Let’s talk about Cava
I have wanted to write about Cava for some time now. It was the subject of my research paper, the final stage of the MW journey, and as such I found myself somewhat drenched in Cava for most of last year. Whilst working on one’s research paper, an MW student is theoretically supposed to keep their subject secret. Of course, this is when you’re most tempted to write a blog about said subject. Conversely though, once you’ve finished the paper (and torn all your hair out), the last thing you want to do is write or discuss the research paper’s topic. You just need a break. Well, I’ve had my break and it’s now time to talk about Cava.
In June this year, the Cava DO invited me to Barcelona in order to participate in a panel discussion regarding a newly created quality category of Cava – Cava de Paraje. Paraje means ‘place’ and all Cavas labelled as Paraje will need to come from a particular, special place within a single estate. They will need to be: hand-harvested; aged for a minimum of 36 months (the same as vintage Champagne and longer than Gran Reserva); labelled as Brut (which, confusingly, includes Brut Nature and Extra Brut styles – both of which can be labelled as Brut) and approved by a tasting committee.
Why introduce a new Cava quality category, you may ask? And why now, given Cava’s unfashionable image and falling sales? Well, this is precisely the issue. Given the current popularity of sparkling wine around the world, it is rather surprising how overlooked Cava is. Truth be told, Cava had been on a downward slope for a while, particularly when it comes to quality at the lower end of the market. Consumers were becoming disillusioned with the ‘earthy’, ‘rubbery’ styles of basic Cava that dominated supermarket shelves. Something had to give. Prosecco came along and shook up the status quo – that being Cava’s position as a cheaper alternative to Champagne. When it comes to cheap and cheerful, it does not seem to matter anymore whether a sparkling wine is made by the traditional or the charmat method. So long as it is fresh, fruity and not too acidic.
Cava producers seem to have woken up. If they want to win consumers back, they need to up the quality. It’s not just about price anymore, being the cheapest is not the game. Consumers are clearly prepared to pay more for Prosecco because they think it’s a better wine. So the answer is to produce better wine. Simple. I think this is slowly happening. Even the basic Cavas appear less ‘dirty’ these days.
But it is also important to find new consumers and focus on premiumisation. Consumers with a bit of interest in wine may appreciate the great value/quality ratio the more premium categories of Cava can offer and also their versatility with food. This is where the top three tiers of the Cava quality pyramid fit: Reserva; Gran Reserva; and, eventually, Paraje. I have tasted enough to know that these are sparkling wines to get excited about. Wines that are distinctly unique, of recognisably high quality and great with food, premium Cava can go places. And, in most cases (we will need to see what prices Parajes will fetch once they appear on the market), they won’t cost the earth.
Cava as a category is posed for revival and a focus on premiumisation is the way forward, especially as Prosecco’s ability to further premiumise appears to be limited. This may not mean increased sales volumes to begin with but value over volume is surely the preferred way forward.
Those countless MW blind tastings when it was acceptable to say to yourself ‘it’s rubbery, therefore it’s Cava’? I want those days to be gone.