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Cava Brut Nature Gran Reserva “Terrers 2008”, Recaredo. (£25.80, Les Caves de Pyrene). 

Christmas menus are already starting to engage the minds of chefs and one of them asked me last week for a wine match with his special recipe Christmas cake. I surprised him by suggesting Cava … not any old Cava but one with a £25 price tag. “Twenty five quid! What, for Cava? You’re ‘aving a larff” he smiled. I have to confess that until a recent trip to Spain’s Cava Country I hadn’t tasted many top drawer aged Cavas; yes, they’re expensive but some really hit the spot. If you don’t fancy paying £25, try Anna de Codorniu (£11 at Oddbins) with the festive cake.

Cava’s image has slipped over recent years and this, together with Prosecco’s amazing sales boom has helped sharpen Spanish minds. The result is a dedication to improved Cava quality at all price levels. Cava is also responding with a global marketing campaign, “the message is getting through but we have a long way to go”, adds Gramona’s winemaker Jaume Gramona.  Watch this space, they’re on the case!

Cava has an impressive history to build on. The wine was born way back in 1872 although it was known as ‘Champan’ (Champagne) then. The name Cava appeared for the first time in 1959 when customers asked for ‘cellar’ or ‘cave’ wine, hence Cava. About 95% of Cava is made in the picturesque Penedes region of Catalonia, just south of Barcelona. For the record, the remainder is produced in small vineyard pockets dotted across Spain.

Traditionally Cava is made from grapes that sound like the midfield trio Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho should sign in the next transfer window, namely Xarello (acidity), Macabeo (soft, floral) and Parallada (richness). The international classics Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have recently joined the team resulting in a healthy discussion between Traditionalists and the New Order, “to Chardonnay or not to Chardonnay, that is the question”. Recaredo’s Terrers 2008 is a blend of Xarello (46%), Macabeo (40%) and Parrellada (14%), “we only use traditional grapes at Recaredo”, insists Director General Ton Mata.

The Penedes vineyards are influenced by the Pyrennes to the north and the Mediterranean to the east; the higher altitude plots bringing crisp acidity, the warmer coastal vineyards adding richer fruit into the Cava equation. “We start the harvest looking for acidity not sugar; that’s why we’re often the first to harvest”, notes Codornui’s CEO Arthur O’Connor.

Vineyard soil analysis is now common practice. Casellroig have identified twelve soil types across their estate, (chalk, clay variations) and found three or four differentials with depth at each location, “we pick and vinify these different plots separately”, explains winemaker Marcel Sabate. Codorniu now hand pick single rows of grapes for individual vinification. To their credit, the Cava Crew are taking this quality stuff very seriously.

Cava’s made in same way as Champagne with the second fermentation in the bottle producing a little more alcohol and carbon dioxide – the fizz. For those who like lower alcohol wines, Cava’s typical 12% by volume will make you smile.

As with all sparklers, the time the wine spends on ‘the lees’, (the dead yeast cells) following the second fermentation in the bottle is a further important quality and taste factor. For Cava, the minimum time any wine can spend on the ‘lees’ is 9 months; to gain Reserva status it needs 15 months and for Gran Reserva it needs to spend a minimum of 30 months. The Recaredo Gran Reserva Terrers 2008 spent nearly six years on the lees; the result is a nutty, crisp, citrus beauty that brings the very best out of the festive fruit cake.

Other top scoring Cavas from my tastings in the Penedes’ sunshine were Castellroig’s Sebate i Coca Reserva, Gramona’s Argent 2010 (100% Chardonnay), Juve & Camps Xarello (100%) and Segura Viudas’ delicate Reserva Heredad Rose 2012 (100% Pinot Noir).

There’s a spelling mistake in the above text. Any anorak spotted it yet? The mis-spelt word is Xarello. The correct spelling is Xarel.lo. Note the full stop. Oh, and if you want to impress your mates even more, the Spanish pronounce it ‘Charello’.

Better still, you can also impress by cracking open an aged Cavas with your Christmas cake. A match that will bring a little sparkling Spanish sunshine into a chilly December day.