Cava is Spain's much-loved answer to champagne, a dry(ish) white wine made sparkling by the traditional method. The great majority of it is made from grapes grown in Penedès, in one of a handful of giant bodegas based in and around the town of San Sadurní de Noya. Grapes used traditionally were extremely local: the rather neutral Macabeo (the Viura of Rioja), Parellada and the somewhat earthy-tasting Xarel-lo. The result of these varieties and the local relatively warm environment is that Cava, although usually technically very well made, typically tends to seem aggressively frothy, and to taste oddly rustic, and sometimes rather soft and sweet, to those brought up on Chardonnay/Pinot fizz such as champagne. Nowadays Chardonnay and more recently Pinot Noir are grown increasingly and the result is Cava that has begun to taste much more familiar to international palates, even if less distinctively Catalan. Pinot Noir is a permitted ingredient in the increasingly popular pink Cava.
This may well simply be a question of conditioning and certainly one of the top bottlings from the likes of Codorníu, Freixenet, Gramona, Juvé y Camps, Marqués de Monistrol, Mestres, Nadal, Parxet and Moët & Chandon’s particularly French-influenced Cavas should do what all the best sparkling wines do: refresh and stimulate. The Spaniards buy so much Cava that the larger Cava houses Codorníu and Freixenet have managed to finance their own sparkling wineries in Carneros in California. Although the Cava business was established on a commercial scale in Penedès as recently as the 1880s, by José Raventos, founder of the Codorníu dynasty, after a trip to France, it now produces about half as much traditional method sparkling wine a year as France’s Champagne district.