Tag Archives: Prosecco

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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Lidl’s Value-for-Money Bubbly for Valentine’s Day

Prosecco, eh? We’re drowning in the stuff here in Ireland. The vast majority of it though – and I’m talking 90%-95% at least – is thin, insipid plonk. So why do we love it so?

Setting aside our inexplicable love of flavourless things (I’m looking at you too, Pinot Grigio), the famous Italian bubbly is relatively cheap. Prosecco either comes as spumante (full fizz) or frizzante (light fizz). The latter falls under the duty bracket for ‘still wine’, which is exactly half that of fully sparkling wine (don’t get me started on that palaver), meaning that you can get your bubbly kicks for cheap with Prosecco frizzante.

How do you tell the difference? Easy: Prosecco frizzante – the cheap stuff – has a tacky string over the cork, which itself needs a corkscrew to extract it, given that the low pressure isn’t enough to push out the cork itself (and thereby give the satisfying ‘pop’ we know and love).

So when I was offered a sample of Lidl’s new organic Prosecco spumante just before New Year’s, I was interested, and expected something nice but unremarkable to be honest. What I got instead was something rare: Prosecco with actual flavour built-in. It has a creamy, biscuity butteriness that might be described as autolytic, had it been bottle-matured, but that’s highly doubtful. However it’s made – for Lidl wine details are infamously opaque – it doesn’t really matter, as it’s really quite tasty.

Some may baulk at the €14.99 price, and eye up instead a €7 bottle of Prosecco frizzante next to it. Don’t. Remember that this is fully sparkling and so the bubbles will last much longer in the glass. It’s also far more than twice as good as something half the price. And, need it be said, it’s organic to boot, meaning you’re practically saving the planet drinking the stuff.

Viticoltori Organic Prosecco is €14.99 from 154 Lidl stores nationwide.

The Lidl French Wine Selection for Easter 2015

Lidl invited me to taste through a range of French wines they’ll be introducing to Irish stores this Easter, appearing on-shelf from Monday 3rd March.

I’m always impressed by how both Lidl and Aldi manage to source some really decent wines for pittance, a skill which they are both getting better at and gaining recognition for. OK, they may not be the most complex wines that are representative of their terroir or vintage, but they do tend to be very enjoyable for very little money, and for that they should be lauded.

So below are my picks of the wines they’ll have in-store from next week, but first a round-up of the sparkling wines which they have available year-round…

 


 

The Bubbles

 

Prosecco Treviso Frizzante
€7.99, available all year round
This is a simple, very fruit-forward fizz tasting mostly of pear drops. Not exactly interesting but it really is unbeatable at this price.

Arestel Cava
€10.49, available all year round
I was a little amazed at how muted this was – not bad, but not good either, just … meh. So not a terrible decision if you’re desperate for some fully-sparkling bubbly at a ridiculous price like this, just don’t expect any typical Cava character.

Marquis de Plagne, Crémant d’Alsace
€12.99, available all year round
Though the nose is nice and floral, the palate is simple and inoffensive. Still, an OK steely sparkler from an often over-looked region.

Comte de Brismand Champagne
€19.99, available all year round
A relatively simple and straightforward Champagne, some floral characteristics and noticeable acidity. A little aggressive initially it softens out to a creamy but still slightly tart palate. Twice as good as, say, Moet et Chandon, at half the price.

Bissinger & Co. Champagne Premium Cuvée
€29.99, from 2nd February until stocks last
Ironically, this is positively stratospheric price-wise in Lidl terms, but relative to Champane prices everywhere else outside of the German discounters you’re only really getting started at €30.
It’s hard not to call this a “baby Bollinger”, given the rich grilled nuts aromas and the equally rich and creamy, brioche-tinged palate. Granted, the length is only medium and the bubbles could be finer, but at €30 this is a steal.

 


 The Whites

To be honest the whites were disappointing, with the majority of them being flabby and lacking in the crucial acidity needed for some decent balance. This is despite the inclusion of an Alsace Gran Cru for a paltry €12.99, but even that didn’t warrant its price tag, despite its esteemed provenance.

Lidl Pouilly FumeThere was, however, one diamond in the rough for me, but at €12.99 for this I’d still opt for, say, Aldi’s excellent Gavi at €8 approx. any time:

 

Les Vignes de Saint Laurent l’Abbaye, Pouilly-Fumé 2013
€12.99
This had some nice smoky/flinty notes on the nose and lively white stone fruit on the palate with gooseberry and asparagus showing. OK at this price.

 


 

The Reds: Bordeaux

 

Lidl Chateau ArnaudChâteau Arnaud 2012
€9.99
A really quite nice ‘entry level’ Bordeaux: blackcurrant and oak, with a rich enough palate and nice tannin. Everything present and correct.

 

Lidl Chateau PithivierChâteau Pithivier 2011
€9.99
Much richer nose than the Arnaud with dark red fruit evident over a soft lush palate with noticeable blackcurrant. Very good.

 

Lidl Chateau de ClotteChâteau de Clotte, Côtes de Castillon 2010
€12.99
The most  complex nose thusfar with cedar and blackcurrant trading blows over a light a fragrant palate

 

Lidl Domaine la RocheDomaine la Roche, Pessac-Léognan 2008
€19.99
The joint oldest vintage in the tasting, this had a beautiful perfumed nose with black tea and evident oak. The palate was nicely balanced and flavoursome. It’s rare to get a readily-aged Bordeaux from one of the best vintages of the last decade in your local German discounter for €20, so I’ll be picking up a bottle of this to try again at home.

 

Lidl L’Enclos de Chateau Saint PeyL’Enclos de Château Saint Pey, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2011
€13.99
This had a bloody, meaty fragrance, which isn’t as unappealing as it sounds, promise! The palate was supple and rich(ish) with nicely integrated tannin. Very good and a great price.

 

Lidl Tour de LarozeTour de Laroze, Margaux 2008
€17.99
The other oldest vintage in the tasting. All was present and correct here but I felt there was better value to be had at lower price points. It was nice, though, and great if you feel the pressure to have the famous Margaux name on your dining room table.

 


 

The Reds: Rhône

 

Château Notre Dame des Veilles, Côtes-du-Rhône 2013
€8.99
A ridiculous price for a CDR, though its flavour profile was very much on the lighter, bubblegum and boiled sweets side of things.

 

Lidl Saint JosephSaint-Joseph 2012
€12.99
Again, another ridiculous price, but then this is Lidl after all. This was really very good, with a smoky, black pepper nose with some grilled meat evident. It had a silky peppery palate that was soft and spicy. I’ll definitely be picking up a bottle on my travels for this money.

 

Lidl VacqueyrasSerabel Vacqueyras 2012
€12.99
Though the nose was rather muted the palate was better, with floral rose and cherry flavours with some raspberry. The Saint-Joseph is much better in my opinion but it’s good to have options.

At Last, a Prosecco I Actually Like! (…Well…)

Here at The Motley Cru, we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’) am not given to discrimination, pretension, bigotry, and/or any other words you would care to use that allude to a state of mind where I outright condemn a grape varietal, country, region and/or method for its sake alone. I’m an equal-opportunities drinker, and believe all wines should be approached in their own right with all baggage left at the door, as I’m sure most concerning wine lovers do.

That said I do have an issue with Prosecco, at least the stuff that’s readily available here in Ireland. Firstly, a quick couple of facts:

1) Duty on ‘sparkling wine’ – which covers everything from Champagne, Cava, New World fizz and, yes, Prosecco – attracts exactly double the duty than still wine here in Ireland; a whopping €5.56 per bottle before VAT in fact. Why this is the case completely eludes me; perhaps the only sparkling wine that the mandarins in Dáil Éireann are used to is Champagne that routinely retails above €50 and where an extra €5 or so wouldn’t make much of a dent to their expense accounts, all the while not being cognisant of how much of a difference that sum can make to a €14-€15 Cava, for example. Either way we’re stuck with it, and it was made all the worse by the incredibly brutal increase in wine duty in the recent budget, which everyone knows increased the excise on a bottle of wine by €1, but not many realise that following from above this means an increase of €2 per bottle of bubbly. A pitiful situation, but there you have it.

2) Prosecco comes in two styles: fully sparkling (‘Spumante‘) and lightly sparkling (‘Frizzante‘). Only the Spumante falls under the duty band for sparkling wine, while Frizzante is considered a still wine as it doesn’t have the full pressure to categorise it as a fully sparkling wine. Ever needed to use a corkscrew to remove a cork from a bottle of fizz instead of it just popping? That’s a Frizzante fizz for you.

The result is, you’ve guessed it, that we see far more Frizzante Prosecco here than Spumante since the final price on shelf is going to be at few Euro cheaper than its sister wine. As such Frizzante Prosecco is often under the psychologically important €10 mark (or at least regularly promoted to this level), with all other fully sparkling wines firmly trapped above it.

The problem with this is that the bubbles, being only semi-sparkling, tend to fizz out very quickly, often leaving you with some insipid flabby fruit juice in the glass, and at which point I become rankled, again, by the stuff. But it’s cheap, and it’s the economy stupid, so Frizzante Prosecco is bought by the lorryload all over Ireland.

Mionetto Vivo

So imagine my surprise when I was handed (with my eyes rolling I must admit) a glass of Prosecco at a function recently, only to be taken aback by its quality: it was rich, toasty, interesting, and what’s more fully sparkling, a rarity where volume and cost are issues. I rushed to find out what it was I had been served: Mionetto Vivo, a new Spumante readily available in O’Brien’s, and though it wasn’t sub-€10 it was only €11 on promo – result!

I later bought a bottle and enjoyed it at home, and proudly pronounced that I had found my ‘Cava-killer’, the Spanish sparkling that was heretofore my go-to for easy weekday (read: cheap) fizz.

But then Google threw up an uncomfortable reality: it wasn’t actually Prosecco at all. Prosecco is made with the Glera grape, whereas Mionetto Vivio is made with the unusual combination of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Verduzzo and Pinot Blanc, so not Prosecco per se, though it is from a renowned Prosecco producer and from the same region.

Still, this is still a fantastic fizz and will most certainly be my sparkler of choice for easy entertaining, especially when O’Brien’s run it at 2 for €22, which they often will I’m sure.

Mionetto Vivo
€12.99 or 2 for €22 in O’Brien’s
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Verduzzo and Pinot Blanc (no evidence as to the proportions though)
www.mionetto.com