Cava: Spain’s Answer to Champagne

Posted on Feb 25, 2021


A glass of sparkling.

The #WorldWineTravel group is continuing its virtual tour of Spain and this month features the region of Catalunya. As this region is home to our favourite sparkling wine after Champagne, our article provides some background on Cava. To read the other articles related to this month’s topic, please refer to the links at the end.

Cava is Spain’s answer to Champagne: a delicious sparkling wine made using the Méthode Champenoise, the traditional method used in Champagne to add the bubbles to the wine. There are definitely differences between the two wines, and similarities as well, but budget-friendly Cava is certainly a wine worth getting to know more about.

Cava takes its name from the Spanish word for cave, the traditional storage place for wine.

Rioja Spain

A wine cave in Spain.

Since Champagne is the reference point for all sparkling wines, let’s start our journey about Cava with some of the differences between the Spanish sparkling wine and its more famous cousin. The main grapes used to make Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Most wine-drinkers are familiar with those grapes as they are also used to make still wines.

But Cava is made from indigenous Spanish grapes that are much less well-known, partly because they are generally not used to make still wine. All of the Spanish grapes are white, whereas the two Pinots used in Champagne are red.

Yamhill carlton oregon

Pinot Noir grapes.

The main grapes used in Cava are Macebo (also known as Viura, from which small amounts of still wine are made in Rioja), Parelleda and Xarel-lo. Like Champagne, most Cava wines are a blend of these grapes, with each adding its own special quality to the final blend. Macebo forms the base usually and contributes ripeness, stone fruit and citrus tones, and some intriguing tea-like subtle notes. Parellada adds body and fills out the texture of the wine as well as subtle nutty notes. Xarel-lo contributes acidity with its green apple and citrus profile.

Almost 95% of the grapes used to make Cava are grown in the Penedes region of Catalonia in Northeast Spain. For visitors it is easily accessed as it is less than one hours drive from Barcelona.

spanish cava

Spanish Cava provides excellent value.

Cava has its own D.O. status, which stands for Denominación de Origen, the Spanish equivalent of the French Appellation d’origine Controlée or AOC or the American Viticultural Area or AVA. The Cava D.O. is one of the most progressive anywhere, with a strong focus on sustainability. Organic farming is on the rise in Cava, with 35% of all Cava produced in 2019 being organic. By 2025, all Cava will have to be produced organically.

Cava is made in exactly the same way that Champagne is. This is a difficult, multi-step process that takes time and costs money. But the investment is worth it as it produces excellent sparkling wine. Given the time, effort and investment in equipment required, it is truly amazing that most Cava sells for such low prices! The Méthode Champenoise requires vinifying the still wine by fermenting the grapes as you would any other wine. After some ageing, the wine goes through a secondary fermentation in bottle and is then allowed to rest on the yeast cells that caused the fermentation, which imparts the autolytic character that often conjures up notions of warm bread and adds complexity to the finished wine.

spanish cava

Riddling racks.

The wine is then further aged in wooden racks that point the tip of the bottled downwards so that with the help of a bit of twisting, the yeasts drop down to the tip of the bottle where the are eventually released in a process called disgorgement. The wine is then topped up with a liqueur de triage, a mixture of wine and sugar judged to create the desired amount f body and flavour profile and then corked. Like Champagne, Cava has different levels of sweetness, from fully dry called Brut Nature to very sweet called Dulce.

Our experience has shown us there are many different styles of Cava.

Spanish Cava

Segura Viudas sparkling Rosé, Heredad and Brut Reserve.

Our go-to is the base level Segura Viudas, a Brut Cava that sells for a song (CAD $15) and punches way above its weight class. This, and other Cavas at this price point offer up delicious apple and citrus flavours on a light to medium body. Delightfully refreshing, it makes for a great aperitif and pairs beautifully with all sorts of Spanish tapas. Our first introduction to really top quality Cava was on our first trip to Spain that we did with Iberian Wine Tours.

Our irrepressible tour leader, Jeremy Shaw, who knows ALL of the hidden gems in Spain, took us on a walking tour of Madrid the night before the tour officially began.

Spanish Cava

2013 Conde de Haro

We went to one crowded bar where Jeremy managed to have a special table reserved for us and had an absolute feast of tapas. I can still remember the enormous bowl of fresh prawns that were out of this world. Jeremy chose two vintage Cavas to have with them from one of the regions best producers, the 2009 Gran Torello and the 2013 Conde de Haro. These Cavas were like no other we had tasted before. Intense flavours of apple and brioche and rich texture delivered with a great bead of persistent bubbles. We were blown away!

spanish Cava

2009 Gran Torello

Wines like Gran Torello are generally hard to find here, but if you are lucky enough to come across one, don’t pass up the chance. But at a much more reasonable price point and very easy to find, Cavas like Segura Viudas and Freixenet will bring great satisfaction and shock you with the quality for money spent. Both of those producers also do a rosé style of Cava for just a dollar per bottle more. For double the price you can try the special Segura Viudas Cava Heredad Brut Reserve which really kicks up the quality level, and still is about half the price of most entry level Champagnes.

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More Articles on Rioja from #WorldWineTravel:

  • Andrea at The Quirky Cork shares “Tapas with Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava”
  • Steve at Children of the Grape shares “Cava by the Sea”
  • Martin at Enofylz Wine Blog shares “A Taste of Can Descregut; Grower Spanish Sparkling Wine From The Corazón del Penedès”
  • Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles shares “Priorat DOQ in Spain’s Cataluña region and Franck Massard’s 2015 “Humilitat”
  • Lynn at Savor the Harvest shares “Beyond Cava: Loxarel and Gramona Organic Sparkling Wines”
  • Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “Exploring the Variety of Still Wines from Catalunya”
  • Melanie at Wining With Mel shares “Innovative winemaking in Catalunya’s Penedès: Torres Gran Coronas Reserva”
  • Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Mexican Ham Soup and a Spanish Rioja Wine”
  • Terri at Our Good Life shares “Chicken Empanadas and Azimut Cava”
  • David at Cooking Chat shares “Mushroom Fricassee and Red Wine from Priorat”
  • Nicole at Somms Table shares “On a Hilltop in Priorat”
  • Pinny at Chinese Food and Wine Pairings shares “Enjoying Cavas of Different Price Points”
  • Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares “Pere Mata Cupada Rosé Cava: Finesse in a glass”
  • Payal at Keep the Peas shares “Bartender’s Choice from Priorat”
  • Gwendolyn at Wine Predator shares “Catch Catalonia Cava from Marqués de Cáceres for Sparkles with This Easy Spanish Chorizo Kale Bean Soup”
  • Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Enjoying Tapas with Spanish Wines from Catalonia”
  • Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Pollo a la Catalana + Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat 2019”

20 Comments

  1. lbwhipple@gmail.com'

    I’m a huge fan of Cava so definitely appreciate the recs. What’s not to like about an affordable sparkling wine made in the traditional method?

    Post a Reply
    • We couldn’t agree more…cheers Linda!

      Post a Reply
  2. steve@Childrenofthegrape.com'

    now I need to find some vintage Cavas to see how the taste changes with age! and some non-vintage prawns 🙂

    Post a Reply
    • Ha! A great plan (on both ;)!

      Post a Reply
  3. martindredmond@gmail.com'

    First let me say that there is something magical about the prawns in Spain! I could eat them every day! I’s good to know DO Cava is headed the organic route, no doubt spurred on by some of the benchmark producers who have left. Hopefully, a few of them can be lured back, but Cava’s lack of traceability and some other practices by the biggest producers has diluted the “brand” a bit. Here’s to hoping they come back stronger!

    Post a Reply
    • So true…we’re hopeful that they’ll indeed come back stronger. Cava can be so good (particularly with prawns). I think we’ll all just have to go to Penedes and see for ourselves?!

      Post a Reply
  4. terristeffes1117@gmail.com'

    Ooo I learned so much about Cavas. I featured one, too, that is made in the traditional way of Champagne but with Garnacha and Monastrell grapes.

    Post a Reply
    • We saw that…great feature and I don’t think we’ve had Cava made from those varieties.

      Post a Reply
  5. robin@42aspens.com'

    I so adore Cava. I’m familiar with Segura Viudas, but I will have to see if I can find those two other Producers!
    The video of them in the vineyards was a nice little virtual getaway today. My bottle of Priorat featured those lovely almond blossoms on the label.
    Here’s to bubbles!

    Post a Reply
    • We had those other two in Spain and haven’t found them here sadly. We’ll meet you in Spain for a bottle or 3? Cheers Robin!

      Post a Reply
  6. wendyklik1517@gmail.com'

    Wonderful, informative article. I like that you started with Champagne and then compared the Cava. Thanks

    Post a Reply
    • Thank you for taking the time to read Wendy!

      Post a Reply
  7. andrea@thequirkycork.com'

    What a great overview of the region, thank you! I wish there were more Cava available where I am-I am always so delighted by how lovely it is.

    Post a Reply
    • Thank you Andrea! While we don’t get a large variety of Cava here, we do get Segura Viudas easily which is always a good thing (as you know ;). Cheers!

      Post a Reply
  8. constantmotioncamilla@gmail.com'

    Cava and Prosecco are always my go-to for bubbles…ahead of Champagne. Something about their price points make them so much more accessible. I love that they will have to be organic in the not too distance future. That’s huge!

    Post a Reply
    • As much as we’d love to have champagne more regularly, Cava & Prosecco certainly are more accessible to your point! Cheers to excellent sparkling wine…

      Post a Reply
  9. lwg.mine@gmail.com'

    Nice overview of Cava and the production process. Things have certainly changed in the last several years, and how about the focus on organic!?! And the prices, definitely shocking. How about we toast with Spanish sparkling wine when we next meet. Notice that wasn’t a question! ;-D

    Post a Reply
    • We are always astonished at the value of Cava when you consider the method and time that goes into producing it. And learning about their focus on organic was a pleasant surprise. As for toasting with Spanish sparkling, we have a feeling we’ll be doing more than that!

      Post a Reply
      • mel@winingwithmel.com'

        Why buy Champagne when you can get cava for a fraction of the price? The Segura Viudasis our go-to as well!

        Post a Reply
        • We’ll never say not to Champagne but Cava is definitely a bit more budget-friendly!

          Post a Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Innovative winemaking in Catalunya's Penedès: Torres Gran Coronas Reserva - […] Allison and Chris from Advinetures look at Cava: Spain’s Answer to Champagne. […]
  2. A Taste of Can Descregut; Grower Spanish Sparkling Wine From The Corazón del Penedès #WorldWineTravel – ENOFYLZ Wine Blog - […] Allison and Chris from Advinetures look at Cava: Spain’s Answer to Champagne. […]
  3. Tapas with Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava #WorldWineTravel - The Quirky Cork - […] Allison and Chris from Advinetures look at Cava: Spain’s Answer to Champagne. […]
  4. Priorat DOQ in Spain’s Cataluña region and Franck Massard’s 2015 “Humilitat” #WorldWineTravel | Crushed Grape Chronicles - […] Allison and Chris from Advinetures look at “Cava: Spain’s Answer to Champagne” […]
  5. Beyond Cava: Loxarel and Gramona Organic Sparkling Wines #WorldWineTravel - Savor the Harvest - […] Allison and Chris from Advinetures look at “Cava: Spain’s Answer to Champagne”  […]

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