Tis the season for celebration, the time of year when the consumption of fine wines and champagne dwarfs the preceding months. Outside of Spain, the sparkling wine Cava has traditionally lived in the shadow of its northerly neighbour’s prestigious Champagne terroir, and so has been overlooked by large parts of the world. However times are changing and more connoisseurs are recognizing that top Cavas offer both excellent quality and great value for money, with the top vintages regularly giving France’s venerable grand crus a run for their money.
We talked about Cava’s recent rise with Singapore resident PacoGago, brand ambassador for CodorníuRaventós, Spain’s oldest wine and Cava producers.
Have you always been in the wine business?
I have always been related to the wine business as my parents owned a wine distribution company in Spain. Since I was young I was involved in tastings and wine events from different Spanish Denominations of Origin. After the family business was sold, I worked in a different industry for a while but my passion for Cavas and wines remained so I could not say no when the opportunity arose to work for Codorníu.
Tell us a little about the Codorníu family. How important are they to the history of winemaking in Spain?
Codorníu is the most important family business in the Spanish wine scene, as well as one of the most significant in the world. The Codorníu family history dates back to 1551 and is the oldest family business in Spain and the 5th oldest winery in the world. After almost 500 years it is still 100% in the hands of the same family, although the family surname was changed to Raventos by marriage in 1777.
When was Cava first invented or made?
In 1872, after several years of experimenting with local grape varietals from Catalunya, JosepRaventós became the pioneer in Cava making in Spain, launching the first bottles of ‘Champagne Codorníu’ using the same production method as champagne in France. With the success of Champagne Codorníu in Spain, the family commissioned the construction of today’s Codorniu’s wine cellars and introduced CodorníuCavas beyond Spanish borders.
Talk us through some of the different CodorníuCavas?
Our most iconic Cava, Anna de Codorníu, was the first Cava to include the Chardonnay grape and is a tribute to the last descendant to carry the Codorníu surname. Our Gran Codorniu Pinot Noir was the first rosé Cava made from 100% red Pinot Noir grapes and our Reina María Cristina was the first white Cava made with the Pinot Noir red variety – an outstanding Cava for those who enjoy complex wines. Finally the Gran Codorniu Gran ReservaXarel-lo was the first Cava ever created with 100% Xarel-lo grapes, topping the 2013 list of the ‘Effervescents du Monde’ Top 10 Best Sparkling Wines in the world.
Is the production of Cava more similar to champagne or Proscecco?
Cava and Champagne follow very similar production methods in which the effervescence is produced by secondary fermentation in the bottle.
Clockwise from top: Cava bubbles; Anna Rose cocktail;TheCodorniu estate from the air; Codorniu Vineyards in Raimat; PacoGago with bottle in hand;
There are some differences, as the MetodoTradicional in Spain strictly prohibits ‘Chaptalisation’ (adding sugar to increase alcohol content) while the Champagne Appellation of origin allows it. This is due to the location of the French wine regions, whose cool climate and lack of sunshine make it difficult for grapes to reach optimum ripeness. This makes Cava the only sparkling wine available in the market whose fermentation is 100% natural with no carbonation, no acidification and no chaptalisation. Prosecco, however, is generally produced using the Charmat method, in which the secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks, making the wine less expensive to produce.
What gives Cava its distinct taste? Are there different varieties?
Traditional Cava is produced out of three main local Catalan grape varieties, Macabeu, Xarel-lo and Parellada, which produce a balanced wine, less sweet than Prosecco but more floral than champagne. Nowadays, however, some of the more reputable and established Cava vintages are produced from French grape varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Is Cava suitable to drink in the tropics, compared to champagne for example?
Given the freshness provided by the combination of acidity, citrus flavours and tropical fruits, Cava is the perfect drink for tropical weather. The warmer climate of the Cava region enables the correct ripeness of the grapes, allowing an earlier harvesting, making it fresh and smooth, without the acidic flavour that characterises Champagne.
What is your main aim in your job as brand ambassador?
My main task is to build the image of Cava as a prestigious wine as unfortunately Cava is often regarded as a cheap option to Champagne. By showing the world the Codorníu brand, I hope to make it the preferred option for consumers looking for high quality, but great value sparkling wines.
How do you tell a good Cava from an average one?
In a good aged Cava we can find some of the typical notes that characterize good Champagne: notes of withered flowers together with light nuances of nuts, velvety cremosity, balanced and fresh acidity non aggressive to the throat and graceful effervescence.
Do you only supply Spanish restaurants in Singapore? Where can readers try your Cavas in Singapore?
As any prestigious brand trying to penetrate a market and consolidate a high quality image, our focus for Codorníu Cava is the HORECA channel (Hotel, Restaurants and Cafes) so CodorníuCavas are not available in supermarkets.
Some recommended places to taste CodorníuCavas include The Singapore Resort and Spa Sentosa, Don Quijote restaurant at Dempsey, Catalunya Restaurant in Marina Bay, Pollen at Gardens by the Bay or The Reading Room on Bukit Pasoh Road in China Town.
Has the upsurge in interest in Spanish food created more of a demand for Cava in Singapore?
Yes it has. You can already find Cava at the many tapas bars flourishing across the island. But the toughest challenge is to create a demand for premium Cavas. However, top CodorníuCavas can already be found at some of the best five-star hotels in Singapore.
Does Cava go well with Asian food? What would be your ideal Cava pairing with a dish available in Singapore.
Cava is the perfect partner for tapas, due to the nice refreshing acidity that helps to cleanse the palate. However I recently organised a Dim Sum Cava party that was a great success. The nice acidity and versatile floral and fruity aromas of Cava paired perfectly with the different flavours and texture of the dim sum, so yes, try it with everything!
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