Where do the sparkles come from in Spain’s Cava?


I love the bubbles in a sparkling wine. My husband Doug (also a Savvy Sommelier) and I frequently begin a dinner party with a sparkler (as I call it) since it seems so festive and welcoming, although it is a lovely drink on its own and very food friendly.

I was recently enjoying a glass of Cava, which is a Spanish “champagne” style wine named after the caves in which the grapes are fermented. I remembered learning in the sommelier classes how the bubbles are created by undergoing a second fermentation (“still” wine undergoes a single fermentation), the bottles being turned upside down then riddled. (Isn’t riddling a great word?) It definitely lead me to refresh what I know of how sparkling wine is made and in this case, specifically Cava.

As background, almost all Cava is produced in Catalonia, especially the Penedes region in Spain, although eight different provinces are included in the production area. The production methods are the same as in the making of Champagne. Spain’s Cavas are made in the Traditional Method (sometimes referred to as Méthode Champenoise).

First, the grapes are harvested and a white wine is produced. Several types of wine may be blended. Three grape varieties native to Spain are Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada.

Tirajo is the second step and the bottle is filled with the blended wine, then a syrupy mixture of yeast and sugars is added, called licor de tirajo. The yeast will cause the secondary fermentation to occur in the bottle. At this stage, the bottled wine is then transferred to the cellar with a temporary stopper.

The second fermentation is next as the yeasts convert the sugar to carbon dioxide. (It is the carbon dioxide that creates the bubbles.) This second fermentation and bottle aging occurs in the bottle and lasts for nine months at a temperature between 55 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit.

During the second fermentation/aging, the bottles are turned occasionally. This process is called remuage (riddling) and in some wineries, this is still done by hand. This turning of the bottles causes the residue from the yeast to collect in the neck of the wine bottle. The neck of the bottle is then frozen, which forces the yeast sediment out and the bottle is re-corked immediately. You can distinguish Cava by the cork, which should be marked with a four-pointed star.

A toast in Spain is practically always drunk with Cava. This is especially true when the New Year is brought in with twelve grapes swallowed in time to the chimes of the clock in the town square or in the Puerta del Sol, Madrid.

All this just makes me want to jump on a plane and go to Spain, however having just returned from the Niagara Escarpment, this will have to wait. But I suggest the next time you are browsing the wine aisles, why not pick up a bottle of Cava, chill it and you’ll be delighted with how refreshing it tastes – on the patio of course.

As they say in Spain – Aplausos!



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