Wine Types | Cava: The In-depth Guide

Massimo Vignaiolo
October 31, 2023

Wine Types | Cava: The In-depth Guide

Cava together with Prosecco and Champagne is one of the best sparkling wines you can find. Its fine bubbles and vibrant citrus flavours make it a wine companion for every occasion.

So what is Cava?

Now, you might be wondering what type of wine is Cava. Well, Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine, mainly produced in the Penedes region of Catalonia. For reference, Barcelona is Catalonia’s capital city. Most Cava production, about 95%, is centered around the town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia where the first Cava was made by José Raventós in 1872. He was inspired by a trip to France and brought Champagne-style wine making to Spain.

Cava production regions

To be called Cava, the wine must come from the Cava Denominación de Origen (DO) area and must be carbonated with a secondary fermentation in bottle, using the traditional method (méthode traditionnelle or méthode champenoise), among other appellation rules. The Cava DO is not a continuous region. There are 4 Cava zones spread out throughout Spain.

You can find this Spanish wine in two versions: white or rosé (rosado). It is generally made using three main types of grapes: Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello, the most important being Macabeo. The wine has a light to medium body and generally a dry profile. Among the dominant flavors you can find are citrus and fruit aromas: lime, Meyer lemon, quince, yellow apple, or tart apple. However, given that the minimum aging requirement (9 or more months) and he way the wines are aged (on lees), you’re likely to find a bready and nutty aromas: brioche, almond, toasted hazelnut or smoke.

How is Cava made?

How is Cava made?

Cava is made using the traditional method (método tradicional). The process is often referred to as méthode champenoise in France. As you guessed it correctly, Champagne is made the same way. However, Cava producers cannot refer to the process they follow as méthode champenoise as the European Union has afforded special protection to the wines produced in the Champagne region of France.


Grapes are harvested early to allow them to maintain high levels of acidity, essential for a high quality Cava.

How is Cava made - Step 1

2_Sort and Press

Grapes are then separated by varietal and gently pressed.

How is Cava made - Step 2

3_First Fermentation

The first fermentation is carried out in stainless steel tanks or oak barrels producing the still wine which will serve as the base for the Cava wines.

How is Cava made - Step 3

4_Assemblage (Blending)

The juices of the different varietals are blended in specific proportions.

How is Cava made - Step 4

5_Second Fermentation

The blended wine is then bottled with different levels of sugar added, along with the yeast. This starts the second fermentation in the bottle. At this stage, the bottle is sealed with a crown cap to facilitate the disgorgement process later on.

How is Cava made - Step 5


After the second fermentation has started, the bottles are placed in cellars, where the second fermentation takes place. As a result, CO2 is produced, which is trapped in the bottle and produces the famous bubbles. The bottles are left ‘’sur lie’’ (on the lees, i.e. with the spent yeast cells inside them), which allows the wine to develop more complex flavors (toasty notes appear). Depending on the quality of the wine, it can be left to settle from 9 months to several years.

How is Cava made - Step 6


During this stage, the bottles are positioned in special racks, with the neck of the bottle pointing downwards at 45 degree angle and rotated a quarter turn (riddled) so that the lees settle in the neck of the bottle. Riddling can last between 6 and 8 weeks. Some producers still do this by hand, paying homage to tradition, but many producers have adopted the use of a riddling machine (or gyropalette) that rotates the rack a quarter turn and with it all of the bottles are turned a quarter.

How is Cava made - Step 7


During disgorgement, the dead yeast and sediment settled in the neck of the bottle is expelled from the bottle. There are two types of disgorgement:

  • Mechanical disgorgement is the most common. Under this method, it is necessary to bring the temperature of the neck of the bottle to -27ºC. For this, the bottle is immersed in a special refrigerating solution, which allows the content in the neck of the bottle to be sufficiently cooled. Then, the bottle is opened, and the frozen dead yeasts are ejected under the trapped CO2 pressure, along with a small amount of wine. In the process a small amount of oxygen enters the bottle which together with dosage will have a significant impact on the development of wine aromas.
  • Hand disgorgement (aka à la volée) is typically only used for very small or large bottles, and very old vintages. Under this method, the bottle is placed upside down, and opened using disgorgement pincers. The bottle must then be quickly tilted back upwards, to ensure that only the amount of wine necessary for the sediment to be ejected is released. This requires quite a bit of skill to master.
How is Cava made - Step 8


The bottles are topped up with still wine mixed with sugar. The amount of sugar defines the type of wine that will be achieved (we will talk about this in detail further on in the article).

How is Cava made - Step 9


Lastly, the bottle is corked and labeled and left to rest for at least 9 months to allow for the wine to further develop. Only once the wine is deemed ready, the wine is released and ready to be shipped, and arrive at your table.

How is Cava made - Step 10

What are the differences between Cava and Champagne?

Although they are both sparkling wines, made in the exact same way, Cava and Champagne, differ in many ways.

  1. The biggest difference lies in the origin of the wines. While Champagne originates from France, specifically from the Champagne region, Cava originates from Spain, and there is not such a thing as spanish Champagne.
  2. Another difference is the type of grapes used in each wine. Champagne primarily uses Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. While Cava can be made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, most Cava will be made from a blend of Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel-lo, which results in a wine that is slightly fruitier and earthier than Champagne.
  3. In addition, the terroir in which each wine is made is different. Champagne is produced in the north of France, with a continental weather, which logically has very different climatic and soil conditions than the Mediterranean region of Catalonia, where Cava is produced. Some Champagne houses source the grapes from other parts of France. In order for a wine to be designated as Champagne at least 51% of the grapes have to come from Champagne.
  4. Finally, another difference is the method used to expel impurities after the second fermentation. In Cava, the mechanical method is generally used, while in Champagne, the manual method is more commonly used.

What are the quality levels of Cava?

There are 4 quality levels for Cava between Cava de Guarda and Cava de Guarda Superior.

Cava de Guarda includes only one category:

  • Cava: It is the lowest quality level for Cava, and . Here, you can find young wines, with a minimum of 9 months of aging in bottle. Sparkling wines with this quality level are characterized by being very fresh, and having an aroma and flavor with a great predominance of citrus, besides not having such intense bubbles.

Cava de Guarda Superior includes the following three categories:

  • Cava Reserva: In Cava Reserva, you will find sparkling wines that have been aged for at least 18 months in the bottle, in low-light cellars. This allows Cava Reserva wines to develop more complex flavors and aromas than the previous level, in addition to having more abundant bubbles.
  • Cava Gran Reserva: A sparkling Gran Reserva Cava has a much more elegant profile of flavors and aromas, thanks to the fact that they are aged for at least 30 months in bottle.
  • Cava de Paraje Calificado: This is the highest level of quality for Cava wines to date. These wines are produced in very specific vineyards in Spain, which must be at least 10 years old. In addition, the grapes must be harvested by hand, the maximum harvest yield is 8,000 kg/48 Hl per hectare, and each bottle must be aged for at least 36 months.

What are the Cava types based on sweetness levels?

Depending on the amount of sugar added, different types of Cava wine are obtained:

Cava sugar levels
  • Brut Nature: It is the least sweet Cava wine. It has a maximum of 3 grams of residual sugar per liter of wine.
  • Extra Brut: Extra Brut is the second level of sweetness for Cava wines. It can have up to 6 grams of residual sugar per liter of wine.
  • Brut: Brut is the third level of sweetness for Cava wines. It can have between 6 and 12 grams of residual sugar per liter of wine.
  • Extra Seco: Extra Dry is the fourth level of sweetness, and together with Seco, Semi Seco and Dulce is not allowed in Gran Reserva bottles. It can have between 12 and 17 grams of residual sugar per liter of wine.
  • Seco: It is the fifth level of sweetness for Cava wines. This type of wine has between 17 and 32 grams of residual sugar per liter.
  • Semi Seco: This type of wine is among those with the highest sugar content. They usually have between 32 and 50 grams of sugar per liter.
  • Dulce: This type of wine is the sweetest Cava. They have more than 50 grams of residual sugar per liter.

Cava Producers

Do you want to enter the world of Cava wines? Here we will tell you about two sustainable Spanish Cava brands: Azimut and Suriol! Both produce Cava wines that willl surely make you fall in love with this Spanish wine.


Azimut is a wine producer in Panedés producing sustainable and ecological wines. All their wines are made with certified organic grapes, purchased from local farmers. The wines are easy to drink and ultra delicious. This, added to their low ABV level, makes them a great introductory way to the wonderful world of Cava.

Azimut has two varieties of Cava wine:

  • Cava Rosat Brut Nature: This wine has a particularly beautiful pale color, and is reminiscent of red fruits such as strawberries, with a slight acidic touch reminiscent of red apples!

Another very interesting aspect is that it has a really nice texture on the palate, with zero sugar or dosage. This is achieved because this wine is exposed to a small amount of oxygen before its second fermentation. This makes it a much more interesting Cava.

Finally, this wine has another very remarkable aspect: its price! It is very difficult to find a 100% organic wine, with such a careful production process (for example the grapes are disgorged by hand) and natural bubbles that are also very affordable!

  • Cava Blanc Brut: Here we are talking about a particularly fresh wine with a very bright color, which in its taste evokes delicious ripe white fruits, lemon peel, lemon curd and even a bit of toasted almonds on the finish.

This wine has persistent but not invasive bubbles, which makes it ideal for cleansing the palate when eating seafood, especially oysters (which pair very well with the acidity of this wine).


Suriol, is a wine producer in Panedés, with a rich 400 year history, located in the hills of Alt Penedés. Assis Suriol, one of the best cava winemakers, is at the helm of the eponymous brand. He is the 17th generation in the family to continue the family tradition of producing wine.

In their centuries-old cellars, wines are made following the tradition of natural winemaking: using indigenous yeasts that provide unique flavor notes and a production method for grapes focused on sustainability and yield limitation, reflecting the particular characteristics of every terroir.

Suriol has two varieties of Cava wine:

This wine perfectly reflects Suriol’s production style: the grapes used are native varieties (40% Macabeo from the La Plana vineyard, 30% Xarel-lo from the L’Hort vineyard and 30% Parellada from the Les Carbasses vineyard) from 3 different plots, and each plot is fermented individually, with native yeasts.

Fermentation is carried out in concrete tanks during the winter. Then the wine rests for more than two years on its lees. This, together with the grape varieties, gives the wine its characteristic notes of baker’s yeast, honey and citrus.

  • Cava Rosat Reserva: This wine is another great example of the production method used by Suriol: the grapes are harvested by hand from only two plots, and carefully pressed with 6 hours of skin contact.

The wine is then fermented using the same methodology as the Cava Blanco Reserva, and aged for a year in wooden barrels, which gives this fantastic exponent subtle notes of chestnut. Finally, it is fermented in the bottle for two years with its lees, before being racked entirely by hand.

This process results in an aromatic and sweet wine, with notes of raspberry, blueberry, white chocolate and subtle chestnut.

Where to find Cava wines in Alberta?

Remember that, if you want to build or strengthen you Cava Brand, then our articles about wine branding and How to develop a Wine Brand will be really helpfull.

Final Thougths

Cava is a fantastic and in many ways under-appreciated sparkling wine. The wines are very similar to Champagne but generally cheaper. In addition, the combination of the climatic conditions in which the grapes for both wines develop, added to the type of grapes used in each wine, will end up giving a different flavor profile, although both will have a strong citrus presence in flavor and aroma.

Despite the differences, both wines are a great option to enjoy sparkling wines, with great presence of bubbles, and combining them with a delicious meal. In the particular case of Cava wines, they pair very well with Iberian ham. You can even try them with delicious Spanish tapas, with which they make a particularly good pairing!

One last advice: if you want to create your own Cava brand that is engaging and stands out from the rest, then our Guide to Creating your own Wine Brand will help you through the first steps, and our article about How to Develop your Authentic Brand Story will help you to open your heart with your customers, and tell them what really drives your passion to make great Cava wines.