Eating and drinking aren’t just enjoyable things to do when you travel – food and wine reveal so much about a culture and its people. Well, that’s our excuse for doing so much of both on Grantourismo, a contemporary grand tour we did. (Read more about Grantourismo here.)
Learning was an important part of the original grand tour, so we’re taking our food and wine education very seriously. (Cough.) In Morocco, for instance, Terry was perfecting the art of making a lamb tajine, in Ceret he was experimenting with different versions of cassoulet, and in Jerez we toured the famous Tio Pepe bodega and did sherry tastings.
In Barcelona, well, we even held a blind tasting of 99-cent wine – casks, but mostly, it was all about the Cava. In the interests of sharing the fun knowledge around, here’s a quick Cava 101. Knowledge is power, right?
1. What is Cava?
Go out in Barcelona and you’ll see locals drinking Cava more than anything else. Cava is Spain’s sparkling wine – the Spanish version of Champagne. Created by a Catalunyan, Josep Raventós, in 1872, Cava has played a central role in the everyday life of Spaniards ever since. Bottles are popped at baptisms, weddings and other celebrations, but Cava is also drunk more casually at family meals or after work drinks.
2. What makes Cava, well, Cava?
To be Cava, it must be made according to the traditional methods (and many rules!) set out under Spain’s Denominación de Origen laws. Firstly, Cava is generally made from a combination of three grapes, Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada, which are local grapes.
Xarel-lo is considered to be the pillar of Cava, although other grapes, such as the native grape Samsó, as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Subirat are used. Cava can be brut nature (naturally dry), brut (extra dry), seco (dry), semiseco (medium dry), dulce (sweet), and brut rosé (made with black grapes like Garnatxa, Monastrell and Pinot Noir).
3. Where does Cava come from?
Josep Elías Terns, winemaker and owner of Parató winery, calls the Penedès (the closest wine region to Barcelona) “the cradle of Cava” because it was here that Cava was born — after Josep Raventós returned from a trip to France with the idea of producing a sparkling wine using French techniques, which is why the first Catalan bubbly was called champán or xampany.
4. What is so special about Penedès?
“People don’t realize that 50 kilometres from Las Ramblas and Barça stadium is a wine region where there is beautiful countryside, few concrete roads, and guys running old wine presses,” Josep tells us when we meet him at Alimentaria, Barcelona’s major food and wine fair.
“There are 160 wineries producing Cava and still wine in the Penedès. It’s actually the third largest wine region in Spain after Rioja and La Mancha. And everyone is producing nice wines and behind every winery there is a story!”
5. Josep’s story – a very old one!
From one of the region’s oldest winemaking families, Josep Elías Terns might only have been making Cava and wine at his small winery at El Pla del Penedès since 1975 (his house dates to 1685!), yet his ancestors were making wine as far back as 1670. “They had grape vines right here!” he tells us, stomping his foot on the floor of the new Fira de Barcelona. The Elias family had vineyards close by on the slopes of Montjuïc, the mountain between the Fira and the city, and have deeds to a wine press there dating to 1880.
6. Why does the Penedès produce such great Cava?
Josep Elías Terns believes, “It’s a combination of the sunny climate, soil and grapes. We can also produce an extensive variety of grapes, everything from Merlot to Tempranillo, and it’s because of the success of Cava that other wines have emerged.”
7. What is Cava so suited to Spain?
“For me, Cava is very Mediterranean and this is because of where it’s made. Cava is very fresh, light and clean. It’s very easy to drink. It’s perfect for our climate, for the summer. If you’re sitting in the sunshine, it’s ideal,” Josep says. “In Spain, we like to spend time with our family and friends, to eat slowly – Cava is not as alcoholic as red or white wine, so it’s perfect – you can drink it all afternoon long.”
8. Why Cava rocks!
“It’s the freshness, the fruitiness and the versatility that makes Cava so special,” Jeci Llopart tells us. Jeci is a fifth-generation winemaker, from Llopart Cava, another small family-owned winery, dating back to 1887, which she runs with her three siblings.
“You can have it at anytime, winter or summer, with or without food, and with all moments.” Josep agrees. “I really believe Cava is a wine you have with anything, with tapas, or on its own. It fits with everything,” he says, “it’s like with music. Sometimes you want classical, sometimes you want rock, but then there is music that goes with everything. It’s the same with Cava.”
9. Cava vs. Champagne
So how does Cava compare to Champagne? “They are very different!” Josep Elías Terns exclaims. “The climate and the soil make them so. Cava is not as acidic because we have plenty of sunshine, so our wines are more rich, but on the other hand, the acidity can be nice; it makes the wine fresher and allows it to stay longer in the bottle.”
Anthony Swift from Wine Pleasures agrees: “Cava, while made exactly the same way as Champagne is a better product,” he says. “Add to that the price and you’ll never buy Champagne again… a 5-year-old Cava can be bought (from the winery) for just 12 euros and it’s a steal.”
10. Where can you try Cava?
At almost every bar in Barcelona! But Josep Elías Terns says that “When you go to Penedès and drink the Cava you will really feel the place!” So if you’re really enjoying your Cava, do visit the Penedès.
A visit to the home of Freixenet, Spain’s world-famous Cava producer, is a must, but also try to visit smaller family-owned wineries such as Parató winery, Llopart Cava, Finca Ca N‘Estella and Clot dels Oms. Viator also offers ‘Cava Trail’ tours that include a visit to Freixenet, the largest Cava producer, with visits to Sitges or Montserrat. You should also check out the Top 5 Places to Grab a Drink in Barcelona.
- Lara Dunston & Terry Carter
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