Xavier Roig, one of Spain’s top cava sommeliers explains how to taste like a pro.
We should begin by saying that in most respects cava tasting is a lot like general wine tasting, except for a few peculiarities caused by the the presence of carbon dioxide.
The first stage of any tasting is the visual stage, where we need to pay particular attention to the colour of the wine. If there is a greenish tinge we can tell it is a young cava, while aged cavas tend to have more golden tones.
We can also look to see if the bubbles are small and maintain their shape as they rise up the glass. But as every flute of cava will have a different bubble formation, there’s no need to place too much importance in the bubbles themselves.
In the olfactory stage, when we smell the wine, the important thing to remember is we don’t swirl the glass, the CO2 will bring the scent of the wine out for us. Younger cavas have fresher, fruitier aromas, like apple, apricot or citrus fruits. In crianzas the scent changes to be reminiscent of fruit preserves, dried fruit and nuts (especially hazelnuts, toasted almonds and walnuts) and patisserie (brioche and toasted bread), which is caused by the break down of yeast.
In the tasting phase we note the sparkle, the base tastes and the structure of the wine. We pay particular attention to how the bubbles behave in the mouth. In young cavas the CO2 is more lively and provokes a prickly sensation of acidity, as well as freshness. In aged cavas the carbon dioxide is more integrated and you should see more sparkle and balance.
The important thing to remember is we don’t swirl the wine, the CO2 will bring the scent of the wine out for us.
One of the marked characteristics of sparking wine is acidity, due to the CO2. This can be balanced by a hint of sweetness in brut cavas. In this tasting stage we also analyse the body of the wine – if it is lean, light and balanced or full-bodied. We end this phase with by observing the aftertaste, where we can often find the same aromas as in the olfactory phase.
Pairing cava with food
Gastronomically, cava is a multi-purpose drink. A great deal of variety of cava exists, so it is possible to consume it with any food, or indeed drink it without food.
For aperitifs we drink white cava, which is also good for pairing with salads, white fish or grilled seafood. Gran reserva cavas match well with roasted or barbecued white meat, also with fish casseroles. For pairing with red meat, we look for a cava that has had its first fermentation in the barrel, prinicipally the Xarel·lo o Chardonnay grape varieties.
There are also the semi-sweet or sweet cavas, to accompany desserts, enabling their taste to linger in the mouth a little longer.
Xavier Roig was a finalist in Spain’s contest to find the best cava sommelier. He is the owner of Cal Feru, a store specialising in cava in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia.