One of the many good things about Spain is the abundance of some very decent vino tinto. But let’s not forget the other great Spanish drink: Cava.
We went to a Spanish wedding yesterday. It was good fun. A very lovely couple. There was a nice church service; not too solemn. Then there were drinks in the local Palmtree square. The weather was hot, but not too hot. The air was not too humid as it often is, on the island of Mallorca. Then it was off to the wedding reception, and after that dinner for 200 or 300. I did not count the invited guests, but weddings are usually big social events in this predominantly rural society. A great affair overall, and very pleasant all round.
Mind you, it can’t have been too fancy an event because Maria Antonia Munar wasn’t there. But I must say sorry. If you are not familiar with the situation here in Mallorca, you won’t be able to get the pun.
Back to my musings. The point I am trying to make is about that great Spanish drink, especially now, in summer: Cava.
A toast in Spain is practically always accompanied with Cava, the sparkling wine made by the Method Champenoise, and especially so on the occasion of a happy wedding. Most people know Cava, when the New Year is brought in with the twelve grapes chewed in time to the chimes of the clock in your Spanish town plaza or in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol.
But now in summer, do not be fooled into thinking that Cava is just right for Christmas or New Year. It is the perfect Spanish summer drink, wherever you are, wedding or not.
Cava proves to be a very acceptable alternative to French Champagne, in my opinion, and not only so when you are in Spain. It should also be said, that Cava is much better value for money. Almost all Cava is produced in Catalunya, especially the Penedés region, although eight different provinces are included in the recognized Cava producing area. The grapes traditionally used – Macabeo, Xarello, and Parellada – make Cava a light, white, fruity, perfumed sparkling wine.
Documents show that wine with a certain amount of effervescence has been made in Catalunya since the 14th century. But it was not until the 1850s that serious attempts began to produce a wine with the same characteristics as Champagne. Production did not begin until the 1870s. Since then, Cava has become tremendously popular and vast amounts, over two hundred million bottles annually (2002), are made for both domestic consumption and export.
You can distinguish Cava by the cork, which is always marked with a four-pointed star. It is often thought that Cava Brut is somehow superior to the others, which is not quite true, although it may be more versatile. Because of the custom of saving the Cava for the toast at weddings and other social occasions, it is also thought that Cava is only suitable for the end of the meal, which is emphatically not the case.
Cava is sold ready for drinking. It does not really improve with being kept, but rather deteriorates with age: It is best to buy it, store it upright in a cool, not cold, place, for as little time as possible, and drink it, preferably in the same week. The sweeter the Cava, the cooler it needs to be served: a Brut Nature can be served at lowish temperatures, but a Semi-Seco must be well chilled.
Cava is usually made by the Coupage method, whereby ‘must’ (grape juice) from different varieties of grape is subjected to the first fermentation, then mixed until the blend is consistent with the wine to be produced.
The advantage of this is that a particular brand of Cava will taste the same every year. It also means that most Cava does not carry a year on the bottle, as ‘must’ from different years is often used. Some are always made using the same grape variety, in which case the year will be indicated on the bottle: these are superior and thus, more expensive.
After the Coupage the wine is bottled and yeast and sugar are added. It is then left for the second fermentation and ageing. This lasts a minimum of nine months and maybe up to three or four years, for a very special Cava. A process called ‘riddling and disgorging’ is then carried out. The bottles are stored nearly upside down so that the sediment settles on the corks and ‘riddled’ (turned) for a period of thirty days. ‘Disgorging’ is when the corks are removed, together with the sediment (usually with the help of a freezing process).
Expedición, ‘passing liquor’, a blend of the same wine as that in the bottle and others, together with the required amount of sugar, is then added in order to replace the lost wine and make the final flavour. Evidently, this process needs to be carried out very quickly. New corks are then put in and fastened on with the wire clasp before the bottles are labeled. And off you go.
As time moves on, some of the traditional process is now being automated. This is particularly true for the ‘riddling’ procedure. The big Cava companies cannot afford to manually hand turn each and every single bottle. But the wine cellars with a smaller turnover and lesser well known Cava still retain the traditional methods, and if you ask me, they easily make it worth your while spending one or two Euros more for a better tasting product.
My personal favourite is Raventós i Blanc and one of their Gran Reserva choices. Depending on the occasion and on your personal preferences, you can get a superb Raventós i Blanc Cava of a Gran Reserva quality for between 15 € and 30 €, and I would be surprised if you would not like it.
If you do not reside or travel in Spain, you could still get some decent Cava in most well stocked wine merchants all over the world, but expect to pay a little bit more. Whichever way, Cava is worth the experience, in my opinion.