You may have heard rumors of a Champagne shortage this year. It’s true that Champagne sales are up, after a sluggish 2020 because of the pandemic; record sales are predicted for 2021. It’s also true that the Champagne region had a very challenging 2021 vintage, with frost, rain and mildew, and some supply-chain issues persist.
Problems related to the vintage won’t show up for a couple of years because of aging requirements, and the official position of the group representing Champagne producers is that supplies will be sufficient. “While temporary supply-chain tensions may exist, notably because of logistics problems, the Comité Champagne wishes to reassure consumers of the Champagne region’s capacity to supply its market,” said a statement from the group.
While I would never discourage people from buying Champagne, whether to celebrate the holidays or simply a Tuesday night, I am going to offer an alternative, especially if you’re looking to spend less money. That alternative is Cava from Spain.
Like Champagne, Cava is made with the traditional method: The second fermentation occurs in the bottle in which the wine is sold. The grapes are different, though. Xarel-lo, macabeo and parellada, all whites, are the traditional varieties. Rosé Cava may contain trepat, pinot noir or even garnacha or monastrell.
Good Cava is one of the best deals in sparkling wine. A lot of cava, unfortunately, is best described as indifferent. Some of the better producers, like Gramona and Raventós i Blanc, have dropped the “Cava” designation altogether because of what they see as negative connotations. But it would be a mistake to dismiss all Cavas. Juvé & Camps (see below), for example, is one fine producer that still uses the term.
Cava’s regulatory board has taken notice of the criticism and is instituting new rules. As of Jan. 1, “basic” Cava, which is aged for at least nine months, will be called Cava de Guarda. A tier called Cava de Guarda Superior will include reserva, gran reserva and paraje calificado wines. Reserva wines must be aged at least 18 months, with longer times for the other designations. Other viticulture rules have been added for Cava de Guarda Superior, and by 2025, wines in this category will be made from 100 percent organic grapes. New geographical zones have also been added and will appear on labels, so consumers who care will have a better idea where their cava comes from.
What follows are some wines that are still labeled as Cava. They’re a cut above some of the more familiar brands and are worth seeking out.
In the reserva category, the non-vintage Vilarnau Brut Reserva ($15) offers racy apple flavors with pear compote notes. It’s made from organically grown grapes and wrapped in a festive sleeve that celebrates Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. I like the 2017 Vilarnau Brut Nature Reserva ($16) even better, with its round and citrusy flavors accented by a touch of toastiness.
Gran reserva wines must be aged at least 30 months. The 2017 Juvé & Camps Reserva de la Familia Gran Reserva Brut Nature ($23) is very fresh and a little spicy, with racy lemon flavors, while the 2012 Roger Goulart Gran Reserva Brut ($25) offers lively citrus and green apple with a subtle toasty note and finishes with a touch of sweetness.
If you prefer a rosé, consider the non-vintage Juvé & Camps Pinot Noir Brut Rosé ($23), which has a fairly dark color, with spicy strawberry and raspberry fruit.
Back to Champagne for a moment. I haven’t seen any empty shelves, but if you’re looking for a specific wine, don’t delay. And here’s wishing you a special, sparkly holiday season.