Brava for Cava: Bubbly to tickle your nose without breaking the bank. 

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I was certainly in a festive mood on the evening of President-elect—oops, I mean President—Barack Obama’s inauguration, and it seemed a perfect time to uncork some bubbly. Unfortunately, my budget doesn’t have much room for French Champagne, considering the pounding the dollar is taking from the Euro overseas. And the only bubbles I had in the cellar were in the form of my last bottle of 1990 Salon le Mesnil Blanc de Blanc (approx. $450). Sorry, Barack, but I’m not drinking the Salon until I am sworn in as president.

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So I ran to my local state store and picked up a bottle of Segura Viudas Brut Rose ($9.40), which was a bit more in line with my income. The Segura Viudas is an example of Spain’s economical sparkling wine, called Cava. Spain’s Don José Raventós—the head of bodega Codorníu—is credited with “inventing” Cava, following a visit to Champagne, France. Using equipment from France and local grapes, he produced, in 1872, Spain’s first méthode champenoise sparkling wine. Today, the méthode champenoise process (the same used to make French Champagne) must be employed in order for the wine to be called Cava. Like Champagne, Cava’s secondary fermentation takes place in individual bottles, not tanks or barrels like lower-quality Spanish bubbly. Unlike Champagne, Cava by law must utilize one or more of these Spanish grape varieties: Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada—which are sometimes blended with Chardonnay or, less frequently, Malvasia. Virtually all Spanish Cava is produced in Catalonia, and most of that in the Penedés region.

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Thanks to their economical pricing, Spanish Cavas are an especially good sparkling wine option for the budget-minded, with many selling for a fifth or less of what Champagne goes for. My personal long-time favorite bargain Cava was Paul Cheneau Blanc de Blanc Brut. Unfortunately (and inexplicably), Utah wine stores stopped carrying it a few years ago. I’m still miffed. However, in the same price range, Freixenet Extra Dry Cordon Negro ($16), has a pleasant, fruity bouquet and is a good choice to serve as an aperitif with salty nuts, cheese or oysters.

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If you’re looking for a good value sparkler that’s more of akin to French Champagne in flavor profile, try Codorníu Brut Cava Cuvée Raventos ($12). This Codorníu has the signature baked bread and toast flavors typical of many types of French Champagne, at a fraction of the price. You might also enjoy the light-bodied Segura Viudas Brut Cava Heredad Reserva ($18), with hints of lemon, honeysuckle and peach. It comes in a really classy looking hand-blown bottle with embossed metal detailing and the Segura Viudas’ family crest. It’s a bottle with bling! I’ve given more than a few of these as gifts; people tend to hang on to the empty bottles and make them into candleholders, a la the straw-wrapped Chianti bottles of old.

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An interesting recent discovery of mine is 1 1 = 3 Cava Brut ($15). The grapes for this wine were all hand-harvested and the wine is fermented using yeast from Champagne. It’s fairly light, crisp and elegant with zingy lemon and grapefruit flavors—a fun wine to buy in bulk for a party or weekend brunch with friends.

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However, the best tasting Spanish Cava I’ve yet to find is Marquès de Gelida Cava Brut ($17), which Robert Parker has called the “best sparkling value on the market.” It comes in a vibrant orange colored bottle and the bubbly inside is just as vibrant. Marquès de Gelida is a crisp, dry, spirited bubbly that I’ve frequently tricked people into thinking was French Champagne in blind tastings. Olé! 

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