What Is Cava Wine? A Detailed Guide To Spanish Sparkling Wine

You don’t have to be a sommelier to have heard about Cava. So what is Cava wine exactly?

Cava, pronounced kaa-vuh, is a wonderful and versatile Spanish sparkling wine. Often it can be confused with Champagne or Prosecco as they are similar in many ways. Although they are three fundamentally different wines, each one is unique, naturally flavored, and classically styled.

From the grapes that are used to create it to the location in which it is made, Cava is an interesting aspect of Spanish wine. Cava is a product of base wine that has undergone fermentation carried out by skilled and talented bodegas. In recent years, Cava has become quite a favorite amongst wine enthusiasts and especially those who adore a few bubbles. 

In this post, we’ll look at everything you need to know to understand Cava. You’ll learn more about what makes it unique, its origins as well as the winemaking process used to create it. You’ll even discover a few Bodegas worth touring that will educate you on this elegant display of Spanish craftsmanship. 

What is Cava wine? An in-depth guide to Spanish sparkling wine
What is Cava wine? An in-depth guide to Spanish sparkling wine

What Is Cava Wine Exactly?

To put it simply, Cava is a sparkling Spanish wine made through a similar process to that of Champagne. The main difference between Cava wine and Champagne is the fact that Cava is made in Spain. 

This Spanish sparkling wine was inspired by the Champagne wines, the first bottles were produced in 1872. It wasn’t until 1970 that Cava decided to create a name for itself. 

Champana was the original name of Cava. This moniker didn’t stem from the Champagne wine region in France but actually refers to the method of fermentation used to turn base wine into bubbly. 

In 1970, the name Cava, meaning cave or cellar in Cataln, was adopted to avoid confusion with the French Champagne. The French use something called ‘Méthode Champenoise Denominación de Origen’ which can be loosely translated to the ‘method from the appellation of Champagne’. 

This traditional method of double fermentation is what has highlighted Champagne in the history books of oenophiles and is used across the world to create other sparkling wine variations.  

As of late, Cava is increasing in popularity for serving the opulence related to champagne but at a more affordable price. Since the Spanish DOs (appellations) are not as culturally popular as those from France and Italy, a bottle of Cava DO guarantees you a sense of grandeur without having to break the bank. 

What is Cava wine?
What is Cava wine?

How Is Cava Made?

Cava is made through a two-step fermentation process. The first step is turning grape juice into wine. Here, the base wine is left in carefully controlled stainless steel tanks. 

Once the wine has been fermented, the secondary fermentation process is initiated by adding tirage liqueur (a mixture of yeast and sugar). This mixture introduces carbon dioxide into the wine which then forms the bubbles. 

After riddling the bottles (slowly turning them so that the yeast rises to the neck of the bottle), the second fermentation process comes to an end. The yeast is then removed by applying pressure (disgorgement). To complete the process, a cork is popped in and the sparkling wine is left to age.

During the aging process, the bottles are positioned so that the wine stays continually in contact with the lees. The dead yeast cells give Cava wine its distinctive taste.

What are Cava grapes?
What are Cava grapes?

Where Is Cava Made?

Unlike other Spanish wines, Cava production areas are not as confined. While the majority of the sparkling wines come from Penedes in the Catalonia region of Spain, other DO’s are also able to produce Cava. 

Don’t be surprised to find Cava wine production in La Rioja, Aragon, Castilla y Leon, Navarre, or Valencia.

Cava production zones
Cava production zones

What Grapes Are Used to Make Cava?

White wine bases are traditionally made from native grapes like Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo. These are usually fermented to create white Cava. You’ll find lots of fruity aromas like quince, lemon, lime peach, orange, or even apple. 

Rosé Cava, or Cava Rosado in Spanish, is usually made with black grapes like Trepat. Monastrell, Garnacha and Pinot noir are red Cava favorites. 

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are often used to make Cava Reserva, which is aged for a minimum of 18 months. Gran Reserva Cava has more than 30 months aging in the bottle.

Blanca Cusiné cava combines xarel·lo, chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, grown organically and harvested by hand in their Penedès vineyard.

Blanca Cusiné 2012
Blanca Cusiné 2012

Is Cava Sweet? 

The varying types of Cava are determined by the amount of sugar present in each bottle. Once the fermentation process has ended, winemakers will fill the bottle with something called Dosage. This sugar and wine mixture can boost the sweetness level or contribute to the dryness of the wine. 

Brut Nature is the lowest classification with zero added sugar, a step up is Extra Brut which has three to six grams of extra added sugar. These wines can come across as a bit dry compared to Dulce wines which contain more than 50g of added sugar per liter. 

Cava Faustino Brut Reserva has well balanced acidity with hints of honey and flowers. This award-winning wine pairs well with cold meats, seafood, caviar and strong cheeses.

Faustino Cava Brut sparkling wine
Faustino Cava Brut sparkling wine

Is Cava Champagne?

So, while Cava is made with the same fermentation processes as champagne, you can trust and believe that Cava and Champagne are not the same things. 

The biggest difference is where they are made. To be Champagne, grapes have to be grown and picked, then bottled and fermented in the Champagne region of France. Yet, Cava is bottled and fermented in Spain. So even though Cava is sometimes nicknamed Spanish Champagne, it’s very distinct.

While the location is the biggest differentiating factor, there are a few other ways to tell them apart. For one, Champagne is primarily made with popular grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Pinot Meunier, where Cava is not. 

On the other hand, trends within the wine-making communities are creating and adapting to new trends. These days, winemakers are experimenting with grapes and varying mixes and blends to create different types of Champagne, and the Cava industry is not far behind them. 

Another differentiating factor is in the aging process and exactly how long each beverage is required to age. This can become a little complex as Cava and Champagne have multiple categories of sparkling wine based solely on the duration of aging. 

For example, a vintage Champagne usually ages for about four to ten years where a Cava equivalent is required to age for a minimum of 3 years. Black Label Treasure Gold by Giró Ribot uses a strain of yeast that increases mannoprotein content of the cava. This, combined with bottle ageing on the lees for up to 15 months gives the wine a creamy and velvety taste in the mouth.

Treasure Black Label Cava wine
Treasure Black Label Cava wine

What’s the Most Expensive Cava in the World? 

Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or would like to relax with a glass of sparkling wine. There are a few places in Sant Sarduni D’Anoia (Cava central) that offer lovely Cava tours where you can learn all about the wine and the history of the different bodegas. 

The first Cava creators, Cordoniu, offer a fabulous tasting as well as the most expensive Cava in the world. Their 457 Gran Reserva 2008’s price point is around $200 per bottle. This is indicative of how fast-growing and lavish the Cava industry can be. 

So, get yourself a glass of bubbly or set up a picnic in the park with your favorite people. Sit back and enjoy some Cava. 

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What is Cava wine?
What is Cava wine?

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Source: Luxury Columnist

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