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

Wine classics tasting in whirlwind of fizz and flint

In the space of two hours I tripped lightly across the globe; from Italy to South Africa, then France, southwards to Argentina and then moments later a short hop to south Australia.

Not in reality of course. I doubt even Richard Branson’s galactic gadgets could succeed in such a speedy earth-spinning trip.

Nope. I was nestled in a corner of Vinea at Albert Dock in Liverpool for the latest wine classics tasting session in my Classic Regions Wine Course. By coincidence, not by design, two styles of wines we tasted were already reclining, expectantly, in my wine rack at home and I’ll tell you about them here.

First up, Prosecco.

This is a fresh sparkling wine from Italy and, since 2009, only sparkling wine in certain areas around Veneto can be called Prosecco.

What that means, as Vinea’s Dan Harwood explained, is that production of Prosecco will reduce – in the sense that fewer places can legally label it as such – and so the price will eventually go up.

It is made in steel tanks, which means that the wine to yeast ratio is low. The steel brings in no flavour at all and when bottled under pressure all the yeast is filtered out. This leaves a pure, fresh wine full of aromas of the glera grape.

At Vinea we tasted Azienda Agricola Bellenda Prosecco 2011 (£14.99, www.vinealiverpool.co.uk) which displayed all the distinctive notes of Prosecco; hints of pear and apple and slightly floral. It was well-balanced. Not too light, not too acidic but with a decent finish.

At home I opened La Gioiosa Prosecco Spumante DOC Treviso (£5.99, Tesco) which was great value, with pear on the nose, a good sparkle but a light finish. (By the way, spumante is fully sparkling; frizzante is lightly sparkling).

Now. To South Africa, and Stellenbosch to be more specific, which is east of Cape Town.

I’m not a massive fan of oaked chardonnay; I like my chardonnay crisp and flinty like a good Chablis. First aromas of the golden, viscous, Radford Dale 2009 Chardonnay (£17.49, Vinea) were of burnt toast, but I was surprised that on the palate hints of flint and mineral cut a seam through the creamy tropical stone fruit; so I liked it.Meerlust Chardonnay review

Back home and to Meerlust Chardonnay 2009 (£15, from www.thewinesociety.com) produced on an estate owned by the same family since 1756.

Only five miles from the sea, the vineyards are cooled by ocean breezes allowing the grapes to ripen slowly and develop deep full-bodied fruit flavours. With a complex fruity but mildly toasty nose, it is rich, full and creamy with lots of tropical fruit and again, a slight hint of minerality.

Also in my glass this week … at Vinea, I had a glass of rosé from Provence – where rosé accounts for more than half of its production.

The 2010 Chateaux D’Ollieres Coteaux De Varoux, (£11.49, Vinea) had hints of pale raspberry but was understated, crisp and elegant in the style of a white. I closed my eyes and didn’t think I was drinking rosé at all.

Details of Vinea’s courses can be found at www.vinealiverpool.co.uk

Also on my plate this week … we had a Spanish-themed lunch of chorizo, olives and cheese and I couldn’t resist opening The Best Vina Eneldo Reserva Rioja (reduced to £6 from £9.49 until March 25 at Morrisons). Soft with lots of cherries and some vanilla, it’s a decent buy – if you hurry up. Another Morrison’s deal is Berberana Seleccion d’Oro (down to £4.49 from £8.99 until April 1) which I’m saving for National Paella Day on March 27.

First published in the Liverpool Post on March 22 2012