A little bit like “the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain”, so does the Spanish version of Champagne. Cava, which was considered for a long time to be the poor person’s Champagne, has increased dramatically in popularity over the last few years. Of course there are differences between Champagne and Cava, that both the discerning palate and wallet can note. However the production process is essentially the same, but of course Champagne can only come from the region of the same name in France. Cava, on the other hand, can be produced in a number of regions in Spain, but actually around 95% of it comes from the Penedès region, not too far from Barcelona, in Catalonia. The name Cava simply means cave or cellar in Spanish.
For anyone who enjoys a glass of bubbly, and especially for those who like to understand more about its production process, the Penedès region is a special vintage just waiting to be uncorked. It’s a place where it’s impossible not to be entirely transported, using all of your five senses, as the options for Cava and other gourmet experiences are vast – as are the vineyards that stretch across the landscape in front of your eyes.
A mere 40 miles (60 km approx.) or so from the buzzing city of Barcelona, where Spain’s answer to Champagne stays mainly on the plain, the Penedès region is home to some lovely towns and villages. In these towns and the surrounding areas, beauty and culture seems to ooze out of every Penedès pore. Welcome to a part of the world where Cava, food and wine are like a religion. Welcome to a part of the world, where you can immerse yourself in experiences and traditions that are the ingredients that happy, lifelong memories are made from.
Let me take you to some of the Cava vineyards of this region, where you can indulge your senses, and even make your own personalised bottle of Cava.
At Codorniu you’re not only visiting a vineyard steeped in history, but also one of the Wine Cathedrals of Catalonia. Considered one of the most important examples of Catalonia’s Wine Cathedrals, this stunning modernist complex was designed by the renowned architect, Josep Puig i Cadafalch. The beautiful arched ceilings are not only a feast for the eyes, but also enhance the utter reverence of the Cava and wine production process. In 1976 the modernist building was declared to be of National Historical-Artistic Heritage.
Codorniu has a superb range of choices for visitors to experience and understand more about Cava. A logical start is to go on their Cava Tasting Beginners Course, which initiates guests in the three key steps of Cava or wine tasting – see, sniff and sip. This is a three-hour course, which includes a tour of the amazing underground tunnel system, the Art Noveau Tour and 6 different Codorniu Cavas. For those of you who already know quite a bit, it’s possible to pay for the private services of an enologist.
Amongst the other options offered at Codorniu, are Breakfast Amidst Cavas, which let’s face it, is the ideal way to start off any day. There’s a Lunch Amidst Cavas option, plus private visits can also be arranged. Codorniu also offer a few combi type visits, where you can take in other sumptuous experiences, such as a visit to Montserrat or the Simon Coll Chocolate Experience.
Although the wine-making tradition of this family can be traced back to 1551, it was in 1872 that Cava was produced here. Unlike similar set ups in France, there weren’t any natural caves on site, so this meant that the family business had to dig deep and build this underground system that you can visit today.
2. Art Cava
The family run vineyard, Art Cava, was one of the area’s first wineries to start running workshops. This is where you can pick your own ingredients to make your own signature version of Cava. This is not a run-of-the-mill tasting experience, it’s rather hands on and one of the owners, Eric, is often on hand to answer however many questions you may have.
3. Parés Balta
Although you’re less likely to have heard of Parés Balta, this family owned winery has built a solid reputation for itself. The traditions of this place date back to 1790, and some of their grapes do come from away from the plains, from the mountains of Penedès. However many of the grapes also come from their estates that surround the vineyard. As their grape selection comes from a diverse range of microclimates and soils, this means that their produce has a special personality. Additionally their soils are fertilised by the vineyard’s own sheep, and beehives are kept in order to encourage pollination.
Here you will experience a unique, exclusive atmosphere, where modern and traditional methods have been blended. As well as visits, Parés Balta can also organise customised workshops.
2014 is the centenary of Freixenet, who offer wine tasting visits, workshops and also food pairings. After an audiovisual presentation, you’ll be brought to the oldest part of their cellars, where you’ll learn about Cava creation, as well as how the brand has combined traditional methods with modern technology. Afterwards visitors go on a miniature train to see the cellar’s extensions. In the tasting room, those who are over the age of 18, can sample Cava and learn more about it. Additionally Freixenet offer a la carte visits for those who are serious about broadening their knowledge.
At Recaredo Cavas you can do an especially interesting tour as their Cavas are produced by hand. There are absolutely no machines, chemicals or fertilisers involved in their production process. The tour ends up in a gorgeous tasting room.
It’s an authentic experience, where you can learn from a passionate guide who will explain every single part of the winery’s Cava making process. When registering you can also give details that will enable the guide to make the tour more personal to you and your party.
There’s no doubt that Gramona has had its fair share of recognition, with plenty of accolades and awards. Their long list of press mentions include the likes of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. The family of this exclusive vineyard believe that behind a great product, lies a long family history. Their Cavas seek to be the ultimate expression of the vineyard’s soil – one of the utmost elegance. With a philosophy like this, you can imagine that a visit here will be pretty special. Apart from the tasting and knowledge that you will enjoy, it’s all presented to you in idyllic surroundings.
Image #4: Shutterstock
Jackie de Burca is Co-owner of Catalonia Valencia.