Cava goes upscale

A tasting by Codorníu of some of their more exclusive Gran Reservas.

I had a really fun time tasting through Codorníu’s line of cava over lunch yesterday. They poured their entry level Ann de Codorníu as we sat down but the highlights were the very high end Gran Reserva bottles. Each was very distinct, something to be savored outside of the normal ‘it’s a party, let’s have a cava’ environment. The three stand outs were the

Codorníu “Jaume Codorníu” Gran Reserva Brut 2013

I got some peach notes and a bit of that Sauvignon Blanc grassiness on the nose. This is a sparkler so the fact that my mouth was full of that sparkling sensation shouldn’t be a surprise but in comparison with the the following bottles it is remarkable.

Codorníu “Finca La Pleta” Gran Reserva Brut 2007

This one has a nose comparable to many Champagnes full of toasted notes but also something akin to a fresh oyster’s brininess. On the palate that toastiness continues but it’s amazing just how mellow the sparkling sensation is. Sure, there’s no denying this is a sparkling wine but it’s so full of flavor and the bubbles are so few that your attention swivels to the flavors that much more.

Codorníu “457” Gran Reserva Brut 2008

This one also favors toasty notes on the nose. And that continues over onto the palate but with a bit of  lemon zest. This bottle had the highest acid of the bunch which meant that it paired really well with our lunch and, most likely, would be a great food wine.

The contrasts between these bottles and the cavas I’ve tried before were categorical. These bottles belong in a different class and might be even doing a disservice to the brand exactly because they’re so distinctive and so far outside of the realm of the relatively simple sensations that the word cava now summons. Only the first really makes your mouth sparkle, the other two are very mellow so that you focus on the flavor rather than the sparkling sensation.  The vintage clearly matters; those latter two are ten year olds.

But this also raises the question of what this means for cava as a brand because they’ve worked incredibly hard to establish the idea of an inexpensive sparkling wine in all of our heads. So much so that no one expects too much from a cava because the price to sensation ratio is really clear. I bet most people have completely swallowed that idea that ‘sure these aren’t high end Champagnes but they’re perfect for a summer day’ or whatever marketing idea was originally designed for these wines. Now that Codorníu is intent on building a high end, high quality strata, what does that do for the entire category? Plenty of wines and spirits have made the transition, but standing right at the beginning of the process, it looks like an incredibly vertiginous climb.

Sadly, at least for the time being, my favorite of these bottles, the “Finca La Pleta” isn’t even available for sale. It’s part of a 300 bottle batch made in Codorníu’s “laboratory.” Clearly they’ve been working on this transition to quality and premium prices for some time so I’d expect more of these bottles to be available sometime soon. The market is seeded with events like this and I’m part of the process – maybe it really is a cava world and we all just live in it…

And that’s not such a terrible thing. Codorníu in particular makes for a better world. It’s a large, old, family owned winery which is carving out space for new viticultural expressions on a global market that thrives on novelty and great background stories. That “457” in the title for the third wine means, 457th bottling. That’s something to be proud of  as an independent company and augers much more to come.


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