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CodornĂ­u, Queen of the Cavas
By Ed McCarthy
Jun 18, 2013
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In 1872, Josep Raventós of the Codorníu Raventós family from Catalonia made Spain’s first bottle of sparkling wine using the traditional method (second fermentation taking place in the bottle).  Today these wines are known world-wide as Cavas.
 
The Codorníu company, the oldest family-owned business in Spain, itself dates back to 1551, when Jaume Codorníu planted the family’s first vineyards in Sant Sadurní, outside of Barcelona.  When Anna de Codorníu married Miquel Raventós in 1659, the name of the company officially became Codorníu Raventós, although it is known to the world as Codorníu.
 
 Codorníu, located in the Penedés region of Catalonia, is the largest selling Cava brand in Spain--although Freixenet, with its Cordon Negro, is the largest in the U.S.A.  Codorníu is the world’s largest producer of sparkling wines fermented in the bottle--selling 60 million bottles annually, twice that of Moët et Chandon, Champagne’s largest producer.
 
Although Codorníu has always been a particular favorite Cava of mine, I didn’t realize until recently the depth of Codorníu’s cava portfolio.  The reason is that only four Codorníu cavas have been available in the U.S.--its standard NV Brut Original ($8-$9 retail), which I have enjoyed many times over the years; its NV Brut Pinot Noir ($14-$15); its Anna de Codorniu NV Brut ($11-$12); and its Anna de Codorniu NV Brut Rosé ($12-$14).
 
At two recent tastings in New York City, I had the opportunity to taste five of Codorniu’s premium Cavas, all vintage-dated, two of which have previously been available only in Europe, and three, the Gran Codorniu Gran Reservas, that are making their debut in the U.S. this year.  The tasting also featured the Anna de Codorniu Brut and Anna de Codorniu Brut Rosé.
 
I was very impressed with the quality of these seven Codorniu Cavas.  I tasted these sparkling wines both in flutes and in white wine glasses (no major differences); I tasted them cold and a few hours later at room temperature.  Here are the seven Codorniu bruts, with my comments:
 
Anna de Codorníu NV Brut:  This has become the flagship Cava of Codorniu.  It is wildly popular in Spain, and quickly catching on in the U.S.  It is fresh and crisp, with lots of acidity (8-10 gms/liter) and it is extremely dry (only 1.3 g/l dosage of residual sugar).  Anna de Codorníu, made from 70 percent Chardonnay and 30 percent Parellada (indigenous variety known for its acidity), is my candidate for the world’s best value sparkling wine.  It has a suggested retail price of $14.99, but can be found in many retail shops for $11-$12.  It has 11.5° alcohol.  90
 
Anna de Codorníu NV Brut Rosé:  Made from 70 percent Pinot Noir and 30 percent Chardonnay, the Rosé is quite dry (6-8 g/l R.S.), with a creamy texture and pronounced Pinot Noir flavors, and a pretty medium pink color.  It is less acidic than the Anna white (5.5 g/l) and will not age as well as the white.  I liked it a bit less than the Anna white brut, but another taster preferred it.  11.5° alcohol; $12-$14.  89
 
Reina Ma. Cristina Blanc de Noirs 2010 Brut Reserva:  This is one of Codorníu’s premium Cavas; it was introduced in Europe in 2010 with the 2008 vintage.  I would have never guessed by its light golden yellow color that the Reina Cristina is 100 percent Pinot Noir, but its body, rich texture, and flavors do ring true to the variety.  The 2010 Reina Maria Cristina, now making its debut in the U.S., comes from grapes grown on over 25 year-old vines.  It is medium to full-bodied, with good acidity and a long finish. Reina Cristina has aged for over 18 months in Codorníu’s cellars.  A wine that will accompany dinner quite well, it has 8-10 g/l R.S., with 12° alcohol.  Its suggested retail price is $30.  91
 
Jaume Codorniu 2008 Gran Reserva Brut:  The 2008 Jaume Codorniu, made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, both from over 25 year-old vines, was clearly the first truly full-bodied sparkling wine in the tasting.  I thought it would be delicious with seafood or white meat, such as chicken or pork.  It has a rich flavor reminiscent of mushrooms, honey, and lemon.  The additional age has added to its complexity.  It has a pale golden color with a slight touch of pink.  The Jaume, with 8-10 g/l R.S. and 12° alcohol, is also debuting in the U.S.  Its suggested retail price is $35.     92
 
The following three 2007 Gran Codorníu Gran Reservas are just being introduced to the U.S. (They are selling at one place in Spain for $44 each, with a three-pack of one each retailing for $137.)  Even though the U.S. suggested retail price for each of these wines is $75, they will be available in the U.S. in a three-pack for $100.  Less than 1,000 bottles of each were produced.  All three are 100 percent varietal wines, and come from old-vineyard grapes. They have been aged on their lees at the winery for over four years.
 
Gran Codorniu Xarel-lo 2007 Gran Reserva:  The 2007 vintage in the Penedés region was dry and cooler than usual, ideal for sparkling wines.  Bruno Colomer, head winemaker at Codorniu since 2008, explained that Xarel-lo, an indigenous grape little-known in the States but prized in Penedés for its minerality, is the most difficult variety to make as a cava because of the variety’s susceptibility to oxidation.  I loved this wine for its concentrated white fruit flavors, its austerity, crisp acidity, and its earthy mineral edge.  It does finish a bit short compared to the other two Gran Codorniu varietal Cavas, but will age well.  It has 12° alcohol, with 10 g/l R.S.        93
 
Gran Codorniu Chardonnay 2007 Gran Reserva:  The Gran Codorniu Chardonnay is richer and more full-bodied than the Xarel-lo, with less austerity and minerality.  It has notes of lemon and honey flavors on the palate.  The wine reveals its nobility with its long finish.  This cava will live a very long time.  It has 12° alcohol, with 12 g/l R.S.  94
 
Gran Codorniu Pinot Noir 2007 Gran Reserva:  I have tasted the Gran Codorniu Pinot Noir just once, but I was stunned by its delicate Pinot Noir flavors.  A Blanc de Noirs, it is straw yellow in color with a touch of salmon.  It is dry and crisp, with red fruit flavors, and a long, lovely finish.  Cava at its best.  It will be long-lived.  It has 12° alcohol, with 12 g/l R.S.  95
 
I also tasted just once the 2010 Gran Codorniu Pinot Noir (which will follow the 2007).  It is dryer than the 2007, but needs a few more years of aging to be at its best.  Codorníu is now also producing a Brut Nature (no residual sugar) NV Gran Codorníu Chardonnay Reserva.  I had a quick taste and thought it was awesome.  I’m certainly looking forward to this cava coming to the U.S.
 
Codorníu is at the top of is game.  Look for its Cavas, beginning with the readily available Anna de Codorníu.