CAVAS VIA DE LA PLATA
DO CAVA, FROM EXTREMADURA!
Although the Via de la Plata (the Silver Route), which runs through Extremadura, taking pilgrims to Santiago de la Compostela, does eventually lead to the ancient metal mines in Northern Spain, the name does not in fact refer to Silver. Historians are undecided – the Roman school of thought suggests that the name is derived from either ‘platea’, meaning ‘wide road’; or ‘Lapidata’, meaning ‘stone road’.
The Arabic school believes the name came from the Arabic word ‘Balatta’, meaning, rather prosaically ‘road’. (Stick with me, you get history here too!).
However, for me ‘silver’ is closer, or rather ‘gold’ – liquid gold! I’m talking Cava here!
Perhaps readers remember a ‘Cork Talk’ of a couple of years ago, when I explained, to those who weren’t aware, that Cava is one of the few Denominaciónes de Origen that is not restricted to one geographical area? There are others, but none more famous than that of the prestigious sparkling wine of Spain, known as Cava!
One such area is about as far away from Cataluña, considered by many to be cava’s natural home, as can be – in Extremadura, the Comunidad adjacent to Portugal, whose capital is Badajoz, and where the fine wines of DO Ribera del Guadiana are also made. The cava making industry (though I don’t like this word, crafting cava is not industrial, it’s more of a labour of love!) is centred around Almendralejo.
The first bottle of Almendralejo Sparkling Wine was produced in 1983. Application to be approved as an official cava making area was accepted in 1985. They’ve never looked back since, though they’ve been perhaps a little shy about promoting these wines from DO Cava’s western outpost. Shy that is until Bodegas Via de la Plata decided to up the ante!
I was delighted to receive a selection of cavas from this bodega (whose sister bodega, Vino Vallarcal, also makes a range of still white wines – also received, and awaiting tasting for another Cork Talk soon!). It is clear to me that Cava is alive and kicking way out west and if you can find any (this has to be the next promotional step) – buy with confidence!
The secret of the success of the Via de la Plata Cavas is in the vineyard and then the resulting base wines. When considering cava we often overlook the efforts of the growers who spend so much of their time tending the plants that produce the grapes, year in and year out. We often tend to forget the importance of the base wines too.
Readers will know, of course, that most sparkling wine, certainly cava, is made by provoking a ‘second fermentation’ within the bottle. This, of course, presupposes that there has been a ‘first fermentation’. It is this initial fermentation, performed in the usual way, with grape juice, yeast and warmth, that produces what is known as ‘the base wine’ which is bottled and to which is added the second dose of yeast (and sugar)* to kick-start the process over again.
Thus, base wine can clearly be seen as a very important part of the process, just as with the work that goes on in the vineyard. You can’t make good wine without good grapes, and you can’t make good cava without good base wine. Simple!
Cava Via de la Plata harvests its grapes, then selects the best bunches with which to make their base wine. It is only the first 50% of the juice of the gentle pressing which is used for the base wines. This ‘free run juice’, as it’s known, is the best that the grapes can provide! So, following good work in the vineyards, the pursuit of excellence continues in the bodega.
The Liqueur d’Expedition* is then added and the magic bubbles start to appear!
So, that’s the background – now the results:
Let’s start with those tropical fruit notes – Via de La Plata Chardonnay Brut Nature is very dry with faint notes of slightly underripe pineapple and just a faint whiff of lychee. Along with typical bready notes (as expected from a sparkling wine) there is also an endearing nutty nose and flavour – instead of Sherry, why not try this with aperitifs of toasted almonds and walnuts? The bottles containing this wine have been left ‘en rima’ (almost vertical with the lees in the neck adding complexity and depth) for between 9 months (the minimum) and 25 months. The resulting Cava retains fresh acidity whilst being quite full too.
Via de la Plata Brut Coupage has a little residual sugar, pushing it towards the maximum grams per litre allowed for a Brut sparkler. Those who like the Brut style but sometimes find it a little too sharp will fall for this wine. Made with 70% Macabeo (which gives the aforementioned slight cider note) and 30% Parellada (providing some delicate floral notes and elegance too) the wine is a delight to drink.
It’s the same ‘coupage’, mix, of varieties that makes up the Brut Nature version of the above. It’s dry again, and some! I loved this wine with smoked salmon and creamed cheese tostadas, where the natural, fresh acidity and refreshing faintly saline quality was able to cut through the oily fish and meld with the slightly chalky cheese! The crunchy texture of the tostada heightened the finesse that can always be found when Parellada is in the blend.
Whilst I liked the whole range of Via de la Plata Cavas, my favourite was another Chardonnay based wine – the Chardonnay Reserva. Now here is a wine that embodies all that is so great about Sparkling Wine! Chardonay, a variety that produces quite full wines anyway, id given an even greater depth by the 32 months it has spent on its lees, en rima. At nearly 4 times the minimum ageing period this wine has great presence on the palate, and yet, magically, displays all the vivacity of youth.
It’s fresh and full, punchy and elegant – all at the same time, and is one of those Cavas that will also be enjoyed with dinner. Try it with chicken dishes and turkey, as well as with meaty fish. Really lovely!
Via de la Plata also does Pink! (Please go to www.colinharknessonwine.com Biography; Media, Scroll down to Youtube)
Finally, I have to say that the Via de la Plata Semi-Seco Cava is the best of this style that I have tasted! Yes, it’s semi-seco, but it’s quite far removed from the, for me, far too sweet cavas of this style that are all too often found – doing the semi-seco style a disservice, in my book,
Macabeo and Parellada combine again here and there’s a touch of toffee-apple sweetness to the wine. This can be paired with desserts where it would lighten the sweetness with its refreshing edge; and also with savoury South East Asian cuisine, where the flavours and aromas of the dishes would intermingle and the burning bite of any chilli would be lessened, leaving more flavour than heat.
Colin’s next radio programme on www.totalfm.es is on Sunday 26th June, from 18:30 hrs – 20:00 hrs Total FM 91·8. On-air fine wine and gourmet food tasting, top music plus wine and food chat and news, and competitions too!
NB then the next radio programme will be just one week after – Sunday 3rd July!