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Cava and Prosecco take fizz out of Champagne

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Cava and Prosecco take fizz out of Champagne
Cava and Prosecco are giving Champagne a real run for its money. Photo: AFP
08:28 CEST+02:00
After decades of rising exports, producers of Catalan cava are brimming with confidence and have their eyes set on taking on the "king" of sparkling wine -- French champagne, which is also being outpaced by Italian fizz Prosecco.

France's Champagne region may have been granted World Heritage Status recently but the famous French drink is clearly not having everything its own way.

Cava, which is produced in the Alt Penedes region of northeastern Spain, an area of rolling hills about a half hour's drive south of Barcelona, began seeking new markets three decades ago by offering good value for money.

Exports of cava soared from just 10 million bottles in 1980 to 154.7 million bottles in 2014, the sixth consecutive year that foreign sales of the drink exceeded those of French champagne. By comparison in 2014 France exported 144.9 million bottles of champagne.

But of all the bottles exported last year, only eight million were high-end reserve cavas that producers now want to develop.

"Cava is beginning a second stage. We conquered the world with standard cavas. Now we are going to conquer it again with superior quality cavas," the head of the the association of small and medium sized cava producers, Pere Guilera, told AFP.

Guilera only produces high-end cavas -- some 30,000 bottles annually of which 20 percent are exported -- at a small family-owned winery housed in an old farmhouse surrounded by vineyards near the town of Sant Sadurni d'Anoia.

The production requires a careful selection of grapes and a long ageing process of up to 12 years to create a "rich and harmonious aroma, fine bubble and a smooth texture" with a "smooth and slightly fruity" taste, said Guilera.

A bottle of reserve cava costs around 20 euros ($22), three times less than a bottle of champagne of a similar quality.

"We are offering quality at very low prices," said Guilera.

"Cava still has some way to go to improve its image in the high-end," said Pedro Bonet, communications director at Freixenet, the world leader in sparkling wines.

"We have been working on this for the last few years and bit by bit it is bearing fruit. It requires time, investment and careful staging," he added.

France's prized bubbly, which was recently granted World Heritage Status is also under threat from Italy's famous fizz Prosecco.

Prosecco, which is produced in vineyards that make up a valley north of Venice, outsold champagne in 2013 by 307 million bottles to 304, according to figures released in 2014 by OVSE, the Italian wine observatory.

Worldwide revenue from the drink was up 16 percent, while volume increased by 11.5 percent.

Sales of Prosecco have been rising steadily in recent years as the credit crunch knocked the bubbles out of the pricier Champagne. A record 339 million bottles of champagne were sold in 2007 before the financial crisis gripped the market a year later.

Prosecco has become the tipple of choice across the world, particularly in the US and UK, where sales have been booming over the last few years, particularly during the festive period.

The sparkling wine is usually made from Glera grapes and was the original wine used in the Bellini (sparkling wine and peach puree) cocktail.

In 2009, it was accredited with the DOGC (controlled designation of origin) quality assurance label. 

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