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October 17, 2010

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Spain: Best bubbly for the price

WHEN you can afford to drink Champagne - do it! The more you drink, the more you'll love this bubbly nectar. Perhaps the only thing you won't love is the cost. Good, inexpensive Champagne just doesn't exist. So what are lovers of bubbles to do? My answer is Cava, the sparkling wine of Spain.

In 1872, Josep Fatjo of the Codorniu Estate started making sparkling wines using the same method already popular in Champagne. Soon other producers in the Catalonia region around Barcelona started making sparkling wines.

Over the next century, they made some very good Cavas but unfortunately also some pretty awful ones. Cava became the world's best-selling sparkling wine. In 1986 the Cava D.O. was established to regulate and oversee production. Then more and more producers saw the benefit of quality, not only quantity.

Today, there are many good, and some excellent Cava sparklers that are very affordable. The best Cava wines are dry and tend to be more earthy and less acidic than Champagnes.

A reasonably priced Cava suitable for daily drinking is the Freixenet Corton Negro Brut, instantly recognizable in its black bottle. It has a lovely fruity bouquet and plenty of fresh green apple and pear flavors with fine bubbles.

Another high-quality, good value Cava is the Castell de Vilarnau Brut that also offers delightful green apple aromas and flavors. Both wines are great as an aperitif or with light seafood dishes.

If you want to get more serious and are willing to spend a little more, I recommend the Freixenet Reserva Real, a complex wine aged over 30 months with persistent fine bubbles, toasty aromas and dried fruit flavors.

Match this wine with more substantial seafood or white meat dishes. It's also wonderful with Peking duck!

Love pink? Two rose Cavas well worth trying are the Freixenet Rosado Brut and Castell de Vilanau Rosado.

Both offer lively red fruit aromas and stimulating fresh strawberry and red berry flavors with zesty, fresh finishes. These rose Cavas go well with many foods, especially when Chinese seafood and meat dishes are served at the same time.


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