There are so many different types of wine varietals that are infused with bubbles. There’s Champagne, of course, and then sparkling wine. Within that category, there are even more variations like lambrusco and Prosecco. While not every carbonated wine is made the same way or is to be sipped in a similar fashion, there are two sparkling cousins that are very similar—Champagne, which hails from the Champagne region of France, and cava, a sparkling wine variety made in Catalonia, Spain.
Will Willis, International Wine Development Director at Freixenet Group, educated us on the similarities—and differences—between the two wines.
“There is very little difference between the process of creating Champagne and the process of creating cava. Both use up to three grape varieties [and] early harvesting to keep high acidity. There is also a base wine fermentation from predominantly free run juice and a second fermentation in the bottle,” he says.
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Willis notes, though, that the grape varietals in these wines are different. Champagne uses chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier grapes in its process, while cava is made up of macabeo, parellada and xarel-lo grapes. However, Willis says, the demand for new and different flavors in sparkling wine has winemakers experimenting with new grapes and techniques as well.
“More recently chardonnay and pinot noir are also being used more in cava production. Rosé wines in Champagne are mainly made by blending a small portion of pinot red wine back into the base wine blend whereas most Cava rosé is made from a natural rosé base wine from the red grapes trepat, garnacha, or monastrell,” he says.
In addition to the grape varietals, Willis says that the fermentation process between the two is also slightly different. Both Champagne and cava go through a two-step fermentation process, and while the first fermentation is the same for both drinks, it is during the second fermentation that things change for the sparkling cousins.
“For the second fermentation in the bottle, the minimums are different, with cava being a minimum of nine months and Champagne being 15 months, which includes 12 months on lees and three months with a cork for non-vintage cuvées,” he said.
When it comes to cava, the second fermentation does vary for different levels of the wine, he notes, with reserva cava spending a minimum of 15 months in the cellar and gran reserva 36 months. However, the minimum for vintage Champagne cuvées is three years.
“In practice, most Champagne wines are cellared for longer: two to three years for non-vintage wines and four to ten years for vintage Champagne,” he says.
Flavors and Food Pairing
The fermentation process where cava and Champagne see the most deviation, said Willis, is what influences flavor profiles as well as acidity. He says that Champagne tends to be much higher in acidity, so a mouth-watering and sharp character is the first noticeable difference between the wines. Cava, he notes, has very obvious fruity characteristics which include apple, melon, and peach, as well as “a softer mouthfeel due to the lower acidity.”
And it seems that cava is giving Champagne a run for its money when it comes to complementing flavors as well. While food and wine lovers alike laud Champagne for its ability to pair with bites ranging from oysters and caviar to french fries, Willis says that it is actually cava that should be tops when it comes to food pairings.
“Because of the fuller flavor from riper fruit and softer acidity, cava has more natural pairings than Champagne, especially with fuller flavored garlic, spice, and cheese dishes. Many of Champagne’s subtle flavors can be lost with full flavored foods and just become a hard acid mouthfeel,” he says.
It doesn’t have to be a special occasion to treat yourself to a luxurious cocktail. With just three simple ingredients, a Champagne cocktail can make any gathering, meal, or romantic night in just a bit more elegant. Get our Champagne Cocktail recipe.
Take strawberries and Champagne to the next level. Impress guests, your partner, or even your mom with this sophisticated yet simple three-ingredient dessert. Add more—or different—fruit to switch up the taste, so it feels like the first time every time. Get our Champagne Gelée with Strawberries recipe.
Need a fun, boozy punch to serve up at your next in-home gathering? St. Cecilia’s Punch is a batch cocktail recipe that includes rum, Champagne, and citrus fruits for a palate-pleasing sip. Get our St. Cecilia’s Punch recipe.
Need the perfect appetizer to pair with your cava? Whip up this Spanish-influenced egg dish for a flavorful combination. Get our Spanishy Scrambled Eggs with Bell Peppers and Garlic Toast recipe.
Related Video: How to Make a Champagne Sunrise for New Year’s Eve
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