It’s an annual quandary. After tapping our financial resources mightily for the holidays, we find ourselves still wanting to make the most of New Year’s festivities, which traditionally means bubbles. For many of us, Champagne is too spendy and prosecco too sugary.
No problem. Look to cava.
These bubblicious wines from northeastern Spain combine sophistication and affordability like no other wine in the world, still or sparkling.
“Cava is always the best bang for your buck,” said Karina Roe, wine specialist at France 44 in Minneapolis. “The quality at the $10 mark has risen, and if people are looking for really beautiful Champagne but don’t want to spend that much money, I can steer them to a Gran Reserva that’s half the price for the same amount of quality.”
Brian Mallie, wine director at the Kowalski’s chain, concurs, noting that cava is ideal “if you’re looking for something more interesting than prosecco, something that more closely resembles Champagne.”
The reason cava bears that resemblance is that almost all of it is made using the “Méthode Champenoise,” with secondary fermentation taking place in the bottle rather than in tanks à la prosecco’s Charmat method.
There’s more to it than that, naturally: Bottles are “riddled” (rotated a few inches), so that the dead yeast cells eventually gather in the neck, which then is frozen so that the yeast can be disgorged when the cap is removed and replaced with “dosage,” a mixture of wine and sugar.
With cava — which emanates from the Catalonia region, mostly in an area called Penedès — as in France’s Champagne region, those sugar levels are almost invariably low.
“For people who are afraid of sweet wines,” Roe said, “or people who say prosecco is kind of sweet, I can tell them that 99 times out of 100, cava will be dry.”
That means zesty, zippy textures, mouthwatering finishes and almost limitless food-pairing possibilities, including appetizers at New Year’s Eve (or Day) parties.
Cavas are less expensive because, for starters, Spaniards have figured out how to utilize more mechanization, particularly with the daily riddling done by hand in other locales. And the grapes are less spendy than the chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier in Champagne. These include xarel.lo, macabeo (which is called viura in Rioja) and parellada, with monastrell occasionally added for rosato renditions.
They generally have the same racy, mouthwatering acidity as Champagnes, but not so much of the bready (yeasty) notes.
For initiates, Roe often recommends cava in cocktails, such as mimosas, Bellinis or other drinks. But even the cheapest cavas are well-suited on their own for any gathering. Roe praised Dibon and Mas Fi in the $10 range and, for a few dollars more, Miquel Pons and Emendis “Nu Allongé.”
I’m a longtime fan of the Mas Fi and also love Segura Viudas at that bargain price, plus under-$20 gems from Mont-Marcal, Avinyó Petillant and Juvé y Camps.
The “timing is everything” mantra applies in more ways than one, at least for now. Almost all the cava currently on shelves and restaurant lists came in before the mid-October 25% tariffs kicked in on Spanish wines. So those who find one they really like should consider stocking up.
After all, even though 20% of sparkling-wine sales come in December, at least nationally, more and more wine enthusiasts have figured out that these wines are year-round treats.
Younger consumers in particular have tumbled to that truism, Mallie said. “We see a lot of new generational drinkers who have sort of shied away from traditional categories,” he said. “Millennials’ parents dismissed [cava] when Champagne was cheaper, but a lot of consumers are moving ‘down’ from Champagne. Cava is a more viable category than it’s ever been.”
And that’s a trend worth toasting on any day of the year.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.