Let them drink Cava

Wine reviews – By Michael Wolsey

While we basked in glorious sunshine in recent weeks, many parts of France were hit by torrential rain and violent hailstorms.

I wrote last week of the damage they had inflicted on the Bordeaux region and the prospects for its famous red wines.

Well, it never rains but it pours. And now comes news that Champagne has also fallen victim to the weather.

The northeastern Champagne region experienced four particularly heavy hail storms in May just as the vines were beginning to flower. Thanks to a system which allows Champagne producers to mix new product with stocks from previous years, the world will not run out of fizz, but it will be in short supply and prices are likely to rise.

If you can afford Champagne that may not worry you. If you can’t, you should try Cava.

Like Champagne, Cava is made using the traditional method where secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle. This second fermentation, when carefully handled, will give just the right amount of fizz while raising the alcohol level slightly.

Cava became very popular about 30 years ago when holidaymakers to Spain discovered a wine that was almost as good as Champagne but a fraction of the price. Manufacturers attempted to meet demand by speeding up the fermentation process or injecting gas.

They damaged their product and left a gap in the market into which Italy’s Prosecco happily jumped. But Cava has cleaned up its act now and is, for the most part, a better wine than Prosecco and still way cheaper than Champagne.

Beware of the very cheap stuff – some producers still resort to dodgy methods. But €10 to €12 will get you a perfectly good bottle of Cava in Ireland, half that in Spain.