Cava’s new top tier
Spain’s very best Cavas – a tiny percentage of total production – are finally to receive official recognition, as Sarah Jane Evans MW explains
The new Cava de Paraje Calificado classification is long-deserved recognition for the best single-estate wines, says Sarah Jane Evans MW
TERROIR, AND WHETHER and how to recognise single-vineyard wines, is the hot topic in Spain. While the debate is ongoing in Rioja, Cava plans to release its first singlevineyard category wines by the end of this year. It’s not before time given that Cava, despite being a traditional-method wine, has lost out to Prosecco in sales, and urgently needs to escape its low-price, low-quality reputation.
The new category, Cava de Paraje Calificado (CPC), means ‘cava from a specific place’. The rules state the vineyards must be at least 10 years old, and the wines must have been aged for 36 months minimum (the minimum for gran reserva Cavas is 30 months). There must also be three years’ worth of traceability records. The first candidates easily exceed these requirements.
When the Cava DO was delineated in 1986, it unusually took in specific origins outside Catalonia. All these places, which had a history of sparkling wine making – in La Rioja, Zaragoza, Valencia, Badajoz – will also be eligible for CPC status. Producers will submit samples and analytical data. The wines will then be tasted (at least once blind) by a panel of national and foreign experts, which is a step forward from the traditional, localised approach in many European appellations. Finally the winemaker will need to present the wine to a committee in person. The Cava Regulatory Board estimates that CPC wines should account for 1.5 million bottles – total production in 2015 was 244 million bottles.
At the time of writing, 10 producers have submitted applications – the producers listed opposite, plus Juvé y Camps (with La Capella Xarel.lo 2006) and Vins el Cep. Ana López Lidón, Gramona’s export manager, is positive about the future: ‘It will encourage consumers to take another look at Cava. They’ll see that there can be Cavas of really high quality.’ Gramona has submitted six wines, while Recaredo has submitted one, and expects to put forward another two soon. These producers have been making single-vineyard wines for a number of years. Until today there has been no way to recognise their excellence.
In exasperation, some producers had already left the DO – including Raventós i Blanc, which created the DO Conca del Riu Anoia. A number of producers have gathered under the umbrella of DO Clàssic Penedès. This has a much more stringent set of rules and, uniquely among sparkling wine DOs, requires members to work with organically grown grapes.
The latest news is that Torres is not joining Cava. The launch of its first sparkling wine, later this year, would undoubtedly have boosted the image of the DO. But at the last minute Torres has decided that its wine, though made
‘Until today there has been no way to recognise the excellence of these wines’
to the rules of the DO, will be neither Cava nor Clàssic Penedès. Torres wants the flexibility to source from cooler areas outside the DO.
Nevertheless, some superb wines are among the first CPC releases. What can we expect of them? All are vintage wines – and some, like Gramona’s Enoteca and Recaredo’s Turó d’en Mota, will have had a decade or more of ageing on the lees. Not all will have so many months’ ageing and the quantities available will be generally small. Celler Carles Andreu has set aside 3,000 bottles of its 2011 for CPC release later this year. Brut nature styles – zero dosage – are common, reflecting the terroir and varieties. The white Cavas all highlight the revival in prestige of the local varieties, especially Xarel.lo, which lends itself particularly well to bottle age. I’m told that in the future the DO will permit blends of single vineyards, which will enable to Codorníu to include its 456 and Jaume Codorníu blends.
Cava desperately needs this recognition. The powers that be privately recognise that ‘Cava’ (meaning underground cellar) was never a particularly inspiring name. Will they look back and say the same about ‘Paraje Calificado’? Its initials may be the same as premier cru, but the words just don’t roll off the tongue. That said, the initiative is clearly an important step in the right direction.
Above: Gramona’s Cava vineyards lie in the hot and dry Alt Penedès region, 30km from Barcelona