Cava, the delicious Spanish equivalent of champagne, is known as a fun drink for all types of occasions. Like its international sparkling wine counterparts, Cava comes in various flavors, ages, and qualities, and makes for a great celebration.
Before embarking on a cava-tasting and -bottling class in Penedés, the Catalonian equivalent of California’s Napa Valley, this was about the extent of my knowledge about the popular drink. However, after an afternoon of hands-on touring, tasting, and packaging my very own bottle of Cava, I am one (small) step closer to being an expert on the stuff. Here are just a few tips I picked up at my Artcava Winery experience:
1. When buying Cava in an alementación [liquor store] or supermarket, aim to spend between 6 and 30 euros on a bottle. If you pay less, you’re getting the most industrially-produced, lowest-quality Cava, but if you fork over more than 30, you are essentially paying for the label without reaping much benefit taste-wise.
2. When initially looking your Cava, pay attention to the bubbles you see. Although the glass itself will affect the behavior of the bubbles, pay attention to their size and speed as they race toward the surface of your Cava, and when you take that first sip, notice the degree of explosion you feel on your tongue. This all may seem like common sense, but as you taste different Cavas, you will develop a preference for different bubble behaviors.
3. As you take your first sip, try to identify whether you taste floral, fruity, earthy, or diseased. Fruity flavors can be reminiscent of green apple or pear, floral will be less sour but still aromatic, and an earthy Cava might have undertones of oak or mushroom. Anything that tastes of vinegar or other less appealing flavors is “diseased,” which is unintentional and hopefully will not come up in your Cava-tasting endeavors.
4. The categorization of your Cava, which is similar to that of champagne, is dictated by the added sweetness by the winery that produced your Cava. The label on the bottle will say Brut Nature, Brut, Seco, Semi-Seco, or Dulce, with Brut Nature being free of added sugars and Dulce boasting up to 50 g of sugar per liter. While each level of Cava sweetness is ideal for different dishes, most people will find an ideal sweetness that they prefer when buying or ordering Cava.
5. The last and most general piece of information that our tour guide left us with as we ended our afternoon of Cava was about aging. After two fermentation processes, each good bottle of Cava will have aged for at least 9 months, but older bottles may develop for much longer. Whether a 9-month old Cava or a 24-month Cava is superior is a question of taste- the person who enjoys the sparkling wine might prefer the bubbly, sour fruit flavor more commonly associated with a younger Cava, while their companions may be partial to the mellow, earthy flavors of an aged bottle.
Now you have the basic knowledge to taste and describe your own ideal Cava- feel free to use this cheat sheet to impress your friends, waiter, or wine tour guide as you semi-expertly critique your next glass of Spanish Cava!