Cava de Paraje Calificada!




In the stunning setting of the Gaudi designed Palau de la Música Catalana, it wasn’t just the exquisitely played Bach that was music to my ears! The Cuarteto de cuerda de la Orquestra de Cambra del Penedés (the Cambra del Penedés Orchestra’s String Quartet) played Bach and Eduard Toldrá at the conclusion of the official inauguration of the new Prestige Single Estate Cava designation. It’s the official approval of this exciting innovation, that also brought music to my ears!


It’s been a long time coming!


Two years ago I was invited to the DO Cava HQ, where I met and interviewed the President of the Consejo Regulador DO Cava, Señor Per Bonet. Some readers may remember my subsequent article – if not you may like to find it here click Articles and scroll downwards, as it will give a little more background to today’s Cork Talk.

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With Señor Bonet (again, it’s in the archives as above), I toured Bodegas Segura Viudas – a most fascinating and illuminating visit; enjoyed a sumptuous lunch paired with magnificent, perfectly chosen Cavas, of different styles; and of course had the opportunity to learn from the President, exactly where Cava was going, under his direction. As I left, the charming Sílvia Grimaldo Martinez, styled, Cava Manager, assured me that I would be kept informed re developments. As anticipated, Sílvia was as good as her word, and the moment the news broke about the planned change having finally been Governement approved, as discussed with Señor Bonet, she sent me an invitation to the rather grand (formal dress – in June, me!!) launch.


The Denomionación de Origen concept in Spain is designed to protect special food/drink producing areas, where tradition and excellence have been the hallmarks for many years. There are DOs for Cheese, Meats, Olive Oils and other foodstuffs, and of course there are DOs for wine. Establishing a DO is a lengthy operation, with many hours of research, reams of official reports, much canvassing, many meetings, a considerable financial input, and so on. Eventually, the application is made to the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture and, as is the way of Government, there is of course a time consuming process through which the application must travel.


You can therefore imagine that when the President opened the inauguration, it was with a real sense of relief that he said, in Spanish, something to the effect of, “Welcome, at last, to the launch of this new designation . . .”.


The logo, which you will soon start seeing on certain, special bottles of Cava, is cleverly designed – it says it all. As you can see from the photo, it’s a lower case ‘p’, where the rounded part is a ‘c’, back to front (standing for cava), leaning on the straight part, which in fact is the number 1. Essentially, the design is telling us that this is Cava at it’s absolute best, the top of the quality pyramid, the number one style of Cava.


So what does it all mean? Well, there weren’t just officials of the National Government present, nor just those of the Catalan Government, nor, indeed members of the Consejo Regulador, to explain the significance. There were two Masters of Wine (one, Spain’s only MW, Señor Pedro Ballesteros MW, via a phone link, from, I think London) and the also charming, Lenka Sedlackova MW, from the Czech Republic, who has only recently been elevated to this top echelon of wine experts, making her one of the newest MWs, and probably the youngest too!


Plus, Guillermo Cruz, Mejor Sumiller de España 2014, which is just one of his several awards, whom I also heard presenting a tasting at Alimentaria this year. And, making up the quorum on stage, Yvonne Heistermann, Champagne Ambassador of Germany, which again, is only one of her impressive titles!


All were in favour, with perhaps Guillermo being the most gung-ho, and Lenka, taking a more pragmatic standpoint, also adding some words of caution. The general consensus, amongst the panel members, the Government Officials, and indeed the whole assembly, was that this was a move in exactly the right direction. And, as you’ve probably gathered, I’m also very positive about it.


The idea came about as a response to some sustained criticism of a few years ago where producers within the DO, and commentators outside, expressed concerns about consumer perceptions of Cava. It’s been a long, and at times painful, story, which has been told before. However, DO Cava has responded to the complaints with an on-going and successful campaign to raise the international status of Cava.


A major ‘offensive’ where DO Cava is at pains to promote the concept of Premium Cava, which essentially means Reserva and Gran Reserva styles of Cava, and indeed how such sparkling wines can be paired perfectly well with the varied dishes served throughout a dinner, continues. Readers will remember the Cava Dinners that I presented, with this promotion in mind.


Now there is another strand – the concept of the Single Estate Cava, Cava de Paraje Calificada, which, as discussed, will be considered the very top level of Cava. Certain stringent rules will have to be satisfied before producers will be allowed to use the coveted title for some of their Cavas.


Firstly, of course, all the grapes will have to have come from a single vineyard, or indeed a single plot within a vineyard. The idea of this is that such plots will clearly have but a single soil type and micro-climate, therefore the resulting Cava will be representative of that terroir. This answers very nicely a criticism that has always been leveled at Cava, from those who are lovers of just Champagne. Now there will be a definite sense of place.


Also, the vines have to be a minimum of 10 years old, though most will be many years older. The older the vine, the fewer the bunches, but the better quality and richer the grapes. Yields will be strictly controlled. Also these superior grapes must all have been picked by hand and must undergo strict analysis in the bodega, with only the  very best being selected to make the base wine, that eventually becomes sparkling Cava, after its second fermentation, provoked, of course in bottle.


As part of the quality control there will be a panel tasting of both the base wine and, following the second fermentation, a tasting of the Cava straight after disgorgement, with only those which tick both boxes being passed! Disgorgement, by the way, will only be allowed after a minimum of 36 months, that’s three years, ‘en rima’ – which will of course ensure depth and complexity in the finished article.


To conclude, I’ll leave it to the very grounded, ‘tell it like it is’, Lenka Sedlackova MW, who said that there is still a way to go in educating the buyers and through them the public about this niche market, but who also concurred that this impressively tightly defined new concept, Cava de Paraje Calificada, will elevate Cava to the same level as Prestige Champagne!

Well, after all that we needed some Cava, claro, and excellent tapas too!
Well, after all that, we needed some Cava, claro, and excellent tapas too!

The first bottles should be on the market by Christmas 2016 – I’ll let you know!


Colin’s next Fine Wine & Gourmet Dine Programme on Total FM 91·8 and will be on Sunday 26th June from 18:30 – 20:00 hrs. Sponsored by DO Yecla and the Swiss Hotel Moraira.

NB Then, rather than the two week wait for the next programme, I’ll be on again on Sunday 3rd July, same time!


The secret of the success of the Via de la Plata Cavas is in the vineyard and then the resulting base wines . . .




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 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.

Contact Colin: @colinonwine Facebook Colin Harkness Youtube Colin Harkness On Wine.

Colin’s next radio programme on 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!

Wine Pairing at The Palace!

This was my first wine tasting experience with you and the food, wine and commentary were excellent, everyone in our group really enjoyed it . . .


Thanks Colin, it was a great evening at Palau de Javea.

A splendid night at Javea Old Town's Pala de Javea!
A splendid night at Javea Old Town’s Palau de Javea!

This was my first wine tasting experience with you and the food, wine and commentary were excellent, everyone in our group really enjoyed it. Also, Alexandra Violin was fantastic, she is very talented and Horatio the trumpet player was great fun.

Congratulations on a great event!


Avina Wine Tools


Following Two Recent Wine/Food Pairings

We look forward to our return to Spain in September and hopefully some more delights of your wine pairing evenings . .

Hi Colin
Just to give you some positive feedback on two recent wine tastings we attended.
We have revisited both the La Trastienda and Bajul restaurants and really enjoyed our experience there of both the food and wine. Thank you for introducing these restaurants to us.
La Trastienda, Javea Pueblo - a proper Wine Bar!
La Trastienda, Javea Pueblo – a proper Wine Bar!
We look forward to our return to Spain in September and hopefully some more delights of your wine pairing evenings.
Kind Regards
Chris & Carol