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Everything you need to know about the Spanish sparkling wine

Nina Caplan is an award-winning wine writer for titles including Decanter and the New Statesman. Her new book is The Wandering Vine: Wine, the Romans and Me.



Less than an hour’s drive from Barcelona is Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, the small town at the centre of production for Spain’s most famous sparkling wine. Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona’s central location in the Passeig del Gràcia is an ideal jumping-off point for an exploration of the city’s best cava bars. Try a glass before dinner at Zona d’Ombra or pop in to the tiny bar (and 14th-century cellar) of La Teca de Vila Viniteca then buy a bottle at their excellent wine shop. And don’t leave the city without squeezing into El Xampanyet (Carrer de Montcada, 22), one of Barcelona’s best (and therefore, most popular) wine bars.

Or, visit a winery: Codorníu, where the first cava was made, has a cava bar as well as tours and tastings with cheeses; Freixenet offers family-friendly tours, with a train-ride through the cellars and grape juice for accompanying children. All winery visits should be booked in advance.

Last but not least, Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona is offering guests an opportunity to discover Catalonia’s cava region with a Cava Experience package. Guests will receive a bottle of Aire, a cava produced especially for the hotel by leading Catalan winery, L’Origan, as part of the offer.

That’s your itinerary sorted. Here’s everything you need to know to be an expert on discussing, as well as drinking, cava.

What’s in cava?

The wine is traditionally made from local grapes – Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada. But quite a few cavas now have Chardonnay in them, some include Garnacha (Grenache) or Monastrell (Mourvèdre), and Trepat and Pinot Noir are both allowed for rosé: Juve y Camps make an excellent pink Cava that’s 100 per cent Pinot Noir. Cava has lots in common with Champagne: the method of making the wine, with a second fermentation in-bottle to produce the fizz; the beauty of that wine which, as the playwright George Farquhar once wrote, “puns and quibbles in the glass”; and the happy associations that those joyously effervescing bubbles induce. Yet this Spanish sparkling wine is unjustly neglected by discerning drinkers in a way that Champagne has never been.

Where does Cava come from?

Mostly, from Penedès, between Catalonia’s coast and her mountains, but there are pockets of production all over the country. Because of this loose approach to terroir, and the incredible range of cavas available, from cheap and cheerful all the way to beautiful, handcrafted wines that match Champagne in deliciousness and in price, the winemakers have recently introduced a top qualification, Cava de Paraje Calificado. This qualification is currently held by just 12 wines, each from single vineyards and made by some of the top winemakers.

What should accompany Cava?

Cava is usually dry and often relatively low in alcohol; this means that it works well with a range of dishes, and also that you can drink a lot of it without falling over. Younger, fresher cavas make great accompaniments to tapas, whether the tapas in question is a simple salad or something more sophisticated, including notoriously difficult matches such as artichokes or tomatoes. Aged cava, which tends to be richer, works well with hard cheeses such as Manchego or Parmesan. Cava even stands up to spice: gambas al ajillo, prawns with chilli and garlic, is a gorgeous Barcelona staple that is only made better by a frothing glass of fine Cava.

Whose Cava to drink?

The crucial question. As well as Codorníu, L’Origan and Juve y Camps, top winemakers include Recaredo, Gramona, and Raventós i Blanc.

Get your cava fix in style

Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona is offering guests an opportunity to discover Catalonia’s cava region, with its Cava Experience accommodation package.