Over the last few years, the Italian fizz prosecco has gained enormous popularity through a combination of clever marketing, cool branding and hey, some of it actually tastes pretty good! As a cheaper alternative to champagne it has cornered the market as a celebratory drink, usually as an aperitif before a meal, but often enjoyed on its own throughout the evening.
Spain’s equivalent to prosecco, cava, has been somewhat overlooked in the rush to embrace the charms of prosecco, which is a great shame because in our view it has a much broader range of styles, flavours and quality levels than its’ Italian counterpart.
Cava is made in exactly the same way as champagne, hence the similarity in taste, which tends to be drier than prosecco. Without getting too technical, all sparkling wine starts off as a base wine, which is still. In cava and champagne, this base wine is then bottled with sugar and yeast and a secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle; the carbon dioxide that is produced in this process produces bubbles. In cava, this process takes a minimum of 9 months.
With prosecco, on the other hand, the base wine is not fermented in the bottle, but in large pressurised tanks, which is obviously a shorter, less labour intensive and therefore a cheaper way of producing the bubbles. It is then filtered to remove any impurities and bottled. All in all this is a much more industrial process than that used to make cava and champagne.
Flavour-wise, prosecco tends to be lighter, fruity and flowery, and is usually sweeter than cava, and certainly sweeter than a typical champagne. It also tends to be sightly less alcoholic than cava and champagne. In many ways prosecco is perfectly suited to the modern drinkers tastes and good examples of well-made prosecco are plentiful and can be excellent.
Cava has more complexity than prosecco, it is drier and has more savoury, mineral flavours, often with a little yeastiness, which is also a flavour often associated with champagne. Single-vineyard and vintage cavas can be fabulous and prices can reach champagne price levels because of the complexity of producing and ageing these wines, and also because they tend to be produced in very small quantities.
The problem for cava is image. For too long there was a glut of cheap cava on the market which came in unimaginatively labelled bottles and basically tasted of very little. Much like that other classic Spanish wine, sherry, cava producers failed to recognise that consumers were becoming more discerning, choices were expanding, quality was rising from producers around the world and frankly, the Italian prosecco producers grasped the nettle and raced ahead of the competition. Prosecco is now by far the best-selling sparkling wine globally, far outstripping the sales of champagne and cava.
In our view, and we would say this wouldn’t we, the complexity and flavours inherent in a good cava are generally superior to those in prosecco. As a wine to be enjoyed throughout a meal, the dryness and natural acidity in cava complements a whole range of foods such as fish, shellfish, salads and chicken dishes, in a way that prosecco simply cannot compete. As an aperitif with olives or nuts it is also perfect. Prosecco is light, fun and has lots to commend it as a lovely summer drink to be shared with friends. But for wine drinkers, cava is king. So the next time you fancy a bottle of fizz, give cava a try, we promise you won’t be disappointed.