Visiting Codorniu Winery – The Birthplace of Cava
There’s a story in the world of wine that for almost a half century has been lost. This story can been seen and tasted in the barrooms and wine glasses throughout Barcelona and the greater Catalonia province. This story is the story of Cava.
Many visitors to Barcelona are taken aback by the quality of Spain’s famous sparkling wine. The message of Champagne has falsely led us to believe that only France can produce a sparkling wine equal to the elegance and quality of what we know as Champagne. After all, why wouldn’t this wine, too, be called Champagne? It must be a lesser product, like a grocery store generic brand.
Sip after sip, glass after glass, bottle after bottle, convinces us that Cava carries the same tantalizing thrill as the world famous effervescent. What exactly is Cava and why does it take a trip to Spain to discover it? Codorníu Winery, one of Spain’s largest producers of cava, conveniently located just outside of Barcelona in the Penedes region, does an excellent job of telling the story of Cava.
A Brief History on Codorníu Winery and Cava
At 450 years old, Codorníu is the oldest family run company in Spain. Codorníu began producing wine in 1659 when Anna Codorníu married Miguel Raventós. For centuries they produced still wines until Joseph Raventós Fatjó traveled to France in 1872 and spent two years learning the méthode traditionelle in the Champagne region. He carried his new found love of sparkling wine back to his family’s estate and began producing a Spanish version using local varietals of grapes (Macabeo, Xarel·lo, and Parellada).
For a little over a hundred years, Codorníu labeled their bottle with the word Champagne. However, under new international laws in 1972, they, like all produces of bubbly around the world, were forced to remove the word Champagne from labels, even if production followed the méthode traditionelle. Thus, the Spaniards began to call their sparkling wine Cava, which translates as cellar or cave in the Catalan language.
So What’s All This Mean???? It means that Cava is produced using the same method as Champagne, and, for the most part, tastes very similar. Or, in the opinion of the Gourmands, it tastes even better. Cava wins extra points with us because it costs a fraction of the price of Champagne with the same level of quality.
Today, Codorníu produces 40 million bottles of cava a year. Roughly half of those bottles never leave Spain. While the majority of the grapes are grown and pressed on one of the family farms in Spain’s various wine regions, all of the Cava is fermented and bottled to final product in Codorníu’s vast cellar. Beyond Cava, Codorníu also produces 18 million bottles of still wines a year from wineries in Spain, California, and Argentina.
A Tour Codorníu
From the moment I stepped foot on Codorníu’s estate, I could tell the company took pride in the heritage of the family company, the product, and their country. Tours begin in the Sala Puig, the Cathedral of Cava. The modernist building was built in 1895 by architect Joseph Puig i Cadafalch, a contemporary of Antoni Gaudi. Following the trend of the times, Puig designed the Cathedral of Cava with a unique architectural and artistic flare. Through colors and design, the building represents the fruitful alliance between nature and human labor required to produce Cava. The generous use of stone to finish the building is a tribute to the silence and tranquility of Cava. The Grand Cellar maintains the same modernist elements even though it was built in the 1960s as Codorníu strives to honor Catalonia’s proud architectural heritage.
After a brief introductory video in the cinema, a guide leads visitors on a tour of the property through the gardens and past the family’s original house. The real fun begins once the tour enters the Grand Cellar. Here, Codorníu makes sure guests receive an education on what cava is, how it’s produced, and what flavors are present with an interactive scale model of the winery and a table of aromas. The guide compared and contrasted modern wine producing methods against some of the older equipment displayed in the museum.
The tour then descends into the wine cellar, past the cave where Joseph Raventós Fatjó produced the first Cava, and into the 30 miles of tunnels where Cava is aged. You then take a train ride through the tunnels where over a million bottles of cava are aging for our drinking pleasure. Oh how I wished to be left in one of those tunnels with a glass and a cheese plate (and perhaps some jamón)!
Our tour included a lunch package of a spread of tapas and a tasting of two premium Cavas. We were welcomed with the first of our two Cavas, the Gran Codorníu Reserva Brut Nature (from Chardonnay grapes). The wine delivered notes of soft white fruit over a honey backdrop with a dry mineral finished. It complemented the lighter plates well like the homemade croquettes and Spanish omelets and delivered a liveliness to the earthier mushrooms with sobrasada and a brilliance to the creamy elegance of the foie gras topped with sugared almonds.
Halfway through our feast, our guide popped the cork to our second Cava, a Brut Rosé pressed from Pinot Noir grapes. It was slightly sweeter and fruitier than the Brut Natural with soft notes of strawberries under hints of mineral. The finish seemed to linger a bit longer allowing the wine to pair better with the spicier and saltier foods like the chorizo tortillas. For dessert we were served Brownie brochettes with fruit and the option of coffee. With wine this delicious, who needs coffee? Another glass of Cava please!
Overall, my Codorníu experience was the most thorough, entertaining, and informative winery tour that I’ve ever been on. I just wish we had the chance to try more of Codorniu’s Cava portfolio. It appears that only one of the tour options offers more than two wines. Part of the Cava education process should involve teaching visitors how to tell the difference between the various varieties of Cava by comparing and contrasting through a parallel tasting. Thus, I feel like I’m missing the conclusion to the Cava story.
Visiting Codorníu and the surrounding Penedes wine region is quite easy. Not only does the winery have a web site dedicated to visiting their grounds, they also offer their own bus service from Barcelona to the winery. However, if you prefer public transit so you can do some exploring in the region beyond Codorníu’s grounds and operating hours, there are plenty of options available. All are listed on the visitor’s web site.
Tour options range from a grounds and cellar tour with a tasting of two premium wines to a more in-depth tasting of additional wines to a chocolate pairing experience. There are also options to include breakfast and lunch with your tour.
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Disclosure – Muchas gracias to Barcelona is Much More for inviting me to tour Codorniu. Sometimes tourist boards invite me on trips, and sometimes I anonymously go on my own accord. Regardless, readers receive my honest feedback as my opinions are not for sale.