The Spanish wine landscape is so much more than sangria and red wine from Rioja. From fresh and fruity whites to big and bold reds, you can find any style of wine you’re interested in drinking. Cava is one of the best-kept secrets of Spain though. The profile of Cava wineries is rising in the international market and you can usually find it abroad, traditionally marketed as a sparkling wine, perfect as a substitute for Champagne or Prosecco. And this is true! Cava is amazing value for money because it has the same level of quality, complexity, and deliciousness that Champagne is famous for, at prices that are often half the cost of Champagne.
Cava and the Penedès Region
Barcelona is the dream city for fans of bubbles. It’s conveniently located in the middle of Cava country. Only about 45 km east of the city sits the village of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, the epicenter of cava production in the Penedès, the largest Cava producing area in Spain. One can only assume this is the reason Cava is abundant in Barcelona. I still get a little thrill ordering a “copa de Cava” on a regular evening, and not just saved for New Year’s and special occasions.
While you can never go wrong with any glass of Cava, knowing a little bit about it will increase the chance that you can find quality Cava and end up with a glass that you like. Just like Champagne, Cava has different taste profiles that are influenced by many factors. Age is the most straightforward factor.
If you want a party in a glass, choose a younger Cava. They generally are fresher, with zesty citrus notes and more intense bubbles. It’s also an excellent aperitif. As a Cava ages, it will develop more complex flavors, often described as toasty or nutty. The bubbles will soften and become less intense. Older Cavas get closer to what we expect from vintage Champagne.
To tell how long a Cava was aged, start by looking at the label on the bottle. A basic Cava will be aged for a minimum of nine months. A bottle labeled “Reserva” means the Cava will have been aged for at least fifteen months and a “Gran Reserva” for 30 months. Many producers continue to age their cavas for much longer than that based on the ultimate taste profile desired. Two other important terms to look for these days are “Corpinnat” and “Cava Paraje Calificado”. The terms indicate even more stringent requirements that dictate the winemaking process, including where grapes must be grown. These label terms are a good start if you are seeking out a higher quality wine to try.
A day trip to the Penedès region is the perfect way to expand your knowledge and take advantage of Barcelona’s prime location. Begin with Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, the original home of Cava, to learn about how this special wine is made and how the difference in producer philosophy influences the final product. This lovely Catalan town is home to several of the biggest names in Cava and Corpinnat and makes for the perfect starting point to see firsthand how Cava is made. Many bodegas have reopened with extensive safety measures in place and are ready to welcome guests. Sant Sadurni d’Anoia can be easily reached by train for a Cava adventure
Even better, right next to the train station (and the first thing you see) is Freixenet. Perhaps one of the oldest and most well-known Cava producers in the world, Freixenet makes over 100 million bottles of Cava per year and distributes them widely. A visit to Freixenet offers a peek into this large scale operation as well a bit of time travel to the past. A private tour through the cellars of Freixenet is more like visiting a museum than a winery. The original facilities have been transformed to a display of the bottles, advertisements and machines originally used for winemaking at Freixenet. The history and nostalgia surround you as you walk through the cool tunnels. (Unfortunately, the usual fun small train ride through the modern production space is cancelled due to health and safety measures.) The tour ends the way every good winery visit should — with a tasting of two glasses of Cava on the scenic terrace with more options by the glass, if you want to explore some special bottlings that you can only find at the winery.
Take a quick fifteen minute walk from Freixenet to neighboring Recaredo. Another institution of the Penedès, Recaredo began in 1924 and has led the charge over the last decade in improving the quality of Cava production in the region. A guided visit to Recaredo will show you a very different side of the industry. A much smaller operation, Recaredo is more of a living museum. The family still manages the entire winemaking process by hand, a true step back in time that’s evident winding through the cellar and seeing the history and tradition still proudly on display.
Recaredo is one of the founding bodegas of a new organization governing wine production in Catalunya, Corpinnat. The focus of these tours is the philosophy behind the organization and what that means for winemaking and viticulture in bodegas like Recaredo. All visits are organized for private groups at the moment, which is perfect for asking questions. The tour ends in the private tasting rooms where a flight of sparkling and still wines waits to showcase the experience and range that Recaredo offers. If you are lucky you might even meet Antonio, one of the second generation of Recaredo winemakers. Though retired, he is often around, keeping an eye on things and pointing out pictures of himself as a child in the cellars.
A visit to both Cava wineries offers the valuable opportunity to see and taste Cava from both ends of the spectrum and see how diverse this sparkling wine can be.
Next time you are looking for a special celebratory bottle, look for one of these at your local bodega or wine shop:
- Recaredo Terrers Gran Reserva Brut Nature 2016, 25€
- Recaredo Brut de Brut Serral del Vell 2013, 40 €
- Raventós i Blanc de Nit 2017, 18 €
- Huguet Gran Reserva Brut Nature 2010, 16€
- Agustí Torelló Mata Gran Reserva Brut Nature 2013 17 €