It’s a curious thing that here I’ve been in very snowy Copenhagen (dreaming of home as I pen this blog) for the past three months, and what I’ve mainly been drinking is Champagne. My friends here in Denmark can’t get enough of the stuff, and their standards are high: we’re talking vintage Bollinger, and a beautifully crisp little number that tastes and smells like warm, buttery brioche from the little vineyard of Jacquesson (www.champagnejacquesson.com). I thank them humbly, for it is not every day that you get to drink such fine vintages. My question is—and I confess it’s a question I ask myself several times a year—can cava really be as good as champagne?
I think the answer is probably yes as soon as you stop comparing it to champagne. You wouldn’t compare Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot after all, and as long as you’re going in for comparisons, chances are you are going to be disappointed. Cava may be made to the same method as champagne, but the grapes and terroir are completely different. Most wine writers in Spain (and indeed those outside) agree that Kripta by Augustí Torrelló is one of the best cavas ever created, not least because the Torrelló family go to great pains to distinguish it from its French rival.
For a start, they are true to the classic cava varietals: Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel.lo. Where champagne displays the yeasty, heady aromas of bread fresh from the oven, the nuttiness of fresh hazelnuts and the fine mousse (bubbles) that seduces the tastebuds so very addictively, Kripta is lively and fruit forward to start, but mellows into a wine that is buttery and nutty. A refreshing acidity makes it great with food and on its own, and it has a lightness and delicacy to it that reminds me of the Penedès vineyards as they burst into bloom in the spring.
Combine these elegant tastes and aromas with a hand-made, amphora shaped bottle that requires a special stand just to hold it, and you could argue that the Gran Reserva Kripta gets a one-over on champagne on many levels. The current release from 2003 will set you back about €45, but you can get a taste of greatness on a budget by checking out some of the winery's lower profile wines. A bottle of Agustí Torelló Mata brut goes for just €8.95. The full range is available from Vila Viniteca (www.vilaviniteca.es). Happy sipping.