First Published Costa News Group, Jan 2013

THE CAVA REFUSENIKS!

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Since I first heard that no less a name than Raventos i Blanc had become one of the most prestigious of the fraternity of Cava makers to withdraw from the DO, I’ve been contemplating my reaction. Raventos i Blanc is one of several Cava producers who have recently elected to disassociate themselves from the DO Cava, of which they have been members from its inception and indeed for generations.

I’m not wholly decided but broadly speaking I’m in favour of the move – albeit with some reservations, not least of which is the undoubted fact that there is going to be considerable consumer confusion. So this article is an attempt to walk readers through the reasons for the split and the probable outcomes.

Raventos i Blanc took pains to explain that there had been no falling out with DO Cava, no harsh words and no hard feelings on either side. But I don’t buy it! It’s clear that there has been a long period of posturing resulting in a stalemate that finally prompted the abandonment of what they, and other deserters, see as a sinking ship.

It has all come about because of a concern amongst producers of quality Cava that the original good name of the DO and its produce has been besmirched by the veritable tsunami of cheap Cavas that really don’t deserve the name!

It can’t have escaped your notice that every supermarket has been chock-full of Cava during this festive period. Christmas and New Year have passed but the Three Kings celebration is just around the corner so huge sales will no doubt continue. In fact over 50% of all Cava sold in a year in Spain is sold at this time – that’s millions of bottles, literally millions!

Many outlets have offered tempting discounts in an effort to drive sales further, some have slashed them to what surely must be the loss-leader level in the hope that those clutching their bargain Cava will also buy other products whilst in the store. Nothing wrong in that of course – it’s business.

But I’d ask you to consider for a moment how it is possible to slash the price of a bottle of Cava that retails for less than a couple of Euros anyway? But the lowest end of the price scale has also been subject to this discounting and needless to say, sales have rocketed.

It is the belief of the Cava Refuseniks that there has been an equal and opposite reaction in terms of the quality of the Cava at this lower end. Whilst sales have gone viral, quality has plummeted. And it’s not just at Christmas.

There are many Cavas that I honestly wouldn’t touch. I’m not being a Cava Snob and I’m certainly painfully aware of the current and long-running financial disaster that is Spain and the consequent need to tighten belts. But these ridiculously cheap Cavas are nothing like the real McCoy. There are bubbles and that is the limit of the similarity!

These cheap end, tasteless, anorexic Cavas offer the same inviting ‘explosion’ as the pressure inside the bottle pops the cork but it’s an open and shut case of flattery and deception, of breach of promise! However no litigation will follow. The producers have obeyed all the rules – the approved grapes have been grown in the right areas and so on. Thus they have every right to call their produce Cava and sell it at whatever price they like.

The problem that the quality minded producers see, and have no doubt brought up many times in discussions with the Consejo Regulador (Ruling Council) of the DO, is that there is no quality control. If you follow the rules you can call it Cava, no matter what it tastes like, or more accurately in this case, if it actually tastes of nothing! In this, the Denominación de Origen Cava is not alone, there are other Consejo Reguladores who have been similarly apathetic as the good name of a specific area of production has been gradually eroded by a river of second and third rate wine.

The rebel band of ex-Cava producers won’t be able to call their wines Cava having withdrawn, Cava interruptous style, from the DO before it’s too late, and further damage is done to their good name! So they’ll simply call it Spanish Sparkling Wine, or more likely in Spanish, Vino Espumoso.

But this will lead to further confusion – there is already Vino Espumoso in Spain. Several areas (watch this space soon!) have made sparkling wine for years, using the traditional method (aka the Champagne Method, though one isn’t allowed to put that on a label!), but with different grape varieties than those officially approved by DO Cava and of course in areas different than those where Cava can be made.

Some Cava makers, and consumers too, have poured scorn on these wines calling them ‘wannabe’ Cavas, dismissing them as cheap, uninspiring copies. But hold on – there will soon be Raventos i Blanc (et al) Spanish Sparkling Wine, and as they’ll be made by such well respected producers it will be impossible to laugh these off!

My guess is also that there will be an increased interest in Vinos Espumosos, Spanish Sparkling Wine, which as yet doesn’t have the same cache as Cava, but probably soon will have. This will be excellent news for the current Espumoso producers, albeit ironic, and perhaps to their collective chagrin, considering that after years in the shadow of Cava it will be Cava makers who will be responsible for shining the spotlight on their produce!

What does it all mean for you and me though? Well, there will still be top class, Champagne-equalling, and beating, Cava. Many famous names are staying put, perhaps feeling they have more chance of effecting beneficial change from within, now that the whistle has been blown.

But there will also be first rate Spanish Sparkling Wine, as there in fact always has been, though, until now, it’s never been given its due. Plus of course there will still be the frankly insipid under two Euros end of the Cava market.

So something of a minefield for the consumer? Well the answer is in an old homily – when it comes to Cava/Sparkling Wine, you get what you pay for! If it’s priced at the lowest end of the scale, that’s what it’s worth! It’s still true to say that in Spain, up to a point, and that point is determined by the depth of your pockets, the more you pay, the better the wine.

I have a simple answer which would have saved all this gnashing of teeth, though I’m sure that the refuseniks have already mooted it. Why not bring in quality control to the DO Cava and have two levels – Cava Superior, of course for the better quality Cavas, and simply Cava for the others? Works for me!

Contact Colin: colin@colinharknessonwine.com and www.colinharknessonwine.com

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