Cava’s With Class

Wine editor MARY DOWEY salutes Spain’s most STYLISH SPARKLING WINES

If you love bubbles as much as I do, this is the summer to celebrate an overdue but welcome breakthrough. Cava, once enjoyed mainly as cheap Spanish holiday fuel, is finally showing its posh face in Ireland. Some seriously stylish cavas are making their way into the market and, having recently visited the main cava region, I feel sure more are to come.

It couldn’t happen at a better time. The ocean of prosecco that has washed over us in the past decade, much of it of shockingly poor quality, has stripped that form of fizz of any sense of sophistication. We’re ready for something different – something better. Cava’s best wines taste glorious. Many cost about the same as fairly basic champagne – but, because they’ve been made with high quality in mind, they’re a much smarter buy.

Whereas most champagnes are non-vintage, most cavas are vintage wines. The top tier falls into three categories, one of which will be clearly stated on the label – Reserva (aged on the yeast lees in bottle for at least 15 months), Gran Reserva (aged for at least 30 months) and the brand new Cava de Paraje Calificado (an estate wine from a particular vineyard plot, aged for at least 36 months). In practice, ageing periods are often much longer, making for richer, more complex wines.

While fizz fans are discovering just how good cavas at these three levels can be, producers are fizzing with excitement as a wave of youthful energy sweeps across the region. Some small, family-owned bodegas like impressive Parès Baltà and Recaredo (see Terroirs, Dublin 4) ascribe the striking purity of their cavas to an organic or biodynamic approach. Meanwhile, even vast companies are experimenting with limited production wines of the highest calibre – Codorníu with its Ars Collecta series and Freixenet with Can Sala (aged in bottle for nine years). The grandest are so expensive, even in Spain, that we’re unlikely to see them here: luxury champagne would outsell them. But their very existence is fascinating proof of just how classy cava has become.

The three traditional grapes, Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada, are shouldering out interlopers like Chardonnay, with Xarel-lo moving centre-stage for its high acidity which helps the ageing process. As in other sparkling wine regions including champagne, the trend is towards brut nature, a style with no added sugar. Even though brut sugar levels are low, I love these bracing, bone-dry cavas.

Spain’s best bubbles are brilliant partners for food, from sushi and tapas with the youngest wines to paella, rich fish dishes, chicken, pork and mature cheese with the older beauties. Cava is also perfect with brunch or with a Chinese takeaway.

So I hope you’ll uncork a few bottles or – better still – visit the main cava region. Beginning only half an hour from Barcelona airport or the smart beach town of Sitges, it’s accessible and beautiful, with bodegas standing out out against the serrated ridge of Montserrat or the blue Med. I’ll be back.

Three wines to try 

Juvé y Camps Cava Brut Nature Reserva de la Familia Gran Reserva 2014.

Organic, rich, toasty, moreish … and what value for this level! From Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dublin 2 & Whiskey Bar, Killarney; Martins, Dublin 3; McHughs, Dublin 13; Nectar Wines, Dublin 18; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Dicey Reilly, Ballyshannon, about €26.

Agusti Torelló Cava Brut Reserva 2013.

Fresh, lively and deliciously pure, this recently disgorged reserva was aged for five years on its yeast lees. Versatile enough to be an aperitif or food partner. From Green Man Wines, Dublin 6W; Sheridans Cheesemakers Dublin 2, Galway & Carnaross, Co Meath;, about €30.

Llopart Integral Cava Brut Nature Reserva 2014.

Vibrant freshness, unfolding layers of flavour (apples, fresh bread, a lick of honey) and a bone-dry finish make this elegant cava dangerously likeable. From Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3; Green Man, Dublin 6W; DrinkStore, Dublin 7; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, about €36.


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