Cava: Quality compares

26 March, 2019

Cava has suffered with a perception problem in the shadow of champagne and prosecco, but that could be about to change, finds Chris Wilson


BRITISH WINE TRADE WAG recently joked that English sparkling is the wine champagne could have been. It’s a revision of the bitter-tinged gag that cava lovers have been telling for years. Here’s a world-class sparkling wine made in the traditional method that lives in the shadow of champagne – the question is whether producers, importers and their marketers, and the Cava DO can find room to shout about cava as a world-beating wine in its own right and celebrate the quirks and uniqueness of this very special product.

“Cava is a different experience to champagne,” says John Graves, on-trade channel director at UK importer Bibendum. He argues that cava is not an alternative to the sector-leading traditional-method sparkling wine – rather it’s a different proposition altogether. “Champagne in the on-trade is a big purchase, good cava sits with ood wine, like, say, a bottle of Chablis, and that’s how it will be sold successfully,” he says.

Bibendum is having success at the premium end of the market with the Llopart brand, the key to which, says Graves, is “selling it more as a wine than simply as something in the ‘sparkling’ category”. This is an interesting point, and one that’s picked up on by one of the category’s leading producers, Freixenet.

Jan-Hendrik Boerse, senior vice president of Henkell & Co, which acquired Freixenet in August 2018, says the company does not compare its wines with other brands or wine regions and promotes its cava as ‘wines’ first and foremost without playing the sparkling card.

“The consumer knows very well what to buy and for which moment,” says Boerse. “Freixenet focuses its communication on celebration, big and small moments, and cava is able to match many consumer moments, from the most informal ones with a young, fresh and fruity Carta Nevada, to the most formal moments of a unique celebration.”

It’s this premium end of the cava market that the DO is keen to push and with this in mind it recently created a new category within the DO for more premium wines to sit. It’s hoped these serious cavas will demonstrate just how good cava can be at the business end of the market.

The Cava de Paraje Calificado category sees the region’s dozen best single-vineyard cavas officially recognised, and so far things are going well. “Cava de Paraje Calificado classification is progressing positively and it is helping the category to grow qualitatively,” says Codorníu-Raventós group winemaking director Diego Pinilla. “We firmly think every initiative that could help to raise the value of cava’s global image and premiumise the category is positive.”


Toni Ingram, head of marketing for Pernod Ricard UK, which owns the Campo Viejo range of cavas, believes the new DO is all part of educating the consumer about the process and history of cava. “Over time it will hopefully help educate consumers about the quality and story behind cava. This, in turn, will create a beneficial halo effect for cava across all of the drinks trade, on-trade and off-trade,” she says.

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