May 25 2017

Tasting Top-Tier Cavas: Qualified Single Estate Cava

Spanish Cava continues to show consumers that it is driven by more than just quantity, but also quality, as evidenced by the recent launch of the Cava classification "Qualified Single Estate Cava", the new, top-tier category for this sparkling Spanish wine.

Qualified Single Estate

Denomination of Origin Cava has always been a standout Spanish wine region, not only for the quality of its wines and their huge impact in the export market, but also thanks to the unique characteristics of this Spanish wine denomination. Not least, of course, is the fact that it is the only DO that deals exclusively with sparkling wines. Another of its differentiating features is that it is the only Spanish denomination that is not specifically linked to just one wine-producing region. In fact, while some 95% of Cava comes from Penedès, in Catalonia, Protected Denomination of Origin Cava wines can be made in certain areas of any of the following Autonomous Communities in Spain: Catalonia, La Rioja, Basque Country, Aragón, Navarra, Valencia and Extremadura. To wit, this type of Spanish wine has often been more closely linked to its elaboration method, than to the particular characteristics, or terroir, of one specific area.

However, in recent years, some of the most respected names in Cava production have been placing more and more emphasis on aspects of wine making that emphasize the specific ties between Cava wines and the places where they are made. These include efforts to recover ancient vines, old grape varieties and clones; research into microclimates and soil compositions; and an increased emphasis on organic and biodynamic production – all elements that have slowly caused Cava to stop responding to the question "What?", and start answering the questions "How?" and "Where?".

Qualified Single Estate

In light of these advancements, the Regulatory Board of Denomination of Origin Cava has created a new classification for Cava, the Cava de Paraje Calificado, or Qualified Single Estate Cava. Although it was officially launched in June of 2015, the first wines to bear this new quality seal are expected to hit the market this year. The Qualified Single Estate Cava classification denotes the highest quality level for Cava, and it will be used for wines sourced from single estates in Cava-producing regions that have particular characteristics – such as soil composition, vineyard age, climate, elevation, grape varieties and more – that lend their wines exceptional, singular quality.

As to be expected, wines that hope to attain the Qualified Single Estate Cava classification will have to meet stringent standards. These include the following: they must be bottle-aged for at least 36 months (six months more than the minimum for a Cava Gran Reserva); vineyards must be at least ten years old; there is a maximum yield of 8,000 kilograms and 48 hectoliters per hectare; all harvesting must be done manually; all wine making must take place on the estate, as well as the elaboration of at least 85% of base wines; the Cava must be from a specific vintage and can only be "Brut" (less than 12 grams per liter of residual sugars); and the wine must come from an identified vineyard and be traceable from start to finish.

Qualified Single Estate

Another noteworthy facet of this new classification of Cava wines is that, rather than there being a classification of the estates, the wines are admitted through a rigorous tasting and evaluation process carried out by an international tasting committee that includes Spanish Master of Wine Pedro Ballesteros, among other experts. Wineries must also submit titleship of the estate in question and present a detailed analysis of its soil.

Around a dozen Spanish wine makers have presented estate wines for consideration to the tasting panel, which convened in December of 2016. They include Alta AlellaCastellroigCodorníuFreixenetGramonaJuvé y CampsRecaredoSummarocaTorelló and Vins El Cep. Interestingly, there is no size limitation established for the estates in question, and the vineyards submitted by the aforementioned wineries have sizes that range from one hectare to more than twenty. Though the characteristics of these vineyards differ in any number of ways, each boasts its own set of traits that make the resulting wines both singular and identifiable in terms of origin, and that virtually guarantee the position of prestige that these wines will occupy both in Spain and abroad.