Cava has an image problem. The vast majority of bottles sort in the UK and Ireland are mass-produced, by-the-numbers plonk. Even though it’s made by the more expensive – and generally higher quality – traditional method, Cava is generally seen as being in the same “party-drink” class as Prosecco. To be honest, neither cheap Prosecco nor cheap Cava float my boat.
Serious Cava is getting some serious attention at the moment thanks to the Cava de Paraje single vineyard classifications, and hopefully that will be extended and filter down in time. Until then, the mid market seems to be somewhat neglected – where is the good Cava that doesn’t cost the earth?
Here are a couple I tried recently which are well worth trying:
Perelada Cava Brut Reserva NV (11.5%, 8.0g/L RS, RRP €20 at The Corkscrew , Jus de Vine, The Hole in the Wall)
Perhaps any Catalan-speaking readers might be able to tell me if the similarity in spelling between the town of Perelada (near Girona) and the Cava grape Parellada is linked or just a coincidence? This is a blend of the three traditional Cava varieties, being 45% Xarel-lo, 30% Macabeu and 25% Parellada. The second fermentation in bottle is for 15 months which is the minimum for non vintage Champagne but significantly longer than the nine month minimum for non vintage Cava.
This is quite a fresh style of Cava, with a fairly low 8g/L of residual sugar. There’s a little influence from the time on the lees but it’s much more about the tangy apple and citrus fruit.
Disclosure: this bottle was kindly given as a sample
Llopart Cava Brut Reserva 2014 (11.5%, 8.0g/L RS, RRP €30 at The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son, Redmonds)
This is producer Llopart’s standard bottle and is actually fairly similar to the Perelada above in terms of residual sugar and blend – it consists of 40% Xarel-lo, 30% Macabeu and 30% Parellada. The time on lees is given as 18 months minimum but, to my palate, this has spent quite a bit more than the minimum; it has lots of biscuity notes which are generally the sign of a good Champagne. This is a classy Cava which would be a better choice than many Champagnes!
Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as Rosé Prosecco , as the DOC and DOCG rules do not permit it, but if they did then this wine would be a great example. Furlan was founded in the 1930s and is now in the hands of the third generation. They have vineyards in the DOCG Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, DOC Treviso and DOC Piave areas, producing sparkling and still wines from indigenous and international grape varieties.
Let’s start with the blend: 70% Glera, 27% Manzoni Bianco and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Of course Glera is the grape formerly known as Prosecco, so no surprise there. Manzoni Bianco is intriguing – it’s a (deliberate) cross between Riesling and Pinot blanc, created nearly a century ago by Professor Luigi Manzoni at Italy’s oldest school of oenology located in Conegliano. Among the many crosses created by the eminent professor, this is probably the most successful and is well established in the Veneto. And finally, Cabernet Sauvignon adds the magical colour.
With 13 g/L of residual sugar, this technically creeps into the Extra Dry bracket, though to be honest the Brut label it has is a better descriptor – the sugar balances the acidity well and adds to the fruitiness without making it overtly sweet.
On pouring this has a lovely strawberry nose, then a smorgasbord of fresh red fruit on the palate – redcurrant, raspberry and strawberry – plus some pear and floral notes. For me the key is the balance between fruit and sweetness, this would make an excellent wine for the table as well as aperitivo!
Disclosure: sample kindly provided for tasting; opinions are mine and mine alone.
As I wrote several articles for Glass Of Bubbly Magazine in 2015 I had an understandable focus on fizz during the year, and I was fortunate to be invited to a number of excellent sparkling wine tastings.
Here are ten bottles of bubbles which impressed me during the year:
10. Cordorníu Anna Blanc de Noirs (€10, Madrid airport)
There is so much ordinary Cava around, especially in supermarkets, that’s it’s easy to look past the category completely. The market is dominated by two large players, Freixenet and Cordorníu, whose everyday bottles are…everyday quality, at best. Part of this is due to the indigenous grapes usually used, which are rarely seen in a bottle of fizz outside their homeland.
Cordorníu’s Anna range is a significant step up in quality, using Chardonnay for a Blanc de Blancs and Pinot Noir for a Blanc de Noirs. In my Francophile eyes, using the two most renowned Champagne grapes for superior bottlings is no coincidence. Pinot gives it some lovely red fruit flavours, and time on the lees adds beautiful brioche notes. I was lucky to receive this as a present and shared it with wine blogger friends in early 2015.
9. Man O’War Tulia Blanc de Blancs 2009 (€37, O’Briens)
Because of the importance attached to time spent on the lees in Champagne and other quality sparkling wine regions it is easy to forget that there is an alternative – time maturing in bottle after disgorgement. It doesn’t give the same results, but here is an example of a delicious fizz which has had only nine months on the lees but a further five or more years in bottle.
Chardonnay is often lean and clean when used in fizz but Man O’War’s Waiheke Island grapes give Tulia sumptuous, ripe exotic fruit flavours. This often sells out soon after a consignment arrives, so grab it while you can.
8. Champagne Oudinot Brut NV (€39, M&S)
One of the plus points of 2015 was getting much better acquainted with Marks and Spencer’s wine range, as I’ve only had the odd bottle from them previously. This is their house Champagne (though not a private or own label) but deserves to be taken seriously as a wine.
The info from M&S states that it is 100% Chardonnay, though to me it tastes quite a bit richer than I’d expect if that were the case. It does have crisp acidity and bright citrus notes which make it versatile and very drinkable.
7. Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-sec NV (N/A in Ireland)
One of the surprises for me at the Grandes Marques Champagne tasting held in Dublin was the number and quality of the sweeter styles of Champagne. So much so, in fact, that it inspired me to write a Glass Of Bubbly article titled “Sugar, Sugar – The Divergence of Sweetness in Champagne” (you know how I like a cheesy title).
Piper-Heidsieck’s offering in the sweeter category is dubbed “Sublime” – and it’s an apt moniker as it’s probably the best sweet sparkling I’ve ever tried. Cuvée Sublime is assembled from over a hundred different base wines, aged and blended over four years. There’s something of a Danish pastry about it – candied fruit, pastry and sweet vanilla, just sumptuous!
6. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2010 (Liberty)
The 2009 vintage was hailed as the best yet for Nyetimber, especially since the wife and husband team Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix took charge of winemaking. Hearing that 2010 was even better still made me a touch wary of hype, but on tasting it I had to agree!
This is delicious now but I’m looking forward to tasting it with a little more age behind it.
5. Drappier Brut Nature Sans Soufre (POA, The Corkscrew)
The Côtes des Bar is sometimes looked down upon by the Champenois of the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs, but in the hands of a great producer the vines down here can create magic. Champagne Drappier is one such producer, and although they have a majority of Pinot Noir vines, they also specialise in making Champagne from some of the almost forgotten – but still permitted – grapes of the region, including Arbane and Petit Meslier.
Furthermore, they have much lower sulphite levels than most other producers, requiring extremely fastidious handling and hygiene. This bottle goes even further – it has no dosage, so is bone dry, but also no sulphur added at all. Wonderfully aromatic on the nose, it is fresh and dry – though not austere – on the palate. Brut zero Champagnes are often slightly out of kilter, but this doesn’t miss the sugar at all – the true sign of a great Champagne that lives up to the motto of “Vinosity and Freshness”!
4. R&L Legras Cuvée Exceptionelle St Vincent 1996 (€147, BBR)
As Champagne vintages go, the debate over whether 1995 or 1996 was the better still continues. This wine makes a strong case for the latter! Old Chardonnay vines help produce intensely concentrated citrus flavours and aromas – and although it is now 20 years old it still tastes youthful – it should see out another 10 years without a problem.
R&L Legras is a small Grower based in the north of the Côte des Blancs, probably my favourite subregion of Champagne. The quality of the wines is reflected in the number of Parisian Michelin starred restaurants which list them – the purity of the fruit is incredible.
3. Gusbourne Estate Late Disgorged Blanc de Blancs 2007 (Gusbourne Library)
Although its first vintage (2006) was only released in 2010, Gusbourne Estate of Kent is already part of the top echelon of English sparkling producers, and is gradually expanding the range of wines it produces. In addition to the regular Blanc de Blancs, Rosé and traditional blend, they also put aside a few bottles of their 2007 Blanc de Blancs for later disgorgement, i.e. it spent an additional three years in bottle on the lees on top of the normal three year ageing period.
Tasting it alongside the regular 2008 BdB showed the additional time made a huge difference to the wine – softer in acidity and sparkle, yet more textured, and oodles (technical term that!) of brioche character. It was obviously still a sparkling wine yet had transcended that, just like mature Champagne does in its own way.
I feel privileged to have tried this and I look forward to more “experiments”!
2. Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 2005 (€150, O’Briens, Mitchell & Sons)
Even fans of Blankety Blank fizz like myself can’t help but love Bollinger with its richness and red fruit. It has a fantastic reputation and image, yet unlike some Grandes Marques it delivers on those promises. The non vintage Special Cuvée is probably the best big name NV you can get without spending silly money, and the prestige vintage La Grande Année (LGA) measures up well to the likes of Dom Pérignon at less than two thirds the price.
The Irish launch of LGA 2005 was held at the trendy Marker Hotel in Dublin. To my surprise the LGA was actually outshone by another wine – its rosé counterpart! I don’t normally choose rosé Champagne but this was outstanding – gingerbread, spice, strawberry and lemon plus toasted brioche. Just a fabulous wine!
1. Krug Grande Cuvée NV
Krug is possibly the most prestigious sparkling wine in the world. No ordinary NV this – Krug prefers the term “multi-vintage”. In fact, this wasn’t even an ordinary bottle of Krug – it was one that I had been keeping in my wine fridge for several years and decided to crack open to celebrate my second blogaversary – I had been writing for two years to the day – just before the opening of new wine bar The Cavern.
Sipping it in the sun, watching people go by, was one of the most relaxing experiences I could imagine. I managed to interpret the serial numbers on the bottle to find that it was bottled at least four years previously, which was reflected in the more mature notes coming through.
I love mature Champagne, and now I can say that I love mature Krug!