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The Spanish Series Part 14: Penedes and the Bubbly Cava

IMG121_Naveran03Ever since the first monk allegedly created sparkling wine (as the legend of Dom Perignon goes), and implored his brothers to come and see the stars in the glass, the world has been enamored with sparkling wine.  From  average people to rock stars, Formula One race winners to sports icons, sparkling wine is ubiquitous.  There is just something about those stars in the glass.

Almost every region in the world that makes wine also makes one with bubbles.  Some make many, to satisfy the worldwide demand.  Various grapes and styles can be found, as well as different methods of production.  Your Prosecco is made with one method, your Moscato with another.  The traditional method, or Méthode Traditionelle, is the best known.  You might also see it referred to as the Méthode Champenoise.  This is how the great Champagne houses of France make their wines, as well as many others around the globe.  It involves producing base, still wines which are fermented dry.  These can be blended, or not, and then a mixture of sugar and yeast is added and the bottled wine is capped.  The yeast and sugar do their thing, and the resulting fermentation creates more alcohol and carbon dioxide.  The carbon dioxide gas, with no where to go, increases the pressure in the bottle and the gas dissolves into the liquid.  There it stays until you open it, and the drop in pressure allows it to bubble up and out of your glass.  This is a bit simplified but that is essentially what happens.

Penedes Vineyards


Only wines made in this method from the Champagne region in France can be called “Champagne”.   Other regions in France make similar wines, and they are called Crémant.   Franciacorta, from the Lombardy region of northern Italy, is another example of great, traditional method, sparkling wine.  You can find an excellent version from the southwest of the United States, and the Gruet Winery of New Mexico.  But for my money, the best value in traditional method sparkling wine is Cava.  Cava comes from the Meditteranean coastal region in Northeast Spain, the Penedès D.O., and packs a serious value into its bubbles.

The heart of Cava country is around Barcelona, in Catalunya.  The Catalunya region accounts for 95% of Cava production, and Cava accounts for 10% of Spain’s entire fine wine production.  Half of the Cava is exported, so the value it represents is not a total secret.

The vineyards providing the grapes for this wine are close to the Mediterranean, low lying with moderate temperatures, high humidity and chalky soil.  The grapes traditionally used are Macabeo (known as Viura in Rioja), Xarel-lo and Paralleda, which are all white.  They also make Rosado Cavas from red Penedes mapvarietals.  Pinot Noir, Garnacha, Monastrell and Trepat are all authorized red grapes for use in the D.O.  Just as in Champagne, they also make white wines from some of the red varietals, eliminating the skin contact during the process and avoiding the transfer of color to the juice.  Depending on the time spent on the lees (the dead yeast cells and leftover grape solids which fall to the bottom of the bottle), and the amount of sugar, these wines can be categorized as either basic Cava, Cava Reserva or Cava Gran Reserva.  The Reservas are limited in their sugar level to Brut, or drier, as well as having extended bottle time.  There are a lot of options.

If you like Champagne, you will like Cava.  These days you can frequently find one on a restaurant bottle list, and more and more on their by the glass list.  If they have it available by the glass, this is what I usually opt for.  You cava coop vineyardscan learn more about Cava, and the Penedès region, at

We have several Cavas to review, and we’ll do it over two different blogs.  We’ll start in this blog with two entry level wines, and two more top of the line sparklers.  They’re all great.

The entry level we’re reviewing here comes from Casteller, a label produced by the Covides Cooperative, the 6th largest producer of Cava and 2nd largest producer of Penedès wines.  The cooperative owns and harvests their own vineyards, over 2000 hectares of them (~5000 acres).  The vineyards are spread throughout the Penedès region.  Both of these wines see 12 months resting time on the lees.  Casteller translates as “tower”, a reference to a Catalunyan traditional game where clans compete to create the tallest human tower.

Casteller Cava Brut – this is a blend of 40% Macabeo, 40% Xarel-lo and 20% Paralleda, and as such is aIMG_2417 classic Cava blend.  The traditional method is used and the wine is aged for 12 months on the lees. Cava must be aged on the lees a minimum of nine months, more for Reserva and Gran Reserva wines.  Our thoughts:

This is crystal clear and filled with multitudes of tiny bubbles.  Aromas of apple and citrus predominate.  It is just off dry, and clean and crisp.  You definitely get the citrus on the palate.  It drinks like a much, much more expensive wine.  This is a quality sparkler for only $15.  Great value.

Casteller Cava Rose – made to the same standards as it’s brother above, this Rosado is 100% Trepat.  IMG_2418Let’s see what’s in this bottle:

The wine is a rich, pink/salmon color.  On the nose there is strawberry and light red fruit.  On the palate, this is another clean and fresh wine, with quite a rich flavor palate.  It is refreshing, with great balance and nice acid.  This wine is absolutely delicious, and one of the best Rosado style sparkling wines I have had in a while.  I prefer this to the Brut, but they are both outstanding for the money.  Also $15, and a crazy value there.

Now we’ll look at a higher caliber wine, carrying the Naveran name as well as vintage designations.  These are the pinnacle of current Naveran proprietor Michel Guilleron Paralleda’s craft, and he sought to capture the maximum number of tiny bubbles and rich fruitThe Paralleda grape, so much a part of the history and makeup of Cava, was bought to this region by this family.  From the Naveran website:, here is the background:

“In the mid 19th century, Pablo Parellada emigrated to Argentina to make his fortune. Upon his return to Spain, he married the daughter of the Marquis of Naveran, Sire of Guernika, and bought the estate upon which the family would settle. Once the phylloxera epidemic was over, Pablo replanted the estate with vines of the Montonec variety—currently known as the Parellada variety, in his honor— which in time would become essential to the production of cava.

Upon his death, he left the property to his eldest son, Pablo Parellada of Naveran, who in turn left it to his daughter Antonia, married to the Swiss national René Gillieron, who in 1975, together with their son Michel, decided to significantly increase vineyard production.”

And now we are fortunate enough to enjoy the results of those generations of work and dedication.

2013 Naveran Perles Blanques  –  from a 272 acre estate in the Alt (high) Penendès subregion, thisIMG_2423 is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay.  The grapes are from organically grown vines.  The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are separately fermented, with 10% in oak.  It stays in the bottle after second fermentation for a minimum of 24 months.  Only 300 6-packs were made.  Our impressions:

Definitely some tropical fruit on the nose here, along with some toast.  You would guess a good quality, French Champagne in a second.  There is a touch of creaminess on the palate.  The wine is beautifully clean while maintaining structure.  A long and pure finish completes the experience.  $35 and equal to wines costing 2-3 times that.

2014 Naveran Perles Roses – from the same estate as the previous wine, this is 100% Pinot Noir.  A IMG_2424history of 90+ scores go with this wine, and it is made to high quality standards.  Twenty four months on the lees.

A beautiful salmon color, this has a fruity nose.  On the palate it is clean, again with good structure, and a long finish.  At the end some blood orange joins the party, along with other citrus flavors.  Tiny bubbles last throughout.  Also $35, this is another wine which you can substitute for that high priced French version. 

Everything we have reviewed in this article goes on the Value List.

If you like sparkling wine then you really should try Cava.  There is no better value in this type of wine anywhere in the world.

We’ll look at two more Cavas, from a different producer, in our next installment in the Spanish Series.

The wines here are imported by our friends at Olé Imports.  You can more of their portfolio of Spanish and Portuguese wines at

To read the previous article in the Spanish Series click here.

A votre santé!


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