Often regarded as an inferior take on Champagne, cava should never be dismissed. The sparkling wine of Catalonia has avoided the same degree of gravitas accorded to its French counterpart, but chalk that up to faulty perception. In reality, the southern regions of Spain have been producing an exceptionally distinct style of bubbly for nearly 200 years. Typically dry and highly effervescent, cava can make for a surprisingly versatile cocktail ingredient. Because it doesn’t hold the same pretentiousness as Champagne, many bartenders around the city aren’t afraid to mix it up to awesome effect. If you haven’t been already, the summer’s the perfect time to get your cava cocktail on.
For a truly classic arrangement, do as the Barcelonans do, and find yourself a carafe of cava sangria. Simple and to the point, it should never incorporate more than the wine, a few slices of fresh fruit, a couple of dashes of sugar, and a touch of sherry for good measure. Brut varieties often form the best foundation, as they skew dry, counterbalancing the sweetness of everything else. El Porrón, a tapas bar on the Upper East Side, pours an enviable example, both with a traditional white cava and with a rarer rosé blend.
Up in Harlem, El Kallejon spices things up via its own cava sangria variation. For $8, you can sip on a jalapeño- and cilantro-muddled spritzer with waves of vegetal zest to tickle the tongue, as the Spanish wine at its core delivers crisp refreshment. Perhaps it’s the bubbles, but for a drink with a relatively low alcohol content, it only takes a couple to feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
To sip the wine solo, Boqueria in the Flatiron curates a succinct cross-section of noteworthy cavas by the bottle, or glass. But if you want to see what they bring to a cocktail, try their highly sippable cava negroni. The $14 drink centers around a semi-dry sparkling wine, flanked by Campari bitterness, and the deep, herbaceous tonalities of a Catalonian vermouth.
The city certainly doesn’t lack for Spanish bars and eateries, most showcasing some supply of cava on the menu. As flexible as the drink is, it’s hard to avoid arriving at the intersection of interesting and satisfying. So get playful; make up your own concoction. #YOLO. Leave the fancy stuff to the French.