In Food + Drink

Cava: An Expert Guide To Spain’s Sparkling Wine

The sparkling Spanish wine Cava gets none of the accolades of Champagne, nor processo's level of fame, but it should. Incredibly food-friendly and diverse in styles, Cava is perfect for Aussie summers.

When it comes to celebrating in style, Champagne is typically the sparkling of choice for anyone wanting to pump up the party. Nearly all of world’s leading wine regions have their own take on bubbles and some are equally deserving of a place on the top shelf. Think prosecco in Italy, espumante in Portugal, sekt in Germany and crémant in the non-Champagne regions of France. And of course, Cava.

cava spain spanish sparkling wine champagne

Juvé & Camps. Photo: Facebook

Spanish cava is too often ignored or seen as cheap, but it’s a style worth your consideration.

Most of the world’s Cava is produced in Catalonia and has had a long association with the region’s capital, Barcelona. Unlike Champagne, formalities and rules are flexible when it comes to Cava, so the style also has some small Designation of Origins in other parts of Spain.

cava spain spanish sparkling wine champagne

Chardonnay grapes to go into Cava. Photo: Valformoso Cava/Facebook

Cava’s unique identity in part stems from the use of the Spanish grapes, with Macabeu, Xarello or Parralleda balancing beautifully in a well-made white Cava. The style itself is typically quite dry, but the contrast from a dry Brut Nature to the sweeter Dulce reveal the diversity of the style. Cava Rosé, with its light pink body, relies on a mix of darker-skin grapes create the wine’s distinctive colour and berry aromas.

For some, Cava is considered a poor man’s Champagne; a wine bought to create the feeling of quality without the accompanying price tag.

cava spain spanish sparkling wine champagne

Melbourne favourite Bar Lourinha. Photo: Bar Lourinhã

Among Cava’s advocates is Matt McConnell, executive chef and co-owner of Melbourne’s Bar Lourinhã, a Flinders Lane institution. McConnell finds the style fits seamlessly with his bar’s Iberian-inspired elements where quality food is best enjoyed in a lively atmosphere.

“We’ve always made sure we’ve poured a Cava by the glass just to show people how good it can be and how fresh and lively it is,” McConnell says.

Since first visiting Barcelona in the late 1990s McConnell has returned to Catalonia’s capital regularly, having fallen in love with the city’s food and the culture which surrounds it. McConnell’s passion for the city is closely linked with Cava and the breadth of varieties poured in Barcelona’s countless small bars.

cava spain spanish sparkling wine champagne

Recaredo is a traditional winery that focus’ on dry Cava. Photo: Recaredo

“Cava’s just one of the great secrets of the wine world,” he says. “I think Prosecco and Champagne get all the limelight but Cava – especially when you are in Spain – is as good if not better than Champagne,” McConnell says, adding how delicate and subtle a new vintage can be.

“You can walk into a bar and order a couple of glasses of Cava and it will just be really fresh and alive.”

Having run Bar Lourinhã for over a decade, McConnell feels the style has started to gain some attention in Australia.

“It’s been a slow progress, but people do know what to look for,” McConnell says. “I’m not sure it’s really stepped up enough; I think it’s still got a little way to go.”

Harvest time at Recaredo. Photo: Recaredo

While bubbles are most often associated with the start of a night, Cava’s subtlety, texture and diversity means it plays well with food. Fresh Cava, which has a slightly lower acidity than most Champagne and a lively, fruity aroma is the perfect to match with rich tapas or any charcuterie. The style’s subtlety means it also goes well with light tapas or seafood entrees and its texture can refresh palates between plates.

Yet McConnell suggests Cava doesn’t need to be limited to just the start of a menu, but can also flow through one.

“Most people think of bubbles as fairly light-weight: fruity, easy to drink, easy to quaff and then you move onto something else. I actually really like the idea of being able to match food throughout an entire meal just by pairing it to bubbles.”

“In particular [it works] for Cava because it is beautiful and fresh and vibrant and has those characteristics which you can tie through an entire menu.”

It’s that approach McConnell has taken to a one-off Crab y Cava Fiesta on Wednesday, November 22. In essence, a Mediterranean take on Champagne and lobster the night promises to be a celebration of what Bar Lourinhã has become so well known for; fine food and wine showcased in a fun and casual way.

“[Cava] also creates that spirit of celebration; whenever you take a cork out of a bottle and it goes pop everyone’s instantly in the mood,” McConnell says.

Some examples of Cava’s breadth

Vallformosa Brut ‘MVSA’ Cava

A classic non-vintage example of Cava without too much complexity which showcases the lively and light nature of the style. It’s the perfect start to any night, and the one McConnell’s chosen to begin the Crab y Cava Fiesta with.

“You could compare it quite a bit with Prosecco; crisp and light, easy to drink and perfect with a good handful of snacks,” McConnell says.

Recaredo Brut Nature Gran Reserva Cava 2007

Recaredo is a deeply traditional winemaker which focuses on dry Cavas. This vintage showcases the incredibly body which can often come when producers age Cava, while steal retaining the style’s clean body and nuances.

Juve Y Camps Pinot Noir Brut Rosé

Like much of the world’s Cava, Juve Y Camps vineyard is in famous Penedès winemaking region of Catalonia. The bright, highly effervescent drop produces delicate aromas of cherry and strawberry, with hints of honey and some floral notes on the palate.

(Lead image: Juvé & Camps. Photo: Facebook)

Published 19 November, 2017