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 their 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 oftentimes 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 oftentimes necessary to determine sweetness levels, but often are needed to soften the strong acidity that is 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!