What’s the difference between cava and champagne? I found out during a visit to Vilarnau Cavas

Dec 10, 14 What’s the difference between cava and champagne? I found out during a visit to Vilarnau Cavas

Posted by in All, Spain

The world of sparkling wine is many and varied and although I have largely confined myself to the pleasures of champagne, sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone. So I was game to visit the cava producer Vilarnau whilst I am spending time here in Barcelona. Cava has recently overtaken both champagne and prosecco in the UK marketplace so they must be doing something right. And so, Vilarnau was my first stop in discovering the world of cava. The Vilarnau winery is situated in the heart of Penedes, right outside the town of Sant Sadurni, a short 40 minute train ride from central Barcelona. The winery sits on rolling hills with the mountains of Montserrat as a backdrop to the vines. The day I visited it was a blustery day so we had a clear view of the mountains. Vilarnau was bought by Gonzalez Byass in 1982 and with the considerable resources that GB has, they have completely modernized Vilarnau. The new winery was inaugurated in 2005 and with the help of automation and a robotic ‘helper’ by the name of Manuelito (more on him later) they are able to produce 1.2 million bottles of cava a year with only a staff of 13 and they are considered a medium sized producer. Pretty impressive. One of the two enologists of the winery, Eva Plazas Torné was my guide for the afternoon. Eva first started by telling me about the differences and similarities between cava and champagen. I was keen to know as cava is made in  the traditional methode. Firstly, there are 3 main varieties in cava – xarello, macabeo and parellada. However, they are also allowed to use subirat parent (an old variety that was used in the past and similar to malvasia) chardonnay and pinot noir and for the rosés, they can use indigenous grapes – trapat, monestrell and garnatxa as well as pinot noir. Like champagne,the wine goes through 2 fermentations, the first usually in tank, the second in the...

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Spanish whites for the summer

I know it may seem cliched to say that I only drink white in the summer but I do seem to gravitate towards them once the thermometer starts heading up past 75 degrees F. and the sun starts making (almost) daily appearances. Since I’m always on the lookout for new and different wines, I ran across these two Spanish examples, Pleyades Macabeo 2007, DO Cariñena and Ermita Veracruz Verdejo 2006, DO Rueda, the other day and snapped them up. I tend to get a bit excited when I try something new, there’s always that frisson of discovery and expectation. And, I have to say, these two were excellent examples of crisp, dry, unoaked, perfect-for-a-sunny-day wines. The DO Cariñena is situated to the west of Catalunya in northeastern Spain and is probably better known for its red wines then its whites but this macabeo was a real charmer. Macabeo is usually used as one of the three varieties blended to make Spanish cava. Here it’s allowed to strike out on its own as a still white wine. The colour alone signals that this is a wine that doesn’t take itself too seriously, being a shade of pale lemon. I wouldn’t say this was an overly complicated wine either but it was crisp and fresh with a nice nose of lemon and pineapple, very clean with a nice bit of weightiness on the palate. I detected plenty of bright, cripsy citrus flavours and a good finish. I found this a very enjoyable wine to drink out in the garden or at the park. 13%alc Retail £6.99 Whereas macabeo is primarily known as a blending grape, verdejo wines are quite well known and the DO Rueda is justly famous for the verdejos it produces. The Ermita Veracruz Verdejo 2006 is an good example of whites from this region. My nose was greeted by lashings of grapefruit, orange peel and white flowers along with a streak of minerality underlying it all. After giving it a good sniff I...

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Codorniu Cava

Working for a big wine merchant does have it’s advantages. Tuesday night the company invited the winemakers from Grupo Codorniu to come down and have a chat and informal tasting with us. There were about 25 of us from various London based shops. Grupo Codorniu is a Spanish owned and operated winery group based in northeast Spain, although they do have holdings in Argentina and Napa Valley as well. Codorniu  is one of the big boys in cava production. Cava (Catalan for “cellar”)is produced the same way as champagne but can’t be called champagne because you know how those Champenois are, they’d start howling bloody murder about copyright infringement and the lawsuits would be flying thick and fast. Codorniu have been in the wine biz since the 1500’s but have “only” been making cava since  the 1870’s. They were one of the pioneers in the commercialization of Spanish sparkling wine and have recently brought in a whole new winemaking team to improve their products.  One of the changes they’ve made is an overhaul of their bottle design. Very sexy now. There’s something almost primal about the design of the bottle that compels you to pick it up, the slender neck, the way it flares out at the bottom and the sleek feel beneath your fingers. I’m not the only one who’s had this reaction to the bottle design. I’ve heard quite a few comments in the shop regarding that. Kudos to the bottle designer on that one. Back to what’s INSIDE the bottle. In Spain, the main varieties used are indigenous – xarello, macabo and parellada. Recently, they’ve started using chardonnay and pinot noir although they are again prevented by EU law from putting pinot noir on the label except for pinot rose. The Tasting: Condesa Blanca Cava is their entry level sparkling. Light and fruity, big bubbles that disappeared fairly quickly, lots of green apple and pears with a hint of nuts and toast on the finish. I was pleasantly surprised at how good this was,...

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