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Putting the sparkle into Christmas

Spanish Cava is gaining popularity and is increasingly the toast of the sparkling wine trade

Cast your mind back to last year’s yuletide festivities. The chances are you celebrated Christmas and saw in the new year with a glass of sparkling wine in your hand.

According to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), the most popular sparkling wines are Champagne, Prosecco and Spanish Cava.

Some 23 million bottles of Spanish Cava were sold in the UK last year, the WSTA says. And Miles Beale, WSTA chief executive, adds: “Sales of Spanish Cava are likely to increase over the next few years.”

Cava may be categorised as a sparkling wine, but it is extremely underrated

But why is Spanish Cava growing in popularity? The answer lies in the thousands of acres of vineyards in the Penedès region of Catalonia, which is known to locals and wine experts alike as “the capital of Cava”.

Penedès is also home to Codorníu, Spain’s oldest producer of Cava. Established by Jaume Codorníu in 1551, the winery, owns more than 1,500 vineyards, which collectively span 3,000 hectares.

While the three varieties of grape that are grown there benefit from the Mediterranean climate and the limestone-clay soil, setting the vineyards at different elevations, adds to the flavour of the Cava and gives its distinct taste.

But it is not just mother nature that has made Codorníu the world’s second-largest producer of Cava. In addition to vineyard selection, the two “ts”, technology and teamwork, have a prominent role to play, says Bruno Colomer, Codorníu’s chief winemaker.

He explains: “In terms of taste, when a bottle of Codorníu is uncorked, it must clearly reflect the vineyard where it was born. That’s the litmus test. It takes a collaborative culture, where growers, viticulture and winemaking teams are working together on a daily basis, to succeed.”

But the journey from grape to wine glass, which has been perfected by 18 generations of winemakers, can take up to five years to complete. It begins in the vineyards where Mr Colomer says sustainability has been weaved into the fabric of Codorníu’s DNA.

“We always try to preserve local ecosystems and wildlife,” he says. “For example, we use pheromones instead of chemicals to prevent insects from reproducing on the crop. We also utilise state-of-the-art satellite imagery to monitor vineyards, which enables us to organically tend to the individual needs of each vineyard and conserve water in the process.”

Mr Colomer summarises the primary and secondary fermentation process, which gives Spanish Cava its special taste. He says: “After the grapes are pressed, the wines are fermented separately to lock in the individual personality of the grape. The wines are then mixed, bottled, fermented again and some are left to age for 36 months. We then rotate the bottles and add sugar before they are finally corked.”

It is this exhaustive and circuitous journey that not only gives Spanish Cava its unique, distinctive and creamy taste, but sets it apart from Prosecco and Champagne.

“It would be a mistake to see Spanish Cava as occupying the middle ground between Champagne at one end of the spectrum and Prosecco at the other,” says Mr Colomer. “Cava may be categorised as a sparkling wine, but it is extremely underrated. It’s not just a drink to be enjoyed at Christmas, Cava is the perfect drink for any occasion.

“For example, it’s extremely versatile with food, much more so than other sparkling wines, and also makes for a good after-work or a weekend drink too. The great challenge for marketers is to find the correct market position for Cava. This would allow Codorníu to be enjoyed by a greater number of people.”

Back in Penedès, south west of Barcelona, this would no doubt make the Codorníu family very happy. Even more so, if those promoting it succeed in turning Spanish Cava into a drink for all seasons.

For more information please visit www.codorniu.com/uk/

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