Keynotes for Sparkling WINE Week by Wine Pleasures announced

We’re excited to share that Giampiero Nadali and Liz Palmer will be appearing as keynote speakers at Sparkling WINE Week by Wine Pleasures.

Giampiero, co-creator of Fermenti Digitali (“Digital Yeasts”), will deliver an inspirational session on The Sparkling Wines of Italy from north to south, exploring specific terroirs and production methods.

Liz is a well-respected award-winning author and wine journalist since 2004 and has an international reputation as a critic and judge. Liz has had the pleasure of interviewing and tasting with some of the industry’s leading winemakers, professors and personalities. At Sparkling WINE week she will be presenting Champagne popping out of Covid-19

Also in the 2 day programme will be a talk titled Adventures in Fizz with host Anthony Swift. Champagne, Cava, Franciacorta and Prosecco may dominate the sparkling wine world, but there many other exciting top tier options to consider for import. Anthony will be reviewing the gold medal winners in the annual sparkling wine competition 50 Great Sparkling Wines of the World.

Also in the programme and looking to connect with international wine importers are several live interviews with bubble producers from diverse regions such as Champagne, Piemonte, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Penedès and Mendoza.

To view the event programme and register for free here>>

Introducing Sparkling WINE Week Online Trade Fair

On the 1 & 2 July 2020 Wine Pleasures is launching Sparkling WINE Week – an online trade fair aimed at helping sparkling wine producers to pitch to wine importers from around the world when travel is virtually impossible. Event host Anthony Swift explains how it is going to work.

Tell us about Sparkling WINE Week.

As we organise not only B2B Workshops in Spain, Italy and the UK but also we organise two annual Sparkling Wiine competitons – 50 Great Cavas and 50 Great Sparkling Wines of the World,  it made sense in these challenging times to look at how to keep wine producers and wine buyers connected and doing business while simultaneously providing useful content to help the wine importer with their businesses. Having just completed Spanish WINE Week and Italian WINE Week in May organising the Sparkling WINE week was an obvious next step.

Delivered in English, the Sparkling WINE Week 2 day programme offers cutting edge professional education opportunities for the wine buying professionals at all levels. Attendees can take advantage of influential, expert led sessions and enhance their knowledge, grow their business and in their profession and be inspired! The programme also contains live interviews with boutique sparkling wine producers to enable wine buyers to make great sparkling discoveries from diverse terroirs in countries such as Argentina, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the UK.

That seems like a good blend of  tools to help both producers and buyers in what is a difficult time. How did Spanish WINE Week and Italain WINE Week go?

Went great!  We had Masters of Wine Fernado Mora and Sarah Jane Evans as keynote speakers for Spain and Richard Baudains and Giampiero Nadalli for Italy and we had an excellent range of boutique wine producers from around Spain and Italy. The event was well attended by wine importers and distributors from Japan to the USA and from Scandinavian countries to Australia. Over a 100 buyer appointment requests were received.

So how will Sparkling WINE Week work? 

Much the same as Spanish and Italian WINE Week but with a greater attendance of wine importers – we are expecting around 500 buyers to sign up for the event.

5 live daily sessions will be run with a program that includes  talks delivered by expert speakers, interviews with producers, and some videos of different regions from around the world.  We’re also providing a tool to set up private meetings between producers and buyers to create new business opportunities.

Sparkling Wine producers interested in participating in the programme can view more info here: https://www.winepleasures.com/workshop/sparkling-wine-week/

What happens if a buyer signs up but misses a live session?

No problem. If an attendee misses any or all of the live sessions he or she will be able to view a replay whenever convenient. 

How do buyers get involved if they want to participate?

The event is free for wine buyers, distributors, retailers, agents, journalists and bloggers. Buyers wishing to participate in the event should register here: https://www.winepleasures.com/workshop/sparkling-wine-week-2020/

If you would like to find out any more about Sparkling WINE Week then contact Anthony Swift on info@winepleasures.com or T. +34 93 897 70 48
W.
www.winepleasures.com

Cava Rules

The Cava Regulatory Board is the governing body that established the rules for growing the grapes used to produce Cava and the production of Cava. This regulatory board is under the Ministry of the Environment, Rural and Marine Affairs. In previous centuries, sparkling wine in Spain was referred to as Champagne. In the late 1950’s regulations for sparkling wine were established and the term “Cava” was used to designate a sparkling wine made in the traditional method.

The Cava Regulatory Board has several functions. The board’s first task is to guide, supervise and monitor Cava production and quality. Further, the board is charged with safeguarding the prestige of the term “Cava” and prosecuting improper use of that term. From a marketing point of view, the board promotes Cava and expands its market.

Regulations for Growers

Growers have to follow rules in the vineyards. The Regulatory Board makes sure that grapes used for Cava production only come from vineyard plots that are entitled to grow grapes for Cava production. There are 159 municipalities in several provinces that can grow grapes used to make Cava. These provinces include:

            Barcelona (63 municipalities), Tarragona (52 municipalities)

            Lleida (12 municipalities), Girona (5 municipalities)

            La Rioja (18 municipalities), Alava (3 municipalities)

            Zaragoza (2 municipalities), Navarra (2 municipalities)

            Valencia (1 municipality) , Badajoz (1 municipality)

Growers need to register with the Cava Regulatory Board. They must report the grape varieties they are growing and the size of the vineyard. They are required to report harvest yields when grapes are harvested and again at a winery at time of delivery. Current yields are capped at 12,000 kilograms per hectare. Growers are not permitted to harvest more than this number. There are exceptions though. To take in account the weather in a particular year, the number can be raised or lowered by 25%. This is infrequent though and has occurred only a few times in the last two decades.

The quality and quantity of grapes are also controlled, as is the destination of the grapes. Cava production takes place in different regions of Spain; however, 97,54% of the production is in and around the Capital of Cava, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. The Cava Regulatory Board governs where Cava grapes can be planted and where Cava is produced.

According to the Cava Regulatory Board, only certain grape varieties are allowed for Cava production. See chapter previous chapter on “Cava Grape Varieties”

Regulations for Producers

Cava producers must report to the Cava Regulatory Board how many kilos of grapes they are receiving from growers. They should not accept grapes from a grower that has exceeded the limit. If so, the producer may not call his product Cava. Inspectors from the board test grapes for acid, brix or sugar content and overall condition.

In addition to registering with the Cava Regulatory Board, Cava producers must follow specific winemaking protocols. For example, only 66% of the juice from the first press may be used in Cava production. This includes the free run juice and juice obtained from gently pressing the grapes. The additional juice from the pressing may be used for table wine production or sold to other industries such as the spirits industry, rubbing alcohol industry or vinegar industry. Although additionally pressed juice may be used for a table wine, it cannot be used for a wine that has a DO designation. If a producer only takes juice from the first 50% of the first press, the producer is not permitted to press to 66% to make another DO wine. Only one DO wine can be made from a pressing of each grape.

Once the wine is made there are a number of regulations that producers must meet prior to the start of the secondary fermentation. These include:

  • An alcohol level between 9.5% and 11.5%
    • Overall acidity greater than 5.0 grams per liter
    • Real volatile acidity less than 0.6 grams per liter
    • Overall sulphur dioxide greater than 140 milligrams per liter
    • pH between 2.8 and 3.3

The Board inspects a producer’s base wines and analyzes it in order to ensure quality and the above data. If for example, a producer makes a base wine that is 13% alcohol, the regulatory board will refuse the wine and it cannot be used to make Cava. Likewise if the acid is off, the board will also refuse to allow the wine to be made into Cava, although the producer has a second chance to correct the acid levels bringing them into acceptable ranges.

Producers blend the base wines and add a mixture of sugar, yeast and wine to the coupage in each bottle. This sugar and yeast ferment to produce the carbon dioxide gas. Since the gas cannot escape the bottle during this secondary fermentation, it diffuses into the wine causing the bubbles when the bottle is opened. Pressure levels in the Cava bottle are over 3.5 bars and for half bottles, 3.0 bars. The final alcohol level of the Cava will increase to between 10.8% and 12.8%.

Another control point is the cap placed on the cava bottles prior to the secondary fermentation. These caps must be date stamped to ensure that minimum monthly aging is followed.

Regulations Help Consumers

The regulatory board has to approve labels, which in turn helps consumers purchase the type of Cava they want to purchase. Particular words on a label provide consumers with information about what is in the bottle. All these rules enable Cava to be the only sparkling wine in the world to have the name “Cava” on the label.

Consumers should take a moment to read the label on a bottle of Cava they plan to purchase. There is a great deal of information about the Cava in the bottle. Consumers can learn about the minimum amount of time the Cava was aged before disgorgement and the sweetness level ranging from no sweetness to sweet. Key terms identify these concepts.

Consumers learn that some Cavas are aged, during secondary fermentation, for a shorter time than others. Rules govern the minimum amount of time for aging. A Cava with simply the label “Cava” was aged for a minimum of nine months. This aging refers to the amount of time during secondary fermentation and aging on the lees before the wine is disgorged. A “Reserva Cava” has been aged a minimum of 15 months. A “Gran Reserva” has seen a minimum of 30 months. The designation of a Gran Reserva may only appear on a dry cava such as Brut Nature, Extra Brut or Brut. If Gran Reserva is on the label, the label must also list the year of the harvest. Cava is the only sparkling wine in the world which holds the Gran Reserva category.

Type of CavaMinimum Aging
Cava9 months
Cava Reserva15 months
Cava Gran Reserva30 months
Cava de Paraje Calificado 36 months

The words Cava, Reserva and Gran Reserva tell consumers the minimum time the Cava was aged.Other phrases on the bottle label indicate the range of sugar or sweetness in the Cava. The driest of all Cavas is a Brut Nature that has between 0-3 grams of residual sugar per liter. Almost as dry is the Extra Brut with between 0-6 grams of residual sugar per liter. Brut refers to a Cava that has between 1-12 grams of residual sugar per liter. Extra dry has a range of 12 to 17 grams of residual sugar per liter. Of these four classifications, some consumers find it difficult to pick out any sweetness in the taste. A Dry Cava has between 17 and 32 grams of residual sugar per liter. Some people may notice a hint of sweetness. Most wine tasters can recognize the sweetness in a semi-dry and sweet Cavas. A Semi-Dry Cava has a range of 32 to 50 grams of residual sugar per liter while a sweet Cava has over 50 grams of residual sugar per liter. Sparkling wines made during the nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries were sweet. The very dry sparkling wines are a more recent trend of sparkling wine enthusiasts who enjoy Cava with food. Note that these regulations are the regulations by the European Union for all sweetness levels of sparkling wines.

Cava Sugar Content

NameGrams of sugar per liter
Brut Nature0 – 3
Extra Brut0 – 6
Brut0 -12
Extra Dry12 – 17
Dry17 – 32
Medium Dry32 – 50
SweetOver 50

Other information on a Cava label includes the brand or bodega where the Cava was made and data such as harvest year, alcohol content and whether the Cava is a rosé. The capacity of the bottle is also stated. The back label also contains useful information for the consumer and contains a legal notice such as “contains sulphites.” Look for information about the grape varieties in the blend. Some bodegas also list the percentage of the grape varieties in the blend such as Xarel.lo 60%, Macabeo 20% and Parellada 20%.

Other information on the back label may include disgorging date, tasting notes and serving temperature. The disgorgement date is important for consumers; however, this is relatively a new consumer demand and the sparkling wine industry is slow to respond. Generally, after a Cava is disgorged, it is corked, labelled and sold. The disgorgement date gives consumers an idea of how long the bottle was in the distribution channel including on a wine shop’s shelf.

Some consumers may notice a four-pointed star on the bottom of the cork. The star is an indication that the Cava was made using the traditional method. The star on the cork is not compulsory and does not necessarily mean quality.

Promoting Cava

One of the regulatory board’s missions is to promote Cava. There are a number of activities and events that the Cava Regulatory Board undertakes to promote Cava both on a national and on an international level. The majority are aimed at traditional and online media, sommeliers, restaurants and boutique wine shops. Activities include Press Trips, Cava and food matching events, Master Classes and gastronomy events. Another strategy underway is to appeal to the young (25 + year old) market by creating Cava cocktails for evening enjoyment.

The Future

The Cava Regulatory Board is not a static organization. New rules are considered. In 2014 a new category of Cava was suggested – “Cava de Paraje Calificado” (Single State Cava) – and has since been approved.

Under this new category the DO Cava aims to group only those Cavas which are produced in specific settings “small area especially licensed as extraordinary and unique due to its climate and soil characteristics

Cavas produced from wines in such estates and comply with the quality requirements in both the production and making process will be able to use the term Cava de Paraje. Such Cavas will be branded as “having renowned excellence, be of remarkable standing and be successful in the market”. The regulations governing the production of this new Cava are very strict in terms of number of hectares, time on the lees and so on.

The Cava industry may well seem heavily regulated with rules applying to the vineyard, to the winery and bottle labeling. Ultimately, these rules help the consumer. When a Cava is purchased, the buyer has information about the Cava before the cork is popped.

Wine Pleasures organises the only annual wine competition exclusively for Cava – 50 Great Cavas. Discover the top Cavas for this year here>>

Los 50 Mejores Cavas para 2020

Bodegues Sumarroca y Agrícola Casa Sala, los Cavas mejor valorados en la única competición anual para el Cava organizada por Wine Pleasures. 

Se ha celebrado la dècima edición anual de la compètición 50 Great Cavas, un acontecimiento  que reúne los mejores Cavas de la DO Cava.

La prestigiosa y única competición para los vinos espumosos con DO Cava, liderada por Anthony Swift, y apoyada por especialistas del mundo del vino enólogo y sommelier Juan Manuel Gonzalvo, periodista Santiago Fernandez, sommelier Felipe Urbano Arjona y en ocasiones anteriors el Master of Wine  Norrel Robertson, otorgó los premios a los mejores Cavas con 95 y 96 puntos a:

Adernats (Nulles, Tarragona), Vía de la Plata (Extremadura), Sumarroca (Penedès), UVESTE (Requena, Valencia), Rovellats (Penedès), Roger Goulart (Penedès), Agrícola Casa Sala (Penedès) con Can Sala Cava de Paraje y Clos Montblanc (Concà de Barberà) con Clos Montblanc Brut Premium

Todo los resultados de la competición 50 Great Cavas 2020 se pueden consultar en:

https://www.winepleasures.com/50-great-cavas-2020

A diferencia de otras competiciones para el vino espumoso, Wine Pleasures mediante una nota de prensa hace una difusión importante de los resultados 50 Great Cavas 2020. Concretamente se envían a

  • Más de 75,000 importadores, distribuidores y comercios en mercados importantes como EEUU, países europeos, y países asiáticos
  • Más de 140,000 seguidores en las redes sociales (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter y Linkedin).
  • Revistas relacionado con el vino y el turismo del vino

Véase la versión inglesa de este comunicado desde 50 Great Cavas to try in 2020>>

50 Great Cavas to try in 2020

Once again the only annual wine competition for Cava has uncorked a breathtaking range of Brut Nature and Brut Cavas from young to long aged ready for Christmas and throughout 2020. Anthony Swift, Competition Director highlights the Cavas that excelled at the annual tasting organised by Wine Pleasures.

12 top-tier Cavas receive Gold Medals with scores of 95 & 96 points and have been been classified as Highly Recomended and these were obtained by producers who score high year on year in the competition Regular Gold winners include Adernats (Nulles, Tarragona), Vía de la Plata (Extremadura), Sumarroca (Penedès), UVESTE (Requena, Valencia), Rovellats (Penedès) and Roger Goulart (Penedès) . Also achieving a Gold medal are newcomers to the competiton: Agrícola Casa Sala (Penedès) with Can Sala Cava de Paraje and Clos Montblanc (Concà de Barberà) with Clos Montblanc Brut Premium

The remainder of the Cavas were classified as Recommended and were awarded Silver medals with scores ranging between 90 and 94 points. Most of the medals were awarded to producers in the Penedès wine region (Catalonia) with some awards going to producers located in Calatayud (Bodegas Langa), Extremadura (Vía de la Plata) & Valencia (Bodegas Vegalfaro & UVESTE). Some interesting retail prices too amongst the 50 Greats ranging from €4,95 to €35 Euros making Cava a luxury you can afford whenever you wish.

Those looking to splurge on long aged Cava (Cava Grand Reserva Larga Crianza) should try and get their hands on prize winners from prestigious Cava producers Sumarroca Núria Claverol Homenatge (40 months), RRP €43,95 and Agrícola Casa Sala Can Sala (132 months), RRP €75,00

The results of the 2020 edition of annual competition 50 Great Cavas can be viewed at https://www.winepleasures.com/50-great-cavas-2020 and contains all the Gold and Silver medal winners with photos and tasting notes for each. 50 Great Cavas 2020 is a useful resource consulted by both the on and off trade and the end wine consumer/wine traveller.

 

World’s Top Sparkling Wine Competitions

Effervescents du Monde

The longest running competition exclusively for sparkling wines Effervescents du Monde, organised by the Association Forum Œnologie, in participation with the Revue des Œnologues and in partnership with the Castel Culinary School (Dijon, France), which acts as the sensory performance assessment centre for the expert judges, and hosts the competition. The competition receives over 500 entries from over 20 countries. The majority of the entries are from France and involves some 100 international judges. More information here>>

50 Great Sparkling Wines of the World Competition

The completion 50 Great Sparkling Wines of the World makes for a more competitive competition as medals are only awarded to those producers awarded the 50 best scores. 5 judges are appointed each year with 2 of them being constant. Judges are typically wine buyers/sommeliers with current direct commercial buying responsibility. The competition singles out and shines the spotlight on 50 sparkling wines that consumers really want to buy and have a clear market value for trade buyers. Judging is organised according to method of production. Portugal, Italy and Spain tend to dominate the top 50 positions. More information here>>

The Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships

A more sophisticated sparkling wine completion which not only tastes and rates the wines but also breaks down the results into several category winners so for example you have World Champion by Style, National Champion, Regional Champion, Best in Class, Chairman’s Choice and the list goes on. Unique to this competition is that there are just 3 judges namely Tom Stevenson, Essi AveLlan MW and Dr. Tony Jordan and as a team they judge all of the entries on a year on year basis which means constant, reliable and efficient judging. As the name of the competition implies a high number of entries from France. More information here>>

50 Great Cavas

The only competition for sparkling wines produced under Spain’s Designation of Origen, Cava. A panel of 5 international judges from around the world including including Masters of Wine and Sommeliers, importers, wine makers, journalists sit down over two days and judge the Cavas according to 4 categories Cava, Reserva, Gran Reserva, Cava de Paraje. Within each category Cavas are organised in flights according to dosage. Gold and Silver medals are awarded to the top 50 scorers. More information here>>

Brazilian Sparkling Contest

Recognized as the main competition for the promotion of Brazilian sparkling wine, the Brazilian Sparkling Contest receives registrations of sparkling wines obtained from the different methods of production. The sparkling wines are tasted by a select group of tasters chosen by the Associação Brasileira de Enologia (charmat and traditional method). Tasting standards of the International Grape and Wine Organization (OIV) and the International Union of Winemakers (UIOE) continue to guide the event. The best sparkling wines are awarded according to category. More information here>>

Did we miss any? Please feel free to add a comment pointing to a competition not listed here.

50 Stellar Cavas for 2019

Once again the only annual wine competition for Cava has uncorked a breathtaking range of Brut Nature and Brut Cavas from young to long aged ready for Christmas and throughout 2019. Anthony Swift, Competition Director highlights the Cavas that excelled at the annual tasting organised by Wine Pleasures.

23 top-tier Cavas receive Gold Medals with scores of 95 – 97points and have been classified as Outstanding and these were obtained by producers who score high year on year in the competition Regular Gold winners include Adernats (Nulles, Tarragona), Mas Codina (Penedès), Pago de Tharsys (Requena, Valencia), Vía de la Plata (Extremadura), Gramona (Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Penedès) Agustí Torelló Mata (Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Penedès) Sumarroca (Subirats, Penedès) Bodega Vegalfaro (Requena, Valencia) and Ramón Canals Canals (Castellvi de Rosanes, Penedès). Also achieving Gold medals are the following newcomers to the competiton: Roger Goulart with Roger Goulart Gran Reserva 2011, Bodegas Pinord with Marrugat Gran Reserva Brut Nature Millésime 2011 and Bodegas Ca n’Estella with Cava Rabetllat i Vidal Gran Reserva de la Finca

The remainder of the Cavas were classified as Highly Recommended and were awarded Silver medals with scores ranging between 90 and 94 points. Most of the medals were awarded to producers in the Penedès wine region (Catalonia) with some awards going to producers located in Calatayud (Bodegas Langa), Extremadura (Vía de la Plata) & Valencia (Pago de TharsysBodegas Vegalfaro & UVESTE). Some interesting retail prices too amongst the 50 Greats ranging from €4,95 to €35 Euros making Cava a luxury you can afford whenever you wish.

Those looking to splurge on long aged Cava (Cava Grand Reserva Larga Crianza) should try to get their hands on prize winners from prestigious Cava producer Gramona – Celler Battlé Brut Gran Reserva 2006 Vintage (120 months), Recommended Retail Price (RRP) €56 and Enoteca Gramona 2004 Vintage RRP €140

The results of the 2019 edition of annual competition 50 Great Cavas can be viewed at https://www.winepleasures.com/50-great-cavas-for-2019  and contains all the Gold and Silver medal winners with photos and tasting notes for each. 50 Great Cavas 2019 is a useful resource consulted by both the on and off trade and the end wine consumer/wine traveller.

After 300 harvests, Mas Codina go back to organic roots

Up in the Alt Penedès, watched over by the impressive peak of Montserrat, Mas Codina is a small organic family winery, which maintains very much of a local and traditional feel, growing 40 hectares of red and white grapes. A lazy Saturday morning provided the perfect excuse to pay a little visit to learn about their personal process and sample some of the fruits of their labours.

The house was constructed back in 1681, with grape cultivation beginning some time after that (records are a little patchy so far back in the mists of time!). When wine production first began, it was originally stored in barrels and sold to other wineries in that format, along with harvested grapes ready for processing, but in 1985 the family began bottling their own wine. The business has grown from there, still today growing all of their own vines, and selling some of their grapes on to other wine producers.

Many of their vines are still in the traditional style of freestanding bushes, making the most of the available space, slowly being replaced by the system of row support wires now more widely seen around the world. The different varieties are planted in differing directions to make the most of the sunlight. While around 10% of the crop is harvested by machine in the cooler night-times in August, the rest is all lovingly harvested by hand slightly later in the year as the other varieties ripen, and more helping hands are available assist with the picking.

Seeking to be kinder to the environment, and also following the increasingly popular trend, Mas Codina was certified as an organic producer in 2017, after the required three years’ conversion period. Today, they use no chemicals on their grapes, only certain minerals such as copper and sulphur to help in natural prevention of crop diseases. In place of harmful insecticides, natural hormones are used to discourage moths from destroying the grapes. Old, gnarly olive trees provide a rustic border to the vineyards, and are also used for the production of organic olive oil.

The cellar keeps the bottles cool to allow the Cavas to age and create their complexity, with climate control if needed to maintain exactly the right temperature during the hot summers’ days. The pressing and storage machines are glistening and modern, to maximise the efficiency of production, but as the winery’s unwritten motto says, the quality of the product is down to the grapes and the traditional know how that goes into their growing and cultivation through the year. Good grapes mean a good final product; the machines simply facilitate the process.

The grapes are separated from the twigs, cooled to around 15° to protect the aroma and avoid oxidation, and pressed. Like many grape growers, Mas Codina keep only the finest grapes and the first pressing for themselves, selling off any excess and further pressings to other wineries. Of the wine produced, 70% is cava, and the rest is still wine, both red and white. Roughly 65% is exported, 25% being consumed in the local Catalan region, and 10% being consumed elsewhere in Spain – it seems the rest of Spain has not yet discovered the deliciousness within.

As any good winery visit should, ours ended with a tasting.  Seated around a small round table, the anticipation was palpable – having featured several times previously in the annual 50 Great Cavas competition, it was little surprise that the Cava we tried was delicious, and it was just a shame there was not the chance to try more – rumour has it that the Mas Codina Brut Rosé is especially tasty!

The award winning Cava we tasted on the day was the Mas Codina Brut Nature Reserva 2015

Tim Hall
Travel Blog Writer>>

Bohigas: filling your glass with 800 years of local knowledge

Sitting in a privileged location a stone’s throw from Igualada (the capital of the Catalonian province of Anoia), Fermí Bohigas winery, nestled amongst woods and vineyards, carries an illustrious wine making heritage stretching back nearly 800 years into the 21st century.

Walking through the impressive gates to Caves Bohigas, it’s as if you’re entering an old fortress. But get inside and it also feels like a traditional Spanish winery should feel; walking in through the arched entrance in a rustic whitewashed wall, the gravel crunching under your feet, you have the sensation of stepping back through time and coming to the right place. The courtyard that greets you is straight out of the most evocative romantic novel, the blooming rose bushes gently shaded by plane trees, wooden barrels and old wine making artefacts to remind you why you’re here, with old stone steps and little wooden doors inviting you to explore further.

And Bohigas can back it up with a longer and more detailed history than some countries – the winery is independent, family-owned, and they can trace their wine-making routes all the way back to 1290. The cellar (or “Cava” in Catalan) was first dug out in the 1500s and refurbished in 1929, also the year Bohigas officially began producing the sparkling Cava, having previously focused on still wines. Despite having expanded and now producing more than 600,000 bottles a year of various types – both sparkling and still –to sell locally and around the world, their history clearly remains very dear to them, as you’re reminded by the little touches throughout – a traditional wooden press here, original storage racks there, the house filled with memories and fascinating knick-knacks amassed during the family’s eight-century story in this spot.

Following the Cava-making process takes you through a barrage of contrasts, as Bohigas strive to achieve the fine balance between tradition and heritage, and modern and efficient practices. Climb the ancient stone steps that seem to lead into a tradition barn, and instead inside you’re greeted by sparklingly sterile modernity in the shape of giant stainless tanks; due to their size and to preserve the structure of the historical building in which they reside, the entire roof was removed, the tanks lowered in with a crane, and the roof rebuilt over them! These tanks are where the various grape varieties undergo their individual initial fermentation, and where the different varieties are then mixed in just the right ratios to create the base cava. From there, you descend into the dimly-lit cellar, immediately aware of the pleasant cool inside – the depth below the ground causes it to maintain a constant temperature year-round, perfect for the second fermentation and aging the various cavas they produce. Large, featureless, jail-like rooms inside the cellar reveal themselves to be historical wine fermentation tanks – an entry shoot in the ceiling allowed the grapes to be dropped in, and the weight of the fruit itself caused enough pressure to extract the juice, which then naturally fermented, before being removed through a pipe at the bottom, bottled and taken to market.

Escaping the damp chill of the cellar and emerging like hibernating beasts in the spring to cross the picturesque yard and enter the processing plant, you immediately return to the 21st century. Here, state of the art machines are the kings, bringing the required accuracy to finesse and finish the different types of wine ready for local or international delivery – about 90% of Bohigas’ annual production now being exported and enjoyed worldwide.

Tasting the Cavas – with a couple of slices of pan con tomate, naturally, since we’re in Cataluña – only reinforces the sense of pride in the tradition and quality produced at Bohigas – something that is backed up by their repeated high-scoring presence in the annual 50 Great Cavas contest, with more than one of their cavas securing coveted Highly Recommended or Outstanding results from the expert wine-tasting jury. If it’s good enough for them, it’s most certainly good enough for me!

On the day, we had the chance to sample three of their current Cava offerings (all of them with medals and amongst the 50 Great Cavas for 2018), and in case you’re wondering, this is what our expert wine tasters had to say after judging them in the competition earlier this year:

Cava Bohigas Brut Nature Reserva 2015>>

Noa de Bohigas>>

Cava Bohigas Rosat>>

Tim Hall
Travel Blog Writer>>

Rexach Baqués winery, where carving caves and crafting Cavas go hand-in-hand.

Founded in 1910, this small winery is now run by the founder’s grand daughter, Montse Rexach Peixó, following faithfully in the footsteps of the previous generations to produce up to 150,000 bottles of Cava a year befitting the family name.

Even in the pouring rain, the small, colourful Mediterranean terrace in front of the winery still brightens the day. Upon stepping into the small warehouse, you find yourself surrounded by the giant stainless tanks where the grapes are initially fermented and then mixed. Having been enthusiastically informed about the winery’s rich history, we descended 14m and 100 years back in time to the caves beneath, beginning in the youngest section, and, like some wine-loving Indiana Jones, working our way back to the darkest, earliest parts.

The caves were a real labour of love: in 1910, exploring the best way to produce and store wine, excavation began and a tunnel was created 7m below ground. Dug out by hand, it was a laborious process, but they quickly decided that the temperature was still too much of a victim to the whims of the climate outside, and so the decision was made to continue deeper. Thus, over the next twenty years,the tunnel network that remains in use today, situated 14m below the surface, came into existence. Stretching to well over 1000m in length, it’s a true feat of engineering, given that the founder had no architectural knowledge, and the volta catalana (Catalan arch) construction they employed is still standing strong today, even with houses having been built above some sections. One of the most fascinating quirks is that those digging away 14m down had very little idea of where they actually were in relation to what lay above. Therefore, periodically, they would come up to the surface to investigate, and they worked to buy the land above them as they went, hence the current location of the winery itself, and the vineyard.

The tunnel’s distance beneath the surface means a steady 14.5° day and night, summer and winter – especially important for Rexach Baqués, given that they significantly age all of their Cavas, with their most exclusive line maturing for seven years, this consistency of darkness and temperature allows the Cava’s colour and taste to be carefully preserved. Unlike at many modern Cava producers, the riddling process is still carried out by hand down in these caves, the bottles being expertly turned and stored in traditional wooden riddling racks.

In their day, the caves played also another important role – during the Spanish civil war, they were used as a refuge from the fighting above, and in fact some of the previous generation of the family were even born right there below ground. There might not have been much to eat, but at least they never went short of a good drink!

Arriving in the earliest tunnels, you come upon several racks of bottles barely visible beneath deep layers of spiders’ webs and dust, and discover that many have been here for upwards of a hundred years. Due to the temperature varying too much in this shallower cave, it’s not actively used today, so instead they keep some original bottles (still full) as a nod to their history and the labour of 100 years prior. In some of the corners of the cellar you can also see bottles stacked upside-down, a practice borne out of necessity, as the dampness of the caves caused many of the wooden riddling racks to disintegrate, the corner of the cellar providing an alternative vertical storage place.

From there, it was up the stairs and back to the future, and the cutting-edge machines used for disgorgement, dosage and cleaning and labelling the bottles ready for public sale. It is here where all the final touches are completed, balancing the levels, adjusting the sugars, adding a dash of Pinot Noir to their most exclusive bottles for extra structure and balance, to ensure all the Cava produced is to their exacting standards.

Thus the greatest treat was reserved for last, in a room full of intriguing pieces from the family’s history: the tasting. Rexach Baqués produce just a few different types of Cava each year, and generally in restricted quantities just as demand dictates, so nothing is left lying around to lose its quality – everything completes its aging process and is then rapidly distributed to keep it as fresh as possible. Under the understandably proud gaze of Montse, the sensations of the velvety bubbles, the delicate balance of sweetness and acidity, the note of chocolate here and buttery pastry there let you know you’re drinking pure gold – something crafted with love and a significant dose of family history and know-how.

Tasting Note:

Brut Imperial 2016 (Brut Reserva)

Notes of ripe stone fruit with pastry characters. Ripe apples on the palate. Well balanced and firm. Elegant bubble. Generous length on the finish.

Expected to be one of the 50 Great Cavas for 2019!

Tim Hall
Travel Blog Writer>>
Photos: Jethro Swift