Two trends are converging across the United States: the upward mobility of Cava and the craft-cocktail movement.
From Florida to California, and all points in between, mixed drinks containing Cava are an increasingly hot item. Mixmasters not only are finding it a suitable — and more affordable — substitute for Champagne in longtime staples like Mimosas, they also are concocting complicated cocktails that are finding favor with consumers.
Sometimes Cava is the “star” of the drink, but more often it is a strong supporting player. “It definitely brings texture, effervescence, minerality,” said Sam Bogue, beverage manager at San Francisco’s Central Kitchen restaurant. “We like how it offers that linear, fresh character. Cava can play well in a lot of intriguing cocktails.”
Bogue also relishes the range of attributes offered by different Cavas. He loves using Mas Candi, a bone-dry 100% Xarel.lo, along with Llopart Reserva Brut Rose Cava, which he calls “fresh and fruity without being sweet, very summery.”
At two Mesa 21 restaurants in the Orlando, Fla., area, Cava plays a stronger role in two popular beverages, said COO Sandra Rios: a “Honeysuckle Rosé” with honeysuckle vodka and Juve i Camps Pinot Noir Brut Rosé Cava, and in brunch-time “Bottomless Mimosas” blending Mas Fi Brut Cava with orange juice.
“The Mas Fi adds just the right sweetness without overpowering it,” Rios said, “and in both of those, Cava brings out the flavor of the other ingredients, really pulls it all together.”
Mimosas are a classic Champagne cocktail, but mixologists throughout America are extolling the Champagne-like qualities of Spain’s foremost sparkling wine in this popular drink. It doesn’t hurt that most Cavas cost less than half of typical Champagne prices.
“Every sparkling wine should be evaluated on its own accord. With that said, Cava is closer in many ways to Champagne than Prosecco because of the carbonation process,” said Derek Brown, bartender at several Washington DC hotspots. “It can be as rich and zippy as Champagne without the hefty price tag.”
Brown, who serves on the Board of Directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail, said Cavas can be a truly distinctive part of a drink, even with strongly flavored liquors, liqueurs and fruits. “It depends on both the Cava and the cocktails,” he said, “but absolutely great wines should and often will show through.”
And more Americans are discovering just how good Cavas are. The category grew by just over 8.3% in the US last year, and indications are that this year will see just as strong a rise in popularity.
Clearly, as Winebow importer Molly Christhilf notes, “more people are finding the joy in drinking sparkling year-round and not just for celebrations.”
And not just on its own, but with all manner of other liquid assets. Aside from the two offered at Mesa 21, here are the ingredients in some of the cocktails served up around the country:
* At Central Kitchen, Bogue is pouring the "Dolores Park", blending two aperitifs, Cocchi Americano and Lofi Gentian Amaro, with Llopart Reserva Brut Rose Cava.
* At Minneapolis’ Hola Arepa, owner/mixmaster Birk Stefan Grudem has devised the “Aviso” (gin, Dolin Genepy liqueur, lemon juice, mango bitters and Cava) and on the weekends, “Bees Who Brunch” (aquavit and Orange Crema from a local distiller, honey, carrot juice, guava and Cava).
* At the Jaleo chain operated by Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup, different drinks are available at different locales: a “Sangría de Cava” punch bowl in Washington DC; “The Sun Also Rises” (rum, grapefruit cordial, absinthe espuma and Cava) in Las Vegas; and the “Baya Espumosa” (berries, honey, Lillet, lemon juice and Cava in Bethesda, Md.
* Finally, in the Grows Together, Goes Together Category, Eric Lopez of Los Angeles’ Patina Restaurant Group has come up with a perfect blend: “Ingredients: One bottle of good Cava, 5 oz great jamon. Directions: Step 1 — Chill Cava and pour in a glass. Step 2 — Enjoy separately.”
Bill Ward is a Minneapolis-based wine writer. His website is www.decant-this.com.