A short history of Cava

The beverage formerly known as "Spanish champagne" explained.



image courtesy of dopenedes.cat

Towards the end of the 19th century, Josep Raventós Fatjo, owner of the Codorníu vineyards, like most vineyard estates in Catalonia at the time, produced red wine exclusively. However, after the red grapes had been devastated by the phylloxera scourge, Raventós Fatjo and many growers were forced to begin cultivating white grapes in order to continue their wine production. In making this change, the young innovator chose to go a step further; as he was quite fond of French champagne, Raventós Fatjo decided to produce his very own sparkling white wine, now known as Cava.

343c2f85148c61783280b1b9d93417c5 LImage courtesy of Codorníu

What is Cava?

Cava is a sparkling white wine made with the ‘méthode champenoise,’ which is precisely the same method used to create champagne. Just like its French counterpart, an important factor in determining the quality of Cava is the nature of its bubbles. As any true connoisseur of bubbly knows, they should be fine and consistent. Other methods, such as the addition of carbon dioxide, known as Charmat, creates larger bubbles, however they don't last nearly as long as those created with the traditional process.

viticultura item1Image courtesy of Codorníu

Which grapes are used to create Cava?

Originally grape varieties used to make Cava were limited to Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel-lo grapes, as these are native to the area. Pinot noir and Subirat were introduced to the region some time later and most recently, Chardonnay grapes have become a favoured variety for Cava production around 1980.

cavaimage courtesy of catalanwine365.wordpress.com 

What happens once the grapes are picked?

Once grapes have been harvested they are assessed through a stringent quality control system. After the grapes have passed quality inspection, they are pressed and then placed in stainless steel tanks for the first fermentation, which takes place at approximately 16° Celsius. After this process, the mixture is combined with wine from other grapes.

The wine is then bottled and licor de tirajo -- a concoction comprised of yeast and sugar -- is added. The amount of sugar in the yeast mixture determines the type of Cava that will be produced. Extra brut, which corresponds to the driest type of this sparkling wine, contains anywhere from 0 to 15 grams of sugar per litre, whilst the dulce (sweet) type contains approximately 50 grams of sugar per litre. A ‘temporary stopper’ is placed on the bottles and they are stored in a cellar for the second alcoholic fermentation.

When Raventós Fatjo would have been storing his bottles for the second fermentation phase in the late 19th century, they would have been stored in caves, or cava as they're known in Catalan. The second fermentation requires nine months, during which bottles are periodically turned by hand. This bottle-turning practice, known as remuage, helps guide the yeast residue towards the neck of the bottle. At this point in the winemaking process, the finished product is frozen to remove the yeast residue and the bottle is properly re-corked and labeled.

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Image courtesy of Codorníu

Cheers, or as they say in Spain, Salud!