Cava Happy New Year | Wine-Searcher News and Features
By W. Blake Gray | Posted on Monday 27-Dec-2021
We are entering the Cava season. At this time of year, people around the world who don’t usually buy sparkling wine will buy it, perhaps reluctantly. As the region that produces the world’s cheapest traditional method sparkling wine, cava will end up in many supermarket carts.
This is not how Cava wants to be known. Like all wine regions, Cava wants to find a way to make you spend more money on its wines. Cava doesn’t just want to be the wine of bottomless mimosas.
But Cava has bigger image issues than most areas. The most important, for sure, is that the huge producers have set the cognitive standard for what we expect to pay, and that standard is not that high, so it has always been difficult for small producers to charge more. .
Several of the most famous Cava producers left the regional DO quite loudly. In 2015, they formed a group with a new name, Corpinnat, a term that was ratified by the EU in 2017.
Also in 2017, Cava DO tried to keep high-end producers in the fold by introducing a new category, Cava de Paraje Calificado, for wines from small areas of “distinguished terroir”.
It didn’t seem to help, so this year Cava made a bigger announcement. He created a generic appellation called Cava de Guarda Superior for his three premium styles (Reserva, Gran Reserve, Paraje Calificado). That in and of itself doesn’t seem worthy of note, but it is: in April, Cava DO announced that all wines in these three categories must be made from 100% organic grapes by 2025.
Will this be enough to get wine lovers to take more interest in Cava? I interviewed Javier Pagés, the happy president of DO Cava. This is an edited transcript.
Why did Cava decide to require 100% organic production for Guarda Superior wines? I don’t think there is another region in the world that is so strict.
We all need to achieve sustainability goals and take care of our region and our planet. It is part of what every cellar thinks today, the winegrowers too, everyone. And there is another part. Clearly, our customers are increasingly asking for organic products. There was a moment of discussion saying that if a vineyard wants to do it, let it do it themselves. At the beginning there were very reluctant people. In some areas, some people were not doing anything green. People who do organic, talking to others, told them, we have a climate that allows us to do this. It’s more difficult, more expensive, but it’s better.
Are you trying to attract some of the producers who went to Cava DO again?
I would like them to come back. They had acquired their reputation as Cava. It would be nice if they came back. All together, we are sending a clear message to consumers. There is nothing we do not do in terms of quality, origin of the vineyard. We have great wineries and great wines. I see no reason why they are not part of us. When we started the process, we invited them to sit in the main chair. To do the whole process. But life is life. They are doing something different. We will do the project. This is 98 percent of the sparkling wine produced in our region using the traditional Cava method. At the end of the day, there aren’t many wineries that don’t work with cava. Some of them are famous, but there aren’t that many.
How did the pandemic go for Cava sales?
At the very beginning, it was a disaster. It was total demoralization for wineries that couldn’t sell. They couldn’t even ship. Surprisingly, the first orders that came back were not so much from the domestic market as from distant foreign markets. This is where the comeback began. This year, we believe that by the end of the year we will reach 2019 sales figures, or even more. But I say this with caution. Today we already learn that traveling has new restrictions. Than restaurants and places where you want to taste wine with friends, they have more difficulty.
Cava has struggled in the domestic Spanish market, as it is seen as a product of Catalonia, which seeks independence from Spain. Is this still a problem?
These sales to people who wouldn’t drink Cava for political reasons, they’ve already decided. They may not be back. It was already lost a few years ago. There was a problem, that the Cava was used as a political problem. A symbol.
How important is the internal market?
This represents around 26% of total Cava sales. Cava is really exported a lot. There are a few countries that are very important for Cava. The main ones are the United States, Canada and then the fragmented markets of Latin America. All together they add up, but none of them are very important. Japan is clearly the main one in Asia.
Many people will buy cheap Cava for New Years Eve and make an impression on it based on it. Is it a problem?
Before, there were very few signs on the label that would tell you how to distinguish higher Cava from others. Now we put signs of origin. We will see a lot of difference in quality with Guarda Superior. Yields are reduced. The vines need to be more mature. We do not accept young vines. They must be organic. There are a lot of things that will force cellars … some are already doing it. They will create a more consistent image with Guarda Superior. Slowly it will reach influencers, commerce, and consumers. You go to any DO and there are generic wines that like the DO name. They are good wines, but maybe for this consumer who is looking for a better wine, he will have to understand a little more to understand what the difference is.
Do you envy Prosecco?
When Prosecco was successful, there were discussions at Cava. Why should we spend so much money in the cellar, in long aging? Why do we do a second fermentation in the bottle? It takes time, effort and capital. At the end of the day people said no, this is what we are doing. We go for quality. We want to be a quality sparkling wine. Our wines will taste our terroir with quality. People don’t think that the Charmat Method, even if you perfect it, doesn’t have the same levels of complexity that we have with Cava. But the debate is there.
I understand that the producers of Cava have a hard time making a living because the big producers pay so little. Is something being done about it?
It has always been a bit of a trend in the region. The grapes of the region have never been very well paid. It’s a vicious circle. If the grapes were more expensive, the products would also have to be more expensive. Consumers, when comparing themselves to other sparkling wines, may feel that the quality is not there because of the (low) price. It is not easy to make money in the vineyards. It is a trend that the supply of grapes (from winegrowers) has always been greater than demand. There have been (producers) leaving. But vineyard owners are not large estates. They tend to be individuals, most of them. For them, it is something that they have lived their entire life. For them, it’s very difficult to do something different. Vineyard, you have to invest. Without all these conditions, we would see people leaving the vineyard because it is not profitable. Organic is better paid. The cost of organic manufacturing is paid. But not with an extra margin. No one is going to pay for the risk of organic. Organic also means that there are certain diseases which, if they enter the vineyard, you will not be able to fight them. You will lose a lot of yield and no one will pay for it. I hope that what we do today, with Guarda Superior and the origins and these quality measures, I hope that we will see more and more Cava become more expensive. Hopefully wineries see an opportunity to rise through the ranks.
End of transcription.
I had the opportunity to taste Cava de Guarda Superior before the interview. Here are my recommendations. They are not expensive and I guarantee you will like them better than the products at the bottom of the shelf.
Alta Alella “Mirgin” Cava Rosé Reserva Brut Nature 2018 I didn’t know the Cava was pink. This 100 percent Monastrell wine is a pretty, pale, exuberant pink with lots of bubbles. It is not overly fruity; it gives a little smoked strawberry but with restraint. Excellent texture which makes it great with food.
Vilarnau Cava Barcelona Brut Reserva NV This one grew on me for several days. The first day, I had notes of pear and banana, and I found it sparkling and pleasant, frankly a bit like Prosecco. It didn’t get any more complex over the next couple of days, but I found more and more joy in its pleasant simplicity. Another wine which was excellent with the food.
Avinyó Cava Brut Nature Reserve 2016 I loved this wine, so don’t take this tasting note as an insult. One thing that I think holds back Cava is that the fruit profile is often so different from the sparkling wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir produced in so many other places around the world. The cava grapes give it a much more golden apple character, with less citrus. It’s like that only more. Although it has nice bubbles and a nice texture, the purity of the fresh golden apple reminds me of a really good dry cider. If you like dry cider (I do) you’ll like this one.
Codorniu “Anna” Blanc de Blancs Cava Speaking of varietals, this one is exceptionally made with 70 percent Chardonnay and the rest of the traditional Cava varietals (Parellada, Xarel-lo and Macabeu.) The white bottle looks cheap; it looks like a whimsical bottle destined to stack high on a low cost in a warehouse store in December. This is probably exactly what it is. And yet … I liked this wine. The texture is fine: sparkling and not too aggressive. You get a first burst of green apple, and that’s it. No one will confuse it with Grand Cru Champagne. But it’s unabashedly a very drinkable party wine, the kind of wine that will disappear from the bottle before you even notice it. There is certainly a time and a place for it, and that time is coming soon.