Guide to Cava
Are you a cava lover? Cava is Spain’s sparkling equivalent to French Champagne, but more affordable (and often, more food-friendly). Open the bubbly for this read––cava is something to celebrate!
What is cava?
Cava is a sparkling wine from Spain. It is predominantly made in the Penedes region of Catalonia, near Barcelona, but can be made in other regions throughout the country. (In this way, it differs from Champagne, which is a designation reserved exclusively for wines made in the region of Champagne).
Cava can be light, citrusy, and palate-cleansing. Aged cava can have nuttier flavors and a more dense, creamy, palate-coating texture.
How is cava made?
Cava is produced in the same manner as Champagne: grapes are picked and pressed, then left to ferment. During this step in the process, yeasts convert the sugars from the juice into alcohol, and wine is produced. Wines from different areas or grapes are blended together to produce a cuvee; this blend of wines is bottled.
At this step in the process, additional sugars and yeasts are added. This starts the process of second fermentation in the bottle––during which yeasts consume these sugars and release CO2. Once the yeasts have consumed the sugars, they die: the wine is left in contact with these spent yeasts (called lees), which adds body and depth to the wine.
The lees are then removed and replaced with another mixture of wine and sugars. Finally, the wine is bottled (and, often, aged).
Cava is made from the white wine grapes Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel-lo, and Chardonnay; you may also encounter cava made from the red wine grapes Trepat and Garnacha. Macabeo, which is often the most predominant grape in cava, adds tropical fruit, stone fruit, and floral notes such as chamomile to the wine. Parellada brings citrus notes and flavors like quince, yellow flowers, and nuts––it often serves as the body of the wine since it adds depth. Xarel-lo’s citrus and apple notes bring a freshness and acidity to the wine, while Chardonnay adds a mid-palate texture and what some refer to as “oiliness” to the wine (that can’t-place-your-finger-on-it depth and feel similar to the richness oil will bring to a salad dressing). Trepat and Garnacha typically add color and fruitiness and are used to create sparkling rosé wines.
Designations of cava
There are four designations of cava: Cava, Reserve Cava, Gran Reserva Cava, and Cava Paraje Calificado. Cava must be aged on the spent yeasts (lees) for nine months; Reserve Cava requires a minimum of 15 months on the lees. Neither of these will have a vintage year.
The two higher-end styles, Gran Reserva Cava and Cava Paraje Calificado, must be aged 30 and 36 months, respectively, on the lees. Cava Paraje Calificado wines must also be bottled by the estate on which the grapes were grown, and the grapes must come from single vineyards whose vines are at least 10 years old.
Styles of cava
There are many styles of cava, but in the United States, you will predominantly find Brut Cava on the market. Wines can range from very dry (Brut Nature) to sweet (Dulce); in between, you will find everything from Extra Brut to Extra-Seco . . . it can all be quite confusing! As a general rule of thumb, remember that “Brut” is a typically dry style cava; anything drier will be Extra Brut or Brut Nature, while anything sweeter will (confusingly) be named Extra-Seco, Seco, or Semi-Seco. (To Spanish speakers, this can be confusing since “seco” means “dry” in Spanish . . . although the “seco” wines are in fact some of the least dry on the sweetness scale.)
The following chart lists the wines from driest to sweetest.
- Brut Nature
- Extra Brut