The Holiday Season Calls for Cava

Why, yes, that is Spain made out of wine corks. Image: mshch / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Recent figures reported by Nielsen about wine sales indicate that above all others, sparkling wine showed the most impressive growth as 2017 closes. The report is particularly timely as we approach Thanksgiving and head towards the New Year, the time of year during which sparkling wine sales skyrocket both on- and off-premise.

Nielsen’s data clearly indicates that the sparkling Spanish wine Cava deserves a second and third look if it doesn’t already have a solid place on your wine list. Just ask Gretchen Thomas, wine and spirits director for Barteca Restaurant Group, which includes Barcelona Wine Bar, with 11 locations in four states and the District of Columbia.

At Barcelona, which has 11 locations in four states and the District of Columbia, the leading seller among the Spanish-focused operation is a house brand Cava that Thomas herself helps blend. The housemade sparkling wine sells profitably at $7 per glass and $28 per bottle. “No one asks. They just see ‘Cava’ and this price, and it sells,” says Thomas. While Barcelona units also carry a sparkling wine from Uruguay, a Sekt, a Lambrusco and 8 Champagnes, the 8 Cavas on the menu (three by the glass) lead sales.

“I think some of the best sparkling wines are the best food pairings, and they can be joyful by themselves and can make a great cross section of people very happy,” Thomas says. Meanwhile, in the past few years there’s been a significant increase in sales.

“Sparkling wine has turned into a general consumers’ going out wine, and has a real footprint today. The majority of my sparklings are hand sells, but the fallback for most people in a restaurant specifically is they go for what’s by the glass, and often the most inexpensive, and we start them there.”

Cava offers tremendous value at all price points, says Andy Myers, wine director for José Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup. “As American drinkers continue to become more adventurous and educated about wine, it is significantly easier to sell these wines. And when compared to the price point of most other sparkling wine, it’s easy for folks to see the magnificent value offered in Cava.”

One problem at retail has been that importers see Cava as a commodity, but its price to value ratio often beats out the more popular Prosecco. Cava’s triumph in the retail space over its Italian counterpart is due in part to the former tending to be less expensive to make given the process differences and the time Cava is generally aged. The Prosecco boom may have hurt the growth of Cava some but with prices of the Italian sparkler increasing, customers with a taste for imported sparkling wines should be easier to convince.

Perhaps a new classification, Cava de Paraje Calificado, or qualified single-estate Cava, that has recently been created will increase appreciation for on-premise for Cava. Spanish officials estimate that about 1.5 million bottles, or about one percent of total production, will qualify for this newer designation. To do so, the grapes used must be hand harvested from 10-plus-year-old vines with a maximum of 8,000 kilos per hectare. The base wine must be fermented in bottle for at least 36 months, and be fermented brut. Producers with approved estates include Recaredo, Juvé & Camps, Freixenet, Codorníu, Gramona and Castellroig.

Among Cava’s advantages, it ages longer on its lees, developing potentially the same flavor and aroma notes that are often found in Champagne: bread, biscuit, toast, nuttiness, butter, and more. With prices of Champagne as well as Prosecco expected to continue rising, higher-end Cavas are well poised for wider acceptance by sommeliers, beverage executives and, importantly, consumers.