Cava is the Spanish version of Champagne, made in the same manner (listed as traditional method or methode champenoise on the label) but usually from different grapes. The most common grapes used in Cava are Parellada, Xarel·lo, and Macabeo. These grapes can be used to make single varietal wines but are known for their use in Cava. If you are unfamiliar with the French process of making Champagne, the grape juice undergoes an initial fermentation just like a still wine to convert some of the sugar into alcohol but then goes into a bottle for prolonged second fermentation. At this point, yeast and sugar are added to the wine. As the yeast continues to convert the sugar to alcohol, the yeast begins to die off and carbon dioxide is released as a byproduct of the chemical process. The carbon dioxide produced under pressure, goes into solution, creating the bubbles wines using this method exhibit. The dead yeast cells are called lees. The bottle is stored on its side throughout the secondary fermentation, collecting the lees. Over time, the lees breakdown in a process called autolysis. This gives the final product toasted bread flavors. The longer the wine is in contact with the lees, the more flavor it imparts. The bottles were traditionally then placed in a riddling rack (see photo) to collect the sediment in the neck of the bottle (automated methods have replaced riddling racks in many wineries and champagne houses). While the bottles are on the rack, they are routinely turned ¼ turn, upto once daily. Once the sediment has collected, the bottle is disgorged, meaning the bottle is cooled and the sediment is removed. Before the cork and cage are placed on the bottle for the final aging, a dosage is added. The dosage is a mixture of sugar and wine. This addition will determine how sweet the final product will be, which is indicated on labels with designations like sec, demi sec, brut, and extra brut. You might also notice many sparkling wines do not list a vintage year on the label. This is because most are blends of juice from multiple vintages. These are then referred to as non-vintage or NV.
The bottle I chose to drink this week is from Segura Viudas, one of the more widely distributed Cava brands. The winery is located in the Penedès region of northeastern Spain, near the French border. The land originally belonged to a monastery until they ceded the land to Gerard Alemany in the 12th century. He built the first buildings on the property, which were used to help defend land gained during the battles of Reconquista. The original buildings still display bullet holes and battle wounds as evidence of these times. Over the last 10 centuries, the property has changed hands countless times. In doing so, the manor house has served many purposes, including being a residence, flour mill, farmhouse, distillery, fortress, and now a winery. Interestingly, there is a deed dated from 1156 that refers to the manor house as ‘Domus de Reÿm’, which translates into ‘The House of Grapes’. The current owners’ family purchased the property in the 1950s. After this acquisition, they constructed caves and wineries. Their first vintage of Cava was in 1969 and they have been making good quality wine ever since.
This week, I decided to make my first ever Paella to pair with Cava. If you are unfamiliar, Paella is a Spanish rice and seafood dish that is seasoned with saffron. The great part of sparkling wines is they pair with most everything and that held true this time also! The Cava had a medium pale yellow tint and the tiny bubbles persistently rose to the surface from a few points around the glass. The legs were watery as they trickled down the bowl of the glass. The wine smelled of fresh baked baguette, lemon pith, honeysuckle, biscuits, and apple juice. When I finally got to taste the Cava, it had a moderate alcohol level, moderate acid and a lower sugar content (it was labeled as Brut). The bubbles gently caressed my palate for a prolonged period of time and even continued to leave a tickling sensation once I swallowed it. The bubbles also rinsed the saffron and seafood flavors from my mouth after each sip. The flavors of white grapefruit and lemon accented the scallops and shrimp fabulously. The bread notes were synergistic with the slow cooked rice grains and even accentuated the toasted notes that I deglazed from the pan. Then there was the delicate sweetness of the peas that underscored the mild sugar content of the Cava. While sparkling wines seem dry, and even when labeled as such, they abide by a different scale than still wines. A dry sparkling will typically have a higher sugar content than still even if both are labeled as dry. Overall, this pairing was phenomenal and I can’t wait to have it again! While the Paella does take around an hour from start to finish, it was quite manageable after a 10 hour workday, as it doesn’t require a lot of active cooking and no stirring!