Tag Archives: Macabeo

Cava: The Forgotten Middle Child of the Sparkling Wine World

Sitting quietly and studiously in the corner is its elder brother Champagne – mature, bookish, often aloof – while the younger sister Prosecco – loud, brash, in-your-face – runs amok, seemingly everywhere at once. In the public’s eyes it is these two categories that command most attention, with the unfortunate result that Cava, the historic Spanish sparkler is often overlooked, or, worse, ignored.

I like to imagine that Cava would often skulk away to hang out with his other offbeat friends – Crémant, Franciacorta, and MCC (not to forget his far-flung cousins in places like Chile and Australia) – to listen to some indie rock and moan about not how they’re never understood.

Which is all a shame really. Cava has far more flavour and fizz than Prosecco, and can be much better value than Champagne, with top examples of the former often surpassing cheaper versions of the latter albeit at a lower price.

 

So why don’t we drink more of it?

The UK press like to talk about how their market across the water was (and still is) awash with cheap, underwhelming bottles of fizz that only barely accorded the term ‘Cava’, which has done much to damage the wine’s image in the minds of the average consumer.

In Ireland, however, I feel the reason is that Frizzante Prosecco has stolen the march: its low fizz means that it’s actually classed as a still wine, and therefore is subject to half the duty of fully-sparkling wines such as Cava and Champagne (and hence why Frizzante Prosecco corks don’t ‘pop’).

So we’ve ended up choosing Prosecco for everyday, cheap bubbles, and Champagne for pricier, special occasions. Cava, therefore, is often seen as the misfit in between: too expensive for weekday sipping (thanks to punitive Irish tax rules) and not quite posh enough for the big events.

The reality – as often in wine – is much further than the truth, however.

 

Cava Cava Chameleon or… what is Cava?

At its most simple it’s Spanish sparkling wine made in the ‘traditional method’, meaning that a secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, giving it full-on bubbles and a distinct richness.

Interestingly, wines that can call themselves “Cava” can come from a number of non-contiguous regions in Spain, namely Valencia, Aragón, Navarra, Rioja, and the Basque country. However 95% of it comes from the Catalan region around Barcelona, and the Penedès in particular, which is where you’ll find most of the famous names such as Freixenet.

Also of interest is that total production of Cava per year is roughly a third of that of Champagne, perhaps a surprising statistic given its perception as voluminous, cheap and cheerful.

Cava: The Forgotten Middle Child of the Sparkling Wine World

The term Cava – which means ‘cellar’ in Catalan – was adopted by the Spanish in 1970 when they agreed to abandon the use of the potentially misleading term Champaña, and the style was brought to Spain by José Raventós of the family firm Codorníu, who made the first bottles of traditional method sparkling wine in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia after a visit to France in 1872.

Though the ‘traditional method’ process of making sparkling wine must be followed, beyond that Cava producers have less rigorous restrictions on what must be done to earn the title. Apart from the requirement that certain grapes be used (see below) and that the wine must spend at least nine months on its lees before disgorgement, rules aren’t so strict thereafter.

That has left the door open for a large degree of industrialisation and mechanisation, which good for keeping costs down, but bad when over-used to create a bland, mass-produced,‘commodity wine’ designed to hit a price point. Which is exactly what happened to the category, and thus its current conundrum.

 

The Three Cava Musketeers

Whereas most other ‘traditional method’ sparkling wines the world over tend to emulate Champagne in having Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir in their blends, Cava is most often a blend of three grapes native to the region: Macabeo, Xarel·lo and Parellada.

The light, aromatic Macabeo (also known as Viura in Rioja) comprises about half of the blend for a typical Cava, while Parellada provides green apple and blossom flavours, with Xarel·logrape rounding off the blend with an earthy bottom note that has been one of Cava’s distinguishing features.

Cava: The Forgotten Middle Child of the Sparkling Wine World

Interestingly, Cava was given an unusual boost in its early days in Catalonia in that many vineyards that made hearty (if rustic) red wine to slake the thirst of the nearby Barcelonés succumbed to the Phylloxera louse, and when replanted then one or more of these white varieties were chosen instead of the ill-fitting red varieties of old.

That said, obviously a range of red varieties are still allowed – otherwise no Rosado would be made! – and Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have been officially authorized for Cava since 1986, though for the large part Cava producers stick to the tried and trusted trio.

Again it was via the enterprise and lobbying of the Codorníus that Chardonnay and Pinot were allowed into the Cava fold, and as such the famous Anna De Codorníu is the archetypical 100% Chardonnay Cava (and indeed it was the first), but sadly is unavailable here. Try and grab it in Duty Free next time you’re in Spain.

 

Rebel, Rebel

As mentioned above, Cava has suffered historically from something of an image problem, thanks in no small part to unscrupulous, large-scale producers who produce a low-quality product from poor vineyard sites yet charge multiples of its worth simply because of the Cava name.

But the perceived mass-market image of the appellation has led to a growing disenchantment among better quality producers. They have been hamstrung by the over-generic “Cava” designation, which can serve to mask regional variations, meaning their vastly superior artisan bottlings are lumped in with cheap-and-cheerful plonk.

So by 2014 a number of Penedès-based Cava producers – including Raventòs i Blanc, Albet i Noya, Mas Comptal, Loxarel, Colet, and Mas Bertran- had left the appellation altogether and joined the generic Penedès DO, therefore shedding the Cava name and trusting the market to recognise their offerings as distinctly different and superior.

By doing so they were effectively replicating the “Super Tuscan” movement in Italy in the 1970’s onwards, where high-quality producers in Chianti consciously rebelled against the region’s archaic laws to produce wines that they felt suited the terroir of the region, rather than abiding to outdated ‘cookie-cutter’ regulations.

Cava: The Forgotten Middle Child of the Sparkling Wine World

The Cava rebels’ protest worked: a new classification for single-vineyard Cava, Cava del Paraje Calificado (meaning “Qualified Single Estate Cava”), was agreed in 2014/15 and introduced proper in 2016. The designation sets out rigorous standards for qualification: all wines shall be aged to at least at Gran Reserva level (36 months), must come from an identified vineyard, be traceable, and adhere to rigorous growing conditions such as lower yields and sourcing from older vines. However given its recent introduction and the lengthy ageing required, it will be some time until the name appears on labels and bottles appear on shelves.

A step in the right direction? Definitely. But while you wait for the fruits of the Cava quality revolution to fully kick in, below is one reliable stalwart and three excellent premium Cavas to whet your appetite…

 

Three to Try

Cava: The Forgotten Middle Child of the Sparkling Wine WorldThe Old Reliable: Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut

€19.99 – widely available

One of the most popular and widely available Cavas out there, and for good reason.

Freixenet’s ‘black bottle’ Cordon Negro offers all the pleasures of Cava in one package: toasty richness, earthiness, and lots of bubbles (begone, insipid flat Prosecco!).

Cava: The Forgotten Middle Child of the Sparkling Wine WorldClean & Crisp: Juvé y Camps Reserva de Familia Brut Nature

 

€25.99 – Celtic Whiskey Shop

A ‘brut nature’ style, so expect a bone-dry wine with razor-sharp acidity.

Some savoury characteristics open out into notes of honey, toasted brioche, and dried fruits in a linear and precise take on the Cava style.

Cava: The Forgotten Middle Child of the Sparkling Wine WorldCookies & Cream: Llopart Reserva Brut

€30 – Redmond’s of Ranelagh and The Corkscrew

Brand new to this country via Winemason wine importers, this is a superbly creamy Cava thanks to 18 months on the lees.

But it’s still clean, precise and poised – a vibrant and elegant Cava. Superb, and a welcome addition to these shores.

Cava: The Forgotten Middle Child of the Sparkling Wine WorldRich & Regal: Segura Viudas Heredad Reserva Brut

€30 – Tesco

Just look at that bottle: elegant curves are accentuated by pewter embellishments in packaging that punches well above its weight.

Lucky, then, that the juice is top-notch too – given its Reserva status it too shows some of the honeyed characteristics, albeit in a richer more opulent style than the Llopart. The ideal gifting bubbly.

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie

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Some Picks from the O’Brien’s September Wine Sale

So the O’Brien’s September wine sale started yesterday, timed to coincide with our newly-acquired, post-holiday, sure-it-might-as-well-be-winter mentality.

Thankfully they have a great batch of wines at keen offers to help us through the rut. I haven’t tasted all the wines on offer but below are some I tasted at the Spring Wine Fair that I’d highly recommend…

 

Domaine Duffour, Cos de la Roque
Was €12.95 now €9.00

I’ve waxed lyrical about Domaine Duffour’s Blanc Cotes de Gascogne before,  and now they’ve their newer cuvée on sale for the frankly ridiculous price of €9. I wonder how the Duffours survive at all at prices like this. Again this is a blend of the regional Colombard and Ugni Blanc varieties (the latter usually used for Cognac) – expect crunchy limey apple fruit flavours and plenty of easy drinking.

 

Jaspi Blanc
Was €16.45, now €9.00

I really love the characterful, simple, cheap wines expressive of their locality. The Duffour above is one example, and this Grenache Blanc and Macabeo blend from Catalunya is another. It’s not exactly complex and brooding, but then again that’s not the style you enjoy in the sunshine with friends, great food and a bit of music. Instead it’s fresh and expressive, easy-drinking yet structured, and just really nice to drink. For €9 you’re laughing.

 

Leyda Sauvignon Garuma
Was €16.95 now €11.95

Very vivacious green pea and asparagus, definitely a New World Savvie and not for lovers of the often more austere Sancerre style. This still has a lovely core of acidity though, so good marks all round.

 

Chanson Mâcon-Villages
Was €16.95 now €12.95

If you like your Chardonnay on the more restrained end of the spectrum then this is great value from a notable region. Expect shy fruit and coy flavours, but with expressive clarity and focus.

 

Bethany Cabernet/Merlot
Was €20.95 now €11.95

I love the Bethany wines from Australia. I’m not sure of this wine’s merits at €20.95, but at €11.95 it’s an absolute steal. Expect leafy blackcurrant and blackberry flavours and general all-round goodness, a really fantastic wine for €12.

 

Torres Celeste Ribero del Duero
Was €21.95 now €16.95

Whenever this is on offer you’d be mad to miss it. Celeste is a family favourite in my house – originally we loved its lush glossy fruit, and as our tastes matured so did the winemaking style. Now you can still expect lots of rich fruit but a bit more toned down and now with a core of nervy energy and tannic grip. It’s just one of those wines: you can’t but love it, and it’s right for every occasion. Also the label is gorgeous and the price is keen. What’s not to love?

 

Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Merlot
Was €27.95 now €22.95

Not for the faint of heart! This is a very decadent merlot, rich and ripe. Lots of menthol and chewy black fruit. But what amazed me was its balance: despite being a massive wine it still has nice grippy tannin and decent supporting acidity. So a blockbuster but in ballet flats, so to speak. I’m rambling. Grab a bottle and find out for yourself. I know I’ll be having “some fucking Merlot!”

BeTomish: Another Irish Wine Success Story

Picture the scene: the sun is shining on the azure Mediterranean, you and your friends scoot around historic villages without a care, sailing, surfing and visiting art galleries before finally meeting up for a carefree al fresco meal in the warm summer breeze with some great, fuss-free wine.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Well this is the lifestyle of Tom Gallagher, originally from Boyle in Co. Roscommon before he moved to Sitges near Barcelona in 2001 with his family.

He played rugby in New Zealand until 2014 before returning to Spain at the fresh age of 24 where he hatched a plan with his brother Eoin (29) to launch their own wine range under the name “BeTomish”, a brand name Tom was already using for some time beforehand for a number of products he used to sell locally.

The name seems odd at first but when spoken aloud and correctly pronounced it is clear what is being conveyed: not a name, but a directive … literally, you can “be Tom-ish” by enjoying his sunny take on living through carefully-selected products that reflect his way of life.

Even the logo – which has the primeval look of a man squatting – is actually a hieroglyph of his name: look closely and you’ll see the letters T, O and M making up the humanoid shape.

So it was only time then, given the location of his adopted home, that wine would become a part of the BeTomish family; and now, thanks to importers Honest2Goodness, we have both BeTomish Wines readily available on the Irish market.

And little did they know but they automatically became part of what is known as the “Wine Geese”, Irish men and women who over the centuries have emigrated and found a new life abroad in the wine trade. You might know many of them already – Lynch-Bages and Leoville-Barton in Bordeaux and Hennessey in Cognac spring to mind – and now you can add the Gallagher brothers of Sitges to this illustrious list.

The Wines

But the Gallagher brothers are not winemakers, and indeed they had little knowledge of the trade before starting out. Instead they spent six months meeting grape growers, producers and wine makers from the Priorat, Penedès and Montsant regions in Catalonia under the direction of mentor and business partner Pere Martorell, owner of De Muller Winery, in order to source their wines.

BeTomish 2

The result was finally hitting on both a red and white from organic vineyards that they felt accurately reflected both the ideals of the brand and the regions the wines were from – in other words two wines they felt were “Tom-ish” enough to package under their eye-catchingly minimalist labels. Their first vintage was destined solely for the domestic market – Barcelona and Ibiza primarily – and it sold out in its entirety, a success by any measure.

What sets BeTomish apart from other ‘lifestyle wine brands’ is the passion and drive of brothers: while Tom manages relationships in Spain, Eoin is the Sales/Marketing/Export manager whose enthusiasm for the brand is infectious. Then there’s the brand message and packaging: no family history, no over-stylised bottles, no essays on the back labels – just simple, good wine, representative of the region they’re from and cleanly presented.

So far they have just the two wines – a white from Tarragona and a red from Priorat, both reviewed below – but they have their sights set on other regions such as Montsant, where they intend on buying their first vineyards soon, and Rueda shortly after that if all goes well, with others no doubt in the pipeline.

And it doesn’t stop there – the Gallagher brothers are continuing to extend their BeTomish brand and way of life to other areas as diverse as property rentals via BeTomish Homes, which already has a number of properties in its portfolio.

Enjoying a BeTomish wine in a BeTomish home in sunny Sitges – what can be more “be-Tom-ish” than that?

TWO TO TRY

BeTomish RedBeTomish Priorat Crianza
RSP €22.95
Priorat has the tendency to be a big, taut, punchy wine, so I was pleasantly surprised by this version: it was approachably juicy and smooth but with a drying, well-integrated tannic streak at the end, the latter being an undeniable homage to the style of the area. This is an excellent introduction to the Priorat style, an approach confirmed by Eoin when he called it “Priorat for Beginners”.
A blend of 60% Garnacha, 20% Merlot, 10% Syrah, 10% Samsó, the grapes come from a 30 hectare plot in the area of El Molar, with vine age 20-30 years on average.

BeTomish Blanco Tarragona
RSP €15.95
BeTomish WhiteAn usual blend (for me at least) of 70% Macabeo, 20% Muscat, 10% Sauvignon Blanc, this is fresh a easy-drinking, but its gloriously low 11% alcohol makes it an ideal summer sipper.

Stockists
Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellars; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Donnybrook Fair; Honest2Goodness Market (Saturdays only); Daly’s of Boyle, Co Roscommon; World Wide Wines, Waterford

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie.