It’s difficult to remember a more opportune time to delve into Cava. With sparkling wine generally riding high, having firmly established itself as an everyday treat in the UK, wine drinkers are now discovering that a wealth of styles exist beyond the most basic bottles. And Spain’s best-known sparkling wine is very well placed to meet that growing demand.
What’s more, with consumers drinking less but spending more when they do, all the signs are that the gin-loving generation, having swung back towards more flavour in their drinks, are looking to move on fizz-wise and explore other, more satisfying styles that offer a little more than light and frothy bubbles in the glass.
And this is particularly pertinent for the stalwarts of the sparkling world – most notably Cava, Cremant and Champagne – all of which exude the depth and complexity that comes from being produced by the traditional method, including the all important secondary fermentation and ageing in the bottle.
Of these three ‘Cs’ it is Cava that stands out as both the most accessible and readily understandable sparkling wine. Not only does it already enjoy wide recognition among the public – yet without a price tag that can bring water to the eyes – but with all things Spanish still in vogue, Cava remains well placed to capitalise on this positive Iberian image.
It’s probably fair to say that much Cava has for too long been under-sold and under-appreciated. But more recently a groundswell of producers have been working hard to swing the focus to premium Cavas, adding higher quality tiers and promoting their more premium wines. And this has caught the eye of an increasing number of high profile restaurant and independent merchant buyers, finding a growing number of quite vocal champions for the mix of quality and value to be found.
A recent London tasting of wines from the new Cava de Paraje Calificado top quality tier, which singles out wines from estate vineyards that have been aged for a minimum of 36 months on the lees, illustrated how good top flight Cavas can be.
Tasters worked their way though wines leaning both to the traditional and modern in style, from lighter, elegant samples to those with rich and toasty depths. Catalan varieties Xarel.lo, Parellada and Macabeo vied with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to outdo each other in a line up that included white and rose fizz, with vintages going back a decade or more, revealing quite how well the best Cavas can improve with age.
What really impressed was the variety of styles, with something for everyone, offering quality fizz for almost any conceivable occasion and a host of food friendly possibilities to boot. The breadth and depth of the Cavas on offer left little doubt that Spain produces some quite fantastic sparkling wines.
The UK trade is beginning to wake up to the potential of quality Cava, positioned as it is between entry level Prosecco and the rather high entry level price for half way decent Champagne. And while quality Cava may still need explaining and a bit of a push to bring customer on board, the possibilities are there for meeting the thirst of those wine drinkers that are looking to trade up a little, but find little to satisfy this option.
Cava has reached a tipping point; the wines are there, with all the evidence on tasting at this year’s Wines from Spain annual tasting. Time to dip in, I’d suggest, and come up to speed with the fizz of the fair.