They say Spain is the new France. I have read that numerous times in many different places, citing everything from food and sports, to art and beaches. As someone who has spent a considerable amount of time in Spain and has since fallen completely victim to its charms, I am obviously biased. However, Spain may very well be the new cradle of culture, and, if my family and friends have adopted any of my appreciation for Spanish customs, it has been in the form of cava. My suggestion is that you take up the "Spain is the new France" mantra this New Year's Eve and pick up some cava instead of the typical champagne.
Cava is Spanish sparkling white wine, typically made in the area of Catalunya south of Barcelona. Even though it is made by the champagne method, it cannot be called champagne because it is not made in the region of France called Champagne. It may not officially be champagne, but cava looks like champagne, behaves like champagne, tastes like champagne (maybe better), but it doesn't cost like champagne. Cava, being not nearly as snooty nor as famous as champagne, is typically less expensive than its French counterpart at any given level of quality. And yet, it is significantly easier to drink. I'm no wine expert, but there is something softer, subtler and lighter about cava; it requires no sugar or orange juice. I love the stuff, but then again one gets used to drinking a glass during two-hour lunches in Barcelona.
Cava (the v pronounced as the Spanish soft b), like champagne, has grades of quality, from dry to sweet: extra brut, brut, extra seco, seco, semi-seco and dulce. The brands you're most likely to run into are Codorníu, Freixenet and Segura Viudas. Codorníu is the oldest producer of cava, and Segura Viudas is the youngest. However, Segura makes a tremendous bottle called Reserva Heredad, which sits on a decorative metal ring that makes it a bottle not only good to drink but also good to look at. By rule of thumb, anything labeled reserva is a good bet. In the case of Freixenet, their Gran Cordon Negro is the best choice (pictured to the right). I have had cava from each of these wineries, and I have never been disappointed. Actually, I have never been disappointed by cava on either side of the Atlantic. And if Spain is the new France, New Year's Eve is just the right time to give in and go for the cava.