The grape varieties of cava

Cava is the number one sparkling wine from Spain and is usually made from three local grape varieties. The grapes of the champagne region have joined the cava club as well as some (local) red varieties to make rosato-style cava.

White grape varieties

The three classic varieties for cava are macabeo, xarel.lo and parellada. Macabeo gives fruit, xarel.lo the strength and body and parellada softness and aromatics.

Macabeo

  • The most planted variety in the Cava vineyards
  • Early-ripening and high yielding, therefore best to plant in less fertile soils. Low altitudes.
  • Harvest late august with a potential alcohol of 10-11%
  • Aromas of green apple, pear and some exotic notes of melon and peach.
  • It’s the main grape in sparkling wine in Rioja, Navarra, Extremadura and Valencia.

Xarel.lo

  • Second most planted grape for Cava (24%)
  • Planted low-mid altitudes. Agusti Torello plants them on the calcareous clay soils at about 400 meters altitude.
  • Harvest mid september.
  • Aromas of green fruit, gooseberry and some tropical notes (can also have a hint of rubber)
  • Cavas destined for ageing usually have a larger portion of xarel.lo in the blend.

Parellada

  • 22% of the vineyards are planted with parellada
  • The last one to ripen of the indigenous grapes and prone to rot
  • It’s best if the grapes get time to ripen fully, the best come from high altitude vineyards, up to 700 or 800 meters.
  • Brings floral aromas and softness to the wine

Chardonnay

  • 11% is planted with chardonnay and it’s increasing
  • Ripens very early, so special attention should be paid to everything that can delay that, like choice of clones and roothstocks, choice of vineyard site (very well drained, cool soil, preferably chalk). Can be over ripe and giving the wine an unpleasant heaviness.
  • Aromas of peach, apricot and tropical notes (so less green than the traditional grape varieties).

Red grape varieties

To a lesser extend, red grapes are used. Not all of them can be used for white cava – blanc de noirs style, though. The total plantings of red grapes is less than 10%.

Trepat

  • Only found in the cool hills of Conca de Barbera (west of Barcelona).
  • Aromas of redcurrant and raspberry. Only for rosado cava.
  • Crispy acidity

Monastrell

  • Allowed in white and rosado.
  • Very few plantings, almost gone.
  • Tendency to produce high alcohol, and thus appear unbalanced

Garnacha

  • Only for rosado cava.
  • Grown in middle and lower Penedes.
  • Aromas of strawberry and low acidity. Doesn’t seem like the perfect grape for sparkling, but can, however, be amazingly complex.
  • Tends to oxidise quickly (orange color in the bottle)

Pinot noir

  • Allowed in white and rosado.
  • Accounts for only 3% of the plantings.

Sources & suggested reading

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