The History of Cava, Spanish Sparkling Wine


Champagne was the first sparkling wine and it is the most famous. Only wines made in the Champagne region of France may be called Champagne. Spain produces many fine sparkling wines, called cava after the cellars in which the wine is produced. These wines are made in the “méthode champenoise” or “Champagne method,” which is the same method that is used to make Champagne.

Josep Raventós Fatjó of the Codorníu estate is said to have been the first to produce wine made in this method in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, (Cataluña,) Spain in 1872. He was so happy with the wine he made, that he ordered a cool cellar or cava dug in order to produce more sparkling wine.

Besides Codorníu, there are hundreds of sparkling wine producers in the area south of Barcelona called Penedés. The other sparkling wine producer which comes to mind immediately is Freixenet, pronounced “fresh-eh-net.” Its’ “cordon negro” product, a cava in a matte black bottle with gold writing.

How Cava is Produced
High quality sparkling wines, including cava and French champagne contain bubbles of carbon dioxide.How do the bubbles get there?

• First, the grapes are harvested and a white wine is produced. Several types of wine may be blended. Three grape varieties native to Spain are Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada.
• Tirajo is the second step - The bottle is filled with the blended wine, then a syrupy mixture of yeast and sugars is added, called licor de tirajo. The yeast will cause the secondary fermentation to occur in the bottle. At this stage, the bottled wine is then transferred to the cellar with a temporary stopper.
• The Second Fermentation is next – The yeasts convert the sugar to carbon dioxide. This second fermentation and bottle aging occurs in the bottle and lasts for nine months at a temperature between 55 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
During the second fermentation/aging, the bottles are turned occasionally. This process is called remuage and in some wineries, this is still done by hand. This turning of the bottles causes the residue from the yeast to collect in the neck of the wine bottle. The neck of the bottle is then frozen, which forces the sediment out and the bottle is re-corked immediately.
Grades or Qualities of Cava

In 1991 EU (European Union) legal specifications were implemented to make sure that there was a consistent quality standard for Cava and at the same time, the EU recognized the origin of cava. However, there are very few producers of cava outside Cataluña. A star with four-points is printed on the base of the cork of any true cava. The six official types are as follows, depending on the sugar content:

• Extra Brut – 0-6 grams of sugar per liter, the driest of the cava
• Brut – 0-15 grams of sugar per liter
• Extra Seco – 12-20 grams of sugar per liter
• Seco – 17-35 grams of sugar per liter
• Semi-Seco – 33-50 grams of sugar per liter
• Dulce – More than 50 grams of sugar per liter, the sweetest of the cava

Buying Cava
Prices of high quality Spanish cava are very favorable, in comparison to French Champagne or California sparkling wine!
In general, the more expensive, the drier the cava. The less expensive cava is much sweeter. If you read the label on the less expensive bottles, you'll see that it is probably Semi-Seco.

Three brands of Spanish cava that you are likely to see in the store are:

Codorníu – As we mentioned, the oldest and largest cava producer, with a variety of products available. If you are looking for something special, the company recently released a new product Gran Reserva Gran Codorníu, which according to the legal definition of a Gran Reserva has spent 30 months in the bottle.
Freixenet – Again, a large cava producer, with a variety of products available. Although you may see their Carta Nevada Semi-Seco product in stores, in a clear glass bottle, the most popular (and higher quality) is the dramatic-looking Cordon Negro, which is a Brut cava and comes in a black bottle, with gold lettering on a black label. Also sold in a black bottle, but with silver accents is the Gran Cordon Negro, a Brut cava and a bit better quality.
Segura Viudas – is a relative new-comer. The winery was established in 1950 and sold their first wines publicly in 1959. They produce a variety of sparkling wines, their premier product being Reserva Heredad, which is sold in a bottle with a highly decorative metal ring around the bottom of the bottle and a metal crest on the side. This is a good quality cava and a nice holiday gift, as well.

Buzzing in the Campo


Did you hear that sound like an angry helicopter coming from the campo south of Cómpeta recently?

Our flying visitors sent a few scouts on ahead but it took us a while to realise that we had a problem; first one or two and gradually more and more dusty looking bees began to materialise in our living room. As the whole house is screened, it was a bit of a mystery until I opened the door and heard what I swear was a helicopter on the roof.


Whale Watching in Tarifa



Having some friends over from the UK seemed like the perfect time to go Whale Watching in Tarifa. We sent an email to the female half of the couple, Emma telling her of our plans. That night, when her partner, Clive arrived home, she excitedly told him that we were going “Shark Searching”! So whilst Emma was searching for sharks, the rest of us looked, successfully for whales and dolphins.

Not being an expert in the area of whales, dolphins, or indeed boats, I would like to share my new found knowledge and recommend three essential items you will need when watching whales. I suggest you take sea sickness tablets, sun tan lotion, and a camera. Well as the meatloaf song goes, “two out if three ain’t bad”, read on to the end to see which I forgot.

Tarifa is in the province of Cádiz and is thought by some to be the origin of the word ‘tariff’ based on the fact that it was the first port to charge merchants for the use of its docks. The coastline is an interesting mix of old military fortresses and long, wide stretches of golden sand. There is a lot of wind in and around Tarifa, making it ideal for water sports such as windsurfing and kite surfing. As you approach the town along the N340 you will see approximately 269 wind turbines producing electricity. These graceful giants are part of Spain’ plan to produce 30% of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2010 (half of which will come from wind power).

There are a number of companies offering whale watching excursions in Tarifa, we chose a company called Turmares who have three different sized boats. We opted to go on the 10-seat boat called “Rainbow”; however when we turned up we were told that the Rainbow was not available as not enough people had booked it; so we ended up on the “Dolphin”, a boat that seated 75 people. As it turned out, this proved to be a better option, as you were able to walk around and look from either port or starboard or even left and right if you wanted to (that was a joke by the way!).

As we set off from the port, which these days is not very busy except for the high-speed ferry service to Morocco offered by FRS and a few private boats, we were speculated whether the boat was equipped with sonar equipment or not. This was soon answered when we spied a man on the top of the boat with a pair of binoculars. This simple method obviously worked, as after 20 minutes or so we saw our first school of 5 Pilot whales swimming very near the boat. A Pilot whale looks very much like a large dolphin, but the leaflet handed out at the beginning of the trip helped to identify them. Announcements stating what we could see were also made in Spanish, English and German over the boats loudspeaker system.

As the Pilot whales gave us a display of their abilities to crash through the waves effortlessly the air was filled with “oohs” and “ahs”, including mine I will freely admit. Then we were off again aiming purposefully for something in the distance. The something this time turned out to be some common dolphins. Once again these amazing creatures were able to give us a close-up demonstration of their gracefulness and speed in their natural habitat. But as disrespectful as it may sound to the wonderful common dolphin, it was whales that we really hoped to see. We had already read in the literature that we were given, that this is not the time of year to see Killer Whales, but other whales were around.

Once again the boat picked up speed and we headed towards what initially looked like some disturbance in the water, and then a black line which eventually turned into the back and fin of a Sperm whale. This was confirmed by the announcement on the loudspeaker. A guide on the boat said that the whale we could see was approximately 18 to 20 metres long. Sperm whales stay beneath the waves for an hour at a time before coming up for air for 15 or so minutes.

We stood and watched for about 10 minutes as the whale expelled water in a small fountain from its air hole. Then eventually it arched its back and began to dive. The last sight was its huge tail exiting the water and disappearing without as much as a splash. The only word or expression to cover this sight was once again “ahhhh….” which was uttered by all nationalities on the boat, British, Spanish and German.

Before our 2-hour boat trip was over we had the pleasure of seeing another Sperm Whale of a similar size. This one however appeared older, with white scar tissue on the side of its body; the result of a previous skirmish. The trip cost us 27 Euros per person, and believe you me, it was worth every centimo.

OK, so which of the three items did I forget? Did I ruin the day by feeling seasick and a bit green around the gills? Or did I get burnt to a crisp under the blazing sun? It was neither of these. With the prospect of seeing some of the world’s most amazing creatures, I forgot my camera; which can only be summed up in one word – pathetic.

A History of Flamenco

Image The roots of Flamenco can be traced back for centuries. Born from the expression of a persecuted people, most notably, the Gypsies of Southern Spain, its unique blend of influences and musical complexity can be attributed to the consequences of the decree made in Spain 1492 by Catholic Spanish King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella that everyone living under their domain convert to Catholicism.

Bull Fighting


Spain has always been famous for its bull-fights which are undergoing a new lease of life after an increase in interest. In Spain the bullfight is called the Fiesta Nacional (The National Sport).

There are few places in Spain where a bullring cannot be found within a short drive. It is the thing most commonly associated with Spain, and rightly so, for its origins date back to 711AD when the first bull-fight (corrida) took place in honour of the crowning of King Alfons VIII. Every week, all over Spain, many thousands of Spaniards flock to the nearest bullring, but not all Spaniards agree with the sport, or, indeed, like it.

It is reported that each year, within Spain, 24,000 bulls are killed in front of an audience of 30 million people. The bullfighting season runs from March to October.

Bullfighting was originally a sport for the aristocracy and took place on horseback. King Felipe V took exception to the sport however, and banned the aristocracy from taking part, believing it to be a bad example to the public. After the ban, commoners accepted the sport as their own and, since they could not afford horses, developed the practice of dodging the bulls on foot, unarmed. This transformation occurred around 1724.

Summary of a Ball Fight
Firstly the bull is let into the ring. Then, the top bullfighter called the Matador, watches his chief assistant wave a bright yellow and magenta cape in front of the bull to make it charge. He watches in order to determine the bull's qualities and mood, before taking over himself.Then a trumpet is sounded and several fighters called Picadores weaken the bull by placing spears into it. This takes around 10 minutes.

Another trumpet is sounded and the Matador now removes his black winged hat and dedicates the death of the bull to the president or the crowd before beginning his faena.
The faena which is the most beautiful and skilful section of the fight and where the matador must prove his courage and artistry. The faena consists of the bull running at the Matador who is carrying a muleta. This is a piece of thick crimson cloth draped over a short stick, which can be held in either the left hand or draped over the espada, the killing sword, which is always held in the right hand. Usually the muleta, in left or right hand, is first held in front of the matador to make the bull charge and is then swung across and away from the matador's body hopefully taking the bull with it.

This is a show, basically a dance with death - one wrong move and the Matador could become impaled on the horns of the bull. It is the Matador's job to make this dance dramatic and enjoyable for the audience.
The faena continues until the Matador has demonstrated his superiority over the bull. Once this is achieved the bull is ready to be killed.

The matador stands some ten feet from the bull, keeping the bull fixated on the muleta and aims the espada between the shoulder blades. The matador attacks, pushing the espada over the horns and deep between the shoulder blades. If the sword goes into the hilt it is an estocada but if it hits bone it is a pinchazo or media-estocada. An estocada usually results in the bull dropping immediately to its knees and dying, but if the bull fails to die the matador may take the descabello (a sword with a short cross piece at the end) which he stabs into the bull's neck severing the spinal cord. The fight is over.

The matador may be awarded trophies by the president, according to his skill in working with the bull, which can be one or two ears from the bull, the tail and the hoof. The crowd will often encourage the president to award the trophies by waving white handkerchiefs, and this waving continues after the trophies have been awarded in an attempt to get the matador to throw his trophies into the crowd. The crowd in return hurls flowers which are collected by the matador's assistants

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