Spanish Sparklers

Cava · Corpinnat · Classic Penedès · Pét-nats

What’s the deal with Spanish sparkling wine?

An ongoing evolution.

Nowadays, there are lots of categories for Spanish bubbly.  It can be a bit confusing.  So, let's break it down.

Let’s start with Cava.

What is Cava? 

A cheap fizzy Spanish import designed for parties and bottomless brunches. Perhaps.

Why is that? 

To answer that question, let’s start with where Cava comes from.  That’s part of the problem.  Unlike champagne, Cava need not come from one specific region.  Rather, it refers to a style of wine, Spanish sparkling wine produced in the méthode champenoise.

Cava is produced all over Spain, but it got its start in Penedès, near Barcelona, coined by Josep Raventos in 1872 after traveling through France and bringing the Champagne technique back with him.

Then what happened?

Like any booming appellation, rapid industrialization replaced small scale farming, and a multi-million dollar industry was born.  A few bulk producers controlled the market, and to maximize profits, factory farming, high yields, and the inclusion of international grapes such as chardonnay and pinot noir completed the transformation. Ninety-five percent of Cava is produced in Penedès, with the majority controlled by three large companies.  There are, however, a few artisanal wineries who continue to produce high quality Cava.

So what happened next?

The great pushback.

In 2012, Pepe Raventós left the Cava D.O. because it did not adequately express the specific terruño (terroir) of Raventós wines.  If one rebel could do it, why not others?

This led to a few producers forming the Corpinnat group in 2015, a sparkling wine association of small, family operated, artisanal producers who wanted to distinguish their brands from the rest of the Cava D.O.   

The big producers did not take kindly to the modest rebellion.  But like all things Catalan, a sparkling wine revolution was born and waged, much like the grower-producer wave in Champagne.

Corpinnat (the heart of Penedès) has stricter regulations including organic certification for all vineyards, all grapes must be harvested by hand, and a minimum of 18 months aging on the lees.

But what is Clàssic Penedès?

Clàssic Penedès is a sub D.O. within the Penedès D.O. specifically for sparkling and terruño driven wines spearheaded by Josep Maria of Albet i Noya, Sergi Colet of Colet and Agustí Torelló of AT Roca.  They believe that the Cava brand has been diluted, and did not accurately represent their craft. 

Cava describes the process.  Clàssic points to Penedès.

And what's with pét-nats?

In line with the natural wine movement, it’s only natural that the postmodern sparkling wine movement’s epicenter is in Penedès.

Enter emphasis on indigenous varietals such as xarel-lo, macabeo, and parellada.  No dosage and brut natures. Organic and biodynamic farming.  Minimal intervention and eco-responsible viticulture.  Single vineyard vintage dated wines.  And pét-nats. 

A new style of sparkling wine, without rules or category, with long ageing on the lees, in line with the méthode ancestrale.  Wines that are unclassifiable – a counter culture movement against industrial winemaking and D.O. regulations.

To recap. There is bulk Cava.  Still good for parties.  There is high quality Cava being made from a few artisanal producers.  Totally worth seeking out and can hang with the best sparkling wines of the world.  There’s a select cadre of winemakers who have teamed up to distinguish themselves from the rest, and there’s a bunch of rogue winemakers who are making pét-nats and sparkling wines according to their visions, outside D.O. rules, in order to express the native varietals and terruño of Penedès.

True Penedès.