I’ve always considered Cava the stepsister of sparkling wines. Most of the Cavas I’d tried were so cheap. How could they be any good, I wondered? The flavor was different too. Cava didn’t taste like Champagne or the other sparkling wines I was familiar with.

I wanted to learn more about Cava. So, when planning a wine trip to Spain, I decided to include Penedes, the country’s major Cava producing area. I wasn’t expecting much.

The beginning of my about-face happened at the winery of Agusti Torelló Mata, a man who has devoted his life to raising the profile of the signature wine of his region. Calling him “the Father of Cava” might be an overstatement and would likely make this charming, soft-spoken gentleman chuckle if not blush. But to say Agusti and his family have done more to enhance the reputation of Cava than any other winery in Penedes is an undisputed fact.

On the day of our visit, we were greeted by Magda, a member of the winery’s marketing staff. She was knowledgeable, enthusiastic and helped us understand the differences among the various types of sparkling wines.

As Magda took us through the Cava making process, I began to understand why Cava had tasted different to me. My palate was used to the traditional champagne blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Cava is made from Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada, grape varietals indigenous to the Penedes region. Some modern Spanish Cava producers are beginning to use other European varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but the traditional Cava blend includes only grapes native to Penedes.

We also learned that Cava production follows the traditional method used in the making of Champagne. This means the formation of the bubbles in Cava occurs through a secondary fermentation in the bottle from which it is later served. Cava can be made with varying levels of sweetness, from Brut Nature (driest) to Dulce (sweetest).

Cava must be cellared for nine months before it can qualify for the basic Cava designation. Cava Reserva is aged a minimum of 15 months and Cava Gran Reserva for at least thirty months.

At the end of the tour, Magda guided us to a room where a private tasting had been set up for us. We were just starting with some still wines made from the varietals used in the Cava blend, when the “man himself” appeared. He was so unassuming…it was hard to imagine him as the mover and shaker who had revolutionized the world of Cava.

Agusti sat with us during the tasting… commenting, advising, sharing…never pontificating, although he had every right to…all in Spanish. Magda was an able translator, but it almost didn’t matter. We understood perfectly that Agusti Torelló Mata was communicating his love of his profession and his family, his pride in both, his passion for excellence and his all-consuming desire to make the world understand the potential of Cava.

Finally, Agusti brought out a bottle of his Kripta Cava Gran Reserva, which had been aged, not for the requisite three years, but for ten years prior to release. The wine summarized everything Agusti had been saying. It was rich, full-bodied and elegant…the perfect Cava ambassador, the ultimate expression of quality from the Penedes region.

When we were getting ready to leave, Agusti hugged us all…again, no words needed. He knew we had “gotten it.” One more mission accomplished.

After we had purchased a bottle of the Kripta 2008, I turned to Magda and said: “Please tell Agusti we wish we didn’t have to leave.” She gave me a warm smile and translated for him. Tears welled up in our host’s eyes. I don’t speak Spanish, but I knew he was saying “And I wish you could stay.”

As much as we learned about Cava from our trip to Penedes, one question remained. Why is Cava so reasonably priced? I’m guessing the fact that huge companies like Freixenet and Codorniu mass produce and mass distribute it keep the prices low. And the “recognition factor” has something to do with it too. Like me, people aren’t sure exactly what Cava is; so, they’re reluctant to try.

In my opinion Cava is a great value… not the stepsister, but the Cinderella of sparkling wines. The next time you’re in the mood for bubbly, give it a try. Whether or not the Cava you choose is produced by Agusti Torelló Mata, I guarantee you’ll be making him smile.

Christine Carroll is a Certified Specialist of Wine. She is also a columnist for Wines and Vines Magazine in San Rafael, California, and one of the principals of Crossing Vineyards and Winery. You can contact her at: info@crossingvineyards.com .

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