Move over prosecco – there's a classic sparkling wine you might have overlooked. Spanish cava deserves to become the nation's next favourite fizz. Wine expert Henry Jeffreys talks us through his best buys.
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Conde de Haro 2015
The most expensive wine was also the best. Made by rioja company, Muga, it has a champagne-like nose, with a toasty bready quality. There are very fine bubbles some apple cider (but not scrumpy!) notes, and a floral honeysuckle quality.
M&S Prestige Cava NV
My favourite of the supermarket brands. It has some toasty, cakey notes on the nose, then on the palate there’s plenty of fruit and it’s showing some toasty development with notes of coffee and yeast.
Freixenet Cordon Negro
A ubiquitous presence on the high street, I was impressed with this. It has a vibrant lemon sherbert smell and then in the mouth it's clean and fresh, with some roundess and toastiness on the finish.
Morrisons The Best Vintage Cava 2015
Yeasty notes on the nose, and green apple, showing some signs of maturity. On the palate there's a nice citric tang and more savoury mature flavours. It all fades very quickly but at this price, who is complaining?
Contevedo Brut Gold NV
Really nice aroma, oranges and lemons, there's clearly some quality fruit in here. Very light style on the palate, whistle clean and fruity without much development. This is simple, racy and fun – I couldn’t believe it was so cheap.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Cava 2014
This is made by cava giant Codorníu and I preferred it to any of their branded wines. It smells a bit candied, like orange sweets, with good fresh fruit on the palate and plenty of yeasty mature notes. Not bad at all.
Tesco Finest Vintage Cava 2015
It is made by Segura Viudas, one the best producers in the region. Xarel-lo is quite a floral variety and that really comes through with this wine, there's also some tangy orange fruit and smoky yeasty notes.
What is cava?
Poor old cava, while champagne gets all the glamour and prosecco the popular vote, cava has something of an image problem. Figures released in 2017 showed that sales in Britain had dropped by 18%. Most of this decline, to be fair, has taken place at the bottom end of the market where cava producers don't want to be. They are trying to move the category upmarket – £4.99 sparkling wine does not do much for cava's reputation.
It's not as if cava is cheap to make. Unlike prosecco which gets its bubbles in a tank, cava is made in exactly the same way as champagne, by bottle fermentation. It requires over a year to mature so if it’s being sold at rock-bottom prices, then either corners have been cut or someone isn’t making any money.
Most cava comes from Catalonia but a little is also produced in Rioja and other parts of Spain. It’s usually made from a trio of Catalan grapes, macabeo, xarel-lo and parellada, though some champagne grapes are planted too. The traditional varieties have their virtues, but none of them has the easy grace of chardonnay or the majesty of pinot noir. Cava can taste a little muted, with some vague appley flavours and a certain earthiness.
Or that's how it used to taste anyway. Wines are now being made that seriously rival champagne with prices to match. So I thought it would be interesting to investigate whether this improving quality had reached the high street. I tried a selection of widely-available wines from supermarkets, wine merchants, online retailers and big brands. I tasted them all blind. There were a couple of standout wines, and a few surprises, both good and bad. The ones I liked the most were unpretentious and fun, simple but not bland. In short, perfect wines for celebrating. They’re also a lot drier than most processos. Next time you're shopping for a decent sparkler, spend more than a tenner on a bottle of cava and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
The best drinks – taste tested
This review was last updated in January 2019. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.