It’s been an eventful month for Raul Diaz. His breakthrough book Wines & Recipes has just been named ‘Best in the World for Wine Education in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2020’ so it only fitting we should raise not just a glass, but also a knife and fork to him. Here he continues his monthly series picking out recipes from the book by shining the light on Cava and how well it pairs with Pan Con Tomate – which sounds a lot better than grilled bread with tomatoes.
It can be hard to find the right dish to go with fizz and move drinking a bottle of Cava away from just an aperitif. Here Raul Diaz serves up a simple but very effective Pan con Tomate from his award winning book Wines & Recipes.
Cava is a flavourful sparkling wine made using a blend of three Spanish grapes and vinified using the traditional method. This method, originating from the Champagne region in France, gives the wine its characteristic yeasty and bready notes. The appellation of Cava is unusual in that it can be produced in several different regions around Spain. However, the region of Catalunya, where Penedes is located, accounts for more than 97% of national production.
The majority of Cava produced is non-vintage and is best consumed within a few years of release. Non-vintage Cava is made from a blend of wines that were made from grapes that were picked in different years. Vintage Cava is made only with grapes from a single harvest. This wine has a long ageing potential.
The climate is one of the top secrets to the versatility of Cava. The Penedes area has a Mediterranean climate, with warm summers and mild winters, which helps the wine growers to get riper fruits with a relatively lower acidity than Champagne. This means that they need to add less sugar in the dosage. Hence, you will find different styles of Cava that showcase their unique fruit character based on the climate’s influence.
The three grapes of Cava bring different things to the blend: Macabeo contributes high acidity and lovely stone fruits; Xarel-lo adds body and alcohol; and Parellada has fresh citrus fruits to round out the blend.
‘Basic’ Cava is generally the house style and by law must be aged for a minimum of nine months prior to release. This is a young style – marked by an amazing freshness – with aromas and flavours of lime, lemon, white peach, and flowers. This Cava works perfectly with exotic recipes from Thailand, Vietnam, or India. Chilean ceviche with its touch of spice, raw fish like sushi and oysters would be fantastic options too.
With Cava Reserva the ageing requirement increases to a minimum of 15 months; expect great quality and a more complex wine. We are looking at a big change in ripeness moving towards pear, apricot, pineapple alongside the elegant notes of almond, toast, honey, and pastry. Delicious recipes that work well are tuna tartare, mussel soup, smoked salmon with scramble eggs and grilled chicken.
Gran Reserva is the best quality of the three styles and must be aged for no less than 30 months. Long ageing adds lots of toasty, buttery, and bready notes. This wine is very complex and balanced. You can find a wine with great body, intense aromas and a fantastic freshness. The autolytic character also gives a soft texture, smooth structure, and a very long finish on the palate. Top pairings for this wine are mature cheeses, aged meat, rich pasta with creamy sauce and fish stew.
Cava de Paraje Calificado is the latest classification that applies to Cava produced using high-quality grapes from a specific place (Paraje). This is a vintage cava with a minimum ageing period of 36 months.
Lemon, lime, apple, pear, apricot, bread, biscuit, yeast.
The main wine regions in Cava are Navarra, Penedes, Rioja and Valencia.
Pan Con Tomate (grilled bread with tomatoes)
Pan con Tomate is a fantastic recipe to enjoy with your friends and family. It’s easy, quick, and delicious. When working with fresh ingredients, dishes can be simple and still have a lot of punch. The acidity of tomatoes is a difficult one to match, but Cava’s crisp and yeasty nature makes it a good pairing. This is perfect for aperitif time.
1 Cut the tomatoes in half. Holding them by the uncut side, grate them into a small bowl using the smallest holes on a grater, leaving behind the stems and skins. Add the olive oil and salt to the tomato pulp.
2 Toast slices of bread in the toaster or on a griddle pan until nicely charred.
3 Cut the garlic clove in half, then rub the cut side on the toasted bread. Don’t skip this step – it adds needed flavour to the bread.
4 Spread the tomato paste onto the slices of bread, drizzle over a little more olive oil and add a final scattering of salt to taste.
Time: 15 minutes
4 large, ripe tomatoes
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
plus extra to serve
1 tsp sea salt, plus extra
4 thick slices of
1 garlic clove
Good value option
Raventos de Nit Rose Cava, Penedes, Spain 2017, Barrafina Dean Street, 1 Michelin Star, £65.
- Raul Diaz is the award-winning author of Wines & Recipes, published in November 2020 (£30, www.winetraining.co.uk), Best in the World for Wine Education in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2020. A Chilean-born sommelier who became a WSET-certified wine educator, he now runs his own business, Wine Training School. He has been a TV wine presenter for Sunday Brunch, Channel 4 for several years. He is UK Ambassador for VDP German wines, and in 2018 received the award for Rioja Communicator of the Year.