Cava is a type of Spanish sparkling wine produced in the same method as Champagne but with different varieties of grapes. Cava is usually a white sparkling wine but can also be rosé, and is chiefly produced in the Penedès region of Catalonia.
In the early days of wine production, Cava was stored in caves to preserve or age it. This is where the word “cava”, which means cave or cellar, actually derives from. Though manufacturing methods moved away from caves, Spanish winemakers kept the unique name to distinguish their sparkling wine from Champagne.
Learn what distinguishes Cava from other types of sparkling wine, its manufacturing methods, and English alternatives in this definitive guide.
What is the Difference Between Cava, Champagne, and Prosecco?
Each of these white sparkling wines has associations with celebration, but what is the difference between them? Cava is not as sweet as Prosecco but dry like Champagne – and comes at a much more affordable price tag than the French favourite.
The main difference comes from the production methods.
What Is Cava Made From?
Like all wines, Cava is made from grapes that are fermented with sugar and wine to create the alcoholic juice we call wine. The method for Cava production is called the “traditional method” which is also the production method for Champagne.
The three main grape varieties that go into Cava are all white grapes:
Sometimes, these grapes are blended with other varieties like the Chardonnay grape. Red grape varieties sometimes used in Cava are Pinot Noir, Garnacha, and Monastrell, though this is not common.
How Is Cava Made?
Cava is made in the traditional method, which is widely viewed as one of the finest for sparkling wine production and is the same production method for Champagne and fine English sparkling wines.
Grapes of the above varieties are cultivated in designated vineyards in Catalonia. They will go through a first fermentation process in a barrel before the secondary fermentation happens in-bottle.
This secondary fermentation binds the carbon dioxide that is naturally produced to the liquid, creating that all-important sparkle and contributing to aromas and flavours. Sugar, yeast, and nutrients for the yeast are added to the mix. Over time, these create deposits called “lees”. Cava will be aged on these lees for years to further develop complex tastes and textures.
The lees then need to be removed, done by a gradual process called “riddling”. The bottles will slowly be oriented over time until they are upside down, where they will be gently shaken to move the lees to the neck of the bottle.
Then comes the disgorgement process. The inverted bottles are cooled, causing the lees to freeze into a small block of ice at the bottleneck. When turned upright and opened, the pressure causes the lees to be pushed out. The small volume of missing liquid is filled in and the wine is corked.
Spanish Wine-Making Innovation
Catalan Cava producers are historically responsible for great technological development in sparkling wine production. They invented the “gyropallet”, which is a mechanised device that carries out the riddling process described above. Previously, riddling was a time-consuming process done entirely by hand. Gracias, Cava makers of yore.
Can Cava Be Made Anywhere in the World?
Similarly to Champagne wine, which can only be made in the Champagne region of France, Cava can only be classified as such if it was produced in Catalonia. It is produced in villages in the following areas:
- Castile and León
- LA Rioja
- Basque Country
What Does Cava Taste Like?
Generally, Cava is similar in taste to Champagne and is not as sweet as Prosecco, with which it is sometimes confused. Cava is not as acidic as Champagne, though, and tends to have a fruit-forward taste with zesty citrus aromas. Cava that has been aged for longer retains stronger notes of yeast, giving an almost bready flavour with a hint of nuttiness.
What Food Does Cava Pair Well With?
Cava is most commonly served on its own as a kind of aperitif, but it’s certainly got the versatility to pair well with food. The crisp zest and acidity typical of this Spanish sparkling wine make it a great accompaniment to fish. Salty notes pair well with a number of savoury foods, like cured meats, crackers, and cheese.
Types of Cava
Like other sparkling wines made in the traditional method, a Cava’s sweetness can vary. This is usually because of the amount of sugar added, or the particular sweetness of the grape variety used.
From driest to sweetest, you’ll most often find Cava labelled as the following:
- Brut Nature
- Extra Brut
- Semi Seco
Cava is a white sparkling wine, never a red sparkling wine. However, rosé Cava has more recently become available. Hare, a proportion of juice from a tank of crushed red grapes is added to the white wine mix to get that distinctive blush. The grapes used must be of either Garnacha, Pinot noir, Trepat or Monastrell variety to count as Cava.
Is There an English Sparkling Wine Alternative to Cava?
Any sparkling wine made in the traditional method is a fine alternative to Cava or Champagne. In fact, it’s now accepted knowledge that sparkling wine was invented in England – contrary to popular belief!
At Bolney Wine Estate, we have been making English sparkling wine for 50 years using an exciting variety of home-grown grapes on our stunning Sussex estate. Our fine portfolio of white, red and rosé wines has even been recognised with a string of prestigious awards from our industry peers.
From light and fruity to rich and full-bodied, Bolney sparkling wines will satisfy Cava (and Champagne) cravings and then some. You can buy by the bottle, by the case, or subscribe and save to have regular sparkling wine deliveries right to your door.