For me, wine started as a hobby. Once I began devouring information about it — locations, ideal climates for growing conditions, the winemaking process — the more I wanted to learn.
On a lark, I attended a wine tasting in downtown Denver, long before all the COVID-19 business came through. During my all-too-brief session, I tried to take down tasting notes based on a method I’d picked up from a recent read. Someone noticed me note-taking and commented that I should take a WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) course.
I signed up that night.
Fast-forward to now, with four wine certifications under my belt; I hunger for still more. The learning must continue!
Unfortunately, COVID-19 and all its bundled stressors, depression, changes and overall worldwide mania brought that education to a screeching halt. I’d look up articles now and then, randomly assess a wine, even lead some online wine tastings for groups, but it was hard to keep up.
A horrible excuse, I know. But here I am getting my emotionally bloodied and mentally bruised self back on the proverbial horse. Without a saddle. In the rain. During the dead of an Arctic winter.
You get the idea. My skills may have atrophied in the wine department, but it doesn’t mean I can’t build them up again.
One of my favorite resources as a wine nerd is Wine Folly, run by Madeline Puckette. Major kudos to her, because her site is not only easy to navigate, but she and her writing team also make understanding wine so incredibly accessible to a wider audience. It’s one thing to know the highly technical and industry-specific stuff, but quite another to explain it to someone in a way that keeps them interested and chomping at the bit for more.
Think of it as the wine aficionado’s version of the time-suck known as TV Tropes site for movie buffs.
Which brings me to this whole idea of a tackling wine challenge, courtesy of Wine Folly. Thirty-four weeks, thirty-four wines, with refreshers on the regions and tasting notes on the wines themselves. The whole idea simply ticks off the necessary boxes of
- Stress-free way to motivate me
- Method for exploring new wines
- Ability to re-examine old favorites
- Structure for re-training my nose and palate
I’m not going to kid myself into thinking I can write a better post than they can over there. What I can do, however, is use their challenge as a springboard for the wines I’m actually tasting, while also linking to their main Challenge page for those who want to follow along. You can also expect me to review topics related either to the week’s theme, or to the specific wine I chose. Makes it more fun, yeah?
Taste with me!
Week one has a focus on Spanish cava. Pronounced “kah-vah,” this is a sparkling wine.
Fun fact: Not all sparkling wines are white! Try a Lambrusco or sparkling Shiraz sometime, if the fancy takes you.
If you’re a fan of champagne, cava is made exactly the same way. They just can’t call it champagne because it’s not made in that particular region of France. Yep, champagne comes from Champagne, and these wines use one or a combination of three grapes in their creation: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.
Spoiler alert… two of the three grapes used in making Champagne wine are red. Most champagnes are yellow in tone. Neat, right?
Anyway, wine regions are very particular about naming, what to put on labels, and the laws behind what percentages of what grapes are used in a wine with x label from y village. They throw huge collective hissy fits when other countries or regions try to take on a name or style they’ve spent generations building, and with good reason.
Don’t worry about that now. We’re talking about cava. It’s beautiful, and it’s bubbly, and it’s brilliant as it plays over the tongue and insides of your cheeks. Although some cava uses Chardonnay, the most commonly used grapes are instead Macabeo, Xarello, and Parellada.
The best part about cava? It’s super affordable and makes a great everyday sparkling wine for — not joking — french fries. Or pizza. Or fish and chips.
Why, you ask?
Dry sparkling wines like champagne and cava have a high level of what’s known as acidity. You know when you suck on a lemon and your cheeks and gums start to tingle from all that sourness? That’s acidity.
It’s great for wines that pair with fattier foods like creamy cheeses or the aforementioned pub-style fare, because that acidity cuts right through the fat and grease to refresh the palate, and it improves the flavor of everything. Combine acidity with bubbles, and you have a smashing hit that’s hard to beat with a variety of foods.
A word of warning, however… we’re not talking about the sweeter sparklers like Moscato or Prosecco. Those are different animals — and grapes — altogether.
One final note before assessing tonight’s challenge wine selection. There’s a lot to go into when it comes to sparkling wine, enough to cover a whole series of posts.
With that said, I’ll simply remain practical. Numerous wine stoppers exist out there in the market, and some are meant specifically for sparkling wine use. If you don’t want that expensive (or cheap, I’m not judging) bottle to go to waste, shell out $10 for one. It made my New Year bubbly last a full two weeks; because it was so flippin’ good, I wanted to savor it.
They’re easy to find on Amazon; just search for “sparkling wine stoppers.”
And now, I introduce you to the Raventós i Blanc Blancs de Blancs Cava, vintage 2017. According to the estate website, the Raventós family has been tending their vines for five centuries. They began making their first cava in the late nineteenth century. While their vineyards lie within the Cava region, they opted in 2012 to officially “create their own more strictly defined and geographically specific appellation: Conca del Riu Anoia” (Skurnik).
That alone caught my attention.
More than that, let’s just say that my local liquor store knows me pretty well. When I mentioned the wine challenge, they put this recommendation at the top of their list. I had noticed it, even eyed for a while over the past few months, as I’m always looking for great new wines to try. At a $25 price point, it doesn’t break the bank, but it also doesn’t fit my budget for the everyday sipper.
Nevertheless, I’m also a sucker for nerdy wines. Breaking off to successfully make your own mini-wine region? Half a millennia of wine-making under their belt? Oh yeah. We’re trying this.
And speaking of trying things… here are my notes for the wine itself. While I endeavor to follow the WSET tasting grid in preparation for future courses, I’m also a writer and like to make things enjoyable for all, including myself.
Producer: Raventós i Blanc
Region: Conca del Riu Anoia, Cava, Spain
Style: Sparkling, “blanc de blancs” (meaning all from white grapes)
Grapes: Xarelo, Macabeu, Parellada
The wine is a clear, pale but approaching medium gold, with mostly uniform, small bubbles.
Aromas in the cava are clean, with medium intensity. Even when pouring it into a glass the sharp citrus of under-ripe lemon was easily detectable.
There’s a distinct mineral quality, almost a flintiness to it. You know how river stones smell in the spring when the stream swells after a rain? Like that, but fainter. It’s enough to ground the fruity notes — not just lemon, but also a touch of lime and Granny Smith apple. While I’m beyond terrible at identifying specific floral notes, I can at least recognize their presence, and while delicate, they’re here, too.
After minute to open up, the wine also revealed a slight nuttiness and even a hint of fresh bread dough, indicative of the traditional method of making this style of sparkling wine known as “méthode champenoise.” When wine, not just the bubbly kind, has time in the tank to settle over the remainder of the yeast used for fermentation, called “sitting on its lees,” the resulting flavors could remind a taster of fresh brioche, sourdough, or biscuits. Some might even refer to it as a general “yeastiness”; accurate, if not a bit on the nose.
I’d definitely categorize this as a complex wine.
Dry and extremely crisp with high acidity, the wine makes the mouth water expectantly. At medium levels of 12.1% alcohol (I looked the exact number up), it also has a medium minus body to it and a medium intensity of flavor. Overshadowing everything else was the crisp citrus, specifically tart lemon as found on the nose, but I could also detect almond and lightly toasted sourdough.
The finish doesn’t linger, though there’s a slight waxy residue left behind on the tongue. It’s not unpleasant, simply noticeable.
While complex, this wine parades its youth through the strength of its fresh fruit aromas and flavors, leaving one searching for notes of ageing in bottle. Definitely drink the Raventós now to fully enjoy its zesty and refreshing qualities.
As wine experts say, “what grows together goes together,” so this wine would pair easily with Spanish-style dishes. I’d also try it with seafood, or even fried rice.