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Brut vs Brut Nature: Where Ignorance is the Only Winner

Yesterday, we met with Raventos i Blanc, a winery whose history and property is directly tied to Cava. I won’t reveal much about the winery, as we’re working on a bodega profile as we speak (read more), but I will say that both their winery and their products are second to none in terms of quality. Currently, they elaborate approximately 12 wines, 4 of which are Cavas that range from a surprisingly complex and alive house wine to an old cava, which has seen just a touch of oak – a rarity in the world cava. And all of their Cavas fall into one of two categories, Brut or Brut Nature, which I’ll explain shortly. Rosa, the European Export Manager, explained to us that while they enjoy all types of Cavas, these two particular styles best represent the grape varietals they grow on their 90 hectare estate. Yesterday, we tasted three of their four Cavas, which I’ve tried on several occasions, and although I had my favorites, I was not only impressed with the overall quality of their Cavas, but also the thoughtful decisions made in creating them.

Now to the title of this post.

In Cava, as in Champagne, the styles of wine are ordered according to sweetness. Prior to 2nd fermentation, where the wines acquire there sparkle, they are completely dry and are so acidic that drinking them can at times be painful. It is only after the 2nd fermentation when the wines are given a dosage, a mixture of base wine and sugar, that the sweetness level of the wine is determined. For those of you, who aren’t familiar with the different styles of cava, allow me to list them from driest to sweetest: Brut Nature, Brut, Extra Dry, Seco, Semi Seco and Dulce. In Spain and in much of the world, the ignorance I mentioned in the title comes from the idea that these classifications also relate to quality, starting with the highest quality in Brut Nature and descending in order to the lowest quality. This could not be any further from the truth.

As any wine retailer knows, there is a crazy notion in the average wine consumer’s mind that Dry = Good and Sophisticated, while Sweet = Bad and Unsophisticated. These same wine retailers have more than a few bald patches from continually pulling out their hair over conversations with their customers about this mistruth. UGH!!!!

FYI: Sweet = Sweet and Dry = Dry, nothing more. There are bad dry wines and bad sweet wines, but in no way is quality related to the level of sweetness.

Brut Nature doesn’t have any dosage added. Therefore, it has 0 grams of sugar and is often times enamel stripping dry, and with an acidity that can give battery acid a run for its money. Now, I’m not saying that they are bad, but I am saying that they are often times not good. Personally, I need a few grams of sugar added to wine. In fact, most wineries can’t export their Brut Natures, because non-Spaniards can’t handle it. The reason for this is balance. Balance in a wine is the idea that all components, such as the fruit, sugars and acid found in wine work together to create a harmony or accord among themselves. Therefore, while sugars are not only often times necessary to determine sweetness levels, but often are needed to soften the strong acidity that are often found in your glass. This can be done with, and is perceptible at levels as low as a few grams per bottle.

At Raventos, their Gran Reserva Personal Manuel Raventos Brut Nature is a wine with body and grip, and while very pleasant and worth tasting, is not the most immediately enjoyable wine they gave us to try. Rather the Gran Reserva de la Finca 2003 with 2 grams of sugar was my favorite. Round and lush with a good body and pure fruit aromas, I fell in love with it right away, and evidently, so have much of the Spanish wine press where this wine is a perennial favorite.

I’m not saying that Brut Nature is a style I don’t appreciate, but rather, it is often given a higher place in the wine quality pyramid than it probably deserves. Do try all types of Cava’s this year, and other sparkling wines. Just because their sweet does not mean they are bad, and just because they are dry does not mean they are necessarily good!

Cheers,

Ryan Opaz

  • Dave

    I actually perfer the Brut Nature style, but generally the ones that work have a very small amount of sugar (i think they can have up to 2g per litre? with 2-8 for Brut?). With the Raventos reserva level wines, I will prefer the brut nature every time in a blind line up. The Juve y Camps Gran Reserva de Familia Brut Nature is in a similar boat, it also has just a drop of sugar. But your right, in General Brut Nature wines are over the top in terms of acid and the balance is way off. Did you try the Gran Reserva de la Finca? Its become my benchmark for top end Cava….

  • Ryan

    I've had the Gran Reserva de la Finca, and I think it might be nice with some Oysters or such. But to be clear, Brut Nature has No Sugar added but will at times have up to 2grms naturally occuring sugars. Extra brut sometimes mistaken for Brut Nature can have up to 6grams and Brut up to 15grams. The main point though that I wanted to make was this, Drier is not better! Just different. I did like both the top end Gran Reservas, but in the end by itself I'll take the standard one and "…de la finca" with some food! Cheers,

  • Dave

    Yes, residual sugar post primary fermentation, not dosage. Its interesting that in Champagne you can have up to 6g/l for a Brut-Naturale/Zero Dosage, but I'm not sure if they get that level of ripeness on a regular basis. As with most things in wine, its a personal preference thing, so 'better' is not really the right concept. Personally, I prefer a focused razor sharp sparkling to a broader more worked style, so Brut Nature is right up my alley. But then againl, Seco or Semi-Seco can be quite good with a nice bit of cake.

  • http://www.tintoyblanco.com.au Dave

    I actually perfer the Brut Nature style, but generally the ones that work have a very small amount of sugar (i think they can have up to 2g per litre? with 2-8 for Brut?). With the Raventos reserva level wines, I will prefer the brut nature every time in a blind line up. The Juve y Camps Gran Reserva de Familia Brut Nature is in a similar boat, it also has just a drop of sugar. But your right, in General Brut Nature wines are over the top in terms of acid and the balance is way off.

    Did you try the Gran Reserva de la Finca? Its become my benchmark for top end Cava….

  • Wine Scamp

    Bravo, Ryan, on debunking the Bad Sweet Conspiracy. Frustrating how terrified everyone is of sweet bubbly!

  • http://www.obiscoito.com Ryan

    I’ve had the Gran Reserva de la Finca, and I think it might be nice with some Oysters or such. But to be clear, Brut Nature has No Sugar added but will at times have up to 2grms naturally occuring sugars. Extra brut sometimes mistaken for Brut Nature can have up to 6grams and Brut up to 15grams.

    The main point though that I wanted to make was this, Drier is not better! Just different. I did like both the top end Gran Reservas, but in the end by itself I’ll take the standard one and “…de la finca” with some food!

    Cheers,

  • http://www.tintoyblanco.com.au Dave

    Yes, residual sugar post primary fermentation, not dosage. Its interesting that in Champagne you can have up to 6g/l for a Brut-Naturale/Zero Dosage, but I’m not sure if they get that level of ripeness on a regular basis.

    As with most things in wine, its a personal preference thing, so ‘better’ is not really the right concept. Personally, I prefer a focused razor sharp sparkling to a broader more worked style, so Brut Nature is right up my alley. But then againl, Seco or Semi-Seco can be quite good with a nice bit of cake.

  • Wine Scamp

    Bravo, Ryan, on debunking the Bad Sweet Conspiracy. Frustrating how terrified everyone is of sweet bubbly!

    • am

      The fear of sweet bubbly is directly connected to the first wedding-champagne pounding headache hang-over we all experienced at 16!! Juve y Camps Reserva de la Familia is my favorite … I lived in Catalunya for five years, am a huge fan of Cava (Cava Tast is an amazingly fun festival) and was so relieved to find Juve y Camps here in the good ole USA and especially happy to find it doesn’t cost any more here than it does there if you get a case discount.

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  • Wineaux

    Juve y Camps Reserva de la Familia is the best!!