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Spanish Wine Musings by Deborah

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Spanish Wine Musings by Deborah

I had the great fortune of being awarded a trip to Catalunya last month.  The Catalán Wine Association took me and six others on an eight- day odyssey through her grape-besotted lands.  Their goal: to seduce us wine professionals with their broad vinicultural offering.  In the process, I grew even fonder of their cuisine, became smitten by the Catalán aesthetic, and more enamored than ever with Cava.  

We don’t drink enough sparkling wine in America.  We should adopt a more Catalán mentality and drink cava, (sparkling wine from Spain made in the methode champenoise, usually from Penedés, Catalunya ) a few times each week.  Preferably with a fascinating piece of artwork nearby or at least in your mind’s eye!  If you must relegate Cava to a celebratory libation, then find more things to celebrate. There’s no better way to practice gratitude!  Your car got you safely to work and back today?  Cava.  You have work - Cava!  You noticed some brilliantly red-orange poppies that made you smile or a little kid made a face at you on the train, you shared a laugh with an old friend or maybe even found a way to laugh at your own self?  Cava.  The bracing bubbles and clean splash of subtle flavors enliven the palate, and make your senses keener for whatever comes next.


Two weeks ago at the grand house of Juve i Camps, I had the pleasure of meeting  Meritxell Juve, an elegant and intelligent woman leading her family’s business proudly into its fifth generation of wine artistry.  Tasting the Brut Nature Reserva de la Familia, their most popular Cava, I was struck by the powerful continuity of this wine, one I have been drinking now and again during visits to Spain for almost 30 years. This trip to Catalunya, however, so immersed me in Cava, that I experienced  Juve i Camps with  new perspective.  The wine’s aromas of seashore, nisperos, and preserved lemon spoke of a Mediterranean clime, but the wine in my mouth was so firm, linear, and finely structured, I was reminded of her northerly sisters in Champagne.    A searing sunset blazed outside, competing for my attention,  but the comet of radiant acidity soaring across my tongue had me almost too riveted to notice.  I was focused instead on the intensity of  the xarel-lo grape, and how it lends a note of cepes to the wine. I was drinking in the ripe fruit of the macabeu grape, giving, but not voluptuous.  I felt the delicacy of the parellada, its song of tart elegance, and finally I noted the garnish of chardonnay, an apple-almond note on the mid-palate.  Drinking several Cavas almost every day for a week unveiled my tongue from its previous cava-deprived stupor (a paltry one or two glasses a week) and allowed for informed sensitivity.  I highly recommend the sensation.

Our initiation into this bubbly enlightenment had begun at the house of Augustí Torrelló Mata.  “The bubbles are like mirrors,”  he said with some earnestness - and a smile. “Defects show up bigger in Cava.”   Four hours of tasting at this family winery revealed no defects.  Augustí  led us through a tasting of his still wines (more on that later) and then launched into a Cava tasting that wowed me and damn near drowned me with its generosity.  Each glass of Cava he poured was filled to overflowing and then refilled again as I tasted,  countless  times throughout that splendid evening.  When I requested water to drink, I was given half a small glass and the pitcher was rapidly whisked away. The good-natured and  incredibly wise Augustí told me Brut Nature cavas, (no dosage, or, no added sugar whatsoever), are far better for digestion than water.  We were eating fideuá amb allioli, a noodle paella with garlic mayonnaise, in large quantities, so I chose to believe him.  I vowed  to eat many more meals accompanied by Cava, for that matter.  

The Augustí Torrelló y Mata Brut Nature 2007 offered up lovely aromas of green almond, dried pear with each little bubble.  Despite profound and earthy autolytic notes, born of 30 months on the lees, the wine was utterly refreshing.  It struck me that it is Cava’s absolute cleanliness that makes it so compelling, so exciting on the palate.  Like a perfect, clear spring tastes of the earth and minerals that housed it, so too Cava.  Pure, but expressive.

We drank a Brut Nature Gran Reserva aged in oak whose wood notes were apparent but not overbearing, like a background forest in a painting. We enjoyed a stunning rosat  (rosé in Catalán) made of 100% trepat grapes that smelled of strawberry, rain, and roots, and then tasted of apricots and red clay.

And then, it was time to taste the Krypta 2006, a peerless Cava in an art-nouveau amphora with an ornate purple label.   Conceived by Augustí’s grandfather who had designs on making the very best Cava possible, Krypta is comprised exclusively of the indigenous grapes macabeu, xarel-lo, and parellada.  Left for 36 months on the lees (in bottle, as required), the wine is at once ethereal and powerful.  Aromas of sea urchin, brioche dough, and apple blossom are arrestingly elegant, and the flavors in the mouth are the finest possible expressions of ginger, vanilla, dried apple, and marzipan.  Lemon notes invigorate the palate, while the unfathomable depths of this wine challenge the mind.  The balance is impeccable, and at 6 years of age it is still fresh and bright.  As we exclaimed over the impressive length of this beauty, our host proudly pronounced  it  “long and long and long and long!” 


Another revelatory Cava experience came at the winery Vilarnau, located on  warm rolling hills in  Sant Sadurni d’Anoia.  I had tasting their full-bodied, very Mediterranean reds in years past, but their sterling Cavas were a eye-opening surprise.  The 2009 Brut Nature Reserva, macabeu, parellada, and chardonnay kept 24 months on the lees, gave off creamy aromas of bakery, apples, and hazelnut, but in the mouth had the refreshing qualities of sea foam and tart pear.  In a word, beautiful.  I noticed how the absence of xarel-lo, and how that spelled no mushroom funk and less earthy qualities.  The show stopper for me, however, was the 207 Vilarnua El Cava de les Lletres, a traditional blend of equal amounts of macabeu, parellada, and xarel-lo.  Its fragrance  had noble, classic Cava character, apple, earth, yeast, spring blossoms.  In the mouth the wine showed fabulous cut - an arrow-shot of acidity, the dazzle of oyster shell, and a spray of meadow flowers.  An adulterated message from this land that lies between sea and mountain, the wine expresses the stones and chamomile of the terrain and the

The stats:

Cava is sparkling wine from Spain made in the methode champenoise (meaning the second fermentation, what causes the bubbles, must take place in the bottle) within the D.O. (Designated Origin) Cava, a non-contiguous D.O. that lies almost entirely in Catalunya.  There are 5 more zones -  La Rioja, Valencia, Zaragoza, and Badajoz - that contain municipalities that are allowed to use the designation Cava.  Their production is tiny.

90% of cava is produced by two large houses whose commercial success is irrefutable, as cava is the world’s most widely consumed sparkling wine, ahead of both of champagne and prosecco.  The remaining 10%, or about 600,000 bottles, are made by producers medium and small.

All statistics aside, cava  is a startling treasure trove of variety.