Cava: a Champagne Takeover in the Making?

17 October, 2013

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There is always something special about bubbles. How do you celebrate your much-anticipated promotion, best friend’s engagement or the purchase of a new home? Champagne comes to mind, maybe even a bottle of fine Italian Prosecco, but Cava? Only scrimpers drink Cava. That is, until now.

It is high time for drinks with questionable reputations receiving some love – take, for example, our recent exploration into London’s Sherry culture, a drink that, before recently, was undervalued and thought of as archaic, is now flying off the shelves and onto the lips of open-minded Londoners with a penchant for food and wine-matching.

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Richard Bigg, owner of the Camino restaurants, is the man who has been credited with inciting this interest in Sherry and is also championing Cava in his new bar, Copa de Cava. ‘Cava is possibly an even better opportunity because every serious wine professional’s desert island drink is Sherry – not necessarily Cava.’

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The general perception of Cava as the poor-man’s Champagne is not grounded in fantasy according to Richard, ‘it is mainly because of what Cava has been available in the UK…we all know someone who has rocked up to a party with a bottle of Cava because it is bubbles and it is cheap.’

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For Spanophile Richard, his next big drinks adventure had to be Spanish, and, as he says, ‘there was one other standout niche product.’ So what makes Cava so special? In short, the Champagne method without the Champagne price tag.

Just forty minutes South of Barcelona lies the Catalunya region of Spain known as Cava country, where eight varieties of grapes are grown and produced into Cava using the slow and expensive Champagne method, in which a second fermentation process occurs within the bottle and, as a result, a carbonic process naturally occurs – creating the signature bubbles that Cava (and Champagne) is known for.

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And the taste? Copa de Cava’s Cava is like none other I have tasted in Britain before: their most basic Brut is dazzlingly fresh, dry and slightly savoury, making the perfect aperitif, and a Reserva, Segura Viudas Brut ‘Heredad’, is a champion – brightly floral and with a hint of smokiness, it pairs exceptionally well with the tapas.

From the stone bass and king prawn ceviche marinated in lime, chili and coriander to the smoked steak tartare served in a dramatic cloche, one can tell that Copa de Cava cares as much about its cuisine as it does its Cava.

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The beer and jamon here is from the neighbouring towns of Barcelona, while its sister Bar Pepito’s is from Seville, just north of Sherry country in Andalusia. ‘I want to be authentic and I am not prepared to compromise,’ Richard says, half self-mocking, but truthful.

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On a Thursday night, Copa de Cava is buzzing like a Spanish bodega in the height of summer with its flowing Cava, rustic bricked arches and twisted iron embellishments – the only difference being the clientele: a firmly suited and booted group of financiers instead of a community of people living and working beneath the Spanish sun.

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So, will Cava be the next big thing in drinks? It just might be. As a nation, we are already becoming disenfranchised with the expensive allure of Champagne – since the credit crunch in 2007, Mintel reports that Champagne sales have fallen by a third while Prosecco and Cava sales have risen by 50% over the same period.

‘It is an affordable luxury,’ Richard states. And the price threshold for good Cava starts way below where it stands for good Champagne, ‘at £40 a bottle, Champagne cannot possibly compete with Cava at that level…it only can when you are nudging £100 per bottle.’

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And as for Jamie Oliver’s beloved Italian Prosecco, its range of complexity in relation to Cava is not comparable – while the amount of variety and ageing potential with Cava is as great as it is with Champagne.

The nostalgic brand power of Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger and Moët may afford Champagne staying power, but on a more casual and regular basis, Cava could become king, and a trendy bodega in St Paul’s isn’t a bad place to start.

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