Cava – The ‘Champagne’ From Spain

Okay, so we know that champagne can only be called by this name if it is made from grapes grown within the Champagne region of France, and adheres to strict production methods. However, this doesn’t prevent other countries from also using the same wine making methods – and one of the best of these is the drink known as Cava, made in Spain.

The word ‘cava’ is Spanish for cave – and refers to the early days of wine production in the country when wines were stored in caves whilst aging. It was in the 1970s that Spanish wine producers officially took the term and named their sparkling wine cava, in order that it be distinguished from champagne.

A Catalan Tradition

Although it’s believed that Spanish wines with some effervescence were being produced as far back as the 1500s, it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that serious efforts began to be made to produce a wine that was similar to French champagne.

In common with a large region of mainland Europe, the vineyards of Spain were decimated during the Phylloxera crisis. But this actually proved to be a positive occurrence for cava production, as the mainly red grape vines were replanted with white – and became cava vines. In fact, the first ‘official’ bottle of cava as we know it today was produced in 1872 by Josep Raventós. His travels had made him aware of champagne, and he was keen to return to his native country and create a Spanish version.
The Catalonia region of northern Spain is where most of the 200 million bottle of cava produced each year come from. And, similarly to champagne, the country has laws that mean only sparkling wine produced in official regions is allowed to be marketed as cava.
These are;

  • Aragon
  • The Basque Country
  • Castile and Leon
  • Catalonia
  • Extremadura
  • Navarra
  • Rioja
  • Valencian Community

By far the most cava is produced in the Catalan region, especially in an area known as Penedes – just south of Barcelona.
Cava Vino – White or rose, the choice is yours
Once again, in a parallel to champagne, cava can be found in both white and rose versions. It also comes in varying degrees of dryness – from ‘brut nature,’ the driest with no added sugar, right up to ‘dulce,’ which is the sweetest.

Different varieties of grapes are used to produce cava. The most common is the xarel-lo, but others are also utilised. These include;

  • Xarel-lo
  • Macabeu
  • Parellada
  • Pinot noir
  • Chardonnay
  • Subirat

To produce rose cava, the producers simply add small amounts of red wine – usually garnacha, monastrell or cabernet sauvignon.

The popularity of cava

Cava is enjoyed the world over, and many champagne aficionados also enjoy the Spanish equivalent. In Spain, it’s rare for a toast to anything to not include the obligatory glass of fizz. This is never so true as at midnight on the 31st January. Spaniards countrywide follow their tradition of eating 12 grapes in time with the chimes of the clock, all washed down with a glass of their national drink.


2 Responses to Cava

  1. Marianne says:

    I tried the Freixenet Noir the other day and it was horrible! far too sweet, even when it says BRUT on the label. do like the bottle design, but the sparkler is not dry enough, at least for my taste.

  2. Eduardo says:

    Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Blue Top Champagne This is the real stuff, meaning, real Champagne (in other words, made in France, from greaps grown in the Champagne region). This is dry and delicious, comes in a festive bright yellow bottle, and can be found for around $35. Click here for tasting notes and a full review of Blue Top Champagne.

Leave a Reply