Over the past few years of sipping Cavas in some of Spain's top restaurants, it has become increasingly apparent that a number of the country's smaller producers are bottling some absolutely superb sparkling wines. By contrast, not too long ago, Spanish sparkling wine was little more than quaffable, mass-market bubbly widely available at bargain prices. While that still holds true for a large percentage of the staggering ten million-plus cases of Cava exported each year (another eight million-plus cases are consumed in Spain), during the past ten years — hand-in-hand with quality advances on the country's wine and gastronomy fronts — a number of Champagne-quality Cavas from a wide range of producers have emerged. Some of these exceptional wines are vintage dated, prestige brut cuvées; bone-dry, palate-cleansing brut natures (great with shellfish); and an increasingly impressive group of sparkling rosados (rosats in Catalan), some made with pinot noir, others with indigenous varieties such as trepat, monastrell and garnacha.
Though some of these noteworthy Cavas are being produced by the larger, well-known houses, such as Codorníu and Freixenet (whose top cuvées, unfortunately, are not exported to the U.S.), it is the smaller, ultra-quality-oriented firms that are making their mark. Juve y Camps, a family venture that has long been appreciated in Spain among aficionados, is perhaps the best known. Founded by Joan Juvé and his wife, Teresa Camps, Juve y Camps launched its first wine in 1921 and has been a producer of artisanal quality méthode champenoise wines ever since. Other top-shelf producers, such as Agustí Torelló Mata, Raventos i Blanc, Gramona, Parxet, Sumarroca and Castillo de Perelada, have recently been making names for themselves among the Spanish cognoscenti. Indeed, a number of these labels have been gaining fame as the featured sparklers on wine lists at El Bullí, Arzak, Can Fabes and Martín Berasategui, Spain's four internationally acclaimed Michelin three-star restaurants. Castillo de Perelada's Rosado Brut Cava was even served at the royal wedding of Spain's Prince Felipe in Madrid this year and was Salvador Dalí's house Cava.
Josep María Pujol-Busquets, partner-winemaker of both Privat and Parxet, attributes Cava's ascent, in part, to simple economics: “Cava is made by the traditional méthode champenoise, which means that with a relatively small investment, a sparkling wine with Champagne characteristics can be produced.”
Under Spanish law, Cava must be produced by méthode champenoise, the technique perfected in Champagne long ago. Since 1994, however, in order to protect legitimate French Champagne production, European Union rules have forbidden using the phrase “méthode champenoise” on sparkling wines not made in Champagne. Many Cava producers now favor the EU-approved método tradicional or méthode traditionnelle terminology, which essentially means the same thing. Like Champagne, Cava spends a minimum of nine months fermenting on the lees in the same bottle in which it will be sold before dégorgement and re-corking. In practice, most of the better Cavas are aged longer. Under the Consejo Regulador DO Cava rules, Cava reservas must be aged for 18 months and gran reservas for 24 months. Some specialty cuvées are aged even longer.
Although there are several officially approved Cava-producing areas in the provinces of Barcelona, Tarragona, Gerona, Lérida, La Rioja, Alava, Navarra, Zaragoza, Valencia (Requena) and Extremadura (Badajoz) — encompassing some 160 municipalities — the rules laid out by the Consejo Regulador de Cava address the production requirements that must be met to call a bubbly Cava, not the area from which it comes, because it is forbidden by EU regulations to declare the denominación de origen (DO) wine region, such as Penedès or La Rioja, on the label.
To sidestep the issue, most producers will print the town name on the label (but not the region) where the winery is located, so those who know Spanish wine regions can figure out from whence the Cava comes. Yet this question of origin is generally a moot point because 95 percent of all Cava produced in Spain comes from the Penedès wine district, west of Barcelona. The name Sant Sadurní D'Anoia, an effervescent little town (population 10,000) that is the epicenter of Cava production and the Catalan equivalent of Champagne's Épernay, can be found printed on many bottles, especially from the largest producers. It tells the consumer that the grapes probably came from Penedès. Sant Sadurní, produces nearly 75 percent of all the Cava made in Spain; 40 percent of the town's population is engaged in its production and sales.
Sant Sadurní is most famous as the hometown of the aforementioned giants of Cava, Codorníu and Freixenet (the latter the world's largest producer of sparkling wine and Spain's largest wine exporter). Each maintains a large bodega here, but Sadurní's smaller houses are now making big waves. Among those first-rate Cava firms that call Sant Sadurní home are the aforementioned Agustí Torelló Mata, Raventós i Blanc, Gramona and Juve y Camps, along with Mestres and Maria Casanovas.
Gramona is one of the pillars of the Catalan Cava trade and a legend in Cataluña, but until recently, it was practically unknown in the states (think Deutz Champagne). In 1914, founder Bartolomé Gramona graduated from an enology course in Vilafranca del Penedès in a class that included such names as Ferrer (Freixenet), Juvé, Mestres, Mascaró and Nadal. Today the firm calls itself “criadores de Cava,” agers of Cava, because its Cavas are held a minimum of 18 months, but the portfolio averages four years of aging. Gramona is the real McCoy; at today's high standards, its cuvées are among the finest sparkling wines in the world.
Ironically, Codorníu, makers of some 3.5 million cases per year, laid the foundation for quality Cava production. The founding Codorníu and Raventós families, who trace their winemaking history to 1551, are said to be the first to have produced méthode champenoise sparkling wines outside of Champagne in the 1870s, when Josep Raventós began making a Champagne-style wine to supply the French, whose vineyards had been devastated by phylloxera.
The house of Josep Raventós i Blanc was established in Sant Sadurní in 1986 by Josep-Maria Raventós, a breakaway member of the Codorníu family. His aim? To make exceptional small-production estate Cavas. “The key is having your own vines,” he says. “Only from a deep knowledge and direct management of the vineyard can a bodega obtain quality grapes with personality, which is the basic distinction amongst different producers.” Those who farm their own estate grapes are still in the minority. “The vast majority get their base wines from cooperatives and private producers who sell them wine,” he continues. “Perhaps this explains why [many of] the smaller producers, especially those who have their own vineyards, are making very good Cavas.”
His are more than just good, they're among the very best, although he eschews analogies between his wines and Champagne. “We don't like to make those comparisons. Simply put, the two are made in two distinct regions with very different grape varieties and climatic conditions. There are excellent Champagnes and mediocre Champagnes. The same can be said for Cava.”
Apart from the Cavas made in and around the town of Sant Sadurní, there are three other notable producers in Cataluña: Privat and the previously cited Parxet, both situated in the Alella wine region just north of Barcelona, and the aforementioned Castillo Perelada in Empordá-Costa Brava just south of the Pyrenees. All three also produce some distinguished table wines in their respective DOs. Interestingly, Privat is owned by the partner-winemaker at Parxet, Josep María Pujol-Busquets, and his wife, Christina Guillen, a wine shop owner. Together, they organically farm 33 acres planted to chardonnay and pinot noir. An inspired business decision dictates that its Privat AD Series (Acabat de Degollar) is disgorged only as orders are received.
There are also several quite pleasant Cavas made in relatively small quantities by Rioja producers, such as Muga, Olarra and Faustino Martínez, and a couple of fledgling producers, Pago de Tharsys and Dominio de la Vega, in Valencia. Normally these relatively minuscule efforts would hardly warrant a blip on the bubbly radar, but sales spiked upward last winter when Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira, a Catalan separatist politician, insulted the rest of Spain by calling for “all good Catalans” to withhold support for Madrid's bid for the Olympic Games in 2012. Because nearly 55 percent of all Cava sales occur during the year-end holiday season, the ensuing backlash resulted in a boycott that caused a ten percent drop in Catalan Cava sales across Spain.
But according to Agustí Torelló i Sibill of Agustí Torelló Mata, Cava country in Penedès is producing the best wines because, “The Mediterranean climate allows the grapes to get naturally riper than in Champagne. We get a lot of personality in our Cavas, some of which show the influence of our unique terroir. We use nothing but indigenous varieties from 30-plus-year-old vines grown in some of the best soils in the Penedès. Some vineyards are close to the Mediterranean, but the inland terrain rises rapidly and there also are vineyards growing up to 3,000 feet above sea level, where the cool nights help us get grapes with the necessary acidity.” (His assertions are borne out by the fact that his father's Brut Nature Gran Reserva 1999 is the article's top-scoring wine.)
A large percentage of all Cava produced in Cataluña contains the three workhorse white grape varieties — macabeo, parellada and xarel-lo (one critic dubbed them the “Bland Brothers Trio”). Although most wineries also make mono-varietal still wines or blends with these grapes, with few exceptions, the resulting wines are overshadowed by the best whites of Rueda or Galicia. In Cava blends, however, these grapes contribute to some excellent wines. Macabeo (the viura of La Rioja), as it is called in Cataluña, is one of the mostly widely planted white wine grapes in Spain. In many areas, including La Rioja, viura-macabeo grapes can produce white wines that are non-descript, but in Alt (high) Penedès and Conca de Barberá, a contiguous DO, the altitude helps them achieve a fresh, crisp acidity and spicy, floral, fruity aromas. Parellada, which grows well in the middle Penedès, produces green-tinged, low alcohol base wines with good acidity, and brings a creamy mouth-feel and a stylish, sometimes elegant, clean finish to the blend. Still wine producers, such as Miguel Torres, have had considerable success with this grape, mostly by blending it. The prolific xarel-lo grows mostly in Middle and Baix (lower) Penedès. Xarel-lo, perhaps the most promising as a stand-alone variety, produces deeper gold, straw-colored wines and contributes ripeness, fuller body and higher alcohol to Cava blends.
The Catalan subirat (La Rioja's malvasia) is also permitted in Cava, but it is the increasingly ubiquitous chardonnay, which Catalans have been growing for more than 50 years, that is being used with growing frequency in the top blends of many prominent Cava producers. And surprisingly, rosado Cavas are also rapidly becoming attention grabbers. The permitted rosado varieties are garnacha, monastrell, the local trepat and the polemical foreign interloper, pinot noir. One exceptional rosado Cava, Agustí Torelló Mata's, is made with trepat, but the majority of the best, the production of which has been ramped up considerably in the past five years, are made from pinot noir grown in Cataluña.
One of the most perplexing aspects of the lawsuits between Codorníu and Freixenet a few years back is the pinot noir issue. Cataluña's La Vanguardia reported thusly on the court's reasoning behind a controversial ruling: “...if [the use of Pinot Noir in Cava blends] were high, there would be an alteration of the competitive balance, as Codorníu would earn prestige its competitors are unable to attain.” In essence, the inference was that if a producer uses pinot noir to improve the taste of its Cava, then producers that don't have pinot noir are at a disadvantage. A rather absurd point because pinot noir is being considered for approval as a legal variety for use in Cava. Since then, many Cava producers have planted pinot noir and have developed a pinot noir-based brut rosado. Currently, pinot noir is approved by the Cava regulatory council only for rosados, but is not allowed in non-rosado Cavas. The sudden proliferation of these sometimes excellent pinot noir-based brut Cavas seems to point to the legalization of the grape for use in white Cava blends, à la Champagne, where this delicate red grape plays a vital role in many of the top cuvées of such esteemed houses as Bollinger, Pol Roger, Veuve Clicquot, Krug and others.
Josep María Pujol-Busquets says the reason behind the appearance of so many pinot noir rosat Cavas in the past few years is due to the variety flourishing in Cataluña's Mediterranean climate. “Since it is an early-maturing grape, pinot noir gives magnificent results at these latitudes, because of the excellent balance we get between alcohol and acid levels. Pinot Noir is a great grape for méthode champenoise Cava. It has great aromatic potential and produces wines with lively effervescence.”
The majority of Spain's better Cavas are made in a brut style (0 to 15 grams of residual sugar per liter) from the parellada, macabeo and xarel-lo white varieties or a blend of the three with some chardonnay. There are several other styles of Cava, including brut nature or brut natural (0-3 grams with no dosage added), extra seco (12 to 20 grams) and seco (off-dry; 17-35 grams), semi-seco (off-dry to sweet; 33-50 grams), and dulce (sweet; 50 grams), but the cream of Cava production is concentrated in the first-rate brut nature (no dosage, sometimes austerely dry, but very palate refreshing and versatile with food), extra brut (very low dosage), brut and brut reserva designations. Vintage Cava, like vintage Champagne, is made in very good to great years and is usually made in brut and brut nature styles. There are also those very good to excellent dry rosado brut sparkling wines, some of which are vintage dated.
Only wines from the designated regions produced by the método tradicional are entitled to use the name Cava on their labels or stamp their corks with the official four-pointed star symbol. To protect consumers, sparklers that are not produced thusly are prohibited from using the same brand name as legitimate Cava. Sparkling wines made by the cuvée close (charmat, or bulk) method or the transfer process may not even share the same premises where Cava is being produced.
In a comprehensive Cava tasting conducted for this article several styles stand out, particularly the exceptionally well-made luxury cuvées; truly delicious brut vintage Cavas; the excellent, racy, palate-cleansing brut natures that are so good with shellfish and just about any other luscious food; and the surprising brut rosado Cavas, usually dry and fine companions to a wide variety of dishes.
In addition to the more familiar names like Juve y Camps, those who have never tasted the vintage Cavas of Agustí Torelló Mata, Gramona, Llopart (pronounced Jo-Part), Raventós i Blanc, Parxet and Castillo de Perelada are in for a true treat. Likewise, though the wonderful, razor-edged, palate-cleansing qualities of the superb bone-dry brut natures may not be everyone's ideal of bubbly, one quickly acquires a taste for them. And in every wine lover's heart of hearts lies a rosé lover, so an exploration of the fine range of brut rosado Cavas, especially those made from pinot noir and Agustí Torello's Trepat rosado, is richly rewarding.
Many of these wines are still reasonably priced, while others are rapidly rising into Champagne territory. Like the prices, “The differences in quality between Cava and Champagne are less each year, partly due to our climate in Penedès being more benign than in Champagne, and because of greater professionalism and far better production techniques among Cava producers,” according to Mariano Fuster, vice president for international sales at Juvé y Camps.
As my tasting notes reveal, many have also crossed the 90-point mark, demonstrating just how far Cava has come in what seems like the twinkling of an eye.
It has been six years since I undertook such an extensive Cava tasting and the strides in quality are quite remarkable. Such producers as Agustí Torelló Mata, Raventós i Blanc, Parxet, Gramona, Juvé y Camps, Mont Marçal, Castell Roig, Castillo de Perelada and Privat are now delivering the types of characteristics one expects from Champagne, except that the prices for some of these Cavas are astoundingly inexpensive, given their quality. Many, too, are now vintage dated, whereas a few years back most were not.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise is the plethora of delicious, charming rosado Cavas, many of which are pinot noir based. Rather than being sugar-loaded caramelos, they are largely dry and exceptionally food friendly. Although few display the ethereal salmon color often associated with great rosé Champagne — most are much darker in color — quality can be first-rate, and their price tags place them among the sleeper bargains of the wine world.
Of the nearly 50 Cavas tasted, only one scored below 86 points, and just one was corked.
Agustí Torelló Mata
Founded in 1954, this exceptional Cava producer is considered by many Spanish critics to be the best in the field. Only indigenous varieties are employed in these exceptionally well-made wines.
1999 Brut Nature Gran Reserva (45% macabeo, 32% parellada; 23% xarel-lo; aged a minimum of two years; 3,500 magnums) — $125: Green-gold hue; fine, steady, active bead. Clean and pretty yeasty lemon and orange peel scents. Lemony, elegant and delicious. Great mouth-feel with a long, lovely, dry finish. A Spanish stunner. Score: 95
2000 Kripta Gran Reserva (49% macabeo, 26% parellada; 25% xarel-lo) — $70: Green-gold straw hue; fine, steady, diffuse bead. Sweet, pretty fruity, toasty nose. Well-made, first-rate, delicious Cava full of character with a long, lively, complex toasted almond finish. Eclipses many Champagnes. Score: 94
2001 Brut Nature Reserva Barrica (old vines macabeo; four months in oak) — $36: Gold-tinged straw hue. Big nose of oak, yeast, white plum, lychee; very fine, active bead. A full-flavored, gutsy mouthful, but somewhat marred by the oak, which blocks the finish. However, this serious old-vines macabeo “Krug impersonation” is very well made and oak lovers will like it. Score: 88
2001 Brut Nature Gran Reserva (42% macabeo, 28% xarel-lo, 30% parellada; old vines grown in Penedès; disgorged August 2005) — $27: Pale green-straw hue; very lively bead. Pretty nose of orange citrus and yeast aromas with hints of apricot and lychee. Very clean, full flavored, fruity, stylish, elegant and dry, but not austere; well-rounded and delicious with light honeysuckle, apricot, citrus, yeast and spice flavors. Score: 90
2002 Brut Reserva (46% macabeo, 26% xarel-lo, 28% parellada — all from old vines grown in Penedès; disgorged September, 2005) — $20: Gold-straw hue; fine, profuse bead. Needs more time in bottle to develop bouquet, for now it is light, clean and yeasty. Very dry, crisp, elegant and yeasty; nice mouth-feel with a citric finish that should develop complexity with more post-disgorgement bottle age. Score: 88
2003 Brut Rosat Trepat — $23: Strawberry-salmon color. Light, fresh nose of orange peel and yeast. Rich, gutsy, lovely mouthful of delicious red fruit with hints of orange peel. Very well-integrated acid, yeast, fruit and alcohol. Score: 90
Can Feixes Huguet
An Alt Penedès family wine business that dates to 1768.
2002 Brut Nature Gran Reserva (60% parellada, 25% pinot noir, 10% macabeo, 5% chardonnay; blends vary with vintage; aged a minimum of 30 months) — $25: Pale straw hue; very active, medium bead. Notes of yeast, apricot and lychee in the nose. Very clean, citrusy and very dry, but not teeth-jarring; balanced and fruity with hints of apricot and citrus peel flavors; spicy, yeasty finish. Score: 88
Castillo de Perelada
Founder Miguel Mateu bought the castle estate in 1914 and discovered a 14th century cellar where wine was once made. He couldn't resist making it there again, and today turns out highly regarded still wines from Empordà-Costa Brava and Cava from Sant Sadurní D'Anoia. The Castillo de Perelada is now a museum and high-class casino, too.
NV Brut Reserva (40% macabeo, 30% xarel-lo, 30% parellada) — $10: Gold-tinged straw hue; very active bead. Lightly floral nose of citrus and yeast. Very lively and frothy in the mouth, perhaps excessively so, with clean, dry, floral, honeysuckle and lemon flavors. Score: 87
2001 Cuvée Especial Brut Nature (40% macabeo, 30% xarel-lo, 20% parellada, 10% chardonnay) — $15: Bright green-straw hue. Citrus, yeast, lychee, light peach and honeysuckle in the nose. Dry, refreshing, full-bodied flavors of white peach, citrus and yeast with a long, pleasant finish. Score: 88
NV Brut Rosado (45% monastrell, 30% garnacha, 25% trepat) — $13: Dark strawberry-cherry hue; very active, fine bead. Fresh, yeasty, pie cherry, clove and cinnamon nose. Concentrated, delicious pie cherry and strawberry flavors; dry and well made. Score: 88
Founded in 1887 by a family that traces its wine heritage to a 17th-century English immigrant, Joseph Hill, who settled in Penedès.
2001 Brut Brutisimo Gran Reserva Añada (35% macabeo, 30% xarel-lo, 25% parellada, 10% chardonnay) — $25: Pale straw hue; fine, active bead. Fresh citrus and vanilla nose. Very lively and palate cleansing with generous nutty, yeasty flavors; long, spicy, lemony finish. Score: 88
NV Brut Rosado (60% garnacha, 40% monastrell; aged 18 months) — $15: Very dark strawberry-cherry red hue; fine bead. Yeast and light red fruit nose. Pleasant, gutsy mouthful of strawberry-cherry fruit, very much like a light red wine. Score: 87
Once the largest producer of sparkling wine in the world, Codorníu is now focusing on quality at reasonable prices.
NV Original 1872 (40% macabeo, 30% parellada, 20% xarel-lo, 10% chardonnay) — $9: Light straw-gold hue; active, medium bead; nice mousse. Fruity, yeasty, lychee nut and coconut aromas and flavors; clean, medium body; long, spicy finish. Score: 87
NV Cuvée Raventós Brut (50% chardonnay, 25% macabeo, 25% xarel-lo) — $12: Gold straw hue; fine, active bead. Cinnamon, clove and classic Champagne-like toast and yeast aromas on the nose. Nice, rich mouthful with flavors of spice, clove, yeast and toast; long, spicy finish. Score: 88
NV Brut Pinot Noir — $14: Salmon-strawberry hue; long, fine bead. Pretty, fruity, yeasty, strawberry and raspberry nose. Rich, deep raspberry, strawberry and yeasty flavors; long, dry finish. Score: 89
Enric Nadal (Finca Nadal de la Boadella)
A winegrowing estate established in 1510, Nadal has been producing Cava since 1943.
NV Brut Rosat Pinot Noir — $15: Medium strawberry-salmon color; medium bead, not overtly active. Fresh, clean and dry with obvious strawberry fruit flavors. Score: 86
Founded in 1889, Cataluña's mega-house is the largest méthode champenoise wine producer in the world.
2000 Brut Nature (40% macabeo, 30% parellada, 30% xarel-lo) — $14: Pale green-straw hue. Apple, citrus, yeasty nose. Bone dry and palate cleansing, elegant, light apple and citrus flavors with a spicy finish. Score: 87
The family wine roots, on both the Gramona and Batlle sides, go back to the 19th century. A light dosage, made from a family solera liqueur established in the early 1900s, is employed here.
1997 Celler Batlle Vintage (70% xarelo-lo, 30% macabeo; aged 6-8 years) — $80: Green-gold hue; fine, active bead. Clean, fruity nose with yeast and toast. Beautifully made, delicious, richly flavored, yet elegant, lovely, well-aged Cava with superb balance and a long, clean finish. Score: 92
2001 Brut Imperial Gran Reserva (40% xarelo-lo, 40% macabeo, 20% chardonnay) — $25: Pale green-straw hue; fine, slow, steady bead. Big, characterful, rich nose of yeast, butter, flowers and lemons. Very frothy and juicy with lots of delicious flavors: orange, citrus, butter, nut and apricot. Beautiful balance of age and character. Score: 92
2002 Gran Cuvée (equal parts xarel-lo, macabeo, parellada) — $18: Deep gold-straw hue; very lively, fine bead. Big, pretty floral, fruity, yeasty nose. A gutsy, creamy, full-blown Cava with fruity melon, peach, apricot and honeysuckle flavors; stylish, very lively on the palate and balanced by a dry finish. Loads of character. Score: 90
NV Rosé (pinot noir; aged two years) — $35: Markedly deep strawberry-cherry hue; very fine, steady-release bead. Toasty red berry and clove nose. Light effervescence, like a light red wine with pétillance. A delicious, unique, fun wine. Score: 90
Josep Raventós i Blanc
Estate fruit is grown on nearly 300 acres of vineyards planted on mostly caliza (chalky) soil similar to Champagne's. Its founder, Josep-Maria Raventós, observes, “We can make brut nature sparkling wines easier than they can in Champagne, where there are far fewer hours of sun. And because of our climate, Cavas achieve a better balance of alcohol and acidity, [too].”
NV Brut (60% macabeo, 20% parellada, 20% xarel-lo) — $15: Pale green-straw hue; fine, active bead. Light honeysuckle, citrus and apricot in the nose. Elegant, fruity flavors and a long, palate-cleansing, citrusy finish. Absolutely delicious. Score: 90
1999 Gran Reserva Brut Nature (40% xarel-lo, 35% macabeo, 20% parellada, 5% chardonnay; three years on the lees) — $25: Deep gold-straw hue; fine bead, medium activity. Very nice yeasty nose, light clove, honeysuckle, lychee and pineapple aromas. Rich, gutsy mouthful of delicious, beautifully made wine. One of Spain's top Cavas. Score: 93
2000 Gran Reserva Brut Nature (40% xarel-lo, 35% macabeo, 20% parellada, 5% chardonnay; three years on the lees) — $25: Green-gold straw hue; fine, slow bead. Clean, fresh nose of lime and pineapple. Dry yet lively with rich flavors of toast, yeast, citrus and light honeysuckle. Long, lovely, elegant finish. An absolutely outstanding Cava. Score: 92
Juvé y Camps
Approaching its 85th anniversary, and still trading on its artisanal image, this family-run winery makes superb Cavas, such as the Brut Natural Reserva De La Familia that employs only free-run juice from carefully selected grapes picked on three estates near San Sadurní d'Anoia. >
2000 Gran Juvé y Camps (40% macabeo, 40% parellada, 20% xarel-lo; aged 42 months; made only in exceptional vintages) — $36: Deep gold-straw hue; more diffuse, less lively bubbles. Big yeasty nose. Full of character with big, rich, toasty flavors and a long, complex finish. A first-rate wine that mirrors a very good, old Champagne. Score: 92
2001 Brut Natural Reserva de la Familia (40% macabeo, 40% parellada, 20% xarel-lo; three years on the lees) — $20: Deep gold-straw hue; fine, active bead. Yeasty nose with light peach aromas. Delicious yeasty, subtle peach-apricot and honeysuckle undertones and a long, clean, dry, palate-refreshing finish. Score: 90
NV Brut Rosé Pinot Noir — $20: Salmon-pink hue; fine, active bead. Strawberry, cherry, light yeast and citrus in the nose. Dry entry, lively on the palate with delicious red fruit flavors and a long, dry finish. Score: 89
The Llopart family, whose motto is ex Vite Vita (“From vineyards comes life”), traces its roots as viticulturists back to 1385, when an ancestor, Bernardus Leopardi, was granted vineyard lands on the present site. The firm has been producing quality sparkling wines since 1887.
2000 Leopardi Brut Nature (40% macabeo, 30% xarel-lo, 15% parellada, 15% chardonnay; aged 46 to 52 months on the lees) — $25: Medium straw hue; very active, fine bead. Nice citrus and yeast nose. Big, gutsy, mature, creamy flavors with peach, apricot, melon and lychee notes; a very dry finish. Score: 91
2002 Brut Rosé Reserva (60% monastrell, 40% garnacha) — $17: Dark strawberry-cherry hue; medium bead. Clean nose of clove and yeast. Lively, full-bodied mouthful of lightly sweet red fruit, clove and citrus. Score: 87
Marqués de Gelida
A small estate producer that is widely distributed in the U.S.
2000 Brut Exclusive Reserva (35% macabeo, 30% xarel-lo, 20% parellada, 15% chardonnay) — $11: Pale green-straw hue; fine, lively bead. Pleasant, yeasty, citrus nose. Quite lemony on entry, followed by pleasant lychee and melon notes with refreshing citrus flavors and a dry finish. Score: 88
Marqués de Monistrol
A nearly 1,000-acre estate based on a small medieval monastery property near Sant Sadurní D'Anoia, Marqués de Monistrol began making Cava in 1882. It is now a part of the giant Arco Bodegas Unidas wine group.
NV Reserva Brut Selecció Especiale Rosé (100% monastrell) — $13: Pale salmon, very active bead. Cloves, plum and some funky aromas. Clean, frothy, and full flavored, but nicely balanced with clove and lightly sweet cherry notes; dry, but lightly brassy finish. Value priced. Score: 86
Founded in 1975 by Spanish recording impresario Manuel Sancho on a 17th-century convent property encompassing 100 acres.
NV Extremarium Brut de Mont Marçal (equal parts xarel-lo, parellada and macabeo) — $16: Deep gold-straw hue; medium, diffuse bead. Refined, citrus peel (lemon, orange) nose. Very lively, clean, balanced citrus flavors; refined and elegant on the palate with a long, spicy finish. Crafted in a blanc de blancs style with extended skin contact and more than two years on the lees. Score: 90
2001 Brut Reserva (equal parts macabeo, xarel-lo and parellada) — $12: Pale, gold-tinged straw hue; fine bead; frothy mousse. Yeast, toast, clove and lychee in the nose. Lively, fruity, full-flavored, toasty, yeasty flavors. Delivers excellent price-value ratio. Score: 89
NV Brut Rosado Reserva (100% trepat) — $14: Dark strawberry-cherry hue; a true rosado with a very fine, active bead. Yeast, clove, strawberry-cherry nose. Very nice with some candied berry fruit flavors; lively and very well-balanced without an overly frothy mouth-feel. Score: 87
Pago de Tharsys , Utiel-Requena (Valencia)
A relatively new artisan producer with high quality aspirations.
NV Cava (equal parts macabeo, chardonnay) — $25: Green-straw hue; fine bead and delicate mousse. Clean, fresh, citric nose. Rich, elegant, lemony and toasty flavors; dry, citrusy finish. An artistic Valencia ceramic label hangs impressively from the bottle neck with a ribbon. Score: 87
Founded in 1920, Parxet is an exemplary small producer of Cava and still wine located in Alella, a tiny appellation in the suburbs of Barcelona.
NV Titiana (brut nature style, 80-90% 70-year-old chardonnay vines, possibly some pinot noir) — $20: Gold-straw hue; fine, lively bead and mousse. Lychee, coconut and lemon nose. Delicious balance of lovely fruit (hints of apricot) and lively acids. Toasty, but stylish and elegant with a pleasant, dry, bitter almond finish. Score: 92
NV Brut Cuvée 21 (40% parellada, 40% xarel-lo, 20% macabeo) — $12: Pale green-straw hue; fine bead. Nice nose of yeast, honeysuckle, pineapple. Clean, yeasty, lightly sweet honeysuckle and tropical fruitiness; a nice mouthful that is more like a pétillant wine; not overly effervescent, but delicious. Score: 89
NV Brut Pinot Noir — $24: Light strawberry-tinged hue. Clean, yeasty strawberry and light clove in the nose. Very pretty, delicious, clean, balanced, full flavored, fruity strawberry and cranberry with a long, dry, stylish finish. Score: 91
NV Cuvée Dessert Pinot Noir — $20: Deep salmon color; fine, diffuse bead. Allspice, cinnamon, clove and pinot aromas. Deliciously fruity and only lightly sweet red berry flavors. Long, intriguing, spicy finish of cinnamon and clove. An exceptional cross between Cava and still wine. Score: 92
Privat (AD Series)
These disgorged-to-order wines are hard to find, but well worth seeking out because they are truly on par with some of the best Champagnes.
NV Laietà Brut Nature Reserva (chardonnay, possibly some pinot noir — they wouldn't say; aged a minimum of 24 months on the lees; disgorged June 30, 2005 ) — $33: Deep green-gold hue; fine, active bead. Distinctive, toasty, yeasty, green apple and melon nose. Very lively lime and apple flavors; dry, full and rich in the mouth with a long, palate-refreshing finish. First-rate Cava. Score: 92
NV Opus Evolutium Brut Nature Gran Reserva (chardonnay, possibly some pinot noir; aged a minimum of 36 months; disgorged June 30, 2005 ) — $39: Green-gold straw hue; fine, active, measured bead. Lovely, peachy, yeasty nose. Rich and full flavored with citrus, orange peel and peach nuances followed by a long, delicious hazelnut finish; as good as most high-end Champagnes. Score: 94
Sabate i Coca Castell Roig
This 18th-century estate at Masia Can Serra is home to the Sabate i Coca family's ecologically farmed 85 acres of vines.
2000 Brut Nature Gran Reserva (70% xarel-lo, 20% macabeo, 10% chardonnay; 1,000 cases) — $35: Green-tinged straw hue; very lively, fine bead. Nice yeasty, clean, lemony, fruity floral nose. Lively and dry with a long, lemony finish that begs for food. Score: 88
Founded by the Segura Viudas family in 1945 , since the 1970s it has been in Freixenet's hands. This cuvée is still made much like a small producer family Cava with an emphasis on quality.
NV Brut Reserva Heredad (67% macabeo, 33% parellada; aged five years on the lees) — $20: Green-gold hue; fine, active bead. Pretty nose with hints of yeast, vanilla, lychee, honeysuckle and citrus peel. Stylish, elegant and clean with rich, well-integrated, mature flavors of nut and dried fruit; a long, yeasty, toasty finish. Score: 89
NV Arias Brut Pinot Noir — $12: Light-medium strawberry-cherry color; fine, active bead. Fresh strawberry nose. Clean, dry, smooth, pleasant red berry flavors. Score: 86
The Sumarroca house dates only to 1982 , but its Cavas are made at a 15th-century Catalan mas (farmhouse complex) exclusively from estate grapes and only free-run juice.
NV Brut Reserva (30% macabeo, 30% xarel-lo, 30% parellada, 10% chardonnay; aged 30 months) — $11: Clean, pale yellow-straw hue; fine, active bead. Yeasty, floral, lime nose. Very dry, fairly austere, lively mouth-feel; hints of minerals with a clean, dry, lemon and bitter almond finish. Score: 87
Contributing Editor Gerry Dawes has been traveling to Spain for more than 30 years, and in 2003 was awarded the Marqués de Busianos Spanish National Gastronomy Prize.
About the author
Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine.
Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.
Gerry Dawes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Alternate e-mails (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected): email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org