Wine of the Week – A Great Cava

The vineyards at Roger Goulart – photo courtesy of the winery.

I like sparkling wine. Yes I really like Champagne too, but sparkling wine does not just have to be for when you cannot afford Champagne you know – many are superb in their own right.

Recently I have tried a couple of delicious Cavas that really got me thinking – why is that in the UK so many consumers fail to see the beauty of Cava and regard it purely as a cheap alternative to Champagne? The Cavas that I tasted were both very different, made in different parts of Spain, from different grape varieties, but had one thing in common – quality. They were both really good and would please any wine drinker who was prepared to be open minded and to enjoy the wines on their merits.

Cava counts as a wine region, because it is a Denominación de origen / DO – or PDO in the overarching EU parlance. The great majority of Cava is produced in Catalonia, the DO covers great swathes of the autonomous region, but Cava can be made in parts of Rioja, Valencia, Navarra, Aragón and Extremadura as well.

My wine map of Cataluña. I created this for the new Wine Scholar Guild Spanish Wine Course which will be launched next year.

The DO regulates where Cava can be produced. The style was created in 1872 in Penedès by the Raventos family who own Codorniu, one of the two giant Cava companies – the other being Frexinet.

The traditional white grapes are Xarello, Macabeo (aka Viura) and Parellada 20.0%, but Malvasia and Chardonnay are also permitted. Black grapes are used to – either to make rosado / rosé Cava or white cava in a Blanc de Noirs style – so Garnacha, Monastrell, Pinot Noir and Trepat are also allowed.

Of course any Cava must be made sparkling by the Traditional Method, as used for Champagne. This process usually makes the most complex sparkling wines.

Just like the wines of Rioja – and indeed most of Spain – not all Cavas are equal either. A Cava labelled simply as Cava must be aged on the lees for a minimum of 9 months. Cava Reserva is aged for at least 15 months, while Cava Gran Reserva spends a minimum of 30 months on the lees. Basically the longer the wine is aged on the lees, or yeast sediment left over from the second fermentation, then the more the wine develops those complex, savoury, bread, flakey pastry and brioche characters. Of course, as in Champagne, the best producers often age their wines for much longer than the legal minimum time.

There is also a new top-tier category of single estate Cavas, called Cava de Paraje Calificado.

Sadly only one of the Cavas that I tasted is readily available so I will limit myself to that one for now – luckily it is really, really good…

2011 Roger Goulart Brut Gran Reserva 
DO / PDO Cava
Cavas Roger Goulart
Sant Esteve Sesrovires
Alt Penedès, Cataluña
Spain

Based in Sant Esteve Sesrovires, which is near Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Roger Goulart was founded in 1882 by Magí Canals. He bought the land from the Goulart family, just ten years after Cava was invented. The winery now farms 20 hectares of vines and boasts a kilometre of deep tunnels and cellars where the wines are aged. Above ground is a stunning winery designed by Ignasi Mas i Morell who was a contemporary of the great Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí.

The winery at Roger Goulart – photo courtesy of the winery.

Everything here is done by hand with an eye to detail. This wine is a blend of the three classic Cava grape varieties 60% Xarello, 20.0% Macabeo (Viura) and 20% Parellada, although they do also have Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The grapes are hand harvested in the very early morning to ensure the grapes are in perfect condition and the acidity, so crucial for sparkling wine, is retained.

In order to create a richer, more autolytic style, they shake the bottles during the ageing period in order to increase lees contact with the wine and so develop a deeper flavour – a little like bâtonnage in still wines. Goulart aim for complex wines and so age their Gran Reservas on the lees for five years before release.

The cellars at Roger Goulart – photo courtesy of the winery.

If you have never tasted a fine Cava then this might be the place to start. It absolutely wowed me because it has that softer fruit profile that Cava has, making it very different from Champagne. There is also lovely brisk acidity keeping it refreshing and delicate, which balances the fruit. Then there is the richness, smoky, nutty, brioche and a touch of flakey pastry from the lees ageing – again this is balanced by the acidity and itself balances the fruit. They wine is very dry, but with a touch of fruit softness, while the mousse is very delicate with a firmness to it that makes the wine feel very elegant and fine.

This is a great sparkling wine and is very versatile. Don’t just save it for celebrations or as an aperitif. It is fabulous with fish and chips, Asian food and light dishes – 92/100 points.

Available in the UK at around £20 per bottle from The BottleneckBin TwoDulwich Vintners, Vino Wines, Ellie’s Cellar, Luvians Bottleshop, Wholefoods Camden, Islington WineChislehurst WinesThe Leamington Wine CompanyRoberts & SpeightShearer’s Fine FoodsThe Shenfield Wine Company

Wine of the Week 70 – the perfect party fizz

Sometimes, particularly during the party season, you find yourself needing lots and lots of fizz – I know that I do. If you are as impecunious as me then this can give you a slight problem, as sparkling wines can be very expensive. The bill soon mounts up if you want to drink lots of it yourself let alone letting your guests hoover up vast quantities of the stuff.

The problem becomes tricker still if like me you are not drawn to Prosecco. Much of the time I find Prosecco dull, overly floral and somewhat sweet, certainly sweeter than it ought to be, so with a few notable and sadly expensive exceptions – Bisol (especially their Bisol Jeio, Adami and Nino Franco for instance – then Prosecco is hardly ever something I want to drink. I prefer the cut of bracing acidity that leaves sparklers made by the traditional method so cleansing and refreshing. Of course the best examples of traditional method sparkling wines can be wonderfully complex and fine with that brioche, biscuity and nutty character, but that tends to come with the more expensive wines.

There is help at hand though, there are some excellent and incredibly good value sparkling wines available and one of the best, it’s positively cheap in fact, is a Cava and I think it is so very good for the price that I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Cava vineyards - photo courtesy the Cava Regulatory Board.

Cava vineyards – photo courtesy the Cava Regulatory Board.

cavaArestel Cava Brut
Cavas Arestel
Sant Sadurní d’Anoia
Catalunya
Spain

I think Cava gets a bad rap with people focussing on the lower end of the price spectrum – although that is exactly what I doing here. There is actually plenty of very fine Cava out there, but there is also no use denying that the cheaper versions can provide some of the best value sparkling wines in the world. This example is made by Vid Vica and is a blend of the three classic Cava grapes Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel·lo aged on the lees in bottle for 9 months. Surprisingly it is actually a proper Cava house and not just an own label.
This seems really very good for anything like the asking price, it’s certainly a cut above most cheap Cava and perfect when you just want to keep drinking fizz in quantity, like at a party. It is soft, dry and apply in flavour with a touch of pear about it too, it also has a nice mouthfeel with none of that soapy quality cheap fizz can have. It is also clean, fresh and fruity with none of the earthy flavours some Cava can have and there is nice acidity keeping it refreshing without being tart – 84/100 points, this scores especially well for value, but really it is very well made and very drinkable.

Available in the UK from Lidl for the amazing price of £4.79 per bottle.

PS: I have just discovered that Aldi also offer a Cava for £4,79, so will try a bottle of that very soon too.

My Favourite Wines, Top Discoveries and Experiences of 2011

I feel like a respite from all the self indulgence that the Christmas holidays force upon me and feel my thoughts turning back to wine. As the New Year is coming up fast I thought that I would attempt to tell you about my wine highlights for the year.

Most of my top wines have been written up here on my Wine Page, but some have slipped through the net and are new today. Please always remember that this is an entirely personal list, but I hope you enjoy it and that it gives some food for thought.

Sparkling Wines

I was really spoiled for fizz this year, 2 Champagne tastings stand out in particular:

Champagne:

Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut Non Vintage based on the 1953 vintage
This whole tasting was extraordinary and provided a wonderful insight into a type of Champagne that it is all too easy to take for granted – read about it here.

1995 Perrier Jouët Belle Époque
In February I was lucky enough to taste four different vintages of Belle Epoque out of jeroboams, the 1995 was the standout wine for me, but they were all superb – read about it here.

Continue reading

Catalan élan

The wines of Codorníu

Recently I presented a tasting of some wonderful wines from Spain. I know that I bang on about Spain and Spanish wines, but really I do believe that country makes wonderful, wonderful wines and can boast one of the most vibrant and exciting European cultures as well.

Regular readers will be aware that earlier in the year I spent a week with Miguel Torres, a giant of Spanish and Catalan wine whose importance to the development of wine in Spain cannot be underestimated. However he is not alone in being a leading producer of good wine in Catalunya. All my adult life I have been a fan of Codorníu which is famous as the leading brand of Cava – Spanish quality sparkling wine made by the Champagne method/Traditional method. However Codorníu is much more than a Cava producer, they have been growing grapes since 1551 and making Cava since 1872 – indeed they created it – but over the last 100 years they have expanded their portfolio and production to include most of the important wine regions of Spain – and beyond. Unlike Torres though they leave each winery as a stand alone brand and you will look in vain for the name of Codorníu on the labels.

Instead they have either created new estates from scratch or bought leading producers and the results are startlingly good. I presented some of these wines in a tasting recently and everyone was hugely impressed by the quality, variety and value for money that the wines represented. Catalans see themselves as the dynamic Spaniards, the busy creative Spaniards with modern ideas, a sense of chic and no manaña mentality, so perhaps Codorníu have brought that drive and sense of élan to their outposts in other regions?

Continue reading

A Fine Cava

There is a great deal of cheap Cava available. So much of it is so cheap and always on some sort of implausibly low price deal that you could sometimes be forgiven for thinking that Cava was the Spanish word for cheap sparkling wine.

Strangely it means the exact opposite. Cava actually means cellar and was introduced as the Spanish legal term for a quality Sparkling wine made by the Traditional Method – the same process used in Champagne. Continue reading

Pago de Tharsys – excitement in Valencia

After ten days or so of holiday in Spain I was feeling in an adventurous mood and had stayed still for long enough. I needed a road trip and so set off to see something of the emerging wine region of Utiel-Requena.

This region is in Valencia, but don’t let that fool you, it is deep inland and is very different from the Costas. The wines from Valencia are suddenly for sale everywhere in the region, whereas in the past you really had to hunt them out. There are at least three reasons for this, that I can see:

Firstly there was an anti Catalan back-lash recently which resulted in a transfer of allegiance from the big Catalan Cava brands to local producers, which can be very good indeed.

Secondly there is a real resurgence in Valencian nationalism and reawakening of local culture.

Thirdly the wines of the region have become much better, at all levels and show signs of real ambition.

I wanted to visit one of the very best and most ambitious, an estate that has developed a huge following in Spain: Pago de Tharsys.

This lovely estate is within the Denomiacion de Origen of Utiel-Requena and is actually situated on the outskirts of the town of Requena itself – and what a town it is. It has everything you want from a Spanish town, ramblas, an old centre, an Alcazar or citadel and a castle as well as giving the impression that every building is a bar or restaurant. I loved the place, it is the real Spain and well worth a visit.

CIMG0526 Continue reading

Agua de Valencia

Valencia mapYou may have wondered why I have been so quiet of late, well, I spent my Summer holiday in Xabia/Javea in the Spanish region of Valencia and for the first time, in many years of going to this part of Spain, Cavas from Valencia filled the Cava shelves in the local shops.

 

Until this year you had to seek out the local producers as the Catalan giants dominated, so I felt duty bound to check out the new kids on the block. I love sparkling wine and a good Cava can be the perfect drink in Spain during the summer.

Most local Cava houses are small and expensive, so this trend has really resulted in wines from two producers becoming much more widely available and much, much more visible. Continue reading