As I continued on with the Cava assemblage experience, as an invited guest of Segura Viudas in the Penedes region of Spain, my traveling companions and I were introduced to Winemaker Gabriel Suberviola, who is hands on throughout this whole Cava making process for Segura Viudas. We spent day two with Gabriel, introducing himself to each of us, his students, with a warm handshake and glint of excitement in his generous eyes. Eyes that exuded wisdom….the kind of wisdom that only comes through dedication and experience. For Gabriel, this encompasses decades of experience, three of them with the Freixenet group, owner of Segura Viudas.
A native of the Navarra region of Spain, where Gabriel grew up helping his father with their small family vineyard. Like many Spanish families, they had a small vineyard his father tended which Gabriel and his neighborhood friends would help harvest and then stomp the grapes with bare feet each year. As often happens with families that grow grapes and make wine, his childhood helped define who he would become as an adult, earning a degree in Chemical Sciences from Valencia University, and certification in Oenology and Viticulture at the School of Agronomist Engineers of Madrid, as well as the type of winemaker he wanted to be, letting the flavors of his native Spain shine through the wine he made, using varietals of Spanish origin. He joined the Freixenet Group in 1980, working in different capacities throughout the company, eventually stepping in a Head Winemaker for Segura Viudas in 1998.
During our time with Gabriel we came to quickly understand that though every step of the process of creating a wine from vine to bottle is laborous, intense and detailed, the most important piece of the elaborate puzzle happens during the assemblage. Assemblage is the time the winemaker creates the blend that will define the wine, winery, and overall brand for the year. Though there is a general idea of what that blend will be, what percentages of each grape will be used, which of these grapes will be used (the 14 point inspection the grapes initially went through when they arrived at the winery is key here), and the overall profile of the wine, every year is different. Add in the fact that the blend is made from still wine, which still has to go through a second fermentation, aging the wine from one to five years on the lees, disgorgement and final addition of the dosage (or the original wine base with a bit of sugar), before the final product is complete.
Needless to say you have to be good. Gabriel has a team of tasters he works with to decide this blend, while keeping the final decision in Gabriel’s apt hands. Their goal is to create a wine that once blended tastes better than each individual wine did on its own. To do this they must rely on their skills and memory to ensure the quality of their finished product will meet these high expectations. Hundreds of different blends are created, tasted, varied, re-tasted and so on for several days, with changes often being a single percentage point more of Macabeo or 2 less percents of Xarel.lo; but the lengthy and laborious task will ensure the wine for this year will be as perfect as Segura Viudas can be., and follow the same general flavor profile the Cava has become known for.
With that Gabriel gave us a few final bits of instruction before we had our own, individual assemblage. Mainly, he said, to remember how each wine tasted on its own, which we had sampled the day before; take the properties and profile of each wine into consideration; and create a blend that tastes better than each individual wine did is on its own….and then consider that it will be turned into a Cava instead of a still wine.
With three bottles, one each of Macabeo, Xarel.lo and Paradella, three beakers and three tasting glasses, 10 individuals set out to create the perfect blend for Segura Viudas. I liked my blend, a combination of almost equal parts Macabeo and Xarel.lo with about 10% Paradella; but think it may be a better still wine than Cava. The best blend of our group came from a buyer on the trip who created a blend of over 80% Macabeo, then about 15% Xarel.lo with the slightest touch of Paradella.
As Gabriel judged our blends we toured the Segura Viudas facility, with massive fermentation tanks, an impressive bottling line, the largest lab and research area I have ever seen in a winery, and the expansive caves where bottles of Segura Viudas are sitting in their riddling racks at 45 degree angles undergoing their second fermenation. Here bottles will be turned either mechanically or by hand to allow the yeasts to settle in the necks of the bottle prior to disgorgement. The long awaited Segura Viudas Heredad Reserve Rose also ages in the caves in riddling racks. This Rose is a new small production bottling of 100% Pinot Noir Rose for their high end Cava.
Though we begged, Gabriel wouldn’t budge on giving us a try of this new Rose bubbly, knowing that the time wasn’t right for us to taste the new selection. Instead we toured the disgorging area in the caves to see how a bottle is disgorged, or how the yeasts are removed from the bottle after it has been aged. We saw both the modern and traditional methods, both of which seemed labor intensive, but necessary.
After the sediments from the lees have settled in the necks of the Cava bottle, the neck is frozen. Freezing the top will allow the lees to shoot out of the bottle when the temporary bottle cap top is removed. After disgorgement a small amount of wine base is added with a touch of sugar, the dosage. The bottle is then corked, labeled and ready for shipment. This is traditional, labor intense, methode champanoise style, how Champagne has been made for generations, and the only way Segura Viudas creates their Cava, making them one of the highest regarded and most refined Cava produced in Spain, with layers of flavor and complexity, and of course, all of those wonderful, tiny bubbles.
The flavors of the finished products reflect the terroir of the countryside in each sip, highlighting the rustic, earthiness of the land. The Brut Reserva, the highest production Cava Segura Viudas makes from the Macabeo, Xarel.lo and Paradella grapes and bottle aged for up to three years, is crisp, lively and aromatic with citrus and tropical fruit flavors of banana, lemon, lime and pineapple, with mineral notes mingled throughout. Very dry and very clean, a perfect pairing with briny seafood, white fish and grilled calcots (or large green onions, most similar to a mix between a leek and a spring onion) with Romesco sauce.
Segura Viudas Brut Rose is made using the same method with a combination of Trepat, an indigenous grape to Spain used most in the production of Rose Cava, with a touch of Garnacha (or Grenache in areas outside of Spain.)
Filled with layers of strawberry, ripe cherry, orange zest and raspberry with sweet spice and the slightest touch of cracked pink peppercorns, this is delicious sipped on its own or paired with grilled or smoked salmon or seafood paella.
Segura Viudas second line of Cava is Aria, modeled after the high end Reserva Heredad. The Aria Estate Brut is made from the first pressings of the Macabeo, Paredella and Xarel.lo grapes, with the final blend made up of 7 different base wines creating the 50% Macabeo, 40% Paradella and 10% Xarel.lo Cava, which is then aged a minimum of 15 months on the lees. The resulting golden colored wine is floral and fruit forward, from the high percentage of Paradella and Macabeo, filled with wild flower, honeydew and subtle citrus notes. Nicely balanced, elegant and inviting.
The Aria Pinot Noir may be my favorite of the bunch. Though not made from the traditional Spanish grapes, this bubbly is all Spain, with Gabriel’s finesse and skill clearly defined in each and every bottle. Bright raspberry and ripe red cherry aromas spill out of the glass with delicate spice and caramel notes, followed by big raspberry and strawberry flavors with just a touch of toasted nuts and dark chocolate. I enjoyed this bubbly from the start to the end of one of our dinners while in Barcelona, sipping it with everything from barely seared, creamy foie gras to fried whole calamari to my favorite bite of the trip, Chef Carles Abellan (owner of Comerc,24; Tapas 24 and Bravo 24) “Bikini” sandwich – fresh mozzarella with Iberico ham grilled on white bread with black truffles….the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve had.
Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad is the top tier Cava produced using the very best grapes and allowed to develop in the bottle for at least four years. Hand picked and hand riddled, aged for 30 months on the lees, then “poignettage” or given a final flick of the wrist to shake the yeasts and move them one final time throughout the wine before disgorgement to ensure an optimal flavor, complexity and character. Toast, floral, mineral and honey notes lift from each glass of the Reserva Heredad with thousands of tiny dancing bubbles inviting the drinker to sip and savor.
Vibrant herbal notes and flavors of melon and dried tropical fruit fill the palate followed by a long, luscious and lengthy finish. A bubbly to enjoy on any occasion, on its own, as a starter with a mound of tapas or sipped throughout a leisurely dinner. Delicious with anything from seafood to fish to roast chicken to a simple meal of some of Spain’s favorite staples, Pan con Tomate (tomato bread), shaved Iberico ham, slices of Drunken Goat and Manchego cheese, olives, and of course, lots of olive oil.