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.