It’s made in the same way as Champagne and is often aged and matured for as long, but sits a long way down the wine list when it comes to the price a restaurant or wine merchant could sell it for. So how does D.O. Cava re-position itself in the minds of wine buyers and gain a greater appreciation and reputation amongst consumers and, in particular, those who like sparkling wine? Those were just two of the issues that we asked our panel of buyers, restaurateurs, sommeliers, importers and educators to tackle for our latest The Buyer Zoom debate. We also gave them the opportunity to taste through a range of D.O. Cavas to see where they might sit in the premium wine market and the specialist on and off-trades.
Our thanks go to our team of buyers and for D.O. Cava for their support in making this debate happen. If you want to find out more about D.O. Cava then go to its website here.
You can watch a full recording of the debate here, and catch up on short video extracts in the report below.
First the good news. Cava is undoubtedly a strong, universally recognised and liked category within the global sparkling wine market. It has been part of our drinking lives ever since we were passed a glass to mark a family occasion. We might even be drinking Cava at a wedding, banquet or gala dinner without realising it.
Now the challenge. For the most part the Cavas you have been drinking on those occasions are most likely to be the mainstream Cavas that easily find themselves on to the wine lists of major retailers, restaurants, hotels, wedding venues and the like for two very good reasons. They taste good and they are incredible value for money for what you are able to put into a glass at an important or formal event.
What you are less likely to see at such an event is a D.O Cava that sits at the more premium end of the sparkling category, even though the taste profile and quality is arguably as good as most Champagnes, but at least a third less in price.
That’s the rub. D.O Cava is without doubt making the quality of wine that deserves to be on the lists of premium restaurants, hotels and the shelves of independent and specialist wine merchants. It just needs to convince more buyers – and their customers – that D.O Cava really is worth paying that bit more for.
It’s an opportunity and challenge that was not lost on our panel of buyers that between them represent most parts of the UK wine market, from mainstream retailers to premium hotels and restaurants. A panel that included:
- Roger Jones, owner, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn
- Laura Griffiths, founder, Lingo Vino
- Michael Harrison, head sommelier, Signet Hotels
- Matthew Harrowven, wine category supply manager, Ocado
- Nicholas Jones, head of operations, www.hometipple.com
Setting the scene
(Click here for Javier Pagés on D.O. Cava’s commitment to producing quality wines with an identity)
It’s a situation that is certainly not lost on Javier Pagés, president of the D.O. Cava Regulatory Council who was able to set the scene and explain to the panel just what is being done to better differentiate what D.O Cava can do in the premium wine market.
He started by appreciating “the challenge” that Cava has both internationally and in the UK around what he called its “identity” but it is a message it has to get to right as sparkling wine is all the D.O. does. A profile that has to be built around the fact it only uses the traditional method that requires minimum levels of ageing to make its sparkling wines. A quality assurance that ensures all D.O Cavas are a set vintage, come from a vineyard that is at least 10 years old and a maximum of 10,000 kilos of grapes is used per hectare.
He was particularly keen to explain the new sub-zones of D.O. Cava that were created in 2020 to distinguish even further how long a particular Cava has been aged for.
They are as follows:
- Cava de Guarda (a minimum nine months or more)
- Cava de Guarda Superior Reserva (a minimum of 18 months or more)
- Cava de Guarda Superior Gran Reserva (a minimum of 30 months or more)
- Cava de Guarda Superior de Paraje Calificado (a minimum of 36 months or more).
The new sub-zones are also an opportunity to communicate even more to the trade and consumer about the different “origins” of its wines and the “territories” where they come from, said Pagés, with new labels that identify which area of D.O. Cava it has been produced in. The four main Cava production areas being: Comtats de Barcelona; Ebro Valley; Vinedos de Almendralejo; and Levante.
Underpinning the new sub-zones is D.O. Cava’s commitment to sustainability and a commitment that all Cavas produced at “Superior” level will be 100% organic by 2025, said Pagés – up from 30% now.
“It’s growing by leaps and bounds,” he added thanks to the climate and soils that makes the switch to organics far easier than it is in other regions of Spain. He said the D.O. could have make the move to organics optional, but it was felt it sent out a stronger message about the region and its commitment to quality and sustainable winemaking that it made all producers make the switch even it if makes their lives as winemakers more difficult.
It also, he said, gives buyers and the trade greater assurance about the quality of the Cavas they are buying through tighter inspection measures and traceability system, he added. New quality seals have now been produced for each of the new sub-zones.
It’s vital D.O. Cava gets its international messaging and profile right as it accounts for 71% of its total sales – the UK is its fourth biggest overseas market. It appears to be working with record sales in 2021 of 252 million bottles, an increase of 17.33%.
D.O. Cava’s focus on quality has to be the right way forward, agreed the panel. Roger Jones said there is still clearly a big issue with the average wine drinker in not understanding or appreciating the quality that Cava can offer.
“They generally, because the price being such good value, look at it in the same way that they do Prosecco, which is a huge problem as they are completely different products,” he says.
Jones, though, was able to give an insiders’ view from the Champagne & Sparkling World Wine Championships where he says the competition is getting more aged Cavas being entered which can only be good for its profile and wider profile.
He believes the efforts being made by D.O. Cava are slowly having an impact and it was clear during lockdown that people were prepared to experiment far more and trade up to more expensive and aged Cavas.
Michael Harrison has had a wide enough career to remember the rise and subsequent falling away of Cava in the mainstream sparkling from his days at Sainsbury’s when every major supermarket had a range of private label Cavas all trading at around £5 a bottle. Then whilst working at Hotel du Vin he had a wide selection of Cavas to show his guests.
He is now heading up the wine at Signet Hotel Group which does not have a single D.O. Cava on its list. A situation he is looking to reverse, hence he found the panel and tasting particularly well timed.
He says from a personal point of view he has been aware of the resurgence of quality Cava for some 10 to 15 years and certainly welcomes the new quality tiers as a step in the right direction. Particularly as it comes on the back of the re-introduction of well known international varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir back into the blends, combined with better premium packaging.
He is certainly keen to do what he can to help promote it and urges D.O.Cava to work with the trade to help educate their customers and consumers about the new Reserva classifications.
But he warned if it “has taken three years for the D.O to bring in, it is going to take 10 years for the consumer to know it has happened”.
Approachable and relevant
(Click below for Lingo Vino’s Laura Griffiths on why education is the key to getting more consumers to love Cava)
If everyone in the trade was enthusiastic about premium Cava as Laura Griffiths then it would be enjoying record sales every year. Cava, she said, plays an enormous part in her wine education and tasting business, LingoVino.
“I am a 100% a Cava fan and when I do my own tastings and have the sparkling section, I love to include a Cava. The surprise people get when you start telling them how Cava is actually made and the Traditional Method quality and the price point they are are coming in at then people say they had no idea.”
When she is working at her local Majestic in West Kirby, Wirral, and selling wine she said people are very open to the idea of trying something new, and very definitely looking for an alternative to Prosecco. “They want to explore new things like Crémant and Cava. So I think if we can educate consumers about what is going into making these incredible wines, they just need that confidence to buy the bottle and as soon as they do they will be all over it. I am 100% convinced.”
She also welcomed the new quality tiers, but said consumers also “want to know what it tastes like and what they are buying”. “How is this Cava different to the one they are just grabbing off the shelf?”
Griffiths urges the D.O. to look more at what the new sub-zones mean in terms of the different flavours the quality tiers are producing. That is what is going to resonate more with consumers, she stressed, “rather than blinding them with knowledge”. “Bring it to the level when they say I love a bit of brioche or almond or creamy sensation on the palate. Make it approachable to them so they can identify with it.”
Matthew Harrowven echoed the thoughts of the rest of the panel with what he described as Cava’s “identity crisis” where it has this “poor connotation” attached to it which is completely at odds to the quality of wine being made.
Ocado is certainly backing the category and has quite a wide range available and Harrowven is confident “the consumer will get there” but it does require an “educational piece” to help them do so and “tease” themselves away from the “blandness” of Prosecco and discover more the “interesting flavour profiles” within Cava. It’s a big challenge for D.O Cava to overcome, he said.
The more consumers, and the trade selling to them, understand and promote the different quality and ageing tiers the easier it will be for people to accept the different steps up the Cava pricing ladder. The panel, for example, felt it was quite reasonable for Reservas to be priced up to and around £15 and for Grand Reservas to come in closer to £20 to £25 and above.
Both of which are below what you would expect to pay for English sparkling wine, stressed Roger Jones.
That’s the challenge, said Harrison. How often are consumer going to be willing to be spend over £20 when they have become so used to buying “Cava” at much lower price points. “That takes a lot of convincing.”
Roger Jones said: “I think you need to have the good value and the expensive ones in the same fixture.”
(Click below for Hometipple’s Nicholas Jones on how D.O. Cava can re-invent itself in “hipster bubble” bars)
Nicholas Jones said he is also on the hunt for good quality Cava for the hometipple.com DTC site which is very much about finding interesting wines that those looking for a bit more “discovery” online can enjoy. He believes the opportunity is very much there for Cava to try and compete more with Champagne than “the race to the bottom” versus Prosecco, particularly at its higher quality end that offers such good value for money.
He urged D.O. Cava brands and distributors to look at the more gentrifying parts of the country where it could fit nicely into the “hipster bubble” and growth in premium wine bars and the natural wine bar scene and follow the route of orange wines that have done so well in that environment and then pushed out more into the mainstream. So more a focus on what he terms “cool education” around Cava in the right environment.
Harrison urged the D.O. to organise big consumer tastings in the major multiples so they can take their message direct to shoppers in the wine aisle. It needs something as dramatic as that to really make an impact.
Roger Jones believes it is ultimately down to marketing and said D.O. Cava could learn a lot from what Graham Beck has done in South Africa with his Cap Classique and sparkling wines where he has deliberately set out to position himself in the Champagne category, down to the shape, colour and image of his bottles and labels. He has also used the same descriptors as the Champagne house do to market his wines.
Cleary D.O. Cava can’t officially promote itself as “a good value Champagne” but that is the underlying hidden message it needs to get across to the consumer, he added.
(Click below for Roger Jones on how Cava can please mainstream and educated wine drinkers at the same time)
He sees two main challenges for Cava. The first is to get the general consumer to buy into the category and start buying more Cava in the first place. Then for the educated end of the market, and those dining out in fine restaurants the extra quality tiers give them another reason to trade up and enjoy a more premium Cava.
Harrison agreed and said those drinking Cava in Michelin level restaurants “is a complete different kettle of fish” to those looking to buy Cava in a pub chain or wine bar “where the knowledge of the product is much diminished” and it is there more as a celebration drink than wanting to know much more about it.
The key, though, is Cava has enjoyed a big space in the UK wine market before and it is universally well known, to a lesser or more degree, so there is no reason why it can’t reclaim, and even build on what it had in the past with the right marketing and communications drive.
Nicholas Jones raised a note of caution around breaking the category down too much into too many complex layers as that only makes that marketing and communications message harder to convey. But equally appreciates the D.O. is not just marketing itself to the UK and needs to find a global position to get behind. It will, though, take time for the new tiers to be really understood.
- You can find out more about D.O. Cava at its main website here.
- Find out more about Cava by taking part in Cava Discovery Week this November. From Friday November 25 to Sunday December 4, independent wine merchants across the UK will be celebrating Spain’s most extraordinary sparkling wines with exclusive promotions and tastings. Want to take part? Register your interest here by Friday 14th October – https://forms.gle/g1X3u1SEUzRknJ3g9