Eating Jamon? Reach for a Cava (Catalunya, Spain)

There a few wines that pair as well as cava sparkling wine and Spain’s famous jamon iberico (click for a detailed guide to jamon iberico).

Map of Spain's wine regions

Map of Spain’s wine regions

Region: Catalunya

Created in 1959, Cava — named for the underground caves in which the wines are crafted — produces Spain’s premier sparkling wines.

  • Vineyards. The production zone is spread out across 159 municipalities in the provinces of Barcelona (63), Tarragona (52), Lleida (12), Girona (5), La Rioja (18), Alava (3), Zaragoza (2), Navarra (2), Valencia (1) and Badajoz (1). That said, 95% is produced in the area between Tarragona and Barcelona, with most cultivation occurring at 200-300 meters in elevation around the city of Sant Sadurní di Anoia in Penedès Central, roughly 20-25 kilometers from the Mediterranean.
  • Soils. Soils are generally sandy and rocky clay over a limestone base.
  • Climate. Although there is fair degree of variation given the expansive landscape over which vines are cultivated, for the most part the climate is warm, wet and Mediterranean.

Cava: Catalunya’s Sparkling White Wine

Cava is based chiefly on the traditional Catalunyan white grape triad consisting of xarel-lo, macabeo and parellada: xarel-lo provides the structuring body and almond flavor notes; macabeo the crisp acidity and herbaceous edge; and parellada the soft, creamy finish.

Although Cava sparklers use different grape varieties, the production method is the same as with French Champagne (méthode Champenoise), in that the wine undergoes its secondary, bubble-creating fermentation in the bottle (rather than in large pressure tanks, as with Italy’s prosecco). As far as a comparison versus France’s Champagnes: while they exhibit similar gentle fruit flavors, good body and underlying creaminess, they are more approachable due to their lower relative acidity.

Cava sparklers spend a minimum of nine months aging on their lees, which affords their flavor profiles greater complexity; after 18 months, wines can be labeled as reserva; after 30 months, they can be labeled as gran reserva.

Best of all: Cavas are the most attractively priced sparkling wines in the world. That said, we recommend opting for the driest available versions — Brut Nature (0-3 grams per liter of residual sugar) or Extra Brut (3-6 grams per liter of residual sugar) — as they best express Cava’s true terroir, showcasing crisp acidity and good minerality.

Learn about the wines of Spain with Approach Guides wine app for iPhone and iPad. The app profiles all of Spain’s winemaking regions, grape varieties, appellations, and vintages, giving you everything you need to know to choose a wine that meets your preferences.