Move Over Champagne and Prosecco: Cava Is the Approachable, Affordable Sparkling Wine You Should Start Sipping

This Spanish bubbly is easy to like, food-friendly, and priced just right.

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three glasses of bubbly cava on table background
Photo: Courtesy of D.O.Cava

Sparkling wine can make any day feel like a celebration—pop a bottle of bubbly and it's a party. You have plenty of options. Champagne is the best-known, but carries a hefty price tag. Prosecco and Crémant d'Alsace have their fans, too, but one we think is worth exploring is cava. This Spanish sparkler is food-friendly and easy to drink—and sommeliers say it's a great value.

"If you like sparkling wine and would prefer to spend $20 instead of $50, try a bottle of cava," says Catherine Fallis, master sommelier at wine club Bright Cellars. The approachable price tag, however, is not the only reason to consider cava. It was once dismissed as a budget wine not on par with Champagne—but cava makers are placing a premium on quality and making a play for consumers who love bubbly and want to drink it more often. They're also producing aged cava that might be set to compete with Champagne.

What Is Cava?

Dubbed the Champagne of Spain, cava is a sparkling wine with small, fine bubbles from the Cava Denominación de Origen (D.O.) area. It can be white or rose (rosado). Most cava is non-vintage, meaning it is a blend of wines from different years. The name cava comes from the Spanish word for "cave," referring to the cellars where the wines age.

How Cava Is Made

Like Champagne—but not like prosecco—cava is produced using the método tradicional, which is what the French call méthode champenoise, or bottle fermentation.

"Método tradicional is a multi-step process including a second fermentation in bottle, as opposed to tank, followed by extended aging before release. It is therefore considered a high-quality sparkling wine," says Fallis. This production method is one of the reasons why Champagne is so expensive—it requires time, space, and human hands, and eyes to ensure a quality finished product.

Prosecco, on the other hand, is made using the charmat or tank method; the wine becomes sparkling in the tank, before it is bottled.


Cava is primarily made up of three different types of native grapes: xarel.lo, macabeo, and parellada. There are a few other varietals that can be included, such as chardonnay and pinot noir.

Rosado styles of Cava are made from the red grapes garnacha, monastrell, pinot noir, and the Catalan variety trepat.


Cava is made in four main regions which span different regions of Spain: Comtats de Barcelona (over 95 percent of all cava is made here), Ebro Valley, Viñedos de Almendralejo, and the Levante zone.


By law, all cava must be aged for a minimum of nine months in the bottle. Wine aged for this time is called Cava de Guarda—and this budget-friendly, bright sparkling wine is the biggest category of cava, the one you're most likely to find at your local wine store. "These cavas are known for their zesty, citrus, and uplifting notes on the palate. It is one of my favorite bubbles to pair at a seafood bar," says Jessica Green, owner of Down The Rabbit Hole Wine Boutique and Wine Vie, a personal wine consulting and concierge service.

The rules for cava get tighter as the age time and quality increase. Reserva cava requires 18-months of aging, Gran Reserva is aged for 30 months, and Paraje Calificado has a minimum age time of 30 months. In addition, these wines are required to be 100 percent certified organic by 2025 and must have a vintage showcased on the bottle.

The D.O. is also promoting longer-aged cava, with grapes that spend three to five years on lees. The result? Wines with extravagant, delicate flavor and a creamy finish on the palate that can rival the best Champagnes. "Very similar to Champagne, the older cava wines that I have tried display nutty notes with a strong brioche-y quality. Often, there is a bit of toffee and dates, too," says Liz Martinez, general manager and sommelier of Apparatus Room at the Detroit Foundation Hotel.

Why Now Is the Time to Start Drinking Cava

Put simply, cava is the best it has ever been. "Cava was seen as a wine of poor or cheap quality for many years. [Now], producers are hand picking organic grapes and allowing for extended autolysis [a winemaking process that imparts richness and creaminess]," says Martinez. "This is creating a unique wine that is extremely fragrant and textural. The reality is that these are wines that rival Champagne."

Over the last few years, the Regulatory Board of the Denominación de Origin Cava has shifted and tightened the rules for making the wine, to encourage quality wine that is produced sustainably. The wines have improved—but the prices remain competitive.

What to Drink

Cava can be bone dry or sweet, similar to the span of styles of Champagne. Also similar to Champagne, cava's level of sweetness is a result of the amount of sugar added to the wine at bottling. The most common style of cava is brut, with the driest style, extra brut, coming second.

Cava Food Pairings

If you're looking for a food-friendly, effervescent sipper, go for cava. "It is amazingly food friendly. Because of its high acidity, it pairs beautifully with seafood, cheese, and charcuterie and because of its complexity, it can pair with heartier fare such as grilled meats and mushroom risotto," says Jeff Jenssen, a wine educator and co-author of five books, including White Wine.

Because cava has a range from dry to sweet, there is truly something for every palate and every dish. Pros say starting with cava as an aperitif can open the palate up and will enhance the flavors of the bites you are about to take.

Better yet, cava can be paired with every course of a meal, says Martinez—it even works with fried foods. According to Green, seafood is a perfect match for cava, as well as native Spanish meats (think Iberico ham) and cheeses. And remember: This sparkling sipper is versatile enough to stand up to heavier dishes and dessert.

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