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Spanish Cavas - Spain's sparkling wines

Updated on January 28, 2014
The cava region in Catalonia, Spain.
The cava region in Catalonia, Spain. | Source
Xarel-lo one of three grapes used to make Spanish Cava.
Xarel-lo one of three grapes used to make Spanish Cava. | Source

Cava - Champagne

In the northeast corner of Spain, in and around the city of Barcelona, is the wonderful cava region. Cava is champagne, but only those made in the champagne region in France are permitted to be called champagne. The rest made elsewhere in the world must be called sparkling wine.

Cava actually is the Spanish word for cave because Spanish sparkling wine is fermented deep underground in caves. The Spanish use the French method traditional to ferment and age their sparkling wines, but they have named them cavas.

The great cava region in Spain is centered around Sant Sadurni d'Anoia in Penedes and is the source of about ninety percent of Spain's cava production.

The grapes used in Spanish cava are grown all over Cataluyna and may be blended from different areas as long as they come from registered cava vineyards.

The main grapes used in cava are:

  • Parellada which provides a creamy, soft body to the cava.
  • Macabeo which provides crispness and acidity to the cava.
  • Xarel-lo which provides ripeness, structure, and complexity to the cava.

There are other grape varieties permitted in Spanish cava and they include Chardonnay and the red grapes, Garnacha, Monastrell and Trepot for a rose cava.

Spain's classic cava brut has a soft, creamy acidity and is bone-dry but with a gentle sparky fruit. Cava's main characteristic is its affordability; however, Spain is now producing quite expensive and fine cavas.

The two dominant companies that produce cava in Spain are Cordorniu and Freixenet. There are some smaller independent house that are producing cava also:

  • Augusti Torello
  • Mont Ferrant
  • Gramona
  • Juve y Camps
  • Giro Ribot
  • Rovellats

Cava cork important to the process of a Spanish cava.
Cava cork important to the process of a Spanish cava. | Source

Codorniu Cava 1552/1872

One of the oldest cavas in Spain is the famous Codorniu Cava that dates back to 1551. In that year, an old document brought the first written proof of the Codorniu family. This ancient document is the inventory of Jaime Codorniu's goods left in legacy to his heir and is all about his vineyards, presses, wine cellars, barrels and casks.

Jaime Codorniu's entire life was devoted to the elaborate wines from his vineyards firmly rooted in the Cataluyna cava region. The sun, rain and cold came together in this region and shaped the fruit that Jaime Codorniu and time would bring to maturity.

In 1659, the House of Codorniu was enlarged and consolidated and it was this year that the House of Codorniu was united in marriage to the Raventos family.

The last heir to the Codorniu family was a woman, Maria Ana Codorniu, in a time in Spain when property was only passed on to men. So, Maria Ana had to marry so the Codorniu legacy could be passed on to a man. Therefore, the marriage of Maria Ana to Miguel Raventos marked the start of a new house of wine. The merger of the two wine houses was a period of great wine making.

In the middle of the 19th century, the House passed to Jose Raventos Codorniu and he is the man who began making Codorniu cavas, or sparkling wines. Jose did his research of grapes, methods of fermentation and aging and in 1872, Jose Raventos Codorniu uncorked his first bottle of cava produced in a Spanish wine cellar. He used the strictest champagne method.

Then, Jose's son Manuel took over the House of Codorniu and decided to produce cavas after traveling abroad and studying other wine cellars throughout Europe. Manuel brought the best wine experts of France back to Spain to consult with him in producing some serious cavas. This was the birth of Codorniu cavas.

In 1897, Manuel Raventos Codorniu was bestowed the title of Purveyor to the Royal House. He became the cava expert and supplier of cavas to the Spanish throne.

Spanish cava.
Spanish cava. | Source
Codorniu Cava in the Cataluyna region of Spain.
Codorniu Cava in the Cataluyna region of Spain. | Source
Codorniu cava where the sparkling wines are aged.
Codorniu cava where the sparkling wines are aged. | Source
Bottles that are racked and turned to produce the Spanish cavas.
Bottles that are racked and turned to produce the Spanish cavas. | Source

Codorniu Cava - method traditional of France

One of the oldest and finest cavas of Spain in the Cataluyna region is Codorniu Cava and I have had the good fortune to visit this wonderful cava. It uses the strict method traditional from France for making its sparkling wines and they are very affordable.

Codorniu uses four grape varieties to make its cavas:

  • Macabeo
  • Parellada
  • Xarel-lo
  • Morastell

Following is the French method traditional used in making Codorniu cavas:

  1. Grapes on the vine that have reached the exact degree of ripeness are taken to cellars and put in special presses to rapidly extract the juice, thus avoiding all contact with the residue of the grape.
  2. The first half of the juice becomes the 'flor del mosto' (the prime must) used for elaboration of Codorniu cava.
  3. The must turns to wine in oak casks and barrels and during the winter it is decanted many times to achieve the clarity and transparency of white wine.
  4. Just before springtime the reserve wines are mixed with those of the previous harvest to obtain a new wine. This is called the 'cupaje' (blending) which is of prime importance in making Codorniu cavas.
  5. Now, the wine goes into its bottles in the cavas or caves. Underground, at a constant temperature, the bottles are lined up along huge galleries. They rest in silence and darkness for years. Only expert hands are permitted to handle them to bring out the transparent clear color and brightness.
  6. During the years in silence and darkness, the wine remains in contact with the sediment formed with bubbles. Codorniu slowly acquires the bubbles that make it world famous.
  7. After the slow aging process of years, the sediment formed in the bottle must be removed.
  8. Now, bottles are placed in racks with an angle of inclination towards the floor which is greater everyday. They are lightly moved and turned an eighth of a turn each time. The sediment slides down the bottle to the cork.
  9. When the bottles are nearly upside down, the cork is popped along with the sediment.
  10. Then, a small quantity of aged wine is put in the bottle which will make the different types of cavas: brut, dry, semi-dry, and sweet.
  11. In a few months the cork adapts to the bottle neck and the cava is ready to receive the Codorniu label and be sold.

Codorniu produces six different types of cavas:

  • Premiere Curvee
  • Brut Clasico
  • Blanc de Blanc
  • Anna de Codorniu
  • Codorniu Chardonnay
  • Codorniu Rose

The brut and dry cava is for entrees of meat or game and enhance the delicate flavor of fish. These also can be used as an aperitif and is great when paired with shellfish.

Semi-dry and sweet cavas are usually for desserts.

I have visited Codorniu in Cataluyna in Spain and I have also visited its cava in Sonoma, California. I think it is the best of the affordable cavas.

Copyright 2013 Suzannah Wolf Walker all rights reserved

Codorniu vineyards and cava.
Codorniu vineyards and cava. | Source

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