Consumers uncorking a bottle of Cava in 2022 may notice a few changes on the labels of Spain’s premium sparkling wine. As of this month, bottles from the 2021 harvest will be categorized according to new zoning and segmentation regulations, which were drawn up by the Cava Designation of Origin (D.O.) and approved in 2020 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food. The regulations seek not only to highlight the unique sites and origin of Cava wines, but also provide transparency and quality assurance to consumers.
Not since 1991, when the original regulations of the D.O. Cava and its Regulatory Board were approved, has Cava seen such a profound change in its governing rules. The new regulations appear to be quite extensive and exacting, particularly as it relates to the governance of traditional method sparkling wines. “It is the most demanding regulation in the world for quality D.O. sparkling wines made using the strict traditional method,” says President Javier Pagés.
Under the new regulations, wines will be divided into two categories: Cava de Guarda and Cava de Guarda Superior wines. Cava de Guarda are the youngest and freshest, with a minimum aging of 9 months. Whereas Cava de Guarda Superior wines are aged at least 18 months and include the well-known Reserva (18+ months of aging) and Gran Reserva (30+ months of aging) wines, as well as Cava de Paraje Calificado, a specialty cava that is aged a minimum of 36 months and produced from a small, designated vineyard area. Each age category of wine will get its own color-coded label and every bottle will include a unique quality-assurance number.
Cava de Guarda Superior wines must be made with grapes from certain registered vineyards, from vines that are at least 10 years old, and from yields not exceeding 10,000 kg per hectare (8,000 kg for Paraje Calificado). These wines are also required to display the vintage on the label. And beginning in 2025, these superior wines must come from organically-certified vineyards. “We’re committed to sustainability and the preservation of the territory,” says Pagés.
Producers who carry out the entire production process, from growing the grapes all the way to bottling the wine, will be recognized with the special designation: Elaborador Integral (Integral Producer), which will be reflected with a distinctive stamp on the bottle. Across all categories, Cavas will continue to provide sugar levels (e.g. Brut Nature, Brut, etc.) on bottles. And they’ll continue being made using Spain’s unique native grapes, including Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo, in addition to other permitted native and international varieties.
Consumers will also see a greater emphasis on terroir under the new regulations. Chief among the changes is the establishment of four differentiated zones—Comtats de Barcelona, Valle del Ebro, Viñedos de Almendralejo, and a soon-to-be-named zone that’s currently referred to as Levante. The regulations also introduced the use of sub-zones within the larger zones to better define the subtle differences in soils and microclimates. Under the new rules, consumers will now be able to identify the zone and sub-zone right on the wine label.
The Comtats de Barcelona zone encompasses the classic area known for Cava production around the city of Barcelona in Catalonia and comprises greater than 95% of total Cava production. By far the largest zone, it is divided into the additional sub-zones of Serra de Mar, Valls d’Anoia-Foix, Conca del Gaià, Serra de Prades, and Pla de Ponent. Comtats de Barcelona serves as the spiritual home of Xarel-lo, though all of the permitted varieties can be found throughout the area. Located in the northernmost part of the D.O., the Valle del Ebro zone, which includes the sub-zones Alto Ebro and Valle del Cierzo, showcases Macabeo as well as Chardonnay. The Viñedos de Almendralejo zone, located in far western Spain near the border of Portugal, is warm and flat and quite different from the other zones. The still-to-be-named Levante zone has some of the highest altitudes in the D.O. with vines planted up to 900 meters above sea level. Despite its proximity to Catalonia, the region is more temperate than Comtats de Barcelona and highlights Macabeo over Xarel-lo.
With the world thirsty for bubbly, the new aging and regional designations should help Cava gain more prominence, giving consumers more reason (and confidence) to reach for a bottle. Who wants a glass?