Cava is a relatively inexpensive and delicious Spanish sparkling wine that is widely available and my favorite less expensive bubbly. It comes in both white and rose versions. Although I may prefer a glass of Krug or Cristal or Dom Perignon, a glass of Cava is always welcome!
Because it is less expensive, it is also ideal for parties where not everyone is an oenophile and it makes a great wedding champagne too. It was commonly called Spanish Champagne in the past, but true Champagne only comes from the Champagne Region of France and EU law now codifies that distinction.
Cava has Denominación de Origen (DO) status, which is basically a regulatory classification system similar to French wine appellations. A wine labeled Cava must be from the approved geographical region and must be made in certain ways, so it can be looked at as a guarantee of both geographical origin and quality.
The Spanish have been making sparkling wine for a long time, since 1851, although it was not called Cava back then. Cava first began in 1872 in the Penedès region of Catalonia (in northeastern Spain). Supposedly it was invented by Josep Raventós of Codorníu Winery. Penedès primarily grew red grapes but the vines were ravaged by the phylloxera plague at the end of the 1800s which devastated most of Europe's vineyards. Phylloxera is a nearly microscopic sap sucking aphid-like critter that infects and poisons the roots of grape vines. Large numbers of the red grape vines killed off by the pest were replanted with white varieties and used for Cava. Wine has been made in the area for a very long time, probably dating way back to at least the Phonecians in pre-Roman times.
Cava is made by the méthode champenoise, also called the traditional method. The secondary fermentation, the one that creates the bubbles, must be done in the bottle. Wines made by other (and less expensive methods) can only be called sparkling wines, or vinos espumoso in Spanish.
The traditional grape varieties are the white grapes Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel•lo. Macabeu is mildly acidic, Parellada has good acidity and freshness, and Xarel•lo is the most strongly flavored and aromatic of the three. Other allowable grape varieties include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Subirat. Rose Cava is made by adding a small amount of still red wine, commonly Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha (also known as Grenache) or Monastrell (also known as Mourvèdre).
I prefer Cava made from traditional grape varieties, although I am certainly open minded on this!
Most Cava, upwards of 90%, is produced in the Penedès region, although Spanish law also allows it to be produced in Aragon, Basque Country, Castile and León, Extremadura, Navarra, Rioja and Valenciana. The two of the biggest producers, in the Penedès region, are Codorníu and Freixenet. Codorníu is the world’s largest producer of sparkling wines by the méthode champenoise, 60 million bottles a year, and Freixenet’s Cordon Negro in the black bottle seems to be nearly omnipresent at least I the USA, carried by everyone from large liquor stores, wine specialty shops, and even the local corner store that has only 5 or 10 different wines.
As time goes on we will be reviewing more Cava wines here, which means I’ll be drinking them and writing about them.
Codorníu Cava - The biggest producer of all sparkling wines made by the traditional method worldwide and where Cava was first made!
Freixenet - One of the most widespread and available especially their Cordon Negro in the black bottle (a decent wine).
Naveran Cava - They make a range of Cavas, as well as some non sparkling wines (updated 4/2013).
Parxet Cave - Making Cava since 1920 in the Alella region.