There has been a recent rash of bubbly tastings and presentations in Madrid. We had Cava producers from Requena (Valencia) defending their very own style, those from DO Penedès introducing the new category for sparkling wines under their appellation and the Cava Board announcing a new high-quality label based on single-vineyard Cavas. If you haven’t read it yet, you can read our analysis about Spain’s sparkling wines here. Today the focus is on the glass and on our favourite Spanish sparklers to get the party going over the Christmas holidays.
Some of our choices may be difficult to find in stores outside Spain but there are plenty of Spanish-based online wine stores that sell to European consumers.
Freixenet Monastrell Xarel.lo 2009 Brut. This is one of the most original prestige cuvées made by Freixenet. Only 15,000 bottles are produced -a tiny amount for Cava’s largest producer). As is common in Champagne, white and red grapes are mixed on the blend, although the varieties are thoroughly local - only native Monastrell (red) and Xarel.lo (white) are chosen. I enjoyed the smoky notes and lemon zest aromas but was surprised by its tremendous vitality on the palate with creamy bubbles followed by lovely flashes of red fruit (raspberry) and acidity. Lively and charming, though not easy to find I’m afraid.
Find this Cava at Cavas y Champagne (€11.70).
AT Roca Vi de Terrer Reserva 2012 Brut. This wine is part of the recently launched Clàssic Penedès category for sparkling wines under DO Penedès, which sets longer aging times (15 months minimum) and aims to use 100% organic grapes by 2018. Agustí Torello Sibill and his sons, members of Agustí Torelló Mata, a highly respected Cava producer, has embarked on a solo career outside the DO Cava. As if to ratify his new venture, the aromas (fennel, aniseed and white fruit) found on this Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel.lo blend reminded me of many white wines produced in the area. The palate is fresh leaving a pleasant bitter-sweet-acid balance that will please almost everyone.
“Do” de Jané Ventura Gran Reserva Vintage 2009. Better-known for their still wines made in Tarragona (southern Penedès), Jané Ventura Cavas offer excellent value for money. Recently renamed “Do” (the first tone of the scale in solfège) as a tribute to music, Jane Ventura’s Vintage is made from Cava’s three classic grapes. Xarel.lo is dominant and a small percentage of barrel-fermented Macabeo base wine. Fine smoky nuances and herbs (fennel, dried herbs) aromas are present. Balanced on the palate, with creamy bubbles and good acidity. It feels quite young, fresh and lively so it would be ideal either as an aperitif or paired with light to medium dishes at the beginning of a meal.
Find this Cava at Vinoví (€13.70) .
Agustí Torelló Mata Gran Reserva 2008 Brut Nature. This would be my text book high-quality Cava at its driest version (Brut Nature). A perfect introduction to the Gran Reserva category (it has undergone 36 months of aging), it is a classic Macabeo (42%), Xarel.lo and Parellada blend. This bottle disgorged in February 2014 -as indicated on the label- shows an excellent autolysis character (praline, toasted notes, nuts, even white chocolate). Finesse follows on the palate, with pleasant citrus and bitter notes, and a distinctive dry character perfectly balanced with creamy nuances. This is definitely a Cava to pair with food.
Find this Cava at El Corte Inglés (€17.50).
Gramona III Lustros Gran Reserva 2007. I thought about including this wine in the previous section because despite its price tag (over €20) I do not think there are many brands that can offer such quality for this price. Gramona is a true specialist in aging Cavas for extended periods, always favouring Xarel.lo in the blend, which accounts for 70% of III Lustros. Aged for five years under cork, this cava is really serious stuff: opulent, with fine toasty notes, lively palate with citrus acidity that makes you salivate, and remarkable depth and persistence. This winery also has two long-aging sparkling treasures: Celler Batlle (8 years, €50) and the newly released Enoteque range -with 12 years of aging, made as Brut and Brut Nature and retailing at around €120.
Manuel Raventós 2007. Originally a Cava producer, Raventós i Blanc left the appellation a couple of years ago and started from scratch working under the Conca del Riu Anoia (Barcelona), an unofficial geographic designation. This is their top fizz, made from 80% of xarel.lo. It shows refined notes of anise and bakery and an organic touch reminiscent of some biodynamic champagnes (in fact, Raventos i Blanc has made a major shift towards biodynamics). Despite its creaminess and persistence, it still feels young so I would let it rest a little bit longer in bottle. Nevertheless, I’m convinced it will please most wine lovers.
Recaredo Reserva Particular 2004 Brut Nature. This traditional family-owned winery only produces Brut Nature (the driest style in the appellation) vintage Cavas aged with natural cork stoppers. Their top brand is Turo d'en Mota (around €100), made from a single Xarel.lo vineyard and aged for over 100 months. Its flagship wine though is Reserva Particular, which comes from two vineyards planted in the early 50s. It boasts a high percentage of Xarel.lo and undergoes similar aging. I found this 2004 particularly interesting -108 months’ aging, citrus and honeyed character and fennel aromas. This is a fine cava that really stands out on the palate offering an explosion of aromatic herbs and exhibiting well-integrated bubbles. 2004 was a rainy vintage, nevertheless the outcome is impressive. No doubt this is an outstanding vintage for the brand. A great choice to uncork for Christmas.
Juvé y Camps Finca La Capella 2005. Juvé y Camps can boast about being the leader in the Cava Gran Reserva category, yet the house lacked a wine based on extreme aging times. The release of Finca La Capella just before Christmas has changed this. It’s a 100% Xarel.lo coming from a single plot located in the Espiells vineyard lying on a distinctive shallow chalk soil. Only 3,000 bottles have been produced of this outstanding Cava that really makes an impression on the palate and offers a distinctive mineral and salty character.
Capsigrany Reserva 2013 Brut Nature Rosado. This is an intriguing style worth looking into. A natural Cava with no added sulfites, it could be the perfect Christmas sip for fans of this trend although I think it could also please other palates. It's made by Alta Alella, a winery located at the Maresme (Barcelona) with views of the Mediterranean sea which focuses on organic farming. The grape is the rare and native Pansa Blanca; it comes from a 1957 plot planted on a slope with sandy soils which are locally known as sauló. Slightly mature and vinous style with notes of ripe fruit (quince), liquor fruit and dried flowers. It has weight on the palate and offers a toasty character, but the finish is clean and pleasant with hints of nuts and pink grapefruit with no trace of bitterness.
Production is tiny and it may be difficult to find, so we advise to contact the winery directly.
Parés Baltà Selectio Brut. A Penedès-based winery particularly committed to biodynamic and organic practices, Parés Baltà works with a wide range of styles and grape varieties to make their large portfolio of still and sparkling wines. Selectio is a blend of Xarell.lo, Macabeo, Parellada and Chardonnay aged for 30 months. Deep gold in colour, the style is oxidative with marked toasty notes of baked apples, praline and dried fruits but the palate provides enough spark and acidity to act as counterpoint. I think it will please thrill-seeking wine enthusiasts.
Pago de Tharsys Brut Nature. Pago de Tharsys has contributed significantly to improve the image of Requena-produced Cavas in Valencia -an area with good natural conditions suited for the production of sparkling wines. The packaging is bold, with a pendant ceramic replacing the label as a tribute to the powerful local ceramics industry. You either love it or hate it, but it undoubtedly attracts attention. Inside you’ll find a good Cava with fresh herbs, candied citrus aromas and a particularly friendly palate for a Brut Nature -you’d expect it to be drier. Balanced and refined, its is a blend of Macabeo and Chardonnay. Curious palates may also enjoy a Grenache-based rosé that extracts the sweet character of this grape; rarer still is a Bobal blanc de noirs that cannot be called Cava because this red grape is not authorised by the DO.
Find this wine at Vinósofos (€16.95).
Tantum Ergo Chardonnay & Pinot Noir 2011 Brut Nature. Also in Requena, Hispanosuizas is synonymous with modernity, foreign grape varieties and finding new horizons for local grapes under the leadership of Pablo Ossorio, who truly knows the area. He favours champagne grapes for sparkling wines: 2/3 Chardonnay and 1/3 Pinot Noir in this Tantum Ergo. Base wines are fermented in 400-litre open barrels. My tasting notes come from a 30-month disgorgement, although 22 months is the standard period for this fine Cava offering fennel and bakery aromas. The palate is creamy, with a delicious raspberry acid punch that lifts it up.
Find this Cava at Grauonline (€19.60).
Juvé y Camps Reserva de la Familia 2010 Brut Nature Mágnum. When pouring bubbly, magnums are as practical (specially if there are many guests around) as they are spectacular, but they can also add extra freshness. I had the opportunity to compare a magnum against a 75 cl. bottle a few weeks ago and I was struck by the liveliness, neatly defined flavours and added persistence found in the magnum. So if you’re looking for that sort of precision, the big bottle is a great choice for Christmas or any other time of the year. Price is not an issue here; I would rather buy the magnum (€30) than two 75 cl. bottles (€14 each). Regardless of the size, you’ll find good stuff: a Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel.lo blend aged for 36 months.
Conde de Haro Brut Rosé. This must be Muga’s best kept secret. In fact the winery is well-known for their excellent classical and modern Rioja wines. Although the family has never given special hype to their Cavas, they generously share them with visitors and friends. Made from 100% Grenache and aged for 14 months, I’m sure many Rioja and Muga lovers would love to try this Rioja-made Cava. It is cheerful and easy to drink, with lively red fruit and well-balanced acidity.
Find this Cava at Vinissimus (€15,95).
Raventós i Blanc De Nit 2012 Rosé. This is arguably one of Spain’s best sparkling rosés: rewarding, balanced and subtle (something unusual a few years ago when vinosity and rosé seemed to be synonymous words). In fact, De Nit feels more like a blanc de noirs since white grapes (Macabeo, Parellada and xarel.lo) join the red Monastrell in the blend. Lovely pale salmon colour. Fine smoked notes, subtle red fruit; integrated bubbles and sour fruit on the palate. A great experience and a great value sparkling wine.
Gramona Argent Gran Reserva 2011 Brut Nature Rosé. This is sophistication at its best enhanced by a stylish bottle. The pink shade is almost unnoticeable, even less than in a blanc the noirs, but Gramona has deliberately aimed for this effect. A 100% Pinot Noir, it delivers freshness, bakery aromas, herbs and citrus nuances and ably manages to fill the palate. A great choice for a memorable occasion.
Find this Cava at Enterwine (€26.50).