Cava, What's new?
In recent years the Cava DO, the body regulating the production of the world famous Spanish sparkling wines, has been in the wine news for multiple reasons. The main reason is how unhappy certain producers are with how the DO is managed and why the body has allowed the production of these wines outside the historical Cava production area located in Catalonia, northeast of Spain.
Several producers in the area, including Raventos i Blanc, Llopart or Recaredo, that had been producing Cava since the creation of the DO, have taken one step further and have joined newly created bodies like Corpinnat or Clàssic Penedès or they are simply producing their wines without links to any DO or regulatory body due to continuous disappointments with the Cava DO.
It is a reality that sales of Cava have continuously fallen for years and that the DO is under huge pressure from producers and several other institutions to revert this situation. They have taken several actions like beginning a "premiumization" of these sparkling wines and to correct the idea that Cava is a cheap and cheerful wine produced in Spain. Also in 2017 the DO introduced the Cavas de Paraje Calificado, a new legislation for premium Cavas produced with grapes grown in special vineyards or lieu dit designated by the DO. But apparent these measures were not enough and the DO have recently released new regulations to designate cava.
So, what is Cava?
Cava is a sparkling wine made using the traditional method or méthode champenoise produced in Spain. There are some regions in Spain, not close to each other, that are allowed to produce Cava. These are: Los Comtats de Barcelona in Catalonia, Valle del Ebro in the Rioja wine country and Aragón, Viñedos de Almendralejo in Extremadura and in the Levante Zone, Comunitat Valenciana.
These wines can be designated Cava, minimum aging of 9 months in rima (on its lees), Reserva, minimum 15 months in rima or Gran Reserva, minimum 30 months in rima. The new designation mentioned above Cavas de Paraje Calificado, has a minimum aging on its lees of 36 months apart from several other requirements that will be mentioned below.
They can also be divided depending of the residual sugar in the wine: Brut Nature: -3 gr/l, Extra Brut: 0 to 6 gr/l, Brut: -12 gr/l, Extra Seco: between 12 and 17 gr/l, Seco: 17-32 gr/l, Semi seco: 32-50 gr/l or Dulce: +50 gr/l.
So, what grapes are allowed in the Cava production?
The main grapes used for these wines are the indegenous ones used traditionally in their production: The most important ones are Parellada, Macabeu (aka Viura) and Xarel-lo for white Cavas and Granache Noir, Monastrell or Trepat for the production of rosé Cavas. However there are other traditional grapes, less known, that have been used in the production of Cava for many years like Subirat Parent (Malvasía).
With the years and the efforts to please the international market and innovate, international varieties were introduced like Chardonnay for whites and Pinot Noir for rosés. With time, the producers, some of them reluctant of the usage of these grapes, have realized the potential of these two varieties to produce Cava, especially the ability of Chardonnay to age in bottle much longer than any other traditional grapes. They were able to produce wines capable of developing in bottle much longer and able to develop new flavours not known before. These varieties have brilliantly adapted to Penedés and the producers have embraced them.
Cava de Paraje Calificado
This is the “new” legislation introduced by the Cava DO in 2017. These are high end wines and part of the process of "premiumization" started by the institution a few years ago. So what are the requirements to be a Cava de Paraje Calificado ?
Aging for more than 36 months is not the only requisite for a Cava de Paraje Calificado. Currently (as of 2020) just ten Cavas have achieved this recognition.
Requisites to gain this accreditation:
● Vines must be at least 10 years old,
● Grapes must be harvested by hand,
● Maximum yield of 8,000 kg/hectare,
● Wine must be produced and bottled on site,
● Maximum output limited to 48 hectolitres/hectare,
● Only single vintage Cava,
● Complete traceability from the vineyard to the marketing.
To all the requirements above, one main characteristic must be added: the wine must talk about the place where it comes from. It must be the vehicle that shows the producer’s philosophy and the terroir where the grapes are grown. These are premium Cavas.
At this point there are only 6 houses allowed to produce Cavas de Paraje Calificado: Alta Alella, Cordorniú, Juvé&Camps, Pere Ventura, Vins el Cep and Vins Familia Ferrer, and 8 Crus producing 10 different Cavas.
So what are the new legislations launched by the DO?
With the new legislation the DO is trying to make things “easier” for consumers and make sure
that, when buying the top tier of Cava, they are buying premium wines, worth the prices paid for.
Cavas are now divided in two different tiers: Cavas de Guarda and Cavas de Guarda Superior.
Cavas de Guarda. These wines are the entry level of the DO and the vast majority of wines produced within the DO. They have a minimum aging on its lees for 9 months before being released to the market and that’s about it. Wines produced to be enjoyed youthful and chilled on a hot summer day. Uncomplicated and unpretencious.
Cavas de Guarda Superior. This new category includes Reserva, Gran Reserva and Paraje Calificado. Apart from the minimum aging periods for each category, these wines must adhere to the following strict requirements:
● Vineyards must be at least 10 years old,
● All grapes must come from certifies organic vineyards,
● A maximum of 10.000 kilograms per hectare ,
● Reference to the year of harvest.
All the requirements must be supplemented by total traceability of the grapes from harvest to bottle.
Producers can also add to the labels, although not still required, information about the region where the grapes come from (zone and sub-zone), the “Productor Integral stamp” stating that all the processes involved in the production of the wine were carried out by themselves and to estate if it is a Cava de Guarda or a Cava de Guarda Superior.
Now producers will not be allowed to benefit from the Reserva or Gran Reserva labels without meeting all the new requirements like before. Buyers can now be reassured that when buying a Reserva, Gran Reserva or Paraje Calificado Cava, they are buying premium wines.
But, will they be able to process so much information easily?
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