The basics of Spanish cava



Cava is a designation. Just as sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France is called “champagne,” sparkling wine from Catalonia (the region that includes Barcelona) is called cava. (Technically, there are eight regions that can produce cava, but 95% of cava is produced in the region of Penedes in Catalonia, so we won’t bother too much with the other regions in this post.) As with many countries, wine labeling is regulated by the government, and cava is given the DO status, which stands for Denominación de Origen. This is the second highest designation a Spanish wine can be given, which illustrates how regulated the wine making process for cava is.

Cava is typically made from three grapes that you may never have heard of: macabeu, parellada, and xarel-lo.  (You might also find some grapes you are more familiar with, like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, in cava as well.) The wine is made with the champenoise traditional method, which is also the method for making champagne. Under this process wine, yeast, and a small amount of sugar (serving as food for the yeast) are placed inside the bottle and a second fermentation (producing the bubbles) occurs. For more on this and the other methods of producing sparkling wine, check out out article on sparkling wine production.

The old Freixenet logo. Not sure how this would fly in modern times . . .


Styles of cava

Cava comes as a white wine (using the grapes mentioned above) or as a rosé. For a rosé, wines are placed in contact with the skins of red grapes (like local Garnacha, or Monastrell, or Cabernet Sauvignon) until the desired color is achieved.

Cava comes in many different styles: from very dry to very sweet. The following is a list of cava styles, beginning with the driest and ending with the sweetest. The words in parenthesis are the Spanish terms for the related Catalan words.

  • Brut nature
  • Brut
  • Brut reserve
  • Sec (seco)
  • Semisec (semiseco)
  • Dolsec (dulce)


Enjoying cava

Perhaps one of the best things about sparking wine is its ability to complement so many foods. I have repeatedly heard Catalunians joke that “cava goes with everything!” In this case, there just might be a little truth to this humor: cava is low in alcohol and has gentle acidity, so it does not “clash” with flavors like some wines do; in addition, its bubbles work to cleanse the palate after each sip, making it a nice accompaniment to food. These characteristics make cava perfect for everything from sushi to fried finger foods to spicy Mexican or Asian dishes.

When pairing your cava with food, remember which style of cava you have. A dry cava–like the brut nature, brut, or brut reserve–will cut through more fatty dishes and also pairs well with seafood. The sweeter cavas are excellent pairs for blue-veined or other strong cheeses, foie gras, and creamy desserts.

Salud to each of you! Thanks for reading!

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