London sees launch of strictest sparkling wine classification in the world

On Monday this week, London was host to the international launch of the strictest sparkling wine classification in the world.

London’s The Gherkin was host on Monday night to the international launch of the recently created premium classification from the DO Cava – Cava de Paraje Calificado

Called Cava de Paraje Calificado, the classification is open to all Cava producers, but only nine cellars have reached the required standards to achieve the new quality seal, which has no equal in the world of fizz.

Confirming the exacting nature of the classification, Pedro Bonet, president of the DO Cava told the drinks business on Monday this week that the criteria for Cava de Paraje Calificado were stricter than he has encountered in any other sparkling wine region in the world, pointing out that just 300,000 bottles currently carry the seal, in a region that produces 245 million bottles annually.

Continuing, he recorded that just 12 producers were eligible for the new classification, which has many requirements, including rules on the site where the grapes are grown, the age of the vines, the maximum yields, along with minimum ageing periods (see list below).

However, of these 12, just nine were granted the quality seal, with the final test including two blind tasting assessments by local and international specialists in Cava – resulting in the rejection of three of the producers hoping to use the category.

The successful nine Cava makers are now marketing just 15 products with the new classification.

However, Bonet stressed that his goal what not to have lots of producers using the quality seal, but to provide the Cava DO with a guaranteed beacon of excellence.

“The quantity of Cava de Paraje is not important, what’s important is to have the category, which represents excellence, and gives a better image for all premium Cava; it gives added-value to all Cava,” he said.

“With Cava de Paraje you can taste and see the excellence of Cava, it gives the region a better image, and, thanks to Cava de Paraje, may small but qualitative producers are investing to come up to the standard, they want to be part of it,” he added.

Continuing, he stressed the need for Cava to move upmarket in terms of both wine and image.

“Like society in general, there is a polarization between premium and low cost, and Cava needs to go after the premium [end of the spectrum], because the low cost is dead,” he stated.

Although the official launch of Cava de Paraje Calificado took place in London on Monday, recognition for the classification from the European Union was achieved last July.

And, Bonet told db that it has been “very complicated” to get the category approved in Brussels.

“It took us three and a half years to get the new category approved, because the requirements must pass through Spain’s agricultural ministry and then be approved by all members of the EC [European Community],” he recorded.

“So it had to be approved in both Spanish law and European law,” he added.

Further complicating the approval process is the nature of the Cava DO itself, which covers 157 municipalities, 32 of which are outside Catalunya – although 99% of Cava comes from this part of Spain.

The advent of Cava de Paraje Calificado has also taken on greater importance since Catalonia’s parliament declared independence from Spain on Friday, October 27.

That is because, as Bonet explained, the majority of “premium Cava” – which encompasses the Reserva category and above, representing around 30m bottles – is sold in Spain, and there’s a concern that sales may be affected by a boycott of the fizz, which is seen as an emblematic product of Catalunya.

Although last year’s sales in volume and value represented a new record for Cava, reaching 254m bottles worth €1.2 billion, Bonet said that for 2017, “there is a concern due to the issue of Catalan independence.”

“There is a fear that the Spanish might boycott sales of Cava, and 33-34% of sales are in the domestic market, and in Spain, we sell a higher proportion of premium Cava compared to our export markets,” he said.

“So, the goal of the regulatory council is to open the world to the market of premium Cava, and for that, we need Cava de Paraje,” he added.

Over the following pages are the requirements enshrined within the new classification and the nine producers that were awarded Cava de Paraje status.

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