The sparkling wine Cava originated in Spain just before 1851. It took on its modern form in 1872 when Jose Raventós of Codorníu introduced the método tradicional, the technique with which Cava is imbued with carbon dioxide bubbles. DO Cava was first created as a denominación específica, applied to sparkling Spanish wines that complied with certain production methods and quality standards. Now it is also used to define the areas in which Cava may be made. This area spans eight regions within Spain, although 90% of Cava is produced in Catalonia, with 75% made in San Sadurní d’Anoia in Penedès, where Cava was first created.
Cava debuted as xampán, a Spanish imitation of Champagne; now it is the world’s leader in sparkling wine. Cava has also contributed significant innovations to the industry, specifically the gyropalette. This invention mechanized riddling, the formerly labor-intensive process used to gradually shift lees from the base to the mouth of a bottle.
Catalonia, the autonomía where most Cava is produced, is situated between France and the rest of Spain along the northern Mediterranean coast. The area established itself early on as a major trading port. At its greatest expanse in the 14th century, Catalonia incorporated the Languedoc, Sardinia, Sicily, Corsica, the Balearics and parts of Greece and Turkey. Its advantageous location also helped shape a fiercely independent Catalonian spirit, so much so that the region’s Catalán language is a unique dialect apart from Castilian Spanish.
The key city of Catalonia is flamboyant Barcelona, which is a tour de force in the worlds of art and gastronomy. The city is identified with artists Picasso and Dali, as well as famous architects such as Antoni Gaudí.
The local cuisine is Mediterranean, based on tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, peppers, and olive oil. Many dishes also include bread, pasta, legumes, mushrooms, pork or lamb, while fish options include sardines, anchovies, and cod. The cuisine often mixes sweet and savory in stews and sauces based on pork sausage and the iconic picada, which is ground almonds and pine nuts with garlic and herbs.
Classic Catalán cuisine takes an upscale twist in Barcelona with a multitude of tapas. One of the simplest and yet most delicious dishes is pa amb tomaquet, a large slice of fresh country bread rubbed with tomato and drizzled with virgin olive oil. It may be topped with Iberian ham, cheese, or anchovies.
Regarding wine production: Cava is made in the método tradicional, as is Champagne, meaning it undergoes a secondary fermentation in bottle prompted by the addition of yeast and sugar. It is most often comprised of Parellada, which gives fragrance and finesse; Macabéo, which gives freshness and acidity; and Xarel-lo, which provides body. These grapes have become known as “the big three,” and today produce wines that are slightly earthy and citrus-tinged. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and other varieties are being used in increasing quantities as of late, producing wines that are better suited to lengthier lees aging and the fuller-bodied flavors of autolysis. Bottles of Cava can be identified by the four-pointed star imprinted on the cork.