The Cava revolution
What is happening to Cava?
There has been a quiet revolution happening in the Penedès region of Northern Spain. The main reason has to be the success of Prosecco in recent years, positioning itself as the "value" alternative to Champagne in many markets including the UK. Cava has been fighting back on the quiet and is now pushing ahead a little more noisily in its battle to win back its market share. However it is not just a fight with the competition...
The Cava brand has gained a pretty poor image because of the volume-focused, low-priced Cava commonly found on our supermarket shelves. Some producers of top end Cava are rebelling against this commercial style. The size of the Cava DO region which, unusually, is not restricted to one geographical area, is another thorn in the rebels' side; Cava can be produced in eight regions of Spain (although most is made in Penedès in Catalonia) making it difficult to regulate and not taking into consideration 'terroir' which can be a huge differentiating factor.
Things have come to a head in the last 3 or 4 years such that several frustrated producers have decided to market their wine outside of the Cava DO and these include the Colet winery, whose sparkling wine I have added to the Wines With Attitude® portfolio. The Penedès DO used by Colet and some other quality ex-Cava producers, sets them apart although they have the disadvantage that the category is less well-known than Cava. However those Penedès DO sparkling wines that are 100% organic, 100% from Penedès and 100% Reserva i.e. have spent at least 15 months on the lees or dead yeast cells, can give their wine the 'Classic Penedès' brand, in place only since 2014.
Perhaps in retaliation, the Cava DO is taking action and promoting 'Premium Cava' which encompasses the following and will account for approximately 30% of Cava though probably a much smaller percentage of the Cava that we see in the UK:
Cava Reserva, aged for a minimum of 15 months
Cava Gran Reserva, aged for a minimum of 30 months and
a new top level Cava approved last year and known as 'Cava de Pareje Calificado'; these are essentially Cava wines from single-estate vineyards in the best 'terroirs' of the Cava region.
This new label will only appear with this year's vintage so time will tell if and how the Cava de Pareje Calificado will be different in terms of its quality and how it will compare with Classic Penedès. We'll report back in due course.
Facts about Cava & Classic Penedès
- Cava is the only DO area in Spain that is not one geographical region, though c. 95% is produced in Penedès in Catalonia
- Penedès DO covers only one geographical region and wines from the area must contain only grapes grown in that region and be produced in wineries in that region
- the name Cava comes from the Spanish word for cellar or cave
- neither Cava nor Classic Penedès can call themselves Champagne but both are made by the same method as Champagne, the traditional method, i.e. they are aged on the lees and second fermentation takes place in the bottle
- the grapes used are different from those used for champagne, principally indigenous varieties, Macabeo or Viura, Parellada and Xarel-lo though increasingly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are being seen in the blend
- they are made in white/ blanco and rosé/ rosado versions and in varying degrees of sweetness
- standard Cava must spend 9 months on lees, Reserva 15 months and Gran Reserva 30 months; Classic Penedès must be Reserva wine
- the Cava market is dominated by two huge companies, Cordoniu and Freixenet but there are many smaller producers producing Cava of varying degrees of quality; there are only a handful of small but quality sparkling wine producers in Penedès
- Penedès DO is the first 100% organic sparkling wine appellation in the world
© Wines With Attitude Limited, www.wineswithattitude.co.uk
Lindsay Cornelissen DipWSET is passionate about good quality wine and set up Wines With Attitude to share that passion with other wine lovers.