Mas Macia - King of Cava

A while back I was lucky to be included on an informal tour of various vineyards across a broad swathe of northern Spain, from Rueda in the west to a Cava producer just outside Barcelona in the east.  It was a fascinating trip providing many insights into the workings of some particularly attractive estates.
On the long run west from the wilds of Campo de Borja to Barcelona for our final visit before heading for the airport we passed hundreds of scattered wind farms, sentinels of modern technology ranked over ancient hilltops.  Some of them were even turning.  It gladdened the heart, as we hummed over the newish motorway in sparse traffic, to know that my own personal kick into the European kitty had been wisely spent.
We were running late.  Hot and conscious of holding the estate’s working day up we nonetheless were welcomed royally by the irrepressible Jordi Casanovas, his sales director Carmen and Angel, a PR lady and were ushered straight into lunch.  Jordi quickly revealed himself to be quite a character who seems to run the estate as a benign dictatorship.  He is a very knowledgeable man, humorous and with a jolly twinkle but when he coughs others jump.
Jordi Casanovas
 With a leg extensively strapped up he was unable to walk far and decided to impart as much information from his rightful place at the head of the table. By way of aperitif, we tasted a couple of Cavas.  First the Rosé which was dry and pretty, quite delicious and positively cleansing.  In the cellar this wine is separated from its lees as soon as possible to maintain freshness.  Next the Brut Nature, which was my favourite.  The second fermentation takes place in bottle, the wine stays in bottle on its lees, unlike the Rosé, for no less than 24 months before dégorgement, it rests further after this before being put onto the market.  It has a fine, persistent mousse that lasts in the glass and shows an appetising, baked apple fruit, together with nutty, yeasty notes from its time on the lees.  There is zero dosage so the wine is naturally completely dry and shows the precision and perfectionist winemaking of a passionate craftsman.
The grapes for his wines come from 60 beautiful hectares of rolling vineyards which, we saw on a post prandial leg-stretch, were punctuated with streams and patches of woodland.  While still table wines, red and white, are an increasingly valued part of the estate’s output, Cava is the mainstay of the business.  The vines for Cava are unfamiliar to UK ears, even if Cava itself is not, with Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parallada being the traditional varieties.  Jordi grows wheat between the rows which is cut at about half a metre high forming a straw mulch that reduces evaporation in the heat and prevents soil loss in the event of hard rain.  It also suppresses weeds and encourages the roots of the vines to grow downward to look for nutriments.
 As the last of the Brut Nature was consumed the conversation, or rather, lecture, continued with an endless chatter of facts.  Did we know one of the ways that such freshness could be maintained during the hot harvest?  No chance for a stab at the answer which followed instantly - frozen CO2 pellets are mixed in with the freshly picked grapes, reducing the temperature and blanketing out oxygen.  I looked around the timbered dining room in which we were demolishing quantities of jamon iberico and home baked bread and wondered if the ghosts in this wonderful 15th century building had the faintest idea what your man was on about.
 There is a danger with combining an extensive tasting with a long lunch - there is no provision to spit out.  I see from my notes that we tried eleven different wines poured in lunch quantities rather than a modest tasting splash.  As a succession of the estate’s still table wines appeared, together with delicious salads and enough meat to satisfy the most carnivorous of Spanish appetites, I could not help noticing just how pretty Carmen and Angel were, eye-catching though both of them were in the first place, and how Jordi’s wit was increasingly funnier.
Carmen and Angel
 Afterwards, fortified and perhaps lightly anaesthetised by lunch, Jordi felt up to a brief tour of the winery and cellars.  This was no industrial unit with lavish mod cons; hygienic, yes, organised, well of course, but still kind of home-spun.  The cellars are tight for space and a bit rambling, but cool and still and at a constant temperature all the year round.  We emerged, blinking, into the stark light of a hot afternoon and our host retreated for half an hour while the girls showed us round some of the vineyards closer to the house and we could inspect the young, green berries, no bigger than elder at this stage, with all their swelling potential.
The cellars at Mas Macia
 As we got back in the car, waved off by the smiling team at Mas Macia, I reflected on the friendly feeling of the place and its thoughtful, quality driven ethos and compared it to larger concerns and the dispassionate, clinical attitude of the scientist/accountant board in charge at some places.  We also discussed how it is possible to make such delicious Cava here, yet how much gets processed into truly unremarkable, if not actually bad, price-point fodder for the multiples.  It’s that that presents us with a problem - drinkers who have experienced how truly nasty the industrial variants of Cava can be are now understandably wary of all Cava. 
If this rings bells with you, ignore the ads for cut price Cava which are already appearing on telly for the Christmas market and give the real thing a try; spend a little more and drink much, much better.  Perhaps the difference is nicely summarised by Jordi’s final sentence as we made our farewells, “ Remember, this is a family business, not a wine factory.”
Certainly not a wine factory.
Buy Mas Macia Brut Nature here.

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