What cava can teach us.
No doubt the glorious rise of local, bottle-fermented sparkling wine – instigated by the great Frans Malan at Simonsig all those decades ago – has, from the start, mimicked as best it could, what it considered the real McCoy: champagne. And there is no doubt that, even when we say MCC isn’t ‘champagne’, the combination of pinot noir, chardonnay and now, increasingly, pinot meunier is what we consider the best basis for fine bubbly.
Experiments in the great method of getting the second fermentation in the bottle right – not to mention the run-away commercial success of sparkling wine – have delivered the odd ‘other’ grape bottlings: shiraz (a la Aussie), pinotage (GB ace PF’s efforts, now abandoned) and, with some success, chenin blanc (which was also Frans Malan’s first base wine).
Yet, Cape winemakers, progressively more expert in the fine-tuning of the bottled magic, have not extended the field of grape varietals much when it comes to MCC.
This thought came to mind with the pleasant surprise of a contemporary cava opened the other night.
Spain’s indigenous sparkling wine ‘cava’ (from the Catalan ‘cave/cellar’) has a long history dating back to the 1850s when the colourful Josep Raventós of the Codorníu winery visited Champagne.
But until fairly recently, cava - made from the local grapes with delightful names macabeu, parellada and xarel·lo - was not considered top-notch stuff. Among the many wine drinkers who weren’t into the high prices of champagne, cava has been the stand-by bubbly – and it’s been a UK supermark seller for yonks.
Yet, there is nothing like a challenge to thrill a younger generation of winemakers, and today the Spanish are making delicious cavas. No mistake, they do not taste like champagne, but some wines are outstanding, original and full of personality. The best are now finding great favour, also for being ‘different’.
My surprise was a Jaume Serra Brut that I picked up at Ultra (they import it) for a cent less than R50. And it was a wow, even though the bubbles were not champagne tiny. The parellada in the blend, especially, gives the wine a lip-smacking fruitiness, tinged with spice. (Come to think about it, why are those varieties not on our vineyard radar screen?)