Cava Sparkling Wine: Champagne Rival
Champagne is produced only in Champagne, France. It follows a specific regulated process. For many years, Champagne has played a unique role in many activities. It has been associated with luxurious parties, new year’s celebrations, sports, royalty, and as the drink of choice for the wealthy. Champagne has dominated the sparkling wine industry for centuries, and developed a well-crafted reputation for itself.  Many people when presented with a bubbly wine will immediately refer to it as Champagne. However, in recent times, other exquisite sparkling wines have risen to try to rival Champagne.
Cava is sparkling wine primarily produced from the Macabeu grape in Spain. Other primary grapes used to make Cava are Parellada and Xarel-lo. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Trepat, Garnacha, and Monastrell can also be used to produce Cava sparkling wine. In contrast, Champagne is only made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier. A close examination of Cava wine shows parallels with Champagne wine production. The wine undergoes a unique process allowing it to produce bubbles. These wines go through double fermentation, with the second fermentation happening in the glass bottle. Cava wine is aged for at least nine months before being released for sale.
Lees play an important role in the production of Cava wine.
Did you know? After the first fermentation, Cava wine is bottled with a small amount of yeast, which creates a second fermentation to make the bubbles. This yeast then dies and becomes lees.
The lees introduce different aromatics and flavors to the wine. The Champagne method also incorporates lees aging for their wines. This similarity explains the similar flavors between Cava and Champagne. While made similarly to Champagne, Cava is lighter in color than long-aged Champagne. Cava wines boasts an almond aroma that differentiate them from Champagne. These wines also maintain acidity with melon, citrus, and pear flavors.
One of the leading causes for Cava’s rise in the sparkling wine industry is customer experience. Admittedly, customers value different wines depending on their information access and expertise. For instance, Champagne has associated its reputation with elitism and luxury. Therefore, customers are bound to put a higher value on wines labeled as Champagne compared to other sparkling wines. Cava’s case is different. These sparkling wines can offer similar flavors to Champagne but at a cheaper price. People are turning to Cava as they consider it similar to Champagne but for a better price. Cava continues to get popular as more people realize Champagne is not the only sparkling wine.
Wine and its Medicinal Uses Throughout Time
One challenge facing Champagne, leading to the rise of Cava, is the risk of exaggeration of elitism. Since George III, Champagne has graced all the high-end social events. It has become a liquid of choice and a symbol of indulgence. However, it risks its charm and association becoming a contemporary crudeness. For many Champagne lovers, it is difficult to criticize a drink that has brought so much pleasure and experience through weddings, birthdays, noteworthy achievements, and new year celebrations. However, it’s time the drink was reassessed as new winemakers make sparkling wine that matches and even surpasses the traditional drink at a lower price.
Cava is unique when compared to other sparkling wines, including Champagne, planted in cold terroir. Cava grapes are planted in the hot and dry Penedes region of Catalonia. Therefore, grapes are harvested earlier, and certain vignerons can easily embrace organic cultivation. Cava wines are easily produced, with a distinct taste and quality rivaling certain Champagnes. Cava wines are grown in a Mediterranean climate allowing grapes to ripen optimally, as compared to the cold climate of Champagne where grapes don’t always fully ripen.
Cava has the ability to use many different grapes to produce the wine. Unlike Champagne, these grapes offer a chance to produce sparkling wines of different tastes but of the same quality. While Champagne is limited to three grapes. Cava wines are versatile and can pair with many cuisines, from the most traditional to avant-garde cuisine and even Asian dishes. These options have set it apart from other sparkling wines, including Champagne, and are becoming a mainstay at most people’s tables.
Read also: Champagne History
This Day in Wine History
April 26, 1969: The name “Cava” was approved for sparkling wines produced in Spain using the traditional double fermentation method. The approval of the name was integral in naming the Cava wine region under the Designation of Origin. this placed wines under this region at par with other high-end wines from regions such as Champagne and Bordeaux. Before this approval, most sparkling wines were referred to as Spanish Champagne, but this ceased when Champagne was recognized as an AOC on June 29, 1936. Cava wine region continues to produce wines similar to Champagne with minor modifications and is now rivaling Champagne.
February 27, 1986: The Cava wine region was officially recognized on this day. Sparkling wine in the cava wine region dates back to 1872, when Josep Raventos first made sparkling wine from local grapes. Raventos had traveled to France’s Champagne region in the 1960s, where he learned sparkling wine production by the traditional method of double fermentation. He introduced the technique in the Sant Sadurni d’Anoia region of Spain in 1972, producing the first sparkling wine under the process in the country. The region was officially recognized as a Designation of Origin on February 27, 1986, protecting its wines.
November 14, 1991: Cava Regulatory Council was approved on this day. The council is responsible for the quality of wine produced in the Cava wine region. The council ensures wine is made according to the region’s standards, safeguarding and guaranteeing quality. The creation of this body was integral to the rise of cava sparkling wine in Europe. The body is a branch of Spain’s agricultural ministry comprising vignerons, winemakers, ministry, and cava region representatives. Cava Regulatory Council is responsible for other products in the region’s wine production. Besides, it defends the region’s wine by ensuring Designation of Origin DO’s standards are adhered to and protecting its name. The council’s work has led to a steady demand for sparkling Cava wines.
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- Alba Martín-Garcia, Montserrat Riu-Aumatell, and Elvira López-Tamames, p.133
- Emily McCutcheon, Johan Bruwer, and Elton Li, “Region of Origin and Its Importance among Choice Factors in the Wine‐Buying Decision Making of Consumers,” International Journal of Wine Business Research 21, no. 3 (August 21, 2009): 212–34, https://doi.org/10.1108/17511060910985953.
- Camille Berry, “Cava: So Much More than ‘Spanish Champagne,’” Wine4Food, May 22, 2019, https://www.wine4food.com/editors-picks/cava/.
- D.O. Cava, “A Toast to the History of Cava,” www.cava.wine, February 5, 2021, https://www.cava.wine/en/news-articles/a-toast-to-the-history-of-cava/.
- Alba Martín-Garcia, Montserrat Riu-Aumatell, and Elvira López-Tamames, “Revalorization of Cava (Spanish Sparkling Wine) Lees on Sourdough Fermentation,” Fermentation 8, no. 3 (March 18, 2022): 133, https://doi.org/10.3390/fermentation8030133.
- Robert Whitley, “Wine Talk: Why Champagne Dominates,” www.theepochtimes.com, December 20, 2020, https://www.theepochtimes.com/wine-talk-why-champagne-dominates_3619352.html.