Wine Press: Mixing memories and tradition for a signature cava at Segura Viudas

I WAS very proud of myself the other day. So proud I rewarded myself with a tinkling glass of something sweet, fruity and bubbly.

The reason? A winemaker in the heart of Spain’s cava country complimented me on my grape-blending skills.

With three wines, three test-tubes and three blending attempts, I was trying to mirror a cava blend chosen by winemaker Gabriel Suberviola for one of this year’s Segura Viudas cavas.

Segura Viudas is at the heart of the Penedes region on the outskirts of Barcelona and is owned by the Freixenet group.

But for group, don’t read conglomerate. Freixenet may have one of the most recognisable brands on the high street in its iconic black Cordon Negro bottle, but it is still very much family-owned.

Freixenet was founded in 1861 and was one of the first to take advantage of advertising, taking its traditional sparkling wines to a global market. Now 102.5million bottles of Freixenet cava are produced each year.

Cava itself carries DO status, which means only wines produced in the traditional method may be called cava and according to Spanish law, only eight wine regions may produce it. Penedes in Catalonia accounts for about 95 per cent of Spain’s cava production.

Gabriel Suberviola explained: “We have to respect tradition. There is no future without regard for the past. The roots of our cava are buried deep in the Penedas. A good cava starts at the vineyard.”

Three principle local grapes give cava its identity; they are paralleda, macabeo and xarel-lo. Other grapes can now also be added, such as chardonnay and pinot noir. Rosé can include trepat and garnacha.

Says Gabriel: “In our minds we know the final wine we want to make. We keep the knowledge and memories of our wines but the grapes change every year, so our blends have to change slightly to have the same wine.”

The harvest takes 50 days, with macabeo beginning in August, finishing with paradello in October. The freshly-picked grapes have to undergo 17 quality tests when arriving at the winery.

Adds Gabriel: “Every harvest is different. It is the winemaker’s mission to retain the good quality of each grape and keep the cava’s identity.”

Macabeo adds a fresh fruit sensation with good acidity and fresh apple; xarel-lo brings the main alcohol structure, a tasty sensation, has body and personality, with high acidity. Paralleda adds elegance along with subtle floral notes.

So back to the blending. I sniffed and tasted one of Gabriel’s blends for 2012 and discerned segura viudas heredas cavaa decent acidity with a good mix of apple, mountain-high freshness but elegance. I proffered my own blend of 50 percent macabeo and 25 percent of the other grapes; and Gabriel picked me as the winner in our tasting team. It appeared his own blend was 50-macabeo and a 30-20 split of the other two and (he said) he preferred mine. I was giddy.

My reward? A beautifully-embossed bottle of Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad,  (RRP £22.50 through Bibendum in selected bars and restaurants and also various online retailers). Macabeo is the dominant grape of a pairing with paralleda. It has elegant hints of biscuit on the nose, with dried fruit on the palate with a plentiful, playful mousse.

Cordon Negro, which is a blend of the three cava signature grapes, is reduced to £7.40 from £9.49 until April 30 in Tesco’s Wine Festival.

This column was first published in the Liverpool Post on April  4 2012