For this Vacation issue, a friend and I acquired two bottles of Cava for a thorough evaluation. After all, Cava makes for a great summer wine. Usually on the affordable end of the scale, the bright effervescent qualities of Cava make for great sipping on hot summer nights. But first of all, what is Cava?
The sparkling wine of Spain called Cava is made by the traditional method or the méthod champenoise and cellared for at least 9 months. Cava is produced in the Penedes region in northeastern Spain just east of Barcelona. Cavas use primarily white grapes and some red grapes if the vintner wants to impart a light pink or darker color to the wine. The classic varieties of grape in Cava are Macabeu , Xarel.lo and Perellada; however, other varieties have been authorized for use in Cava such as Chardonnay , Subirat , Riojan Malvasia, Garnatxa , Monastrell, Pinot Noir and Trepat. Cava’s vary widely in compostion, but the mainstay grape, Xarel.lo, provides good acidity and forms the basis of many Cavas.
Sparkling wine presents a very aesthetic product, which really begins its presentation in the bottle with the characteristic champagne bottle shape and foil top covering the wire constrained cork. Gramona Gran Cuvée 2001 ($16.99 at our local store) a special barrel/cuvée truly sets a high standard for packaging with its spare, attractive label simply stating the mark, style and vintage and the heavy gage, copper colored foil top embossed with the words vinis, vini, vitae verum. Interestingly, the spare packaging does leave some information out. The bottle does not indicate how the wine was made or the sweetness classification. The packaging alone elevates Gramona above its peers in the under $20.00 dollar range; however, Gramona is no poseur. The wine jumps into the glass with nice ample bubbles that remain until the end. Gramona feels very smooth and round. This pale, silver yellow wine tastes creamy, perhaps the only criticism is that the wine does lack firm enough acidity give it real stature. The sugar content of this wine according to the Gramona website makes this wine an Extra Dry by the French classification even though Gramona describes it as a brut. Gramona Gran Cuvée 2001 provides a smooth friendly feeling after a glass or two that definitely requests a second bottle be opened. If dining with self possessed friends who can enjoy wine beyond famous labels, this wine would certainly delight.Cavas range in price from the low priced to mid range with some high flyers (rarely available in my area), but Cava for the most part occupies the budget end of the scale compared to champagnes and California sparkling wines. The ubiquitous black bottle of Freixenet may be the most recognizable Cava in America. For this review we chose another Cava in this price range—Cristalino Brut ($7.99). The bottle at first glance presents a mixture of gold and copper hues, the award for Value Brand of the Year Wine & Spirits 2004 and a note on the back that informs that “this Cava is made scrupulously by the traditional method.” This crisp, fizzy wine contains more champagne character with a hint of yeast in the nose, especially just as the bottle is opened, than most proseccos or American sparkling wines. Cristalino Brut is not a cerebral wine--it mellows the body and sipped wonderfully on a very hot, sweaty summer’s night. Note: the price puts Cristalino in the party range, and the friend I shared the bottle with left some in her glass at the end of the evening, not a crime at this price. Cristalino becomes quite tart as the wine warms. So serve it well chilled.