IN DEFENCE OF THE ‘C’ WORD!
It would appear, from the response received last night at the fully subscribed Cava Dinner, Moraira, that cava is the preferred fizz here in Spain!
I was interested to note that mention of the ‘P’ word brought about unsolicited boos, where many a true boo is booed in jest, to paraphrase the Bard, whom, I’m certain would also have been a great fan of cava, had it been around in his day!
I’m sure that even those of a delicate nature who’ve led a sheltered life will already have realised that the eponymous ‘C’ word, is of course Cava; and the ‘P’ word (boo!) is Prosecco. Readers may remember an article or two referring to the tsunami of Prosecco which has, inexplicably as I see it, been threatening to drown the whole of the British Isles – sadly leading to a loss of market share for cava makers.
I say ‘inexplicable’, but in fact it’s quite simple. People generally, and of course consumers in the UK, like sparkling wine – it fizzes with celebration. Champagne, well it’s mostly too expensive, cava is a possibility, but when there is an alternative to both of these noble drinks, which is less expensive, you know what most will decide. Plus, as the vast majority of Prosecco sold in the UK is of the lesser quality as well as being on the sweet side of Brut, pandering to the taste buds of lots, apparently, the Italian alternative is going to sell.
Last night’s event, sponsored as a promotional activity by the Consejo Regulador of D.O Cava, showed that the vast majority of ex-pats (and not just British ex-pats) living in Spain show warming solidarity with those who craft cava. Cava rocks – and not just as a celebratory drink. This was the mantra of the evening – let me explain!
If there’s something to celebrate we immediately reach for the cava – an anniversary, a birthday, a wedding, a birth, exam success, moving house, you name it. Also, in my case, a funeral – when mine comes along I’d like it celebrated with lots of popping cava corks, please! And that’s quite right – we use cava to celebrate. However, there are different styles of cava, which retain the celebration element, whilst adding to the mix.
Judging by a straw poll taken last night, most of us buy Brut Cava for celebrations as well as for aperitifs – smoked salmon and Brut Cava is an oft used and enjoyed pairing. So the concept of matching cava with food is certainly not unknown. However, the good news to most last night was that the different styles of cava can also be matched with different courses, in fact to run concurrently throughout a whole 4-course dinner.
The Swiss Hotel, Moraira, having performed so well at the equivalent dinner last year, was the venue again and each savoury dish was matched with different types of cava, to almost unanimous acclaim. Who’d have thought that a young Brut Cava would pair delightfully with a gently curried amuse bouche soup, one of the Head Chef’s imaginative aperitivos? But it did.
With 12 months on ‘en rima’ (on its lees – the dead yeast, often referred to as sediment), this Brut Joven (young) cava has had three extra months to the minimum 9 months to broaden its taste and weight profile. The result is a cava that does what we expect from sparkling wine – and some!
Our next cava, a Brut again, was a rosado which has had 15 months en rima. The refreshing acidity is still present, and needed, to cut through the oily texture of the smoked salmon salad starter with which it was served. There is a very slight element of sweetness to this rosé cava, which worked well with the salad’s dressing. The Trepat, Monastrell and Garnacha varieties used to make this wine provided us with a red fruit nose and flavour.
Up to a point, I always like to consider colours when matching wine with food – finding colours in the wine that match those of the food on the plate, as well as flavour and aroma characteristics, makes for a better marriage, in my opinion. The lightly marinated salmon was similar in colour the paler style of rosé – it worked!
Our third cava was, like the first, a blend of the three traditional white cava varieties – Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel.lo, though in different proportions. The 50% Macabeo is there to help re the longevity of the wine. A reserva has to have had a minimum of 15 months ‘en rima’ – this, like the two previous cavas has enjoyed more than the minimum – in fact 17 months.
The wine has depth and extra weight in the mouth, though the Parellada, ensures the elegance that we love in sparkling wine, and the Macabeo provides the crucial freshness. Served with a precisely cooked, slightly salted cod fillet I thought the match was excellent. The fruit delivery of the cava, not something we often notice in sparklers, unless trained to look for it, matched the saltiness of the fish and the tapenade with which it was served.
Diners were asked to hold the cava on their palates a little to ‘feel’ it and to let it develop in their mouths whilst it warms slightly – to the astonishment of several, this really allowed the cava to open out and give so much more.
Now, if I’ve been talking thus far about how these cavas have exceeded the minimum period ‘en rima’, as I have, our final cava of the night, did even more in this respect. The minimum amount of time that a Gran Reserva cava must spend on its lees is 36 months, three years! However the flagship Gran Reserva style of the Consejo Regulador DO Cava has had 46 months, that’s nearly four years silently waiting in the cellars, developing different nuances and extra body. And this is why it’s not audacious to match such a cava with meat!
And the meat chosen in this case? Well, perfectly cooked lamb, served with port poached pears, and for me, it really worked.
I like to think, and this is supported by comments made during the night, that the point was made – cava fits celebrations, but it also works wonderfully as a wine to be served with various different dishes, providing you choose the correct style. Several diners last night commented that they would now seek not just a Brut cava, but a Brut (or indeed a Brut Nature, as was the last cava) according to the dish with which it will be served – that is young cava, a Reserva or a Gran Reserva!