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The Ultimate case for Cava
18 December 2019 @ 12:44

[Bio: Author: Becky Russell, a British native, who has visited Catalonia on many occasions]


We've all had a giggle at cava's expense. We've laughed and pointed at those subtly placing cheap Spanish bubbles on the sideboard before helping themselves to something French, white, crisp and awfully expensive. 

Well - we all need to revisit our well-worn prejudice. If you know cava - beyond that it's Spanish and fizzy - then stop reading and go and pour yourself a glass. Me? I'm new to all this and so respectfully present some modest insights, hoping that we'll be able to start wandering the Cava road together.

Cava is largely produced in the Penedès region of Catalonia. Only wines made using traditional champenoise methods are permitted to be called cava. Other methods result in merely 'sparkling wine'.

In order to control cava volumes, Spanish law - after years of debate - mandated that there are only eight wine regions permitted to produce cava. Catalonia's Mediterranean climate with baking summers and kind winters quietly help along the macabeu, parellada and xarello grapes which are the traditional cava producing varieties. Although mostly white (blanco), rosé (rosado) cava can also be produced by adding limited quantities of still red wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha or Monastrell.

As is the case for Champagne, cava comes in varying degrees of dryness: brut nature, brut, brut reserve, sec (seco), semisec (semiseco), and dolsec (dulce). If you're persuaded to try a bottle from one of the major Cava houses, you can't go wrong with Codorníu or Freixenet. 

While staying over at Catalan Manor, I chatted with the owner, Paul, about his recent venture into cava manufacture. Although an ecological approach has been used to cultivate vines on the estate since 1890, it was only in 2008 that he decided to make his own branded product. The estate produces a brut nature cava using the best 20% of the xarello grape harvest and traditional production techniques. On the 340 acres of estate, 10% is southern facing and dedicated to wine growing. 

Paul reflected on the first season, "I knew I enjoyed drinking cava, and that the potential was there to make some. The decision to engage local expertise was critical. Without this knowledge, it would have much more difficult to ensure success." 

The grapes are carefully monitored throughout August and September in order to judge the precise moment of harvest. In September, picking is done by hand in in the vineyards of the Penedès Appellation and grapes are moved by road in small boxes to Can Ramon winery to avoid bruising. The grapes are de-stemmed, crushed and transferred to large vats. The must settle and clears allowing for the removal of solid parts such as grape skins and pips. The must is then transferred to temperature-controlled stainless steel vats.

The outcome is a gracious and sensuous, boutique cava limited to 4000 bottles in any vintage. A small amount is sold and the remainder is saved for guests staying at the Catalan villa. 

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