By Celia Strong
Sometimes, you just have to make a bold move. For us, in the always drinking and learning about what we’re drinking world, that means having some bubbles whenever we want! We are serious students, and we can’t delay our studies. Bubbles can be learned and enjoyed all year. Any week. Every day. So, yes, it’s time.
In past discussions, we have gone over Champagne vs. sparkling wines. Today, we are going to discover a Spanish sparkling wine. A “Cava” as they are called. “Cava” is a declared Spanish DO and there are about 200 producers spread over controlled parts of several wine regions in eastern Spain. (The name “cava” was first used in 1959, but didn’t become the legal name for Spanish sparkling wines until 1972.) The name “cava” comes from the Spanish word for “caves” or “cellars,” and refers to where these wines are made. All Cavas must be made using the traditional, second fermentation in the bottle, process. And they are allowed to use several grape varieties – Macabeo (white), Paralleda (white), Xarel-lo (white), the three main ones, along with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Garnacha (red) and Monastrell (red). These sparklers can be made from Brut Nature (totally no sugar) to Semi-Secco, and in white and rosé styles. Many of these wines can be extremely high quality while at the same time not being as expensive as their competition from Champagne. Why? The sparkling wine industry in Spain has invested in every piece of machinery they can afford. Lower labor costs show up in lower retail prices. Yay!
Before we move on to this week’s specifics, let’s look at what these grape varieties bring to their wines. Macabeo, also known as Viura in Rioja, is the most used grape but has relatively simple flavors. Some faint floral notes, some lemon. And a slightly bitter finish, like green almonds. Paralleda is used for its high acidity and more zesty lemon notes. Xarel-lo (pronounced “cheryl-ooh”) is more aromatic than either of the first two varieties. It is richly floral with big pear and melon flavors. When any of the allowed red grapes are blended in, usually to make rosé Cava, strawberry and raspberry notes appear. In general, the blends in Cavas make them extremely well balanced wines with crisp, refreshing acidity. Just what we want in a good bubbly!
Our wine this week comes from Segura Viudas. (Literally translated, that means “safe windows.”) A wine estate that dates back to the 11th century. They started, initially, as a watchtower. In the 13th century, they were converted into a country house that grew crops, including grapes, for a local monastery. Segura Viudas began making cavas in the 1850’s. They soon had, and still do, one of the best reputations for their sparkling wines. In the 1980’s, the Ferrer family from Barcelona acquired Segura Viudas. At Segura Viudas, they believe that a wine is made in the vineyards. Meaning the grapes are all important. In a minute, when we taste our wine, we’ll see what they mean.
There are several tiers of Cava made at Segura Viudas. From less expensive to more expensive. Since we already know Cavas cost less because of mechanics, we’re going to try one of their upper tiers. Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad. Phew, that’s a long name. (“Heredad” means “estate.” So, this wine is made from grapes grown by Segura Viudas. A blend of Macabeo and Paralleda.) The first thing we notice about this wine is its beautiful bottle. Hand blown glass in a pewter base with a pewter copy of the family crest on it, too. This is a non-vintage wine with limited production. The high quality, artisanal style of Segura Viudas is clear in the wine. It is elegant and impressive. Only wines from the first pressing of the grapes are used. Only the best wines are used, from several vintages. The Cava is aged on its lees, in its bottle, for thirty months. Some of the riddling, to separate out the settling lees, is done by hand. This helps augment some of the flavors and complexities in the finished wine. The wine is a straw yellow color. With particularly small bubbles. Always a good sign. The aromas are yeasty, with light, smoky brioche notes. Signs of the extended lees aging. Honey and fruits and flowers are also in the bouquet. The flavors are lemon and mild melon, brioche, blanched almonds and white truffles. And a smoky minerality. Flavors that are full enough to go with pasta tossed with truffle oil, roast chicken, baked or fried seafood, veal meatballs, mild, creamy cheese, Parmesan, green olives. And so much more.
Heredad is an elegant bubbly. Rich and complex. Good enough for the best of special occasions. And, the gorgeous bottle doesn’t hurt. But, because it is not as expensive as Champagne, we can have it more often. Any time we feel like it. For $19.99. Yikes. It is time if we say it is. Like now? Enjoy.