Spain is hot! It's not just the weather but the wine scene too. Spain is now the world's biggest exporter of wine, surpassing even France and Italy! Word hasn't quite gotten out yet that not all of it is cheap, bulk wine and Spain's wine reputation still does not equal that of France or Italy. For this reason, high-quality Spanish wines are still an excellent value for American consumers. But do drink up, dear readers, because Spain could soon go the way of Italy, which just 10 years ago also had a reputation as producing mostly inexpensive, uninteresting wine. Once consumers catch on, prices will get steeper and steeper!
Last week in my travels around NYC I tasted many wonderful, well-made Spanish wines at various trade tastings: crisp, fresh Albarinos from Rias Baixas; zesty, earthy, almost tart tempranillos from Rioja; lush, big, juicy, tannic tempranillos from Ribera del Duero; complex, floral, spicy Sherry from Andalusia. Of all these fabulous, interesting wines, there was one winery which made a big impression on me.
Cava is a sparkling wine made in the traditional method in Catalonia in Northeastern Spain. It gets its name from the stone cellars in which it is matured, i.e. caves or cavas in Spanish. Gramona Cava is from an area of Catalonia called Penedes, close to Barcelona near the Mediterranean Sea. I have tasted many Cavas over the years, but none had the complex aromas and flavors or creamy texture on the palate as these do. It was such a pleasure to meet and chat with Xavier Gramona, Vice President of this 135 year old, family-owned company. While tasting through several of his wonderfully aromatic, fresh and elegant (i.e., well-balanced) sparkling wines, Xavier discussed yeast and its effect on the wines. In the traditional method, yeast and sugar are added to the base wine which is then bottled and left to age. Basically, the yeast devours the sugar and the wine ferments for a second time inside the sealed bottle. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of this process and the bubbles are trapped inside the bottle. Eventually all the sugar is used up by the yeast which then dies and is referred to as the lees. The longer a wine is left to age on its lees, the more complexity, creaminess and flavor it gains. The interaction between the dead yeast cells and the wine, called autolysis, imparts a wonderful, brioche aroma and flavor. Xavier explained to me that Gramona is one of only a few Cava producers who make long-aging sparkling wine. The average aging on the lees for all Gramona Cavas is 6 years, more than double that required for a Gran Reserva. In fact, the 2001 Enoteca Brut Nature was in contact for 12 years with the lees! These complex wines can also age, and even improve, for many years in your cellar.
As the expression goes, the proof is in the pudding. In this case, the confirmation is in the Cava!! Most cava is simple, fresh $6-10 wine to be drunk on a hot day or blended in cocktails. The Gramona Cavas have a taste and texture more like a fine champagne with tiny, elegant bubbles that tickle your tongue and make you want more!
The Wine Chef's Favorite Gramona Cavas
- The non-vintage, La Cuvee Gran Reserva at around $20 a bottle is a steal! Start off the night serving this with cheese, ham or any selection of appetizers.
- The 2008 vintage Imperial Gran Reserva Brut at about $27 is also an amazing value. This Cava can pair well with both first and second courses, especially seafood.
- The 2004 Celler Batlle Gran Reserva Brut is an excellent special occasion cava for $80. This Cava can be paired with just about anything at your table, cheese, fish, fowl and meats!
- The 2001 Enoteca Brut Nature is a splurge at $200, but well worth it for that extra-special occasion! This one can be paired with heartier food like Chicken or pork in a cream sauce.
Please do yourself a favor and find a Gramona Cava at your local retailer, restaurant or online (wine-searcher.com) and enjoy with your favorite food!
The Wine Chef