Guide to Cava

Guide To Cava Blog Post

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 grapes

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
  • Brut
  • Extra-Seco
  • Seco
  • Semi-Seco
  • Dulce

Pairing cava with food

In addition to its affordability in relation to its quality, one of the biggest draws of cava is how food-friendly it is: from charcuterie, appetizers, and salads to pastas, fish, and barbecued meats, cava goes with many dishes! Try it with some of the following dishes and foods:

  • Cheese plates. Cava will cut through creamy, spreadable cheese and will also hold up to sharper, aged cheeses. Enjoy it with both!
  • Charcuterie. The fat and richness of dried meats and classic Spanish jamón are perfect with the palate-cleansing bubbles of Cava.
  • Vinaigrette-based and creamy dressing-based salads. In most cases, a wine will only pair with one of the two main styles of salad dressings. Cava is unique in this regard: it cuts through the creaminess of dressings like Caesar, but also is light enough to complement a tart vinaigrette.
  • Shellfish. A classic cava pairing is any seafood from the Mediterranean coast that lies so close to Penedes. Try cava alongside grilled shrimp, scallops, clams, and mussels.
  • Sushi. Another classic pairing! Like sake, cava is an excellent palate cleanser and complements the clean flavors of high-end nigiri and sashimi.
  • Salmon. Salmon can be paired with red wine, but cava is also weighty enough to be enjoyed alongside this fish and its richness.
  • Risotto. Creamy risotto with vegetables or mushrooms and truffle is an excellent choice to pair with sparkling cava. Try a more aged, nuttier cava to bring out the earthy flavors of the mushroom and the nuttiness of cheeses like pecorino that so often finish off these dishes.
  • Grilled or roasted chicken. Cava works well with many fresh and dried herbs, so have fun with your marinades and dry rubs!
  • Cream-based desserts. From fruit pies and cobblers to dense pound cake or rich cheesecake, cava stands up to the sweetness of many desserts.

Suggested Wine

2015 Antigva Millesime Cava

Guide To Cava Blog Post

Are you interested in trying high-quality cava made by sustainable vineyards and organic grapes? Contact Quigley Fine Wines for more information on our Spanish wines and sparkling wines from around the world. Our wine professionals look forward to helping guide your selection!