José Raventós is often mentioned as the inventor of the famous Spanish sparkling wine, who allegedly produced one for the first time in 1872 in Sant Sadurni d'Anoia, in what is now the DO area of Penedès. However, the honour is actually due to others. Because Antoni Gali Comas was already producing a sparkling wine around 1850. Further merits were earned by Luis Justo y Villanueva (1834-1880), the laboratory director of the Agricultural Institute in Sant Isidre, who taught some producers the champagne method. In 1872, three of his students presented sparkling wines at a competition in Barcelona. The fact is, however, that José Raventós, as head of the now huge Cava House Codorníu, was the first to make sparkling wine from the current standard varieties Parellada, Xarello and Macabeo, but did not introduce it to the market until 1879.
At that time, sparkling wine was simply called Xampàn (or Castilian Champána) after its "big brother"(champagne). When Spain's entry into the EU (which took place in 1986) became apparent, a new name had to be found for legal reasons, which resulted in the following. In Spain, a distinction is made between cava and bodega, but both mean winery. But while the bodega is a simple building at ground level, a cava is made underground. Sparkling wine now matures best under cool temperatures during the yeast storage and the winegrowers have long called their above-ground produced products Bodega wines and the underground produced sparkling wines Cava.
The EU demand for the controlled origin of a quality wine proved to be much more difficult. Spain therefore had to define the areas. The most important criterion was whether the municipalities concerned had a sparkling wine tradition. According to critics, therefore, quality was not necessarily the main criterion. The result was available in 1992. A total of 159 municipalities were defined, most of them in Catalonia. Some of them are scattered throughout the region, but some of them are also widely distributed in still wine areas, such as Ampurdán-Costa Brava, Calatayud, Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Costers del Segre, Extremadura, Navarre, Ribera del Guadiana, Rioja, Tarragona and Utiel-Requena (in the map below, all the areas concerned are framed in yellow). Around 90% of the Cava sparkling wines come from the region of Catalonia, and 75% of these come from Penedès. The supra-regional area covers a total of around 32,000 hectares of vineyards.
No names of regions or municipalities may appear on the bottle label, only the denomination "Denominación Cava" is allowed. Therefore, cava is actually not a DO (Denominación de Origen), as it is not a designation of origin (Origen = Ursprung) but a definition of quality. The DO area Penedès is only valid for still wines. The other sparkling wines (which may not call themselves Cava) are called "Fermentació en ampolla" or "Fermentación en botella" (analogous bottle fermentation).
For white cavas, the varieties Parellada, Xarel-Lo(Xarello), Viura(Macabeo), Subirat(Alarije), Chardonnay and, since May 2007, Pinot Noir, as well as for Rosado's Monastrell and Garnacha Tinta are approved. In the early 1990s, Codorníu succeeded in obtaining approval for the Chardonnay variety against the vehement resistance of its major competitor Freixenet. Production must be carried out according to the Metodo tradicíonal, i.e. through bottle fermentation. A cava must mature on the yeast for nine months (analogous to a crianza) and may be marketed at the earliest one year after harvesting. After 15 months of maturation they are considered "Reserva", after 30 months "Gran Reserva". In 2017 "Cava de Paraje Calificado" was introduced as the highest cava level with particularly strict rules. These include small classified parcel, max. yield 8,000 kg/ha, vintage Cava, yeast storage 36 months, only until brood, no Rosado. The degree of sweetness complies with the EU rules for sparkling wine. The authenticity of a cava is attested by a star burned into the cork.
The other sparkling wines (which may not be called cava) are "Fermentación en Botella" (fermented in bottle for two months, then re-bottling after defermentation; cork with a rectangle), "Grandes-Envases" (tank fermentation, cork with circle) and the sparkling wine "Vino Gasificado" (aerated wine; cork with triangle). Well known producers are Albet i Noya, Castellblanch, Castell d'Age, Castillo Perelada, Codorníu, Freixenet, Jané Ventura, Jaume Serra, Marqués de Monistrol, Masía Bach, Torres, Parxet, Pere Ventura, Pinord, Raïmat, Segura Viudas, Torelló, Vallformosa. In 2015, a total of 244 million bottles were marketed worldwide, with only around a third consumed in the home country.
Some Catalan sparkling wine producers have founded the association "Associació de Viticultors i Elaboradors CORPINNAT". Following disputes with the Cava Association, since 2017 they have no longer referred to their products as cava, but with the collective brand name Corpinnat, which is protected by trademark law
A detailed description of the sparkling wine production can be found under Champagne. A complete list of the numerous cellar techniques, as well as the types of wine, sparkling wine and distillate regulated by wine law, can be found under vinification. Comprehensive wine law information can be found under the keyword wine law.