Brian Elliott: Cava has radical plan to put sparkle back in sales

Producers are pinning their hopes on incorporating champagne grapes, discovers Scotsman wine columnist Brian Elliott

Published 24th May 2016
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

Which grape varieties are used for sparkling wines has always seemed clear enough.

Champagne largely bases itself around international superstars while prosecco is made from the recently renamed glera. Meanwhile, cava traditionally uses local Catalonian grapes such as macabeo and parellada.

However, prosecco’s rapid climb up the ratings charts – and, some claim, a quality plateau among cavas – has stimulated a rethink.

Despite utilising the traditional method of secondary fermentation in bottle – which is often considered superior to the tank method used for prosecco – cava sales appear to have lost traction.

So, as a possible response, champagne grapes such as pinot noir and chardonnay are both beginning to figure in cava – and some producers are being even more radical.

Here are three examples of those trends.

mainFirst, let’s look at a version that is 70 per cent chardonnay with the residue drawn from the usual local varieties – and all delivered in a distinctive white bottle.

The result, in Anna de Codorniu Blanc de Blancs Reserva Brut (pictured, £12.55 at, brings us a creamy texture with a mild savoury edge and busy bubbles that are gently enlivened by citrus-based acidity.

With an even more emphatic nod towards champagne, there is 40 per cent of both chardonnay and pinot noir in 2011 Gran Claustro Cava Perelada (£17.40 at This begins with a sprightly mousse, fresh aromas and a slightly creamy consistency that leads into a yeasty, biscuit-based depth. Its crispness, though, comes from apple and lime pith acidity – albeit applied with a light touch.

Finally, to something completely different – 2011 Vilarnau Subirat Parent Brut Reserva (try; an excellent online delicatessen). The grape is a local variant of the malvasia family which is perhaps why the wine is nicely rounded and has a perception of sweetness. Although aged enough to be a reserva, it retains a youthful, floral background to the strawberry and peach fruit.

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2015 Recoleta Malbec
Mendoza, Argentina,
13.5 per cent

mainThis is an excellent price for a well-made, medium-bodied malbec with firm acidity but only limited tannin.

I was particularly impressed by its nutty, milk chocolate texture – with a savoury twist – and its neat fusion with the wine’s raspberry and spicy plum fruit.
£8.50 at Drinkmonger, Edinburgh and Pitlochry

2015 Venturer Series Côtes de Gascogne
France, 11.5 per cent

Anyone entertaining or seeking sound “garden wine” need look no further. This crisp blend of indigenous grapes has suggestions of peach but contrasts it nicely with pear and red apple elements and a lively pink grapefruit core that, in total, make me think of Starburst sweeties.
£4.79 at Aldi

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