Freixenet cava is so much more than iconic Cordon Negro

PRETTY in pink … a glass of rose. Can it be beaten? Well it can if it’s sparkling and is sitting alongside tapas of marinated salmon and Iberian ham. A veritable feast with pink hues; but by no means girlie.

I was in Barcelona drinking Cordon Rosado, the pink sister of stablemate Freixenet’s famous Cordon Negro. Its classy, sassy, sexy-bottled cousin, Elyssia Pinot Noir was alongside and fizzed splendidly away with salted scallops and a traditional dish of coca d’escalivada – grilled aubergine, peppers and tomato-topped bread.

Earlier in the day I had explored Freixenet’s winery in the village of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia at the heart of Penedes on the outskirts of Barcelona and the main capital of cava.

The winery’s villa-like exterior belies the cavernous expansion of multi-storey floors within, each containing cava at various stages of production.

Damian Clark, UK MD of Freixenet, Freixenet cava
Damian Clark

Family-owned Freixenet is the world’s largest producer of cava – 102.5 million of bottles are produced per year – that’s 69,187,500 litres which would fill about 28 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Its iconic black Cordon Negro is as likely to tease you from your local supermarket shelves as it is to sit on tables across the world.

In 2010/2011 Freixenet cava had 56 per cent of the export market with almost half of that business going to Germany, which receives nearly four million 12-bottle cases. The UK has just short of 900,000 cases.

So does Freixenet cava have a secret? Jose Ferrer Sala, son of the company’s founders, said: “There isn’t one. The land and the vines give us their best, while we contribute all our skills of refinement, along with experience and ingenuity.”

I sipped Elyssia Gran Cuvee with Damian Clarke, the MD for Freixenet UK, and he told me: “Consumers are becoming much more curious and adventurous and are looking for something a little different. Everybody has probably seen our famous Cordon Negro bottle, but we offer so many more styles of cava.

“Some people probably don’t realise that cava is made in exactly the same traditional way as Champagne, but we can offer better value and some superb drinking experiences.”

Freixenet Elyssia cava
Freixenet cava, Elyssia

Cordon Negro (RSP £9.49, all major retailers and good off licences) is a blend of the Catalan grapes parellada, macabeo and xarel-lo. It has a good balance of green fruit aromas, slightly toasty, and on the palate is long and elegant with lemon and pear.

Cordon Rosado (price and stockists as above) is bright strawberry pink from its blend of trepat and grenache grapes. Red fruits are strong on the palate but it is not overly-sweet, and aromas include strawberry and even hints of dates.

Freixenet Elyssia Pinot Noir (from £14.99 – Waitrose, and Matthew Clark Wines in selected bars and restaurants) is exactly what it says on the tin: 100 per cent pinot noir grown high in the Penedes. The grapes are harvested at night to preserve the aroma. It shouts summer, summer, summer with its lively raspberry colour, aroma and ice cream-topping fruitiness.

Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvee (price and stockists as above) is a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and native macabeo and parellada. Interesting but balanced aromas of light honey and flowers open up to peach and pineapple, then on the palate its tingly clean ripe fruit crispness has good acidity and a lingering give-me-more finish.

 This article first appeared in the Liverpool Post on  May 3 2012

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