CLOSURE AND A NEW ERA FOR CAVA
Yes, a touch oxymoronic, I agree, but sit back, cava glass (no more than two thirds full) in hand and please read on – it’s all good news for lovers of Cava, like myself.
In the couple of years preceding 2014 I had written the occasional article trying to explain to readers why it was that there had been some abandoning of ship by a number of cava producers who were worried about its standing in the world of Sparkling Wine. I suppose the bad news (there’s a word more often used than this phrase!) hit the fan when the current incumbent of one of the most famous Cava houses also decided to cut and run. The Raventos family, in the late 19th Century, had in fact been the founders of cava making in Spain – but would now no longer be involved!
What was it all about? Well, like the current crisis in Cataluña, it’s complicated.
It all came about because of a concern amongst producers of quality Cava that the original good name of the DO and its produce had been besmirched by the huge supply of cheap Cavas that really aren’t worthy of the name! These cheap-end, tasteless, anorexic Cavas offer the same inviting ‘explosion’ as the pressure inside the bottle pops the cork, but it was an open and shut case of breach of promise! And still is today.
Whilst being perfectly honest with neither axe grinding nor hidden agenda in mind I wrote a few related articles which must have come to the notice of the burghers of DO Cava. Hence the expenses paid invitation to interview the president about their plans to combat the negative criticism being made by other commentators as well as myself.
Careful not to be seduced by the sumptuous lunch in the gloriously grand, 11th Century, private dining area of Bodegas Segura Viudas, accompanied by really top level cavas, a different style for each different course, I listened to Señor Bonet’s, impelling explanation of plans for the Empire’s Strike Back.
I agreed that all DOs suffered similar criticism – there will always be those who strive to make the best wine possible under the auspices of whichever DO in which they find themselves. And, sadly, there will also be those who are simply in it for the money. They’ll obey all the rules (probably!) to ensure that they carry the DO’s motif on their labels, but there’ll be little concern about the quality of the product.
So, whilst that couldn’t really be circumvented, there were other ideas afoot. Firstly, there was going to be a promotional drive to push what was going to be called ‘Premium Cava’. This certainly included those cavas which qualified for Reserva and Gran Reserva status, but also a number of ‘Joven’, young cavas (as opposed to Reserva and Gran Reserva style which have been aged for long periods) which were displaying classic characteristics of fine cava, though younger in style.
In tandem with this promotion, and certainly the most innovative and creative of the ideas was the eventual introduction of a totally new concept, a new designation within DO Cava, the top of the quality pyramid, Cava de Paraje Calificada! Qualifying would be tough!
Firstly, of course, all the grapes will have to have come from a single vineyard, or indeed a single plot within a vineyard. This will mean that the resulting Cava will be representative of that terroir. This answers very nicely a criticism that has always been leveled at Cava. 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, ensuring 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.
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. And many will in fact have far longer ‘en rima’.
Three years later I really am delighted to say that the first 12 cavas to be elevated to this new category are now available, and it was a real privilege for me to be able to taste one, sent by producers Castellroig – their stunning Sabaté i Coca Reserva Familiar!
Sunshine gold in colour this excellent Brut Nature is made with Xarel.lo vines which have seen 40 summers planted on their Terroja Estate in soils that were first formed 20 million years ago! 30% of the base wine was fermented in French Oak and then aged for 3 – 4 months before being blended. The second fermentation occurred in the same bottle (of course) and the wine has been left ‘en rima’ for a minimum of 60 months!
I love the fennel and mountain herbs (thyme and laurel, more than rosemary) and the slight toasty notes with blanched almonds, a little hazelnut nuance and some distant pear and apple fruit. It’s rich and full, yet personifies elegance with a long and joyous finish.
So, although this superb Sabaté i Coca Cava de Paraje Calificada represents closure, re the long process which I’ve been following for over three years, it is also representative of a new era for Cava! Enjoy!