Cava in Catalunya
Let’s talk about Cava! It is little wonder that Wine Tourism is undergoing a surge all over the wine world, when you consider the typical climate, the beauty of wine regions, and most importantly, the end result. For lovers of bubbly, the options for wine tourism are more than one might think, with many still wine regions also producing sparkling. Today, however, we are concentrating on Cava in Catalunya – Cava is Spain’s traditional method sparkling wine. 95% of this famous Spanish bubbly is produced here, mostly in the area around the town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia.
From the mountains to the sea, the breathtaking landscapes of Catalunya provide both a perfect backdrop and a myriad of conditions in which to grow the traditional Cava vines. There is a lot more to Catalunya than Barcelona, yet visiting only the region’s capital is a mistake many tourists make. This is a stunning region for wine tourism, with an abundance of Cava houses to visit, both large and small, from the historic family houses of Codorníu and Freixenet, to the smaller artisanal producers such as Gramona and Llopart.
Catalan generosity and positive spirit provide a genuine feel-good factor wherever you go. The wineries really do welcome visitors, and are so proud to show you their extensive cellars and impressive winery buildings, often in the Modernist style of architecture.
Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel.lo vineyards abound- these are the most well-known varietals for Cava, although Garnacha, Monastrell, Pinot Noir and Trepat (Rosato only) are also permitted, and more recently, Chardonnay, which was authorised in 1986 and is the featured grape of Codorníu’s Anna range. No matter which time of the year you visit, the vineyards will always provide a learning experience, from winter pruning through bud burst, inflorescence and grape setting, veraison and full ripeness. It can be quite soothing to wander through the vines, enjoying the peace and the sounds of the countryside, while contemplating the time and effort that goes in to producing one single bottle of the finest fizz.
Prepare to be astonished by the extensive cellars of the larger Cava houses. Electric trains are frequently employed in ferrying visitors for miles underground, through ancient tunnels lined with riddling racks, emerging in to the stark contrast of the modern bottling and packing areas. It feels like quite an adventure through history and time! Each visit is different, and each winery has a different approach to the conduct of their tour, but if you get the balance right between the large and small houses you are sure to acquire an excellent knowledge of Cava and its production.
In the United Kingdom, since quality Cava is not widely available, and the supermarkets and large wine retailers sell mainly entry-level Cava, we tend to get little experience of the Reservas and Gran Reservas, which can be truly stunning wines. The best winery tastings, therefore, include these finer offerings, with their complex flavours and aromas, and persistent finish. Zero dosage (Brut Nature) is quite common in Cava production, the grape varieties providing enough interest on the palate through ripeness and their own characteristics to avoid any sense of austerity. One of my favourite memories of my last Cava tour is drinking Llopart’s Brut Nature Gran Reserva Original 1887 amongst its 75 year old Xare.lo vines, with the serrated mountain of Montserrat in the distance. Wine tourism truly does not get much better than that!
Other things to do in Catalunya, aside from drinking Cava!
In addition to vineyard and winery tours and tastings, many estates also offer additional activities, such as cycling through the vineyards, picnics amongst the vines, perhaps even watercolour painting classes. Electric bikes are usually available for those less active amongst us so most people have the opportunity to enjoy this very special experience. Furthermore, the area is rich in cultural and religious heritage, including museums, art galleries, stunning modernist architecture, and elegant monasteries, both currently active and also those now converted to visitor attractions. No monastery is more deserving of a visit than Montserrat, perched high on the famous mountain of the same name, first founded in the 9th Century- a site of pilgrimage for millions, motivated by the legend that a visit to Montserrat absolves all sins!
Whether you choose to make your own Cava tour plans or prefer to have a dedicated wine tour specialist to organise everything for you, from travel and accommodation to winery visits and tastings, rest assured that a visit to Catalunya offers something for everyone, and the rich heritage of this fascinating region will leave you wanting more. You will also find yourself seeking out the finer Cavas that you never knew existed before your visit, but whose memory will linger on your palate for years to come.