Great bubbly at $15?—Spanish Cava is changing the paradigm. Competition in the “cheap Champagne” space is getting brutal. The great news is, nothing spurs higher quality more than competition—this is, after all, the foundation of free-market capitalism—and the more options that have become available in recent years, the better the quality of affordable sparkling wines on the shelves. The options are plentiful: you’ve got Prosecco, from Italy, where the most consistent excellence in quality comes from the Valdobbiadene region; there’s a variety of solid options out of California, such as Gloria Ferrer, Mumm Napa, Roederer, Schramsberg and Iron Horse; and you also have Champagne’s stepsister, the “other” French bubbly known as Cremant which are often 1/3 the price of Champagne. But, if there’s a Wal-Mart type of competitor in this space of affordable bubblies, it is definitely Cava, from Spain. Just as Wal-Mart has been the butt of many an elitist joke, so were the 7-, 8- and 9-dollar Cava Brut sparkling wines that entered the market on a large scale within the last decade. But, no longer. There are “upscale” Cava Bruts, at around $15, that might have you thinking you’re drinking a solid, basic Champagne. And they are not necessarily named Friexenet (probably the most recognizable name in Cava). Like this FLORINDA Cava Brut.
There’s a noticeably handcrafted quality to the Florinda bubbly. Made of a combination of esoteric grapes hand selected from estate vineyards—40% Xarel-Lo, 30% Macabeo and 30% Parellada—the emphasis here is on fresh fruit flavor, notably green apple, tropical fruit and lemon-lime. Unlike many Champagnes, the intensity here is very dialed-down—mouthfeel is soft and carbonation is light; there’s no aspect of austerity nor is there a ton of complexity, but the wine compensates with likeability, approachability, pleasantry and drinkability. Comparatively speaking, this Cava Brut is softer and riper than most Prosecco and slightly crisper and drier than a typical California sparkling. For the price, it’s a wonderful substitute for Champagne. –J.M.