Wonderful Gran Reserva Cavas for unreasonable times
It’s roundabout mid-December when the bubbly articles inevitably percolate throughout all manners of media. The codified thinking is that for these festive times, you’ll want what has been deemed the most celebratory of drinks: sparkling wine. This is in fact, inane, as sparkling wines (if good) are wonderful year round. Plus, depending upon the state of your familial relations, Bourbon might be the more appropriately-paired tipple for one’s particular holiday slog.
If you however choose to go lighter in the liver and opt for the bubbles, most any English language publication will always have Champagne rule the word count followed by others that are regionally relevant. If one is in say, Australia, Tasmanian sparkling will be of note. If in California, then what passes for “Champagne” gets mentioned. And now, if in the UK, the English Sparkling Wines (which still need a new name) are boldly proclaimed as fine options which admittedly, they are. Despite being a native Californian, I’d happily pop a bottle of Gusborne, Nyetimber, or Sugrue Pierre than anything from my home state.
But on all suggested sparkling wine lists for the holidays, unless one is actually based in Spain and reading Spanish language publications, the bubbly that gets maybe one nod in a selection of 20 will be Cava. Boo. To a large degree, I do understand how it is for people internationally with Cava. Most of what you see is from the Big Three (Freixenet, Cordorníu, or García Carrión) as they make something like 95% of all the Cava produced. While these producers will have a small line of marquee wines, the majority of what they produce can be found in Spain for less than 10€ or even 5€ a bottle. I still don’t know how they manage these prices as even in massive volume, Cava needs to be produced the same as Champagne with a lot of hand work involved.
It’s the “5 percenters” that remain (which is still 25 million bottles given the half billion produced in Cava) where there is a brilliant group pushing a high-quality level to Cava. I’ve gone on at length about this previously because it’s one of the truly amazing value wines of Spain–the other being Sherry–and if all you know of Cava is a Non-Vintage sub-10€ bottle from a brand of the Big Three, then you really haven’t tasted what Cava is capable of.
Following are some suggestions of excellent Gran Reserva Cavas that I chose given that I drink Cava almost exclusively of this level and the prices are exceedingly fair. “Gran Reserva” is: a wine aged in bottle, on the lees for 30 months (very confusing with Cava de Paratge at 36 months) and is always vintage. Ultimately this an outdated concept as the wines should be aged as long or as short as needed to get the desired result and many of these are aged a great deal longer than the minimum.
These are also all Brut Nature meaning that there’s no added sugar and that’s one of the reasons I adore great Cava as it remains fresh, with balanced, natural acidity (usually not added in top-end Cavas anyways, and fully banned in Paratge) that pairs well with meals, especially local dishes. Anyways, pick up one of these wines and see what you think. Hopefully it will open your eyes and encourage a whole new level of Cava-osity for you.
Juve & Camps – Reserva de la Familia 2015
Saline, briny lemon peel with a touch of lees, sandalwood, light touch of sweet red apple peel, underlying mineral note. Full, puffy lemon curd notes on the palate with medium plus acidity and finish. Well-priced for the quality level.
Xarel·lo, Parellada, Macabeu, Chardonnay 12% 15€
* Q 89
Caves Nadal – RNG 2011
Cured lemon peel, light almond blossoms, dried red apple, soft lees, crunchy, rocky mineral notes, nice backbone and a wealth of aged notes to it but without letting on any oxidized aspects. Full and fresh on the palate, lees notes form a solid backbone, takes on some truffle aspects as well, high acidity but well integrated, medium plus finish, with a fleck of bitter almond.
56% Xarel·lo, 44% Parellada 12% 21€
** Q 93
Recaredo – Serral del Vell 2008
Light brioche, lime peel, delicate apple blossoms, white peach skin, dried violets. Driving, medium plus acidity, lightly stony mineral notes on the palate, bitter almond, and a light hit of spicy jicama. As it opens, sweet brioche notes become ever more present and follow into a medium plus finish.
52% Xarel·lo, 48% Macabeu 12% 35€
Alta Alella – Mirgin Opus Vallcirera Cava de Paratge 2013
Cured lemon rind, buttery, rich, light yellow apple, smooth, lime blossom. Full, rich lemon peel and crisp citric notes, high acidity, balanced across of the palate with a very lengthy finish and the ability to develop further.
Chardonnay, Xarel·lo 12% 32€
*** 94+ DG: 07-05-18
Ancestral Wine Cellar - Khikhvi 2014 95
First harvest of Khikhvi. Light apricot notes, peach skin, lemon peel. Citric in the mouth, fresh, lively acidity, vibrant. Very holistic, full and deliciously good.
100% Khikhvi · 12% · 30GEL
Petriaant Marani - Khikhvi 2015 94
Bruised red apple, touch of lemon peel, limestone minerality, and some white pepper notes at the back of it. High acidity and full in the mouth. Luscious, involving, elegant wine.
100% Khikhvi · 14% · 25GEL
Domaine Augustin - Adéodat Blanc 2016 93
Lemon and white peach, strong kick of salinity, and toasted notes. Very fleshy and full on the palate, peach notes more prominent as well as Meyer lemon, medium plus acidity and a lengthy finish.
100% Grenache Gris · 14.5% · 20EUR
AA Badenhorst - Secateurs Red Blend 2012 93
Forest bramble with ripe red fruit, touches of cherry, ripe red plum, tiny bit of prune, cumin, anise, black licorice, wet cement mineral note, underlying fig jam. Crisp medium plus acidity, medium tannins, medium plus length, medium alcohol, overall medium plus body that’s ripe and lively but super fresh and balanced at the same time. Bit of rugged wildness to it but doesn’t get out of hand. Easy to drink but with just enough underlying complexity so that it stays interesting.
56% Syrah 27% Cinsaut 6% Grenache 4% Cabernet Sauvignon 7% "Others" · 13.5% · 12EUR
Domaine Treloar - Motus 2015 93
Dark ruby, minor rim. Big, mighty bouquet of red cherry and other brambly forest fruit, vanilla, almond blossom, orange peel, and cocoa. Rich and full on the palate with a wealth of tannins still integrating, leading into a crunchy, lingering finish.
80% Mourvèdre 10% Syrah 10% Grenache · 14% · 14EUR
Domaine of the Bee - Cuvée 2015 93
Ruby with minor garnet rim. Rich red fruits with an underpinning of ripe plum, orange peel, licorice, cocoa. Broad, round tannins with a touch of toast and sweet cocoa in a long finish. Manages to stay very light on the palate despite the higher alcohol.
50% Grenache 50% Carignan · 15% · 25EUR
Tchotiashvili - Khikhvi 2014 93
Apricot, yellow peach, orange peel, and a touch of honey. Quite complex aromatically. Orchard fruit much more prevalent in the mouth with young apricot notes. Rich and elegant, touch of astringency in the finish.
100% Khikhvi · 13.1% · 28GEL
Domaine Fontanel - Prieuré 2014 92
Dense ruby with brick flecks. Crisp red fruits, lifted by a waft of volatility making for a light nose with a spicy licorice and leather component. Crisp and lively with red cherry fruit in the mouth and a nudge over medium acidity. Nice, lingering finish.
50% Syrah 25% Grenache 25% Mourvèdre · 14.5%
Cave Abbé Rous - Cornet & Cie Blanc 2016 92
Peach, orange peel & blossom, honey, dried apricot, and a hint of green apple. Very nicely balance in the mouth, green apple notes more prevalent, medium plus acidity and a lengthy finish. Fresh, lively, very pleasing wine to drink.
60% Grenache Gris 25% Grenache Blanc 5% Marsanne 5% Roussanne 5% Vermentino · 14.5%
Clos Henri - Petit Clos Pinot Noir 2016 92
Earthy, red cherries, young, crisp cranberry, light herbal notes, leafy, minor chalk. Medium tannins and medium plus acidity as well as length. Light sweetness on the palate but with a very pleasant, lingering structure and lightness to it.
100% Pinot Noir · 13.5% · 16.50EUR