Sant Sadurni d’Anoia is a sleepy little Spanish town a few miles from Barcelona in the Spanish province of Catalonia. More sparkling wine is produced in this little town than any where else in the world — well over a 100 millions bottle a year! That’s a lot of sparkling wine. And a lot of it will be consumed on New Year’s Eve welcoming in the New Year. Lots more will be served at weddings and other special celebrations throughout the year Cava is the Spanish word for sparkling wine and that name appears prominently on every bottle. The word cava means cave or cellar. Most of the production and storage of cava take place underground and, as such, the word for caves is significant. But it wasn’t until 1970 that Catalan winemakers officially adopted the term to distinguish their product from French Champagne.
There are several leading cava producers centered around this little town. Cordoniu, Freixenet and Segura Viudas are the most popular and the largest producers. Each of these firms has an interesting history. The oldest is most likely Freixenet (pronounced ‘fresh-eh-net’) tracing its heritage back to the 12th century but it wasn’t until the 1860s that they began to produce sparkling wine after a visit to the Champagne region of France. Likewise, Cordoniu has a long history tracing back to the 16th century as a branch of the same family that founded Freixenet. For many decades, these two family owned sparkling wine producers controlled the market. But as Spanish cava became more popular, other firms were established and there are now dozens of smaller producers. Segura Viudas was founded in the 1950s and has grown to become the third largest producer. Cristalino is another of the well-known smaller producers.
The grape varieties used to make Spanish cava are not wellknown in the U.S. but are widely grown in the Penedes region of Catalonia. The traditional grape varieties are Macabeo, Parallada and Xarel-lo.
Only in recent years have there been planting of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the traditional grape varieties utilized in French Champagne. The production method was at one time called ‘methode champanois’, meaning that it was the method used in making French champagne – a method that is very painstaking and complex; and very labor intensive.
The Spanish cava producers, however, figured out a very ingenious mechanized system to produce the same results, reducing the labor costs dramatically without sacrificing quality, calling it the ‘metodo tradicional’ or traditional method. The result is that instead of spending $40 and up for French champagne you can buy Spanish cava for $10-15 a bottle; an absolute bargain in today’s market.
Most of the sparkling wines of Spain are labeled as Brut, meaning dry. The ones labeled Extra Seco are slightly sweeter but still well within the customary dry wine classification. Those labeled Seco or Dulce are much sweeter; more in the same category as Asti Spumante.
All sparkling wines should be served well chilled, in the 45° F. range so that they are crisp, fruity and pleasurable on the palate. You can serve sparkling wines like Spanish cava with virtually everything from appetizers to dessert, enjoying them with every course but most traditionally they are served before dinner with the hors d’oeuvres.
So, at this holiday season, or at any special occasion, a bottle or two of Spanish cava is perfect. And as you celebrate, rejoice in the fascinating history and culture of this most interesting region of northwest Spain; the Penedes of Catalonia. Have a great holiday.
Dave Ethridge is a nationally known wine writer, certified wine judge and the director of the Lapeer Chapter of Tasters Guild International.