Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Cava with everything

Por: | 26 de mayo de 2014

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One of the privileges of living in Catalonia is the ubiquity of cava.  

Since I’ve been living here I’ve had cava for breakfast, lunch and dinner; cava to mark births, deaths and anniversaries; at the opening of a community arts centre; in a jacuzzi; for Valentine’s Day, St Jordi and Christmas; and, well, just because it was a Tuesday (and not even a very special Tuesday at that).

By contrast, I think I’ve had champagne maybe once in the same time period. You can drink champagne in Barcelona but it is considered an unnecessarily foreign opulence, like adding butter to your pa amb tomàquet or having separate flip flops for both beach and house. And inevitably I’ve grown to love cava as a drink in and of itself, rather than as a substitute for champagne.

Sadly, I don’t think many of my fellow Britons agree. The UK may well be the second largest cava market outside of Spain but sales fell 16.7% in 2013, with British bon viveurs consuming some 2.34m fewer bottles than in 2012.

The main reason for this is said to be the rise of prosecco, imports of which leapt 40.2% in Britain last year

But this points to a wider malaise. Cava and prosecco clearly have their similarities but each wine has its own brands and regions, with subtleties of taste and texture. Most importantly, perhaps, cava is produced using the traditional méthode champenoise, while prosecco is made using the méthode Charmat, in which the secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks rather than in the bottle, lowering the price of production.

Clearly, then, we are talking about very different wines and surging prosecco sales shouldn’t necessarily harm those of cava.  That they have done so is largely because Britons tend to lump cava and prosecco in a nebulous category entitled “not quite champagne”. (Or even worse “like champagne but cheaper”.)

They are celebratory sparkling drinks, in other words, but not quite to the standard of champagne; something for you aunt’s birthday but not for your wife’s.

“If it's a ‘statement’ present then it'd have to be champagne,” one British friend suggested. “Trend-wise I think cava was kind of cool for a bit but has been superseded by prosecco now.”

This is not just a failing of the cava industry, though. It is a failing of the Catalan “brand” as a whole. And that makes it particularly interesting for a British Barcelona dweller.

Catalonia (largely represented by Barcelona for the British, whether the Catalans like it or not) generally has a strong brand in the UK, if a slightly contradictory one.

Leaving aside the appalling history of robberies in the Catalan capital, the city is seen as being young, fashionable and arty. It is the city of FC Barcelona’s footballing elegance, Sonar’s electronic experimentation and Gaudí’s architectural genius. It is also cheap, sunny and cheerful: a place for stag dos, €10 lunches and beer on the beach. 

These two points may seem rather inconsistent but in fact they fit together well, helping Barcelona to attract millions of foreign visitors every year (some 2.3m in August 2013 alone). These are people who like culture and sun; architecture and beaches; a cheap paella and a blow out visit to Tickets.

This should be good news for cava: British people on the whole appreciate Barcelona and by extension Catalonia. A Catalan sparkling wine, then, should be able to trade on these good feelings.

The problem, though, is while Cava should summon up images of Gaudí - that’s to say a unique Catalan product that holds its head high on the world stage - it too often feels closer in image to a paella on the Ramblas: nice and all but hardly anything special.

I’m far from an expert in marketing. But the problem, I would suggest, is one of price. Cava in the UK is seen as “affordable” and “cheap”, both admirable qualities in themselves but hardly helpful for a sparkling wine.

“I reckon part of the image problem in the UK is that you often get cheap/own brand cava reduced to about £4.99, while prosecco is seen as higher-end and is almost never below £6.99,” another friend explains.

And this is reflected in stores: I recently tried to buy a bottle of good cava in a London supermarket, only to find some rather dusty looking bottles on the end of a shelf, hanging around apologetically like a 16th Century serf while the champagne lorded it behind the counter. Needless to say, I left without cava.

This problem, to be fair, is something the government here has already noted. In January Miguel Arias Cañete, the minister for agriculture, food and the environment, said that cava should not be positioned as a “cheap product”, adding, “We already export volume, now we have to export price.”

To do this successfully, though, cava companies need to change people’s perceptions of the wine and this is no small task. We need posh cava, deluxe cava, snobby cava, even: appeal to people’s sense of prevention and one uppery.

Get cava in the best restaurants; get it on TV; get it visible, standing out proudly on supermarket shelves rather than skulking at the back like a lapsed pervert. Have a cava festival in London and show off the different brands of cava: cava and fish; cava and cheese; cava and chocolate; cava for breakfast. We need cava with everything, in other words, just like good Catalans.

Why not find some cava champions: Ferran Adrià, for example, was named Cofrade de Honor del Cava (essentially member of the brotherhood of cava, something I’d certainly like on my business card) in 2009 and is a globally renowned chef. Or how about Gerard Piqué, who’s not only a great footballer but young, good looking and married to a pop star?

Changing the perception of cava might be difficult. But why shouldn’t the cava makers think big? 

After all, we don’t see Barcelona as a cheap alternative to Paris. So why should cava genuflect before champagne?

 

 

Hay 3 Comentarios

If I may share a comment from a friend on Facebook, which I think is very telling:

"There is a lot of work and knowledge behind a bottle of Cava. If you ever have the chance to talk to Cava producers in Penedès, you will see what I mean. Maybe the reason why Cava lacks image abroad is because most of the best Cavas have just started to export, and even In Barcelona you can’t find them so easily in restaurants or shops. Another reason to come to Sant Sadurní and discover them before they become widely known..."

I love Champagne, Cava and Prosecco, and I have the possibility to buy a selection of them in Alicante. Little by little I am only drinking cava: Champagne has a bad relation price/quality and prosecco is too sweet and industrial. I prefer now Cava Brut Nature Reserva, great quality, correct price and it is a wine for eating.

Consumers and importers now have better information when it comes to choosing a cava in a shop or online in the form of the annual publication 50 Great Cavas http://www.winepleasures.com/50-great-cavas/

Los comentarios de esta entrada están cerrados.

Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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