Cava Wine was developed in the 1860’s after a wine maker, Josep Raventos, discovered this sparkling wine in the Champagne region of France. He loved the crispness and the dry yeasty taste displayed by the sparkling wines and wanted to create his own in Spain in the same method as the French used which is described here. The Spanish sparkling wine he eventually created he called “Champán,” Spanish for “Champagne” which would become the name for these Spanish sparkling wines until the European wine makers union forced the Spanish wine-makers to change their name. They eventually did so to “Cava,” the Spanish word for cave, which was usually where the Cavas were stored.
In essence, these Cava wines are not that much different compared to French champagne. I should mention that for this article I mention Champagne made in France, not the American “champagne” you can buy for $8 at the liquor store. Mostly the same grapes are used and the processing and storage methods are exactly the same. Why is Cava wine then so much cheaper than champagne generally? For one, French champagne is way more popular. Ever hear of Dom Perignon? Cristal? Exactly. Basic economics of supply and demand mandate that Champagne can be priced higher due to increased demand. Add in the many dollars (or Euros) thrown in for the marketing of champagne to maintain the association of Champagne with glamour and the priced can be bumped up even higher. The more money put in to get the wines sold, the more they can charge. Another reason perhaps? The climate of the Champagne region in France where the grapes are grown is generally colder however, year to year the average temperature of the region can change drastically. Predicting when to harvest the grapes every year is quite difficult, adding more work to maintain the high quality. Therefore add an extra bump in the price. Champagne makers also hand pick the grapes and grade every single grape in quality. Add in the regal prestige of Champagne (for example the first bottle of Cristal was made specially for the Czar of Russia in the late 1600’s and never became publicly retailed until the early 1900’s) and Cava never had a chance to compete prestige-wise after it was first made.
Poor Cava never had a chance it seems. Until this current economic downturn. Cava was flying under the radar for quite a long time. People were even buying it in the States without even knowing it was not Champagne but, Cava. If you have ever bought “champagne” from Freixenet or Cordoniu then you really bought Cava. Even I made this mistake before I became more interested in Spanish wine. Some people even consider Cava to be better than Champagne which is really no surprise. The warmer and more consistent climates that produce Cava can actually make the grapes more ripe, therefore better for wine production. The grapes are even handpicked and graded in the same fashion as the French yet the cost is drastically lower. To put this all together, there is a strong potential that for a much lower price Cava wine could be a better buy than actually buying French Champage, and even American “champagne.” The method of production, the hand-picking and quality grading of the grapes, and the Cava D.O.’s themselves can lead to a much better sparkling wine than what people expect.
If you are on a budget and want to enjoy a good foreign sparkling wine of high quality at a lower price then look away from the French and strongly consider Spain. You, and your wallet, might thank you.