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Monday, October 15, 2007 (read 1588 times)

Cava: Spain's Bubbly Stuff

by Erin

One of our don Quijote interns from the UK prepared this cava "primer". She's included some pretty tempting cava cocktail ideas at the end:

Cava, the bubbly stuff
The last time you cracked open a bottle of bubbly, what was it?

Champagne? Asti? Sovetskoye Shampanskoye? Or Cava? Producing over 12 million cases a year, Spain is the world's second largest producer of sparkling wine and although often mistakenly regarded as a "poor man's champagne ", is actually a very acceptable and affordable alternative to the French drink.

Unlike the French producers, who struggle to keep prices down due to the high production costs " one hectare of vineyards in the Champagne region currently changes hands for one million euros " a good bottle of cava from one of the well known producers, Codorniu or Freixenet, can be found in a supermarket for as little as 7€….slightly better value than your average bottle of Moet!

Although EU law dictates that cava (or any other sparkling wine) cannot be referred to as "champagne ", Spain's bubbly shares many of the same features as its French counterpart, most notably the method by which it was made. The discovery of the méthode champenoise is famously credited to the French monk Dom Pérignon (c.1638 " 1715), who upon tasting it for the first time, is said to have shouted to his brethren, "Come quickly! I am drinking stars! " Literary references show that forms of sparkling wine have been produced in Spain since the 14th century, although it was not until 1872 that Joseph Raventós made cava a true commercial enterprise in Catalonia.

The méthode champenoise
The contents of a cava bottle start life as mosto (grape juice) from different varieties of grape, which is fermented in vats and mixed with other grape varieties until the right blend has been achieved. The most common grapes in cava production are macabeo, parellada and xarel lo, although Chardonnay is slowly creeping in too.

This blending process from different grape juices means that cava, like Champagne, rarely carries a date on the bottle " those that do are made from grapes all from the same year and evidently are more expensive. Yeast is then added to the must and then the liquid is bottled and left for the second fermentation and aging.

This period lasts a minimum of 9 months and may be up to three or four years, during which time the yeast feeds on the residual sugars. The products of fermentation are alcohol and carbon dioxide, hence the bubbles. The bottles are then stored upside down and turned, or riddled, for a period of 30 days, when the sediment floats to the neck of the bottle. "Disgorging " then takes place " the corks and sediment are removed from the bottle and a blend of the same wine, along with the sugar, tops the bottle up. New corks are then put in and fastened on with a wire clasp before the bottles are labelled. You can always distinguish cava by the cork, which should be marked with a four pointed star on its base.

Eight different regions across Spain are permitted under Spanish law to produce cava, although 95% of it comes from the Penedés region in Catalonia " and 75% from Sant Sadurní dánoia alone. The rocky terrain of Catalonia, between Barcelona and Tarragona, its favourable climate for wine making and its chalky soil allow the vines to develop deep roots.

Types of cava
Like champagne, cava comes in different degrees of sweetness, according to the amount of added sugar.

Brut Nature: no added sugar
Extra Brut: up to 6g sugar per litre
Brut: up to 15g sugar per litre
Extra Seco: between 12 and 20g sugar per litre
Seco: between 17 and 35g sugar per litre
Semi-seco: between 33 and 50g sugar per litre
Dulce: more than 50g sugar per litre

A toast in Spain is almost always drunk with cava " especially when the New Year is brought in with the tradition of swallowing twelve grapes in time to the chiming of the clock in the town square. Because of this tradition, it is widely believed that cava is only suitable for the end of a meal " something emphatically denied by many wine critics. Instead, they argue, cava is one of the few wines that can be drunk throughout a meal, simply by moving from a brut to a sweet dulce as you get on to dessert.

Unlike many wines, cava is sold ready for drinking and does not improve with age. Buy it, store it upright in a cool but not cold place for as little time as possible and drink it preferably within the same week. The sweeter the cava, the colder it needs to be: a sharp brut tastes delicious at room temperature whereas a semi-seco needs a decent spell in the fridge before serving.

Cava cocktails
Like champagne, cava makes a wonderful, light base for pre-dinner cocktails, especially those mixed with fruit liqueurs. Here are a few suggestions for sipping in the early evening sun:

Agua de Valencia - fill a jug with ice and pour over 500ml of fresh orange juice. Add 750ml cava and once the fizz has subsided, add a generous dash of Cointreau. Yum!

Kir imperial - a fruity alternative to that classic, the Kir Royal. Mix ¼ raspberry liqueur to ¾ cava and decorate with fresh raspbeerries.

To jazz up your flutes, why not add a few pomegrenate seeds to each glass? Or make "golden bees " to float in your cava by soaking sultanas in brandy and dropping 4 in each glass?


Keywords: cava,catalunya,barcelona,culture,gastronomy,spain,wine


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