Putting the fizz back into Cava

Flagship wines 20.06.13

Flagship wines 20.06.13 - Credit: Archant

Over the last five years Prosecco has become a household name often synonymous with sparkling wine. It is very appealing with a light, fruity off-dry flavour and a refreshing fizz and offers great value.

There are many styles and in addition to the everyday wines there are also serious quality Proseccos on wine merchants’ shelves commanding serious prices. This is within a growing market for sparkling wines in which volumes are significantly rising at all price points.

However, Cava, mostly from north eastern Spain in Catalonia, was its predecessor, and it has been unceremoniously stripped of its position as the number sparkling wine in volume terms loved because of the very cheap deals in supermarkets and on the high street for many years. So why has this happened in a very competitive market where sometimes price is everything?

Cava may be made by the traditional or Champagne method, but it struggles to be more than just average in terms of its quality as it often has a slightly bitter note that overshadows the fruit flavours. It is made from three native Spanish grape varieties: Xarello, Parellada and Macabeo and the ripe fruit they produce contains this element which is exacerbated in the modern wine making process using stainless steel tanks. As a result Cava is less appealing than Prosecco even though Prosecco is not made using the traditional method which is supposed to produce better quality wine.

Prosecco also sells at slightly higher prices than Cava too based on its better taste that people are prepared to pay for.

It seems as if Cava is the sparkling wine of choice when a cheap fizz is required, perhaps as a base for a cocktail. The very deep cut offers available in the past could also be to blame as the perception in the consumers mind is that Cava is a cheap wine, thus devaluing its name. This is reflected in the problem that producers of better quality Cavas with finer flavours find it difficult to establish their brands and their quality wines such as those from Raventos, Villarnau, Juvee y Camps to name a few.

Prosecco has completed its revival by re-establishing the rules of its denominacion that govern its production, making them a little more rigorous and sealing its profile in the eyes of its consumers. It also hasn’t deemed it necessary to ‘buy’ its way into the hearts of the consumer – it simply produces a consistent product with lovely flavours with the perception of value at its realistic price on the shelf.

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Sparkling wines from other countries have also seen their sales rise over the last decade whether producing traditional method wines such as Cremant de Bourgogne or premium Australian fizz’s such as those from Green Point, the Moet operation in the Yarra Valley or Jansz in Tasmania or Asti in Italy.

It seems that Cava needs to look closely at its wine making and wine styles at all price points and try to raise its profile if they want to be a key sparkling wine player. Other countries have set the bar high so it will be interesting to see if this happens.

Perhaps the opening of a dedicated Cava Bar – Cope de Cava in Blackfriars Lane in London – will help? Here the wine list will include circa 30 different cavas in an environment reminiscent of the producers’ cellars in Spain. It is being developed by Richard Biggs who champions another poor relation of the wine world: Sherry with Bar Pepito near Kings Cross. Salud!