Cava and Catalan cuisine are made for each other. Sparkling wines are usually sipped at celebrations, as aperitifs or with sweet desserts. But Cava, we discovered, on a wine trip through the Penedes, is one of the few bubblies that can be drank throughout an entire meal.
Cava and Catalan Cuisine, a Perfect Food and Wine Pairing
The notion that a sparking wine would have enough character and depth to match increasingly weighty dishes during a multi-course meal was repeated with so much conviction that by the end of our 50 Great Cavas tour we were won over.
Where Cava Punctuated a Five Course Meal
Our first meal of the trip at Adernats wine cooperative, in the village of Nulles, after our first tasting, was held high in the vaults of a Modernist cathedral-like winery, dating back to 1920. The dramatic setting and five courses matched with wines was a fine way to silence our reservations that Cava was simply a one-dimensional bottle of bubbles.
The summery starter of tomato and watermelon gazpacho with anchovy was perfectly paired with their Essencia Cava while the main course, meloso de cerdo Ibérico con salsa de Ànima, was equally matched by their superb XC Grand Reserva made from 100% Xarel·lo, aged 45 months in the bottle.
Along with Macabeu and Parellada, the Xarel·lo grape is one of the three traditional varieties used to make Cava. By the end of the trip Xarel·lo had become one of our favourite grapes.
But now, surprisingly, we think of that meal every time we drizzle a little of the co-operative’s wonderful Extra Virgin Olive Oil over a salad or to finish a pasta. If you visit, make sure to grab a bottle. Catalunya’s olive oil is divine.
It was at Adernats that we began to wonder if Cava and Catalan cuisine was a perfect food and wine pairing.
When Cava Accompanied Cured Meats and Cheeses
The next day, our first breakfast in Spain in over four years had us wondering why we hadn’t been back since our original 2010 grand tour. A couple of café cortados and a few slices of salty melt-in-your-mouth Jamon Ibérico whetted our appetite for another day of Cava and Catalan cuisine.
After an early morning stroll through the misty vineyards at Mas Codina in Puigdàlber, we settled in to sample their Cavas. During the tastings our hosts brought out massive platters of Jamon Ibérico, chorizo and a traditional local goats cheese made the foothills of the Pyrenees north of Barcelona.
The range of Cavas featured varying percentages of Chardonnay, Macabeo, Xarel·lo and Pinot Noir and were a wonderful match with the snacks — which I would normally have preferred with a medium-bodied New Zealand Pinot Noir to be honest. The standout was the Gran Reserva Brut Nature, aged 42 months in the cellar at the winery.
Where Cava Washed Down Catalan Style Tapas
At Llopart Winery in Subirats, after a glass of their Rosé Brut Reserva and a tour of the expansive winery and cellars, we enjoyed a generous spread of both traditional and modern Catalan-style tapas to accompany our cava tastings.
Held in the lofty, modern tasting room, the brilliant lunch included three classic Catalan dishes: pan com tomate y Jamon (toasted bread rubbed with tomato, with a slice of Jamon Ibérico), a savoury Catalan pizza called coca (specifically coca de seats y butifarra), and escalivada (smoky grilled vegetables).
We also grazed on mushroom tarts, salmon blinis, foie gras, pastel de atun, and brandade de bacalao all washed down with a series of Cavas from Llopart. They were all such great matches, there wasn’t too much use of the wine spittoons.
The Imperial Gran Reserva Brut, which was well structured and creamy with toasty notes, and the limited production (25,000 annual bottles) Leopardi Gran Reserva Brut Nature, which had spicy notes, matched well with the richer dishes of the spread.
When Cava Kicked Off a Rustic Catalan Meal
If the Llopart lunch showed us how refined Catalan tapas could be, the rustic dinner at Cuscó Berga winery later that night gave us an introduction to the typically hearty one-dish meal that was characteristic of peasant food served right across the Mediterranean.
That it followed a couple of bottles of Cava with the winemaker brothers in a stone hut overlooking the vineyards was a bonus.
Called fideus, it was a simple dish made of fine noodles that were fried with a little seafood that some like to compare to paella made with pasta instead of rice.
It reminded us of a plainer and even more humble version of dishes like Egypt’s kushari, which uses a similar noodle, the Indian version, kedgeree, and the Arabian dish Mujaddara, made from rice, lentils, grains and onions.
A big Cava would have stood up to it very nicely, however, we reached for some red.
Where Cava Bookended A Multi-Course Meal
The most memorable meal of the trip was in the elegant dining room of the splendid Bohigas winery, our favourite of the trip, where we’d already sipped cava in the cobblestone courtyard, on a sunny terrace overlooking the vineyards, on a billiards table after a tour of the fascinating attic, and finally during a wonderful multi-course meal.
Our feast began with a ‘pica-pica’ of amazing tuna tartare, big plump scallops over mashed potato and cabbage, and delicate mixed croquettes, followed by trumpet mushrooms topped with a fried quail egg.
After this brilliant start to the meal, the next dish was quite a surprise — risotto de ceps i parmesà — a risotto with just-in-season ceps mushrooms and Parmesan cheese. It was a surprise because it rivaled any we’ve had in the north of Italy.
The matching wine for this part of the meal was their Udina de Fermi Bohigas, made from a blend of Garnacha Blanca, Xarel·lo and Chenin Blanc. And that was another surprise, because it wasn’t a Cava.
After so much Cava over the previous few days we were feeling like we had bubbles in our veins, so it was nice to sample this well-structured, complex wine which really opened up beautifully. It was a great white.
Our second main course was Turbot amb patates confitades, sofregit de la iaia i oli avellanes (essentially Turbot with potato confit). This was once again surpassingly matched with a red wine — their Fermi de Fermi Bohigas 2009, made from 85% Syrah and 15% Black Imperial, which is Cinsaut, a classic grape to blend with the Syrah as well as Grenache and Mourvedre.
The expression here was big, bold and long, fruity, but with structured tannins. I had to do everything in my power to not sneak a bottle into my camera bag. And while I loved the wine, ironically, the dish could have been matched with the Cava Noa de Bohigas that accompanied our dessert, a brownie de nous amb salseta de fruits vermells i gelat de vainilla.
Where Cava Matched Each Course of a Catalan Feast
After a tour of Juvé & Camps extensive winery and a Cava tasting in their high-tech tasting room, we returned to town to explore their expansive underground cellars in the centre of the town of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia before enjoying a wonderful Catalan feast in a room beneath the owners traditional home.
As if to hammer home the fact that Cava could indeed be matched with everything, every dish on the fantastic Catalan menu was served with the Catalan sparkling…
Xató del Vendrell (Vendrell-style salad)
Cava Brut Rose
Escalibada con arenque y uva (grilled vegetables with herring) Cava Reserva del la Família Brut Nature
Canelones de pato del Penedès con foie y bechamel de setas del Montmell (duck cannelloni with foie bechamel and mushrooms)
Cava Reserva del la Família Brut Nature
Cazuela marinera de sepia con albóndigas (seafood stew with ‘meatballs’ and octopus)
Bacalo con espinacas a la Catalana y “All i Oli” de meil (Bacalo with spinach)
Gallo del Penedès con ciruelas y piñones (local chicken with pine nuts)
Cava Gran Juvé
Mousse de captains (mousse with chocolate and almonds)
Cava Gran Juvé
The standout dishes were the Canelones de pato del Penedès, which, for a very rich dish paired brilliantly with the superb Cava Reserva del la Família Brut Nature, and the chicken with pine nuts, which had a very earthiness that paired wonderfully with the Cava Gran Juvé.
When It Could Only Have Been Cava
Our last meal on the trip, at the restaurant at the bodega of Canals & Munné in the centre of Sant Siduru d’Anoia, was the most casual and probably the most Catalan.
The highlights were amazing roasted artichokes and calçots, massive spring onions or small leeks, depending on how you want to look at them, served with romesco sauce. See our story on how to eat calcots like the locals in Catalonia for more on that meal.
We really couldn’t have sipped anything else but Cava with such quintessential Catalan dish.
Cava and Catalan Cuisine — a Perfect Food and Wine Match?
So can Cava really go all the way through a multi-course meal or is it still just a celebratory bottle of bubbles regardless of what the Catalans wish to think?
Well, I have to say that at the end of a week indulging in Cava and Catalan cuisine, the Spanish sparkling does indeed have an increasingly wide spectrum of expressions, from the traditional light style we think of when we think of bubbly through to the more complex Cavas that feature the relatively recent addition of Chardonnay (in 2002) and Pinot Noir in (2008).
While the addition of foreign grapes to indigenous varieties has been contentious with some traditional producers, personally, I love the more complex nature of these sparkling wines when paired with the kinds of richer, heartier Catalan dishes that we were sampling.
So, yes indeed, Cava can definitely go all the way, depending on the menu. But even if the temptation of a Rioja is too much when faced with oxtail (just signal to the waiter), you can triumphantly return to Cava for dessert.