Champagne. Cava. What’s the difference or similarity? There are both. As you know, Champagne is sparking wine produced in the Champagne region of France, made in the Champenoise Traditional Method (with the second fermentation in the bottle), and Cava is sparkling wine produced primarily in the Penedes region of Spain, made in the Champenoise Traditional Method as well.
The main difference to me is the grapes used to produce these sparkling wines. In Champagne, they use one or more of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. In Penedes, they use one or more of Xarelo-Lo, Macabeu, and Parellada, primarily, but can add in some other grapes as permitted. This choice of grapes, as well as the climate that surrounds the vineyards, do affect the flavour of both wines. Spain, having a warmer climate, can produce grapes that quite regularly reach full maturity and flavour, while the more northerly Champagne region, has quite a variable climate depending on the year, so some years the grapes may not reach their full ripeness. So you could classify Cava as being bigger and rounder with riper fruit flavours, while Champagne is leaner with more citrus and mineral flavours. I know not all Cavas and Champagne fit these categorization neatly. There will always be exceptions.
Two of the largest Cava producers in Spain are Freixenet and Codorníu. I had the good fortune to visit Spain over the summer, and spend a day on a wine tour to the Penedes region. Our last stop of the day was to visit Freixenet. It is a huge operation. We had a lovely tour guide who told us about the production of Cava, then we loaded onto a motorized cart and were driven through the endless miles of Cava bottles aging, and waiting to be released to the public. And last but not least, we were given a glass of Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut to sample. FYI, you can buy this Cava here in BC. It is a very widely distributed sparkling wine. One thing that was interesting for me was to learn about all the other Cavas they produce, such as for the Olympics when they were in Barcelona. There is also a Cava they produce called “Reserva Real“, which needed permission from the King to use the Spanish term “Real”, which means “Royal” in English. It was brought to the public in 1987 to mark the occasion of the visit of the King and Queen of Spain to Freixenet. This is one of the bottles I brought back with me from my trip to Spain. I look forward to opening it with royal fanfare amongst friends or family.
Below is a recap of the youtube videos that I produced that covers the history of Freixenet and the production of Cava at their winery. I hope you enjoy watching the videos with a glass of Cava in hand.