Cava: The Spanish alternative to Champagne


So often, when we think of the holidays, our thoughts immediately turn to Champagne. When I used to live in Spain, Spaniards also tended to follow the same train of thought, and in truth, it was just plain sad. It is the same situation in Quebec, Canada. Cava is to Spain what Champagne is to France, typically of more of less the same quality and always at a lower price. While the most expensive Champagnes will push $100  or more  a bottle at the SAQ, you’d be hard pressed to find a Cava over the $100 , and I swear to you, the quality is always good.

Cava, is a  sparkling wine produced with the same winemaking method as Champagne. The birthplace of Cava making is the area around Sant Sadurní d’Anoia in southern Barcelona province. Traditionally this area been making 85% of all Cava supplied worldwide. However, today’s authorized growing area includes 160 municipalities in seven Spanish regions.

Like Champagne, each house or producer makes a particular cuvée from vineyards anywhere within the demarcated zone. The Cuvée may be one of seven types of Cava, distinguished by the level of sweetness.

Cava’s name derives from the Spanish word for an underground cellar, which became the term for the production method now known simply as ‘método tradicional’ (traditional method), in Spanish, and is now protected, so that bottles do not necessarily have to quote the DO status. This method is basically a second fermentation in bottle.

The story of Cava goes back to 1872 when José Raventós Fatjó was able to obtain to obtain the second fermentation in bottle from the traditional white grapes of Penedès ( macabeo, xarel.lo and parellada).  Besides these grapes others are authorized such as malvasia and chardonnay. In red varieties, Grenache, monastrell, trepat and pinot noir. For this last one, it  was only authorized in the production of pink Cavas, but reforms in the appellation rules have allowed to be vinified in white.

Cava can be classified according to the level of sugar into the following categories:

Brut Nature: Up to 3 g/I and no sugar added

Extra Brut: Up to 6g/l

Brut: Up to 15g/l

Extra Dry: Between 12 and 20g/l

Dry: Between 17 and 35 g/l

Demi-Sec: Between 33 and 50 g/l

Sweet: More than 50g/l


Matching Cava with food

Cava serves is a great versatile drink when it comes to match the four main flavour groups: salt, sweet, bitter and acidic. It’s also a great match for fatty foods, as the carbon dioxide bubbles help to refresh the palate. This come very handy as the menus in the holiday season tend to be laden with rich plates such as Turkey, Meat Pie, creamy seafood dishes, etc. Here are some food items in which you can match Cava.

Salads: salads with fruit (especially grapes, apples and pears) and the growing range of vinegars such as Cava vinegar make Cava an ideal choice. (Pairing suggestion: Cava Brut, Brut Reserva)

Pasta: the neutral flavour of pasta makes it easy to combine with almost any variety of Cava. (Pairing suggestion: Cava Brut Nature, Brut, Extra Brut Reserva)

Rice: One of the best and classic matches. This is a clear example of Cava as a “conductor” of flavours. Cava goes particularly well with paellas and risottos. (Pairing suggestion: Cava Brut, Extra Brut, Rosé)

Seafood: Cava helps to enhance the flavour intensity of seafood and shellfish as their natural saltiness is balanced out by the acidity of dry varieties. (Pairing suggestion: Cava Brut Nature Reserva, Brut Gran Reserva)

Fish: a particularly good combination with blue or fatty fish, as the effect of the carbon dioxide balances the greasy sensation in the mouth. ‘Meatier’ fish such as tuna also goes very well with Cava. (Pairing suggestion: Cava Brut Nature/Brut, Cava Reserva Brut Nature/Brut)

Meat: Cava goes fantastically with poultry and white meats. It’s also a tasty accompaniment to lamb, stews and carpaccio. (Pairing suggestion: Cava Brut Nature, Brut Gran Reserva, Rosé)

Desserts: light, sweet desserts and acidic red fruit flavours match nicely with Cavas that are drier. The flavours of long aged varieties are a perfect match with desserts in general, and sweet Cavas are a pleasant accompaniment to custard-based or creamy dishes. (Pairing suggestion: Cava Brut, Demi-sec, Sweet, Rosé).

The Cavas reviewed below were either purchased or given by their importers for review.

Freixenet Elyssia N/V. Represented by Élixirs vins et spiritueux

Light clear gold colour. On the nose, aromas of roasted nuts and white peach with layers of honey and creamy guava dessert. In the mouth, good size bubble, medium body with flavors of grapefruit, lime peel and fruit orchards. Nice length with a mineral aftertaste. 92/100.

Villa Conchi Brut Selección Cava N/V. Philippe Dandurand Wines.

Light hay colour.Yeasty with lemon and floral undertones. In the mouth, medium body with a ripe and generous fruit structure. Great balance between  the fruit and the toast components Tasty and fruity finale. 89\100

Villa Conchi Brut Rosado N/V.Philippe Dandurand Wines.

Beautiful cherry colour. Aromas of ripe red fruits and spices. In the mouth, medium body, refreshing with fine and persistent bubbles. Elegant with a nice acidity. Long aftertaste.90\100.

Codorniu, Selección Raventós Brut N/V. Les Sélections François Fréchette

On the nose, aromas of tropical fruits, with lots of flowers nuances. In the mouth, very fine bubble.  Well balanced and elegant with a buttery texture and flavors of apple with hints of nuts and honey. Delicate and complex. One of my all time favorite cavas. 92\100

Parés Baltà Cava Brut N/V. Trialto

Pale Yellow colour. Aromas of toast with pear and apple fruit. In the mouth, medium body, elegant with a delicate pleasant finish. 90\100

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