Non-Catalan Cava

IT’S CAVA, JIM, AND JUST AS WE KNOW IT!

Dear Reader,

Trekkie or not, you know where I’m coming from here – don’t be coy, admit it!

And the relevance to the weekly wine column, you might be asking? Well, the clue is in the name, Cava, Spain’s most famous Sparkling Wine. Approximately 95% of all Cava is made in Cataluña – that’s millions of bottles per annum. And if it’s stats that you’re after, here’s another – roughly 50% of the annual production of Cava is sold over the Christmas period! That’s a staggering amount of Cava for a myriad of celebrations up and down the country, as well as abroad.

However, this week’s column is in support of the underdog, the other 5%. The British are traditionally on the side of the underdog: David, rather than Goliath; Wimbledon’s bottom seed, rather than the top; the ‘also-ran’ before the bookies favourite; and of course Man Utd when playing Liverpool! We are a fountain of sympathy and empathy – but in the case of Cava’s minnows, the producers who are not making their bubbles in Cataluña, there’s no need to be sympathetic.

The 5% are doing very nicely thank you – at least in terms of the quality of their produce. It may well be (probably is) that those who craft their Cavas away from Cataluña, are envious of their big brother’s fame, success and of course, their huge volume sales. But their plea is not for your sympathy, it’s for your attention, for you to divert your purchasing power towards them as well!

The DO Cava is an unusual one in that it is not just in one geographical area where Cava is allowed to be made, like it is for example in: DOCa Rioja, DO Ribera del Duero, DO Jumilla et al. Cava can also be made, in fact, in La Rioja, as well as Cariñena, Valencia and even in Extremadura – which is just about as far away from Cataluña as you can be, whilst remaining in Spain.

However, the non-Catalan Cavas are, in almost every way, the same as those that we can term Catalan Cavas. The same grapes are permitted, the rules and regulations set down by the Consejo Regulador (Regulatory Committee) are the same, and the same stringent quality control measures are applied. The only differences (and yes, it is a significant difference) are the soils and micro-climates.

However, this is positive – think instead of the diversity of flavours and aromas that are thus obtainable by drinking non-Catalan Cava. Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux is different from Chilean Cabernet, Italian Cabernet and so on. To coin a phrase, ‘Vive la Diference!’

In fact the first non-Catalan Cavas I received were from my old friends at Bodegas Muga, that world-wide respected producer of fine Rioja Wines. I find their Rosado Brut Cava quite enchanting. The colour is that of Billecart-Salmon Rosé Champagne (a favourite French Fizz of mine) and very similar to Muga’s delicately pale still rosado wine.

Conde de Haro Brut Rosé has lovely pink and red rose petals on the nose with raspberry too. On the palate, the depth of flavour takes one by surprise – it’s delicate and elegant, and yet full flavoured too. Drink this with Paella – it will be a knock-out!

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 Muga’s white Conde de Haro Vintage 2011 Brut has a super nose of white flowers, pear and a touch of cider, rather than citrus notes (see what I mean about diversity!) along with the unmistakable lovely aromas of your Mum’s baking. It’s a Brut, but one of the drier styles, making it a lovely aperitif as well as being fine with fish!

Next of the non-Catalan Cavas I received were from the Cariñena area. Many readers will know of the Gran Ducay, DO Cariñena, wines. Well-priced fruit driven still wines that are as easy to drink, as they are to find. Their Cavas, though not so readily available, are just as pleasant to drink and will get any party off to a good start!

The first point to note here is the value for money. The Rosado Gran Ducay, made with Garnacha and so pretty in the glass, retails for around 6€; and the Reserva Brut Nature for under 8€! Both embody the essence of Cava, the celebratory nature of the drink, with the reserve adding some depth on the palate which will make it a lovely fizz to accompany various different dishes.

Extremadura is a considerable distance from Cataluña. The Cava making area is centred around Almendralejo, slightly south and east of Badajoz and therefore not so far from Portugal. Although some way from the sea the huge expanse of, not the Mediterranean, but the Atlantic Ocean does impact on the climate, as do the soils of the Cava vineyards that are at a somewhat greater altitude than most of those in the Cataluña area.

Accordingly the Cavas I’ve tasted, from Bodegas Marcelino Díaz, have a slight difference too, with flavours and aromas ranging from chilli through to toffee apple! Fascinating – and I recommend you seek them out!

The distinctive leaf motif on the label of the first, a Brut Reserva, will make it stand out on the shelves of the wine shop, and if the proprietor opens a bottle, the aromas that assail the customer (in the nicest possible way!) will surely make him/her demand a taste! You’ll find a compelling, if faint whiff of chilli, then some herbs – a little sage, some thyme and a little wild fennel.

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 Just as you take a taste, you’ll smell a cider-esque fragrance, which follows onto the palate turning to under-ripe apple pie and finishing with the forgotten flavour (perhaps more aroma) of toffee apple! Wow!

From the same stable Cava of the bodega, Puerto Palma has slightly sweet-scented white flowers on the nose, followed by hazelnuts on the palate and perhaps blanched almonds. It has some weight on the palate with a roundness that provides a mid-length finish.

I knew before I tasted it, that Cava Chozas Carrascal Reserva Brut Nature was going to be a very good sparkling wine! As the cork was gently eased out (the antithesis of post-F1 Champagne opening! Why?!) the wine began to speak to me already. There was an instant floral, biscuit nose that, genie-like, escaped and immediately enticed me!

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 The Macabeo makes an immediate impact – the apple, slightly cider style aromas are a give away. Here the autolysis aromas, pleasant smells that are produced by the reaction to the second fermentation, are particularly biscuity, rather than bread, brioche and pastry. It reminded me of digestive biscuits, but with a very faint, exotic ginger spice as well.

Full, and it’s here that the Chardonnay makes its contribution, weighty with a mid to long length, the wine has elegance too. The still wines from this bodega, situated in-land from Valencia, in the Utiel/Requena area, are sought after and this Cava is certainly up there with the best!

NB The above are just a few of the Cavas that you can find that are not from Cataluña – my advice, experiment with more!

Contact Colin: colin@colinharknessonwine.com  and Twitter @colinonwine; & visit www.colinharknessonwine.com – and of course you can join his e-mail list for updates on wine tastings, bodega visits etc!

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