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June 13, 2021

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Spanish bubblies to suit Guizhou

Shanghai Daily’s gastronome writer is focusing on the stimulating topic of Guizhou cuisine. Famous for palate tantalizing spicy and sour flavors, the unique dishes of Guizhou are increasingly attracting fans domestically and worldwide.

Over 3,000 years ago, indigenous peoples living in Guizhou developed their own distinct cuisine based on local plant and animal ingredients and ancient food preparation methods that included pickling, boiling and grilling. During the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC), the culinary culture of Guizhou was embellished with new ingredients and techniques from Sichuan, Hunan, Yunnan and Guangdong provinces. Then in the 18th century chili arrived.

Modern Guizhou cooking, or Qian cuisine as its commonly called, is famous for spicy-sour dishes like sour-and-spicy fish soup, crackling fish with Zao pepper, Kung Pao chicken and Huaxi beef rice noodles.

These palate-energizing dishes present real challenges for wine pairing. Spicy foods benefit from sweet, off-sweet and overtly fruity wines, while sour dishes are best with wines that are high in acid. There exists a Spanish sparkler that offers several synergistic solutions to challenging Guizhou dishes.


The first Spanish sparkling wines were made in the late 1840s and early 1850s in the Penedes wine region south of Barcelona. However, these early bubblies were made in diminutive quantities, and the first real commercial production started decades later.

Joseph Ravento, the traveling salesman for the Catalonian wine producer Codorniu, was finding it exceedingly difficult to sell his still wines in France and other European wine markets. Upon return to Spain, he convinced his company to make sparkling wines using the classic Champagne method.

Instead of using the authorized Champagne grapes Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, Codorniu used the local Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada varieties. The first vintage was 1872 and soon thereafter other Penedes producers joined the sparkling bandwagon and a grand new age of Spanish sparkling wines had begun.

Over the first century of their existence the sparkling wines of Penedes were usually referred to as Champana or Spanish champagne. The French righteously took exception and to this unauthorized derivative of their name and eventually Spanish producers changed the official name of their sparkling wines to CAVA. The new name is derived from the Catalan dialect name for the caves where the wines are aged and stored. The CAVA DO was officially established in 1986.

The vast majority of all CAVA sparkling wines are made in Penedes, but the CAVA DO wines may also be produced in the Aragon, Navarra, Rioja, Pais Vasco, Valencia and Extremadura regions. CAVA DO producers are allowed to use contributions of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Subirat grapes blended with the Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada varieties.

The winemaking process may be the same, but what really differentiates CAVA from champagne is price.

Producers are able to make sparkling wines with better price-quality ratios because they benefit from larger growing areas and advanced winemaking facilities. Despite success in Spain and export markets, all is not well in the CAVA DO world.

In our new millennium, smaller, quality-minded producers became increasingly unhappy with what they saw as lax DO restrictions and a lack of commitment to terroir specificity and geographic origin that favored the largest producers. From 2012 until 2018 a number of producers formerly left the CAVA DO and formed their own sparkling wine associations. The sparkling wine rebels include Conca del Riu Anoia, Classic Penedes, Corpinnat and Espumoso de Calidad de Rioja.

Reacting to these defections, in 2020 the CAVA DO modified production rules and implemented much stricter regulations on vine age, vineyard yields, aging requirements and other winemaking practices.

Now, basic CAVA DO sparkling wines must be aged on the lees for a minimum of nine months, while Reserva CAVAs require 18 months and Gran Reserva CAVA must have at least 30 months of lees aging. The DO also established a new sub-classification named CAVA de Paraje that includes wines that are Brut or drier and requires 36 months aging on the less.

CAVA wines represent excellent value, but how should we pair them with Guizhou dishes?

With the sourest of Guizhou dishes, I suggest a dry style of CAVA, while the spiciest dishes are better companions to the sweeter versions.

The dry styles include in ascending levels of sweetness, the Brut Nature with little or no dosage, Extra Brut and Brut dry wines, and Extra Seco or Extra Dry CAVAs that are slightly sweeter that the three Brut styles. Next, come the true sweet wines, Seco, Semi-Seco and Dolce. This diversity of styles means there’s an ideal CAVA sparkler to pair with the delicious demands of Guizhou cuisine.

Penedes producers of fine CAVAs with wines available in Shanghai include Freixenet, Alsina Sarda, Codorniu and Segura Viudas. From dry to sweet, CAVA wines should be served well-chilled or 6 to 8 degrees Celsius.

Should you favor something far stronger than CAVA with your spicy and sour dishes; then it’s always appropriate to pair Guizhou dishes with their regional kindred spirit, the world-famous Moutai liquor. When going the baijiu route, my personal preference is a bottle of the elegant Jun Pin Xijiu, a newly released baijiu that’s also produced by the Guizhou Moutai Distillery Group.


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