Cava is the name for a quality style of Spanish sparkling wine, produced in different areas of Catalonia, Navarra, Rioja, Andalucia, Valencia and Extremadura but mainly in the Penedès region in Catalonia, situated 40km to the south west of Barcelona.
Cava is a Greek term that was used to refer to a 'quality' table wine or wine cellar, and comes from the Latin word 'cava' which means cave in English. Caves were used in the early days of Cava production for the process or aging of the wine.
Today Cavas have become part of the Spanish culture, and at family gatherings often consumed at regular celebrations. The sparkling wine now known as Cava was first created in 1872 by Josep Raventos using the 'Traditional Method' - bottle fermentation.

 

The vineyards of Penedes were devastated by the phylloxera outbreak, and the predominantly red vines were being replaced by large numbers of vines producing white varietals. After seeing the success of the Champagne region, Raventos decided to create a dry sparkling wine that has become the reason for the region's continued success. In the past the wine was referred to as 'Spanish Champagne' (now no longer permitted under EU law), or colloquially as 'champana' or 'xampany'.
Cava is produced in varying levels of dryness: brut nature, brut (extra dry), seco (dry), semi-seco (medium) and dulce (sweet). Under Spanish Denominacion de Origen laws, Cava can be produced in six wine regions and must be made according to the 'Traditional Method' with second fermentation inside the bottle and uses a selection of the grapes Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel-lo, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Despite being a traditional Champagne grape, Chardonnay was not used in the production of Cava until the 1980s.
Cava is not the only sparkling wine made in Spain and sometimes consumers are fooled into accepting inferior quality. You can distinguish Cava by the cork, which should be marked on the base with a four-pointed star *(as shown below). Remember that the sweeter the Cava, the cooler it needs to be served: a brut nature can be served at around 10-12°C, but a semi-seco should be served well chilled at approximately 6-8°C.