Thursday, January 8, 2009

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, December 28, 2008: Cava for new year celebrations

I’m old enough to remember the last recession, or maybe it was officially only a downturn. Either way, I wouldn’t have been suggesting with any great enthusiasm that you to turn to cava on new year’s eve. I’m not saying now that you should swap champagne for cheap Spanish fizz if you can afford the £16 or so needed for the cheapest good champagne. What I am saying is that the quality of cava has improved enormously and it makes a cheering glass of fizz, as long as you don’t expect it to taste like champagne.

Cava doesn’t taste the same because it’s produced in a different country and, with few exceptions, from different grape varieties. There is now some chardonnay and pinot noir used to good effect, but most cava is made from macabeo, parellada, and xarel-lo, a trio of grape varieties that sound like mafiosi and which I wouldn’t bother you with if I didn’t think you might need them for new year’s day trivia quizzes.

As a rule, the younger the cava the better, so vintage isn’t necessarily worth the premium. With non-vintage, you get roughly what you pay for.

Albet I Noya Cava Reserva, £9.95
Showpiece cava: contains chardonnay and it shows (Vintage Roots, 0800 980 4992; reverts to full price, £10.95, on January 11)

Gran Campo Viejo Cava Reserva, £6.33-£6.99
Soft, fresh, fruity, medium-dry; a crowd pleaser (Thresher and Wine Rack, £6.33 when you buy 3; Sainsbury’s).

Prestige Cava, £6.99/£5
Crisp, sweet apple and herb flavours (Marks & Spencer, £5 when you buy two until January 3).