50 GREAT CAVAS
Essentially, the eponymous ’50 Great Cavas’ publication does what is says on the can, to put it in modern advertising parlance – it gives readers the whole low-down on those Cavas that can be called ‘Great’. So, readers can imagine my delight when I was asked if I would be able to join the judging panel for the 2018 version of this now 7 years old annual Cava Competition. I accepted with alacrity, of course.
Throughout the seven years of its existence the ’50 Great Cavas’ competition has continued with fortitude, refusing to become embroiled in the, at times heated, discussion about where Cava should be headed. It has striven to maintain clarity amidst the clouds of confusion and criticism in which Cava has been shrouded during recent years.
Why? Well, because, whilst some of the criticism regarding quality control (or the lack of) has been correct and fair, there has never been any doubt about there being lots of outstanding quality Cava. Therefore the ’50 Great Cavas’ publication has become something of a reference point for those who seek top quality Cava – the name gives it away!
On one bend in the beautiful Villafranca del Penedès to La Llacuna road there are gates that lead to the house, the lodge (where I stayed), and the tasting rooms of 50 Great Cavas’ founder Anthony Swift (www.winepleasures.com), a Cornish-man, resettled in Cataluña, who loves Cava and decided to help raise its profile. I’d been before, helping to judge another sister competition, ’50 Great Sparkling Wines of the World’, also one of Anthony’s bright ideas, which gives us another clue as to his favourite tipple!
Also present the night before the event and arriving by car like myself, though from La Rioja, was Jenny Siddall, founder of the very impressive wine tourism company, Taste Rioja (www.tasterioja.com). Jenny is soon, no doubt, to be holder of the Wines and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Diploma, which is just one step away from achieving the much coveted Master of Wine (MW) title. It was clear that I was going to be in highly qualified and experienced company when judging was to begin the following morning.
After breakfast our two remaining judging colleagues arrived – Juan Manuel Gonzalvo and Albert López Gálvez (both of www.uvinum.es). It was clear to me from our early discussions that the former, Juan Manuel, would be our point of reference should we have any questions about Cava during the judging. Juan Manuel’s knowledge of all things Cava is phenomenal – and no wonder, he makes Cava, and is regularly employed as a consultant by various different producers! It was comforting to have him on the team and I learned a lot from him during the course of the day.
Albert is Co-founder of Uvinum.com – the outstanding on-line wine merchants, which in 2016 won the International Wine Challenge (IWC) ‘On-Line Retailer of the Year Award’. A finely developed palate and technological expertise are the tools of his trade and I found his comments also invaluable!
As Cork Talk readers know, there are several different styles of Cava as well as categories. Anthony had been at pains to categorize the many different entries so that each was being judges like for like. For white Cavas there were three different categories, termed for this competition only as: Reserva, meaning Cavas that have had 9 – 29 months of aging on lees before release onto the market; Gran Reserva, meaning Cavas that have had 30 – 60 months on lees; and Larga Crianza, those cavas that have had 60+ months aging on lees.
Cavas were also bracketed as Brut Nature or Brut – so, for example, the first Cavas we tasted were Brut Nature Reserva (BNR) meaning the driest style of Cava which has had between 9 months [the minimum amount of time on lees for a Cava to be called cava] and 29 months [which actually exceeds by 14 months, the minimum amount of time required for a DO Cava to be termed Reserva].
At 09:30 hours we began; and at 18:30 hrs we finished! True, we’d had a few breaks, one of an hour for lunch, but nevertheless that’s a hard slog – event though we all love Cava!
I’m not sure how many Cavas we tasted in the course of the day, though clearly, in order to find the 50(!) best, one has to taste a lot more! Plus, sworn to secrecy, I can’t reveal which have made it into the publication, let alone which have won Gold and which have won Silver! But, I can tell readers that the standard was outstanding!
In case you were wondering? Of all the styles and ages on lees my particular favourites came from the BNGR (Brut Nature Gran Reserva – 30-60 months on lees). For me, these wines embody all that is truly great about Cava. They retain the sparkling wine raison d’etre, the essential clean, refreshing vibrancy, the crucial joie de vivre; whilst assimilating also a wonderful depth of flavour, a fullness, so much extra character and complexity. Such wines can be enjoyed at wedding toasts and the like, as well as being thrilling partners throughout each course of a fine dinner!
Those who consider Cava to simply be a wannabe Champagne, need to think again. Those who will go for Prosecco before Cava, well, please don’t – there is a Universe of difference! And those who, like myself, have always believed in the quality of Cava, will be reassured – Cava Rocks, and you can find the best in ’50 Great Cavas 2018′, when it becomes available. Watch this space!