines regarding yields, grapes, pressing, production and aging of the Cava.

Vineyards in the region span nearly 95,000 acres and fall within four production zones: Comtats de Barcelona, Ebro Valley, Viñedos de Almendralejo and Requena. Presently, Catalonia’s Comtats de Barcelona produces over 95% of Spain’s Cava.

The traditional Cava blend, or coupage, comprises three native white grapes: Macabeo (or Viura), Xarel-lo and Parellada, usually sourced from various vineyards. Other approved white grapes include aromatic Malvasia Subirat, also known as Subirat Parent, Granacha Blanca (White Grenache) and Chardonnay. 

Meanwhile,Cava makers like Juvé & Camps, also located in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, experiment with single-variety, single-vineyard styles. Such “terroir-driven” styles offer consumers exclusive, high-quality, hand-harvested “tastes of place.”

“Juvé & Camps is a family winery, founded in 1921, but with over 200 years of viticultural heritage,” says Meritxell Juvé, CEO and fourth-generation family member. “La Siberia, our single-parcel, single-varietal (Pinot Noir) wine, is a limited gem (only 3,000 bottles made) from our family-owned winery. We only make it in the best vintages, when the top quality is assured.” La Siberia’s name nods to the micro-parcel’s cooler microclimate, setting it apart from the rest of the family’s Espiells estate vineyard.

Others, like Raventós-Codorníu’s “Ars Collecta” limited production artisan line, showcase atypical blends from specific parcels. “Codorníu Ars Collecta represents the legacy of almost five centuries of winemaking expertise,” says Bruno Colomer, Raventós-Codorníu’s technical director. “Our experience, together with an exhaustive understanding of our vineyards, have allowed us to create this unique organic blend of grape varieties that come from two different climatic areas and vineyards where the varieties can show their best potential.” 

The main variety, Chardonnay, “brings freshness and aging potential thanks to the continental climate,” says Colomer. “It is rounded off with Xarel-lo and Parellada from Penedès, which has a Mediterranean climate.”

Cava Categories, Types and Styles

Cava aging requirements can be divided into two categories. The youngest and freshest, Cava de Guarda, requires nine months of aging in the bottle.

The second, Cava de Guarda Superior, includes Cava Reserva, which requires 18 months minimum aging. (Aging sparkling wine for 18 months or more creates noticeable notes of autolysis, a chemical process that elicits its trademark toasty notes and creamy mouthfeel.)

Cava Gran Reserva must age 30 months in the bottle on premise and indicate the harvest year. Cava de Paraje Calificado, established in 2017, requires a minimum of 36 months aging. The name means a “small area, especially recognized as extraordinary and unique for its soil and climate conditions.” This category demands hand-harvesting from vineyards ten years or older and production from vineyard to bottle on the winery’s premises.

On the rosé front, you’ll find Cava Rosado de Guarda, Reserva and Gran Reserva categories. These wines derive their pink hues from skin contact with red grapes. Approved varieties consist of red Garnacha (Grenache), Monastrell (or Mourvèdre/Mataro), Trepat and Pinot Noir.

Europe’s first LEED® Gold certified winery, Perelada, produces a Grenache and Pinot Noir blend, “The Stars Touch of Rosé,” which exemplifies the youngest category, aged nine months. Castillo Perelada traces its winemaking back to the Middle Ages. Each year, the winery hosts the international Peralada Festival, an arts event honoring modern founder Miguel Mateu, who purchased the winery in 1923.

“The Stars collection was created as a tribute to the stars that have been showcasing their talents under the Empordà sky at the Peralada Festival since 1987,” says Delfi Sanahuja, Perelada’s oenologist in chief. 

The dosage provides any Cava its final fillip. Dosage occurs after initial fermentation and aging but before corking and sealing. 

Simply put, after grapes for Cava complete initial fermentation in tank, the base wines undergo secondary fermentation in bottle, initiated by sugar and yeast additions. During secondary fermentation, the yeast consumes the sugar, creating carbon dioxide, and its byproduct, bubbles. The dead yeast cells fall to the neck of the bottle for removal prior to bottling, a process called disgorgement

“Dosage” tops off the remaining wine lost during disgorgement. Winemakers choose dosage sweetness levels according to desired styles.

Is Cava Becoming More Sustainable?

Interestingly, as consumer thirst rises for sparkling wine, so does the demand for more sustainable options, particularly among younger drinkers. Cava satisfies both needs.

Recently, D.O. Cava initiated sustainability measures to address these consumer concerns. In 2021, the organization announced 100% organic conversion of all Cavas de Guarda Superior by 2025.

D.O. Cava also introduced a new “Elaborador Integral,” or Integral Producer, stamp in 2021. This stamp offers consumers greater transparency by guaranteeing 100% traceable production within a winery estate, from vineyard to bottle.

The new quality seal affixed to every bottle of Cava provides the origin, category, guarantee of quality and a QR code, listing more category information, plus pairing suggestions.  Presently, 15 of 300-plus Cava wineries, including Juvé & Camps, hold this designation.

Some Cava makers are also setting their own sustainability goals. Currently, Raventós Codorníu is a European leader in organic acreage. “Raventós Codorníu group manages 3,200 organic hectares (7,907 acres), the largest extension of organic vineyards in Europe,” says Colomer.

Equally impressive, the Codorníu group pledged 100% organic conversion by 2024, achieving their goal one year early. 

Remarkably, both D.O. Cava and Raventós Codorníu’s organic certifications remain steady, despite recent record droughts throughout the Penedès region due to climate change.

“It’s clear that, for Cava and wine makers located in the Penedès region, the drought and climate change circumstances are a generally shared worry, and the current great challenge for our present and future,” concludes Colomer. “We are probably facing the most relevant environmental challenge that this industry has come across in the past century, and we must act urgently, and with innovative techniques, if we want to protect the land, preserve its value, be sustainable and guarantee the future of winegrowers and wine makers.”

Ultimately, Spanish Cava offers the best of both worlds for celebrations: sparklers that are increasingly better for the planet and super-fun to pop with friends!

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