Some thoughts about Cava, and Raventos leaving

Cava is, sadly, not cool.

The news that one of the leading producers of Cava, Raventos, is to leave the Cava appellation has shocked a lot of people. [Aside: ‘appellaton’ is a bad word for it, because Cava is not a geographical designation, even though the vast majority of its production is from the Penedes region in north east Spain.]

On hearing the news, a leading wine tweeter said they’d thought Raventos had done the wrong thing. He called for more collaboration, suggesting that there’s strength in working together, and that the way to change the image of Cava is for producers to work alongside each other, not leave Cava.

This sounds reasonable, and, generally, I like the idea of collaboration. But in this case, Raventos may have made a good move, whatever their motivations.

This is because if you want to make serious fizz, the name Cava counts against you.

I am not being a Cava basher. I like and recommend Cava in my newspaper column. There’s lots of good Cava, and its invariably very good value for money. But I have experienced very few serious Cavas – bottles that I’d spend more than £10 on, or take along to a sparkling wine dinner for wine geeks.

Cava may be made by the traditional (or ‘Champagne’ method), but it struggles to be more than just OK. It invariably has a slightly bitter, resinous note that takes away from the purity of the fruit. The speculation is that this could be a result of phenolic compounds in the juice, coming from the skins. This is a sunny region, and the intense light causes the grapes to produce more phenolic compounds, which, if they get into the base wines, can taste a bit bitter. Modern reductive winemaking techniques using large stainless steel tanks can exaggerate this.

For this reason, Cava doesn’t taste as nice to most people as Prosecco does, even though Prosecco  is made in a supposedly inferior way. Prosecco’s amazing success, and much higher price point than most Cava, is testimony to the fact that punters enjoy Prosecco for what it is, and are prepared to pay for it.

They see Cava as a compromise. It’s fizz for when they can’t afford something more expensive. Cava has become commoditised, and this has pushed its price down. The brand ‘cava’ has become devalued. I don’t know if there is much that can be done to restore its fortunes.

The first thing would be to make it taste nicer. If there’s a way of removing the resinous, pithy bitterness that masks the fruit, then this would be great. Juice oxidation at crushing to remove phenolics? Less reductive winemaking for the base wines? Aming at a riper, fruitier style? Moving away from traditional method?

Then, if this can be achieved, I think there’s hope that Cava could become desirable in its own right.

As for the high-end stuff, it could be that the name Cava on the bottle is a hindrance, not a help.

7 comments to Some thoughts about Cava, and Raventos leaving

  • Absolutely! 95% of Cava producers have dug a hole for themselves over the years, have devalued their brand, and are basically producing millions of liters of cheap fizzy rubbish.
    They could also use own native grape varieties, which are many and interesting and unique, instead of planting and using foreign varieties and trying to copy the French and Italian sparkling wine producers. The climate, the varieties, the terroir, and the winemaking knowledge are all there, it just seems to be the thinking and the marketing that’s missing!!!

  • Andrew Halliwell

    Great post Jamie. I used to work for Codorniu and have a huge soft spot for Cava, so I’m not really unbiased, but I think that your point:

    “They see Cava as a compromise. It’s fizz for when they can’t afford something more expensive. Cava has become commoditised, and this has pushed its price down.” is bang on in the British perception. Of course it’s not seen this way in Catalunya, nor in Spain.

  • Admittedly, we’re not fans of what most Cava producers from Penedes. We’re always waiting to find a bottle that blows us away and… we’re still waiting.

    @Andrew just to clarify, Cava is not enjoyed in Spain in general as much as you’d think given that there is an all but official boycott on Catalan products these days. In Catalonia, yes people enjoy it, but mostly just for the bubbles. When you want to get serious, you buy Champagne.

  • The macabeu, parellada and xarel•lo are the most popular and traditional grape varieties for producing cava. Xarel•lo has a slightly bitter and variety ending and its juice offers an excellent balance of sugars and acids. That’s why most people enjoy it in its dry style. There are really great cavas nowadays. Unfortunately, cava doesn’t have the glamour of the champagne.

  • There is the celebration when your child is baptized, your spouse gets the big promotion, a good friend turns 40, best buds come to dinner, it’s your anniversary, or there’s only cheese for dinner. Buy champagne for at-home drinking at those times and enjoy it. That’s how I fix it. The rest of the year, there’s a case of cava in the cellar for everything else–Christmas cookies party, brunch with the family (mimosas), summer afternoons on the porch, and so on. Many wine-lovers must be reasonable and smart about their wine cash. I appreciate cava not for what it’s NOT, but for what it is and it’s accessibility. … Thanks for an excellent post.

  • Sunny B

    Thanks for the great post on Cava. However, I think Raventos has left the D.O. for a number of reasons and not just because of perception. IMHO, for the Raventos family there is no greater influence than quality. Their only desire is to make the finest sparkling wine possible. The gap between the quality of the Raventos wines and average (see Big Box) Cava is already cavernous and until now that difference has not affected the viability of the Raventos brand. So why leave now? Why leave the name that the Raventos family created (Cava) and the D.O. their family created (Cava) and the regulatory board that their family created (Consejo Regulador del Cava) after hundreds of years of history? Perhaps it is because the big companies run the regulatory board, and perhaps they refuse to even LISTEN to pleas from quality-minded producers on subjects that run counter to profit margins and volume? Perhaps attempts at collaboration with the other producers had gone on deaf ears? Maybe the large companies have so bastardized the production process that is laughable to call it the “champagne method” anymore?

    I am certain it was extremely difficult for the Raventos family to leave the DO, but perhaps it is not the image of today that they worry about. Maybe it is the constraints of tomorrow when a day will come when it is not only counter to the desires of the DO to create a quality wine, it is also illegal? Who knows? Either way the wines produced at this estate are second to none in Spain and the wording on the label will not affect the quality in the bottle.

  • In my opinion among the sparkling wines produced in Spain as cava can find, like other wines from Spain and the world, regular wines, fine wines and fine wines.
    The finding of one or the other type of wine is the result of preparation method and will be reflected in its price. I can assure you I have not yet found any excellent cava below 10 €.
    Raventos’s decision is respectable, but please do not think that all producers of cava are equal, or that produce the same sort of cava.

    I indicated a selection of wine in all price ranges, but keep in mind that quality has a price.
    http://winesoffers.co.uk/215-do-cava

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