Cava, wines from here and there
In recent years, every time Guía Peñín has attended tastings of Cava wines there have been mixed feelings. It is a fact Cava can develop great products, outstanding wines that have the power to generate strong emotions and a good number of winemakers are doing just this. However, there are also many products that might be seen as simple soulless wines, focused on the search of freshness, nice bubbles and good acidity, with more or less vintage tinges.
This year’s assessment of over 737 cavas has shown Guía Peñín tasting team -view the latest tasting ranks, published online- the varied quality stages that gather under Cava’s label. In overall figures, this year 66% of the tasted cavas remained below 90 points and only 5,2% exceeded 93 points, still a poor score if the target is to obtain a stronger hallmark image than the prevailing one.
Brut and Brut Nature
The largest number of tasted cavas belong, almost in equal proportions, to the following types: Brut (329 references) and Brut Nature (352 samples). In the case of Brut cavas, it strikes the fact that many winemakers squeeze to the maximum the quantity of sugar legally allowed (less than 12g/l) increasing the sweet aftertaste sensation. Those cavas are, generally, medium quality and their sweetness is mainly seeking a commercial hook for the novel consumer.
Concerning Brut Nature cavas, usually the largest category in Guía Penín tasting sessions, attention is drawn by the increasing number of Brut wines that during the last ten years have started to outnumber the former, perhaps as a reflection of lack of confidence that certain winegrowers lay on their products per se.
Reserve and grand reserve wines with a young’s wine spirit
As tasting sessions began to unfold at the Consejo Regulador’s headquarters in Vilafranca del Penedès, all different protected wine categories within the denominación de origen came along. For example, the category that regulates the ageing process duration, according to which wine should remain in contact with its lees for a varied amount of time. This classification contains three types of cavas which will always be clearly marked on the label: generic mention (251 tasted brands), Reserve (278) and Grand Reserve (208).
In average conditions, among these types, Premium Reserve and Super Premium Reserve, a non-specialist consumer would normally expect a wine of certain age. However, the problem arrives when many labelled Reserve and Grand Reserve wines have not even a glimmer of old age. On the contrary, it has become more and more common to find a Reserve Cava resembling a young wine with nearly any difference between generic mention (at least 9 months ageing on their lees) and Reserve (from 15 months ageing onwards).
Likewise, some Grand Reserve cavas move away from the notion of old age by speeding up the ageing stipulated time in order to label them as such. This behaviour is understandable when wineries cannot charge this downtime on their wine’s prices. If they are selling cavas at a low price, we understand it would be better to reduce the storage time; however, Grand Reserve category as well as Reserve should include some differentiating factor comparing to the generic mention, but it is not always so.
Create value increasing ageing period
In pursuit of improving quality, certain wineries believe a lengthier vintage “en rima” will provide greater quality. A longer stay of wine on their yeasts results in sparkling wines with new and differential notes (pastries, spices, roasted) at the same time as it alters the tactile sensation on the mouth becoming creamier and with fine, well integrated bubbles.
Nevertheless, not everyone is aware that to produce a long ageing cava and obtain a fine wine, they must inevitably limit vine’s yields, improving their base wine, since keeping too high yields, risk the quality, resulting on dead wines, with reduced lees and unsustainable bitterness on the mouth. Still, there are many winegrowers that produce long aged cavas with an added sophistication. Plenty earn scores between 90 and 93 points although yet far from the Podium wines classification. This should be their goal to build a strong hallmark image within a production region with international vocation.
The greatest cavas’ flag
At the top of the qualitative Cava scale, there is a chosen, compact producers’ group determine to better position cava. Generally, these superior cavas are more closely linked to the ground, as they direct their efforts to show off their terroir and create their own vines’ identity.
It is increasingly more common to find winegrowers working towards ecological and even biodynamic vines. They conclude that the sole way to achieve exceptional wine is to focus on harvesting an exceptional grape. The prime example might be found on the work of Tom Mata at Bodegas Recadero.
The most recent classification, wine de Paraje, was born to meet the demands of protection of the most artisanal wines within the D.O., and finally includes labelled wines.
We had the chance to taste 15 Paraje’s wines, a slightly confusing type, as it is not always easy to appreciate a differential identity to each paraje. Even so, all reviewed cavas have an exceptional quality and represent the greatest cavas’ flag.
Consumers may think this category always includes the best wines, but this is not the case. It is surprising some classic and well-known Cava’s firms, included in Guía Peñín, refuse to label their wines as Cava de Paraje. It is the case of Llopart, who consistently obtains such good scores within the guide due to its products in the purest Catalan cava style.
Large winemakers as Codorníu and Freixenet do not waist the opportunity to enlarge their range adding Cavas de Parajes and they have even managed to position them among the highest rated wines in the D.O. This shows there is enough know how to produce a range of remarkable wines, but not everyone wishes to follow the lead. The Codorniu paraje’s collection focuses on the mere verticality of its wines through a sharp sourness. All its cavas keep a common link: freshness as their storyline. Nonetheless, bitterness is sometimes extreme like in 457 Grand Reserve 2008 Brut. Moreover, we believe Ars Collecta La Pleta Chardonnay and Ars Collecta La Fideuera Xarel.lo, both Classified Cava de Parajes, are the finest examples of current tasted brands. The former due to its creaminess and weight and the latter as regards to its verticality and grace.
Two remarkable samples of a large producer winery aiming to deliver high quality, high priced cavas.
Long ageing wines from Gramona deserve special attention considering that, since they broke the vintage barriers, firstly with Celler Batlle and later with Enotecas, they became the benchmark for other great Cava firms.
Along the same lines of lengthy ageing, Recaredo, in addition to the special reserve 2007 and Turó D’en Mota 2004 (both certainly impressive), shared with us their next project that will soon be released: Segona Plenitud (only 200 bottles), a unique 1996 cava with 20 years of “en rima” corked ageing, wines capable of moving even the most insensitive taster. This is a tribute cava recognizing the work of Antoni Mata (Ton’s father) and Josep Mata (Jordi, Josep and Carlos’s father) after 60 years as manufacturers and authors of Recaredo’s style and hallmark.
Within the limits of this territory, it is wise to note those cavas produced outside Catalonia, although they are not many. In recent years, we have witnessed non-traditional sparkling wines producing regions work increasingly better, as in Requena (Valencia). Winemakers such as Chozas Carrascal or Hispano Suizas reach new levels creating remarkable cavas as Tantum Ergo Pinot Noir Rosé 2015 BN, Tantum Ergo Vintage 2013 or Reserva Brut Nature belonging to Chozas Carrascal 2014, all rated with 93 points.
Cava is yet far from the world’s greatest producing regions despite there are already elaborations that could position Cava among the world’s elite. Will this complex denominación de origen manage to guide as many good products and projects?