Cava, the sparkling wine from Catalonia

What is cava?

Cava is a sparkling wine elaborated through the traditionnal or champennois method, due to its French origins. This method of elaboration differs by the fact of going through a second fermentation in the bottle, contrary to other sparkling wines which use other methods. The elaboration of cava in Spain began in the year 1872 in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia (Alt Penedès, Catalonia), when Josep Raventós, the owner of the historic brand Codorniu, elaborated the first bottles following the French method of elaborating champagne. Today, 240 million bottles are produced yearly, of which 66% are destined for the export into more than 120 countries. With more than 95% of the production in all of Spain being realized there, the Penedès is still the heart of the production of this fabulous sparkling wine.

Cavas de Codorniu
Cavas de Codorniu in the Penedès, in Barcelona.

D.O. Cava and its regulations

The quality sparkling wines elaborated through the traditionnal method, during which a second fermentation is realized in the bottle, are protected by the D.O. Cava. The geographic and human singularities, as well as its elaboration method are part of the characteristics of this product, which is why it merits protection. To preserve the quality of the grapes, the vineyards, its elaboration and the final product, cava is regulated in Spain since 1991 through de Regulating Council of Cava, a decentralized organism of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fishing and Food and applied by viticulturists, producers and representatives of the autonomous communities of the Cava region, as well as by the said Ministry. This organism watches over and guarantees the quality of the product and the accomplishment of the regulations.

All these regulations for the quality of the product garantee the consumer a unique quality product with a great history, but also with controls.

Cavas de Codorniu
Cava fermentation barrels

Production zones in Spain

In Spain, only the regions that are covered by the D.O. Cava are authorized for its elaboration. The majority of them are located in Catalonia, however there are also production areas in other regions of Spain, like in La Rioja, Aragon, Valencia and Extremadura:

  • Comtats de Barcelona: It is the heart of the Cava, as in this area, 95% of the entire procuction is realized here. Its wines possess a large variety and a strong mediterranean influence. Here, we can find those cavas produced in Barcelona, Tarragona and Lleida.

  • Ebro Valley: Made up by the the Rioja and Aragon. These wines are under the influence of the Ebro river.

  • Almendralejo Vineyards: Produced in Extremadura. This is the most southern and occidental region with a D.O. Cava.

  • Area of Levante: Wines produced in Valencia.

Map of the Cava production in Spain
Map of the Cava production regions. Image taken from D.O. Cava

History of Cava

Cava is a quality product with unique properties. However, in its beginnings, towards the end of the XIX. century, it was very modest. Let us revise a little of its history:

  • 1872 The champenois method meets the Cava: the first bottles are elaborated in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia according to the traditionnal method and with the second fermentation in the bottle. Only 3 white grapes are used as protagonists: Macabeu, Xarel.lo and Pareallada.

  • 1883 Spain and France sign an agreement in Paris to differenciate the denominations of Cava and Champagne. The agreement has been continuously renewed over the course of the years.

  • 1887 The phylloxera crisis: The phylloxera plague devastated the vineyards of the Penedès. At that moment, it was decided to change the red varieties for a local white grape of high quality. This decision favoured the evolution of Cava, which started to develop its own personnality.

  • 1904 King Alfonso XII recognises the importance of the sparkling wines from the Penedès region and raises their category to quality wines.

  • 1959 The name Cava appears for the first time in an official document, which goes on to becoming the first Spanish legislation of sparkling wines.

  • 1972 Protection of Cava: The Regulatory Council for Sparkling Wines is created and approves the demonination “Cava” for the Spanish sparkling wine.

  • 1986 The Cava region is legally established. Its elaboration is limited to the production areas which then produced Cava.

  • 1991 Regulation: From this year forward, the Regulation of the Denomination of Origin Cava and its Regulatory Council are approved. Since then, the regulation has been continuously updated.

  • 2015-2017 A new category is born, the Qualified Areas. This recognition of the highest quality recognizes the excellence of the best Cavas and vineyards.

Grape press
Grape press from the end of the XIXth century

How is Cava elaborated?

Cava is to this day one of the most important sparkling wines that exist, thanks to the care of the vineyard and the quality of its process, known as traditionnal or champenoise method, during which a second fermentation in the bottle is realized, as we have mentionend before.

  • Grape harvest: The harvest of the grapes to elaborate cava are done mainly in August. These are the grapes authorized for the production of cava:
  1. White grapes: Macabeo, Parellada, Chardonnay and Subirat Parent.
  2. Red grapes: Garnacha tinta, Trepat, Monastrell and Pinot Noir.
  • Pressing: The grapes are pressed carefully according to the variety.
  • First fermentation: In this fermentation, the wine base is elaborated. During this process, the grape juice (or must) undergoes the fermentation separated by variety and in stainless steel tanks, where sugar converts to alcohol.
  • Mixing or coupage: The different base wines obtained from each variety are mixed. The combination is realized according to the type of cava desired.
  • Tirage: The base wine is bottled, and the mix of yeast and sugar is added, which is also known as tirage. This allows the second fermentation already in the definitive bottle.
  • Second fermentation: The bottles are stored in a horizontal position in the cave, where they will rest in a moist and quiet place during at least 9 months. This stage is known as ageing period. We will explain it in detail later.
  • Rinse: The deposits from the yeasts settle in the neck of the bottle, which is turned until it is in the position called “on the tip”.
  • Beheading: The sediments are removed manually or by machine. The most usual way of doing this is to deep freeze the neck of the bottle, so at the moment of removing the sediments, they detach easily.
  • Expedition liqueur: Wine and sugar are added to replace the liquid lost during the beheading.
  • Finishing touch: The definitive cork and the label are placed on the bottle.
Cava elaboration porcess
Cava elaboration process. Picture taken from Mundo Sabor

Cava label

Today, thanks to the labelling of the cava, it is truly easy to establich its category. It can be classified according to the ageing time and the amount of sugar it contains. These criteria are:

  • The ageing time

  1. Crianza: 9 months
  2. Reserve: 18 months
  3. Great Reserve: 30 months
  4. Of a qualified place: 36 months

  • According to the amount of sugar:

  1. Brut nature: 0-3 grams per litre
  2. Extra Brut: 0-6 g/l
  3. Brut: maximum 12 g/l.
  4. Extra dry: 12-17 g/l
  5. Dry: 17-32 g/l
  6. Semi dry: 32-50 g/l
  7. Sweet: +50 g/l.
Labelling of the cava
Labelling of a bottle. Picture taken from D.O. Cava

We wait for you at Agust Barcelona

At Agust Barcelona we dispose of a series of selected cavas, so you can enjoy a great selection. Even though our menu undergoes continuous innovation and evolution, you can find on it a series of Cava Brut Nature from the D.O. Penedès which we know you will love.

We are waiting for you!