The Cava grapes
There are nine grapes allowed for the production of cava, five white and four blue. The three grapes that are most used and looked upon as the traditional ones are, Xarel-lo, Macabeu and parellada. But even though most cavas you will find are of this composition, the remaining six grapes ad a wonderful diversity to be enjoyed and explored!
This grape was once the most widely grown variety in the region. It is also known under the names Pansal, Pansalet, Cartoixà, Moll or Pansà blanc. Xarel-lo is a medium sized round grape with thick skin that grows in medium size, slightly lighter bunches and is harvested just after Macabeu. It is grown mostly in central and costal Penedès, but adapts well in most soils at altitudes up to about 300 meters above sea level, and usually produces an average yield. With its high acidity, aromas and structure, it's considered to be a grape with strong personality that can stand entirely on its own and give full-bodied wines with great character. Fun to know might be that Xarel-lo is the grape that contains most antioxidants among the known grapes, which makes it withstand aging very well. In my opinion a wonderful grape.
Macabeu sometimes also called Viura, is the first of the three traditional grapes that ripen in late summer and is usually harvested already in August. It grows in large bunches, green and compact and gives high yields. With its thin skin it is a little more sensitive than most grapes when it comes to frosty nights and pest infestations. Despite this its relatively easy to grow as it thrives in most soil types and it also adapts well to different climates. Macabeu is often described as elegant, with medium acidity, moderate alcohol and can contribute a lot of fruitiness, like green apples and pears. It also often give a nice balance to the final blends. Macabeu is the most cultivated grape for cava and is grown mainly in central Penedès and further out towards the coast.
The grapes on the Parellada vine are big and bright green. They have a slightly irregular shape, thick skin and grow in relatively large bunches. This grape thrives well in most soils, but does best at altitudes between 400-700 meters above sea level, where the coolness remains later in the day making the grapes ripen slowly. Parellada normally does take a little longer to mature and is also harvested as the last cava variety of the season with steady and stable returns. The grapes give a fruity and flowery note to the nose and normally an elegant crisp wine with medium alcohol and high acidity. With its light floral aromas, the must from Parellada makes a fantastic wine to complement the Cava blends, and also gives some ageing potential.
Malvasia /Subirat Parent
Malvasia, called Malmsay in English, is perhaps best known for being the grape usually used to make the famous sweet wine from Madeira. It is said to have been cultivated already ancient Greece and is believed to have originated in Asia Minor. The grape grows in large clusters with small yellowish grapes that will blush slightly at full maturity. The grape gives wines with a flavor composition of sweet and dried fruits and flowers, that is quite different from the other cava grapes. It gives base wines with moderate acidity and medium alcohol. Malvasia is often called Subirat Parent in the Penedès region, where it is not widely grown at the moment,
although it seems to be acquiring a little more popularity of late.
This is a grape that has become increasingly popular in Catalonia, where it has proved to give very good results even in these southern areas. The bunches are tight with round small grapes with fine skin. The wines of the Chardonnay grape can vary greatly depending on the growing site, but in Catalonia the Chardonnay usually gives aromatic and full-bodied wines with high acidity and good alcohol. The vine buds very early in the spring and can easily be damaged by frost. Chardonnay is ripe and ready to be harvested in mid-August and is among the first grapes to be picked at harvest.
Trepat buds early but takes a long time to mature, and is therefore among the last to be harvested. Trepat grows in relatively large, bright blue or almost purple bunches, and is strong and durable in nature. The grapes from Trepat may, under current regulations only be used for the production of rosé Cava, and because of this it is the only grape that is subject to restrictions when it comes to use. Trepat is a wonderful grape that offers fruity wines with medium alcohol and balanced acidity. When it comes to sparkling wine this grape is quite unique for the area and gives a very special rosé that I definitely recommend you to try if you ever get the chance.
It is said that Monastrell was the first grape to be used when sparkling wines were first made in Spain, but this has changed and in recent years its use has decreased a lot. The Monastrell vine thrives in most soils and gives moderate yields. The bunches are medium sized and somewhat airy, with small blue round and firm grapes. Monastrell gives full-bodied wines with a relatively high alcohol content and balanced acidity and is often used in blends for rosé Cava as it provides must with intense colour.
Garnacha is one of the most common grape varieties worldwide and is also known as Garnaxa, Grenache, Aragonese, Giro, Gironet, Lledoner, Tintilla and Navalcarnero. The grapes are medium sized with a nice skin, and grow in dense, pretty and very classic shaped blue clusters, just as one imagines grapes on a vine. It requires lots of sun, takes a long time to mature, and produces medium-sized yields. The grape is not among the most common in Cava production but provides balanced, fresh and aromatic wines with high alcohol content, ideal for rosé wines.
Pinot Noir blooms early in the spring and is accordingly, like chardonnay, sensitive to frost. Its bunches are compact with small dark blue grapes. Pinot noir produces the best results in cooler climates where it gives grapes with a nice acidity. For this reason, some producers have started test-plantings of pinot noir at higher altitudes which has partly to do with global warming. Pinot noir is not one of the traditional Cava grapes but was approved for the production of rosé Cava in 1998 and it was only as late as the 2007 harvest that Pinot noir was allowed for production of white Cava. Since then Pinot noir has experienced an increasing popularity and many houses now make both rosé and white Cavas from the grape to the consumers’ delight.