Consumers are used to spending top dollar on Champagne from France, but other sparkling wines, like Cava from Spain and Prosecco from Italy, are often relegated to the budget-friendly shelf. That’s changing, though, with the introduction of Codorniu’s 457 Gran Reserva 2008, the world’s most expensive Cava. It retails for $200.
Cava producers like Codorniu don’t want its wine to be seen as entry-level or simply to be mixed in a breakfast cocktail. While they don’t claim to be Champagne—or want to compete with the famed French bubbles—they do want to premiumize Cava and share the finesse and complexity of the Spanish style of sparkling wine. For Codorniu, that meant embarking on an experiment: Produce a Cava that proved the wine can be terroir-driven, like the great wines of the world, not just delicious bubbly.
“The inspiration came from our desire to showcase the complexity of our Cavas, which comes from the vineyard themselves, and our job as enologists to preserve these attributes all the way through the bottle,” says Codorniu winemaker Bruno Colomer. He notes the Cavas’ expressions of the area’s terroir, a term used to denote how a finished wine reflects the unique characteristics of its region, from the climate and soil to the specific grapes. It’s often associated with famed wine regions including Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Napa Valley. “It’s the magnum opus of the collection and represents all the wine knowledge of the winery.”
Cava is the major sparkling wine from Spain. Made from any combination of a series of grapes, including both indigenous and international varieties, Cava has traditionally been an exercise in uniformity. Producers aim to blend grapes—such as Macabeo, Xarel-lo, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir—to create a consistent style year after year. Most Cavas are nonvintage, meaning they include wine from multiple harvests rather than a single year. It also helps the price stay low, in much the same way that a nonvintage Champagne will be more affordable than a single vintage from the same house. It’s not uncommon to see Cavas in the $10 to $20 price range at the wine shop.
Codorniu has a long history in Cava. In fact, the brand actually invented Cava in the 1800s by making wine in the same way as Champagne. That winemaking process continues today, but a change in regulations in 2010 allowed for major movements in the Cava industry: Brands could produce a single-vineyard, single-vintage Cava. It ignited the movement toward higher-end Cava, as winemakers like Colomer could showcase wines from vineyards that far exceed the average quality of the region.
Knowing of this shift, Colomer and his team launched Cellar Jaume, a “winery in a winery” research and development facility dedicated to experimentation with Cava. They identified which vineyards and specific blocks of grapes within those vineyards held the best potential for an age-worthy Cava. All the vines were more than 25 years old and have produced consistent fruit for the brand. Using state-of-the-art equipment in this micro-winery, the team fermented different lots of grapes from the various sites on the estate to decide where the best material lies.
Along the way, they developed an entire line of single-vineyard Cavas, known as the Ars Collecta. “Working in a single vineyard allows the resulting Cava to be the maximum expression of its specific area,” Colomer says, “therefore, producing an unique wine that is true to its terroir.”
The 457 Gran Reserva is a blend of the best plots from the Ars Collecta. It includes three grape varieties from three different estate vineyards owned by Codorniu: 45% Pinot Noir from Finca El Tros Nou, one of the coldest areas in the region thanks to its high elevation; 45% Chardonnay from Finca La Pleta, an area known for the acidity it brings to the grape; and 10% Xarel-lo from Finca La Fideuera, a vineyard that Colomer appreciates for the fragrant aromas it brings to the resulting wine. During the winemaking process, the 457 is aged a total of 90 months, earning its designation as Gran Reserva, and is kept on the dry, or brut, end of sugar levels. Thanks to its bold acidity and pH balance, Colomer says it has the ability to age even longer in a home cellar.
So what goes into the price? Scarcity, for one. Codorniu produced only 1,000 bottles of the 457. Then it housed the wines in its cellars for more than seven years, which takes energy, manpower, and time. And that’s after the vineyard, harvest, and winemaking processes with the highest quality estate grapes. Add to that shipping and packaging, and it is easy to see why it demands a $200 retail price point.
Codorniu isn’t the only producer working to make a premier Cava. Other brands—including Gramona, Nadal, and Recaredo—are also working with single-vineyard grapes and vintage-specific bottles. It’s good, Colomer observes, and what Cava as a region should do to continue to push its boundaries. There is more of a focus on the place rather than on winery manipulation, and that’s reflected in the changes to regulations and classifications, a process that continues today.
“We have always held the belief that Cava is capable of creating age-worthy wines,” Colomer says. “As one of the leaders of Cava, we felt the responsibility to undertake the project that ultimately became the 457. We want to pave the way to premiumize Cava.”
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