Cava and Beyond: Sensational Champagne Method Sparkling Wines from Catalonia

12/5/15 -

Over the last two centuries, key advancements in the history of Cava were introduced by a series of innovative heirs to the Raventós name and land. Josep Raventós Fatjó was among the first to produce Método Tradicional (Champagne method) sparkling wines; Manuel Raventós Domènech spearheaded the post-phylloxera (1890s) planting of white grapes suited to top-quality sparkling wine in the calcareous and clay vineyards of Penedès (the Catalonian winegrowing region that would soon become the heart of Cava production); Josep Maria Raventós i Blanc was born at Can Cordoníu in 1922, led the Cava kingpin through massive expansion in the 1970s, and was instrumental in the creation of the Cava Denominación de Origen (DO) before parting ways with Cordoníu to found Raventós i Blanc winery.

Today, the charismatic father-and-son team of Manuel and Pepe Raventós are at the helm of Raventós i Blanc. The family's history and legacy have long been defined by deep care for the land and commitment to the process of making wine sparkle, as well as unceasing innovation against economic and political odds. The quest for quality intensified in 2012, when Pepe Raventós made the controversial decision to part ways with the Cava D.O. in pursuit of the new designation Conca del Riu Anoia, designed to prioritize organic and biodynamic agriculture, native grape varieties, vintage and terroir expression, and a minimum of 18 months aging.

The latter requirement is, perhaps, one of the most interesting with respect to creating true Champagne-caliber wines. The practice of extended aging on the lees, following the second fermentation that fills the bottle of wine with bubbles, is key to the emergent yeasty and savory umami flavors and creamy textures that we seek in Champagnes with some age. (See The Umami of Champagne for more on autolysis and umami flavors:

Spanish versions are frequently made in the Brut Nature style, which means that there is no dosage/sweetening agent added after disgorgement. In Champagne, this practice is used to calibrate perfect balance between acidity and other flavors in the wine. A Mediterranean climate creates riper fruit and gentler acidity than in Champagne; consequently, the acidity in the final wine is more likely to be naturally balanced at zero dosage. The best Brut Nature sparklers with age from Spain (whether Conca, Cava, or other) are deeply dry and savory, marked by salty minerality, the aforementioned umami, and broad golden fruit flecked with citrus oils and exotic Mediterranean garrigue and spice. Naturally, they pair seamlessly with the range of delicious savory flavors and ingredients found in Catalan cooking, but are also inspiring matches for a wide range of everday meals -- fried chicken, Asian cuisine, raw foods, and cheeses.

In listing the virtues of these wines, it is crucial to recognize value: organically and biodynamically farmed and released after years of lees-aging, the wines offered today can be enjoyed immediately at prices rivaling or lower than those of many younger, less distinctive Champagnes. In addition to the 2011 de la Finca and 2013 de Nit Rose Concas from Raventos,* we are pleased to offer the following: an excellent pair of Brut Nature Cavas from Recaredo, pioneers in extended lees aging and biodynamic farming; the 2007 Castanyer Brut Nature Cava from another deeply creative, historic, and devoted biodynamic family estate, Can Suriol (one of the finest bargains in Cava); and the flagship wine from two wildly talented and experimental brothers, Manel and Joan Aviñó of Clos Lentiscus. Tasting notes and producer details are below. Enjoy!  Ariana Rolich

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