This is the first of two parts about cava, the Spanish sparkling wine. The second part, short reviews of several cavas, posted Feb. 4.
Two things confuse wine drinkers about cava, the Spanish sparkling wine. First, they assume that because it has bubbles that it’s like French champagne or California bubbly. Which it’s not. Second, because it’s so cheap — almost all of the world’s cava costs less than $15 — they figure that it’s one of those cheap wines that they shouldn’t be seen drinking in public.
Neither could be further from the truth. The Wine Curmudgeon is a long-time cava supporter; after all, it’s cheap and offers value, and that’s my reason for being. Yet even I discovered there is more to cava than meets the price tag during my trip to Spain last week. It is, as the inestimable Janet Kafka noted, “a wine that needs someone behind the label to explain it.”
Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine, is a conundrum. It's significantly less expensive than champagne, the French sparkling wine, which immediately makes it suspect among the Winestream Media. Their thinking, of course, is that something that isn't pricey can't be any good. Yet there is a not a thing wrong with cava, most of which deliver quality and value for around $10.
So, as a public service, the Wine Curmudgeon offers the Aria (sample, $13), since it is actually a little more than $10. (There are cavas that cost $20 and more, though they are rarely available in the U.S. I'll review several for those who are curious when I wrap up my Spain trip, paid for by Segura Viudas, later this week.)
The Aria is a little richer and more full bodied than basic cavas like Cristalino and Freixenet, and is probably a little closer in style to champagne. But it's still cava, with the typical fresh, clean lingering finish, a minimum of fruit, and a notable absence of yeast and oak. In all, a lot of wine for not a lot of money.
Serve this chilled on its own, or with most white wine dishes. It would also work with cold plates — Iberian ham, corned beef on rye, and the like.
I'll post a couple of items later in the week about the cava trip to Spain, but I wanted to hit some of the highlights today:
? The Wine Curmudgeon appreciates any country where people drink wine at lunch, and those three-hour lunches aren't bad, either. Though I will never, ever get used to dinner at 9 p.m.
? Spain, like much of the rest of the European Union, has enacted tough, American-style no-smoking laws. Which means Spaniards are standing outside buildings smoking — a sight I never, ever thought I would see.
Call it Cuvee Cranky — my entry in the informal competition between the writers on the cava trip to blend the best sparkling wine. We did the blending on Tuesday, and, believe it or not, Seguras Viudas winemaker Gabriel Suberviola picked mine as the best blend. Yes, the wine world did turn upside down.
I'll write more next week when I get back, but it's enough to know that we have some top wine types on this trip to Spain. So I didn't beat just any group of schlubs. And, given that wine making is not what I do, I was quite surprised. Suberviola said my blend was "balanced and harmonic." Who knew?
Regular visitors here will notice that there is no picture of Cristalino. Welcome to the wonderful world of American jurisprudence and the foolishness of the wine business.
In August, a federal district court in Minneapolis ruled that Cristalino, which is a much beloved $7 Spanish sparkling wine, infringed on the trademark of Cristal, a Champagne that costs about $200 a bottle and is favored by people who drive Escalades. Or, as the attorneys for Champagne Louis Roederer, the French luxury brand that owns Cristal, wrote: “The Defendants ? use of CRISTALINO on their sparkling wine product is an illegitimate brand extension that trades on the reputation and image of the famous mark, CRISTAL. Consumers likely believe that CRISTALINO sparkling wine is associated with, sponsored by, or is in some way connected with the maker of the prestige champagne CRISTAL.”
Sigh. And people wonder why the Wine Curmudgeon is so cranky. The Champagne business has been in tatters since the recession started, and Roederer decided to spend money on this lawsuit? The judge, in deciding the case, wrote that there was evidence that consumers could be confused, and if my reading of the law is correct, that was enough to decide in Roederer’s favor. It didn’t matter whether Cristal lost sales to Cristalino (which was unclear). Cristalino had to redesign and re-label its bottle, which is now white and includes a disclaimer that says it isn’t affiliated with Roederer or Cristal.
So this is what I’m going to do: Never drink a bottle of Cristal (which isn’t a problem, since I can’t afford it). Never, after this moment, write about or review a Roederer product, which include Roederer and Scharffenberger sparkling wines in California, a half a dozen or so French still wine brands, and the Portuguese Ramos Pinto label. And, of course, welcome Cristalino (purchased) into the 2011 $10 Hall of Fame, because it offers everything Cristal doesn’t — quality and value. And, yes, it would quite nice at Thanksgiving.