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Cava: the sparkling success of Spanish bubbly
By:
Ignasi Mora, thinkSPAINtoday , Monday, October 27, 2008

Creating cava usually involves similar methods to those of making either classic or traditional champagne, but we should not confuse champagne with cava. Champagne is made only in France, in the region of the same name while cava’s bubbles are fizzing away in various parts of Spain.

LIKE many mechanisms distantly linked to our conscience an endless number of bubbles spin round and round as we speak inside a multitude of cava bottles. They have spent a very long time – at least a long time in the life of a tiny bubble – bouncing around in a bottle.

These tiny balls of air are the result of a second fermentation process that takes place inside the bottle – it is then and only then that the wine can legally be given the name cava. Otherwise, it can only be classified as  sparkling wine, thus failing to obtain the prestigious label.

During the second fermentation process in the bottle, a type of liqueur known as licor de tiraje is added (made from sugar, yeast and cava) which causes the bubbles by producing carbonic gas. The bottles are corked with metal tops and stored horizontally in the darkest and coolest part of the cellar.

In addition to the bubbles, residue appears, which is later removed because, firstly, the shelves that the bottles recline on cause the contents to flood to the bottleneck, meaning the residue would otherwise accumulate there.

Secondly, because the next step in the process – known as el degüello del cava (takingthe top off the cava) comprises uncorking it and letting the pressure of the contents force out the residue accumulated in the bottleneck.

Next, the bottle is sealed again with a traditional cork, held in place by wire. The quality of cava is a question of time: the wine starts its second fermentation process in the bottle within three months.

Some cavas are left to stand for two or three years before ‘degüello’ is carried out and then another few months before sale.

The Penedès borough of Cataluña is the greatest cava producer, although it is also made in Aragón, Castilla y León, Extremadura, La Rioja, the Basque Country, Navarra and the Comunitat Valenciana.

In March 2007, there were no less than 269 cava-producing firms in Spain. Exports of this high-quality sparkling wine soared in 2006 to 123,572,577 bottles.

Cava has acquired a worldwide reputation since its origins in the 16th century when it was first made by the still-running company, Codorniz.

Normally, we associate cava with parties and major celebrations, such as Christmas.

Yet, it is more and more common for cava to be drunk alongside meals – not exactly all the time, but fairly regularly, according to chefs in top restaurants – because there are different theories about when is the best moment to drink it.

There are those who say cava is at its best with desserts, whereas there are those who think it should be drunk as an aperitif and others who prefer to drink it throughout their meal. As long as everyone respects everyone else’s preferences, we’ll have no problems – but as soon as tolerance and openness fall by the wayside even cava can become a motive for arguments and fighting.

Similar theories exist about the good and ill effects of cava. If you, the reader, uncork a bottle of cava in a romantic meal for two (or two bottles, if you’re enjoying it that much) it might surprise you to note that your partner’s eyes shine with pleasure.

In fact, it might also surprise you to find yourself doing the same thing, and as we know only too well one can always use this inevitable perking up of spirits to get closer to the other person in a spiritual and perhaps physical manner.

But as for whether cava is an aphrodisiac, what can I say? In any case, each one of us knows how our bodies work and each one of you should take whatever subsequent action that you, personally, deem appropriate to the occasion.

On the other hand, readers quite probably remember theunpleasant effects of cava: the raging hangover that comes the following day like a divine punishment. The amount of sugar, be it a little or a lot, that cava contains is responsible for these intolerable headaches, cold sweats and nausea that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

Nevertheless, cava’s quality remains a fundamental issue and of course, the number of glasses drunk is a determining factor in the likelihood and severity of a hangover. Each to his own, though. It’s a free country.

Yet in spite of our ignorance of the fact, those hyperactive bubbles in the cava bottle, which have been waiting for so long for the chance to get out, continue spinning round in their glassy captivity.

If they had a mind of their own, they’d go up a gear and bounce around all the quicker – because Christmas is approaching fast.

 
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