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Valencian Cava: The Difference is in the Grapes

palau de artsThis is my second go at writing this piece. For some reason, the first attempt turned into a lament at the cava on offer at the interval break during operas and concerts at Valencia’s spectacular Palau de les Arts. I suspect a less long-winded mention may creep in again, but I’ll try to focus more on my intended subject of Valencian cava. I’m sure Catavino types are more than familiar with the fact that the Cava Denominación de Origen is not defined by a geographical area. While it is true that the vast majority of cava is made in Catalonia’s Penedés, when the DO was established – the result of EU legislation and Champagne’s ceaseless vigilance against unwarranted use of the name – other areas that had a history of making methode traditionale “espumosos” were included. As well as the locality of Requena in Valencia, cava is made in parts of Aragon, Castilla y León, Extremadura, La Rioja, the Basque Country and Navarra. (Flickr photo by HollywoodPimp)

Sticking to Valencia, cava is authorized for production in Requena, but not neighbouring Utiel (famed as a result of Utiel-Requena Denominación de Origen, though for some reason the longest-established Valencian producer, Castell de Sorells is in the DO but is not actually in Requena). There are several interesting aspects of cava in this region and its current boom. First, tribute should be paid to two young bodegas who determined to put Valencian cava on the map and very much succeeded. Dominio de la Vega, with its “Brut Reserva Especial”, and Pago de Tharsys, “Pago de Tharsys Brut Nature”, were crowned best Spanish cava at the winemakers’ annual blind-tasting at Enoforum in Madrid from 2004-6 – Dominio de la Vega winning in both 2004 and 2006. Without quite achieving “Judgment of Paris” wine status, it did set a few cats among the pigeons. On the socio-political front, it’s no secret that Catalonia’s nationalist politics have contributed to the region not always being held in the highest esteem in the rest of Spain. One expression of this was a move among certain sectors of Spanish society to boycott Catalan goods. Whatever the political rights and wrongs, and I would like to stick my arm up and say that I have no truck with this boycott, it did provide a dramatic boost to sales of Valencian cavas generally, and not least to these two leading bodegas. This success has led to many others joining in the fun. Torre Oria had already established itself as the dominant Valencian cava at the cheaper end of the market a while back, with its acceptable if unambitious range. Their exotic palace of a winery might lead you to expect something more exciting. At various price levels there are new cavas from young and energetic bodegas like Chozas Carrascal and Hispano Suizas. The latter is a pet project of three young wine professionals who are taking on the French at their own game. Their “Impromptu” is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, closely followed by “Bassus” (Pinot Noir), and their cavas “Tantum Ergo” and “Tantum Ergum Rosado” are respectively 100% Chardonnay and 100% Pinot Noir, with no Macabeo, Parellada or Xarel.lo anywhere to be seen. I did my bit for Valencian cava by sending a bottle of the rosado to some nice people at Barcelona-based online travel agency Terminala when they helped me out after I’d made a mess of the airline tickets to get to my father-in-law’s funeral, which is as good a thumbs up for this wine as I can think of.

The latest cava to hit the shelves is by giant Valencian producer Vicente Gandia, from their Hoya de Cadenas estate in Requena and its wine range of the same name. As ever with Gandia wines, it is well packaged and aggressively priced at about 5.90 euros. It is light and floral, low on acidity but not insipid. It lacks the presence and downright verve of Dominio de la Vega and Pago de Tharsys cavas, and I hope that the marketing muscle of Vicente Gandia doesn’t put the other Valencian sparklers in the shade. The previous article I scrapped was a lament about my feeling short-changed that the cava on offer at Valencia’s spectacular opera house, the Palau de les Arts, is Hoya de Cadenas rather than something more in tune with the futuristic architecture and eyewatering ticket prices – I don’t mind paying more than the current 3 euros for a more lavish cava to brace me for the second half. It’s probably a little too outré for the taffeta and pearls brigade, but I’d love to see Pago de Tharsys’s sparkling Bobal blanco de negros on offer there – this structured and elegant “espumoso” is different (it can’t even be called cava as Bobal is not a permitted grape variety), but by no means misguided or merely showy, as well as being a real talking point. It is also the wine that my wife and I bought without knowing what to expect when we moved into our home in Valencia, although we didn’t do it full justice by swigging it warm from the bottle in the empty flat.


John Maher

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