The Cava cometh: Vilarnau Gran Reserva 2012

The drift from summer into the cooler, breathier vectors comprising fall is made ever so obvious by the sudden rise of sparkling wine promotion. Gearing people up for the winter holidays means getting the word out about bubblies several months before and thus I arrive at this bottle of Vilarnau’s Gran Reserva 2012.

For those who don’t know the aging brackets, Gran Reserva requires 36 months of sitting on the lees (sparkling wine’s “oak” if you will) prior to disgorging which puts it more or less in line with Champagne’s “Vintage” regulations. An important side note is that “regular” Cava only requires nine months on the lees as opposed to Champagne’s 15 which is another topic of conversation. But the biggest difference between these two sparkling regions is that Cava lies some 900km to the south of the French region, so for Cava not to have a “vintage” to declare as sometimes happens in Champagne would be laughable.

How did 2012 stack up in terms of vintages? For still wines it wasn’t the best of years. Sure, various DOs have it listed as “Very Good”. That’s a lot like how many wine critic’s 95 points are the new 90 and “Very Good” doesn’t say much. It was a hot vintage but in a weird way that led to what I generally define as “soupy” wines when talking about the reds and unbalanced for the whites. Both DO Cava and DO Penedès (which overlaps with Cava for the most part) have the vintage as “Very Good” although what I’ve tasted from it seems pretty in line with other parts of the region in that it wasn’t a horrible vintage, but it wasn’t just great and there was indeed a reduction of yield (around 30-50% of normal) which meant more concentrated grapes.

You can taste a good deal of the vintage in this wine as there’s a curious intensity to it that I wouldn’t normally associate with this blend. This rather rigid, upright aspect made me think that it was mostly Xarel·lo but I think in the end, it was the Chardonnay sticking out from a rather warm, blustery vintage. It could also be the Macabeu a bit as well given that it and the Chardonnay are from a lower-altitude vineyard of Vilarnau d’Espiells that appears to be around 200m. There is however a lovely acidity to the wine (quite mighty at 3.1 pH) which I assume comes from the Parellada from near the village of La Llacuna some 700m in altitude. Every wine with Paralleda I’ve tasted that’s the least bit interesting is always from higher altitudes and this is no exception.

But ultimately, what’s the most amazing part of this wine is “how much wine” you get for the price. At 15€, it is for lack of a better word, a steal and I honestly don’t know how Cava producers manage to do this as a comparable Champagne would literally be 4x this price. Enjoy it while you as this was also the starts of the winery started moving towards full Organic Certification which could have something to do with the profile as their vineyards adjusted during the three-year process. Watch each next vintage as this is a veritable cornucopia of all this is great, yet difficult in Cava at the moment.

Gran Reserva 2012
Green apple, tart pear, lime blossom, brioche, vanilla pinch, cured lemon peel and dewy flowers. Wealth of medium plus acidity on the palate with the green apple notes joined by a bit of bitter almond that sticks in the finish.
40% Macabeu, 30% Parellada, 25% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Noir 11.8% 15€
** 90