The culture in Spain is truly unique in every sense of the word. The Spanish have many festivals and traditions that are not found anywhere else. One interesting fact about Spanish people is that they drink lots of sparkling wine during their holidays. It kind of makes sense since sparkling wine is primarily a celebration drink. But while everywhere else it’s served as an aperitif in Spain they serve it after dinner and it’s usually paired with Spanish sweets.
Spanish sparkling wine is traditionally called Cava. While Champagne is Champagne because it’s made in Champagne, Cava is Cava because the cellar in which you make Cava is called a cava. Of the many producers of sparkling wine in Spain the best known are Codorniu and Freixenet. About 95% of production takes place around the village of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia.
Production of Cava
Cava is produced using the “Champagne method”. As you know sparkling wine gets it’s sparkle from the bubbles. Here is how they get there. First of all a white wine is produced. This wine is a blend of a few wine types. While in Champagne Chardonnay is almost exclusively used, in Spain they use a blend of Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada.
After this the blended wine is bottled and yeast and sugar are added. The relationship between them is that yeast turns sugar into carbon dioxide. This is called secondary fermentation. The process lasts for about 9 months and is done in the cava (or cool cellar).
During this secondary fermentation the bottles are occasionally turned. This causes the residue from the yeast to stockpile at the neck of the bottle. So the bottle gets its neck frozen, the sediment is forced out and then the bottle is re-corked. The result is a clean, fresh and amazing sparkling wine.
Quality of Cava
As of 1991 the European Union decided to implement some specifications to ensure some form of consistent quality from Cava. This also means that the European Union recognized the quality and origin of Cava. In turn there are very few producers of true Cava outside of Catalonia. For one to recognize a true cava one need only look for a star with 4 corners located on the base of the cork.
Based on the sugar content in the wine, there are six recognized types of Cava. Extra Brut is the driest of the Cava. A sugar content of 0-6 grams of sugar per litre. Next is Brut, it’s sugar content ranges from 0-15 grams of sugar per litre. Extra Seco has a range of 12-20, Seco has 17-35 grams of sugar per litre. The sweeter varieties are Semi-Seco, with a 33-50 grams of sugar per litre concentration, and the sweetest is Dulce – more than 50 grams.
When shopping for cava, as a general rule of thumb, the more expensive it is the drier it is likely to be.
Cava is one of those wines that can’t be chilled enough and is best served at a temperature of around 8ºC. An interesting trick is to chill the glasses in the freezer for half an hour before serving to help keep the wine cold.
Cava is a special kind of wine and is a much cheaper alternative to Champagne. The sparkling wine has great quality and provides a different wine type for wine lovers. Be sure to try it the next time you’re going to celebrate.
Visiting a Cava Winery
If you’re going to Barcelona you can easily fit in an excursion to a winery in the Penedes wine region which is only about 50km from the city. It’s no problem to do it yourself but you would be better off booking a private wine tour. You’ll find more information on our Penedes wine page.