Cava Sparkling Wine: Champagne Rival
Wine terminologies like sparkling wine and bubbly can confuse people. Sparkling wine or bubbly refers to all wine that has bubbles. Sparkling wine is developed and produced in different regions worldwide. These wines have different styles and names. Some examples are Cava, Champagne, Sekt, and Prosecco, among others.
Champagne is produced only in Champagne, France. It follows a specific process only limited to the region. Sparkling wines from other areas applying a similar procedure must accredit the Champagne method on their labels. For many years, Champagne has played a unique role in high-end activities. It has been associated with luxurious parties, new year celebrations, sports, royalty, and a drink of choice for the rich. Since its invention, Champagne has dominated the sparkling wine industry developing a reputation for itself.  Most people may be presented with a bubbly drink and immediately refer to it as Champagne. However, in recent times, exquisite sparkling wines have risen to rival Champagne.
Cava is sparkling wine primarily produced from the Macabeu grape in Spain. The other primary grapes for making Cava wine are Parellada and Xarel-lo. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Trepat, Garnacha, and Monastrell can also be used in producing 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 making of Cava wine. After the first fermentation, cava wine is bottled, and lees are introduced, inducing autolysis, a process of aging wine in lees. As the process continues, the lees induce different aromatics in the wine. The champagne method also incorporates at least nine months of lees aging for their wines. This similarity explains the matching quality Cava wine exhibits to Champagne. While made similarly to Champagne, Cava is light in color than long-aged Champagne. Cava wines enriched with lees’ flavors boast almond and chocolate-like tastes 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, since Champagne has built its reputation for a long, it has been associated with elitism and luxury. Therefore, customers are bound to put a higher value on wines labeled Methode champenois than other sparkling wines. Cava’s case is different. These sparkling wines offer similar value to Champagne but are cheap. People are turning to Cava as they consider it similar to Champagne but for a cut price. The shift is getting bigger as more people realize Champagne is not the only sparkling wine.
One challenge facing Champagne, leading to the rise of Cava, is the risk of exaggeration of elitism. Since Geroge III, Champagne has witnessed 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 cool terroir. Cava grapes are planted in the hot and dry Penedes region of Catalonia. Therefore, grapes are harvested earlier, and vignerons can easily embrace organic cultivation. Besides, this terroir produces more versatile and drier wines than Champagne. For Champagne wines to match these wines, they must be aged in lees for several years. Therefore, Cava wines are easily produced, with a distinct taste and quality matching champagne, rivaling Champagne. In contrast, Champagne usually have sugar added to fulfill it’s full potential of the second fermentation. Cava wines are grown in a region experiencing a Mediterranean climate allowing grapes to ripen optimally.
Another reason for Cava’s role rivaling Champagne is the availability of several grapes to make it. Unlike Champagne, these grapes offer a chance to produce sparkling wines of different tastes but of the same quality. Champagne is only 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 1860s, 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 1872, producing the first sparkling wine under the process in the country. However, it was not until 1959 that “cava wine” first appeared in an official document in the Spanish sparkling wine legislation. 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.
- 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.