A Guide to Cava for the Holidays

What to know about cava for New Year's Eve

If your budget can’t afford Champagne, and you’ve had one too many glasses of prosecco this year, consider ringing in 2013 with Spain’s popular sparkling wine, cava.

Here’s are the top ten things you should know about cava to raise your glass with confidence:

1. Native grapes at work. The three traditional grapes of cava are Macabeu, Xarel-lo, and Parellada. Macabeu provides a fresh, green apple flavor. Xarel-lo gives more vegetal aromas and adds structure. Parellada provides more tropical fruit flavors and has less body but more acidity.

2. Penedès is the place. Ninety-five percent of cava is produced in Penedès, located in Catalonia, not far from Barcelona and the Mediterranean Sea. The area is also known for olives and almonds.

3. A taste all its own. Cava is not as dry as Champagne, nor is it as fruity as Prosecco. Cava has its own distinctive flavor profile because of the traditional blend of grapes. While taste will vary among producers, the wine often has notes of lemon, green apples, nuts, and brioche.

4. Chardonnay is the new kid on the block. This grape, a major player in the Champagne blend, is now being used in cava, too. Sometimes winemakers mix Chardonnay with the traditional cava grapes. Less frequently, producers will make a Chardonnay-only cava.

5. Look for vintage. While Champagne is normally a blend of several years’ wines, in Spain, many high quality cavas are made from the wines of a single year. Vintage cavas that are a few years old can have greater depth of flavor.

6. Spend a little more. There’s a reason that cava has not been as well-regarded as its French counterpart. Cava-producing factories crank out lakes of cheap product for less than $10 a bottle. For just a few dollars more, you can get a high quality cava--often from a smaller producer-- that will be a far better representation of how these wines can shine.

7. Bubbles are top quality. Just like Champagne, cava uses the “traditional method,” meaning the wine undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. This technique produces a superior sparkling wine compared to other methods of creating bubbles, such as adding CO2 to a tank of still wine.

8. Variety is the spice of life. Rosado cava, which can be made from Pinot Noir, will look terrific in your flute when toasting the New Year. Other variations include Brut Nature (also known as zero dosage), which has no sugar added during the wine-making process. There are also sweeter styles of cava, including, in increasing order of sweetness: Brut, Extra Seco, Seco, and Semi Seco.

9. Quality is on the rise. Like other Spanish wines, cava has quality levels related to how long the wine ages before it is corked and sold: 24 months for Reserva cava and 36 months for a Gran Reserva. But today’s Catalan winemakers are looking to raise quality across the board, so you can get great cavas that are not necessarily of the Reserva or Gran Reserva level.

10. Affordablity is still there. You can find delicious vintage cava starting around $15. To pay so little for a high quality sparkling wine is a very good start to the year.

So on December 31, if your wallet is a little thin from buying holiday gifts, reach for a cava. You’ll be rewarded with a crisp Spanish wine that delivers value as well as

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Diane Letulle, Snooth