Writing this post on the flight from Barcelona back to Washington D.C., I felt it important to begin with a simple introduction. Before diving into the specifics of Cava – its value proposition and production methods; its place in the kitchen; and its future potential – it was key to think broadly, to assess why Cava even matters.
When people talk of great Spanish wines, they often speak first about the powerful, lusty reds that define regions like Rioja and Priorat. These wines in many ways epitomize generalizations about Spain, and speak to a sort of romanticization on our part – there is Spain the lover, Spain the linguist, Spain the adventurer, Spain the once proud empire.
But after spending a week in Catalonia, I can state with confidence that Spain cannot be bottled up in such a manner. It requires more than a cork to contain the colorful, bursting, vibrant, and bubbling spirit of the country – it requires a metal cap and tie, too.
Yes, if you catch my drift, Spain and especially its cultural and gastronomic center of Barcelona can only be most completely realized in a bottle of Cava.
Such a statement is bound to provoke some controversy and heated discussion, as the Spanish are a people of proud regions with independent identities. There is no less terroir in Spain’s other producing appellations; to use only one example, I will not even try to explain how Cava expresses the Basque territory, and so will take the liberty of granting that region its desired status as an independent entity.
For many reasons over the years, Cava played second fiddle to older regions like Champagne – after all, it was the French who modernized the Cava-making process and helped craft the first superior “Spanish” sparkling wine. And so, even with qualifications upfront, I acknowledge that many drinkers might still find “Cava: Spain’s Official Beverage” hard to swallow.
When you speak to the people of Spain, however, it becomes obvious that the “country’s wine” should be flexible and adaptable enough to hold up to a multiplicity of cultural influence. In Cava, one might travel from the jagged cliffs of mountainous Catalonia to the crashing waves of the cold Atlantic, and yet have only taken a sip.
Cava, like Spain, is a blend of identities – grapes and personalities with character. Likewise, when you visit Barcelona’s famous boqueria and stare in awe at the endless rows of weathered grocery stalls, you must acknowledge the need for a wine that readily pairs with products as varied as they are intensely flavored.
And perhaps, when you find yourself drunk on more than wine, but on the sun-kissed sight of some young Iberian, too, it becomes impossibly clear: If you really want a wine that represents such an enchanting country, it must have spell-binding magic at its heart, not just lip-staining color.
This is Cava, and this is Spain. Chin-chin!
March 17, 2012