An intriguing bubbly? A Christmas Day tasting of a Cava from a winery honoring a Saint Joseph festival

One of the very special things about a very special 2012 Christmas for Judy and me was taking a bottle of Mercat Brut Nature Cava sparkling wine to the home of Sherry and Ron, my niece and nephew-in-law who had given me a year’s 36-bottle subscription to Food and Wine Magazine’s wine club. This bubbly was in the latest shipment. And Sherry and Ron were at home this year on Christmas Day, a first in recent years, anyway.

“Mercat,” by the way, refers to “Barcelona’s Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria — the quintessenstially Catalan market designation where locals (and tourists alike) gather to eat, shop and gossip” (from the wine label). I managed to see “Christmas” in this.

So we got to open the product of Al Xamfra cellars in Barcelona, Spain. And we were impressed!

Sparkling wines, as this one, seldom reveal a vintage date, but the bottle — in which the wine had been entirely developed — said it was “disgorged” in May, 2012. I’m not an expert in sparkling wines, but from the richness and intensity of this offering I’d say it had had at least a year or two before sediment had been allowed to be pushed out by the carbon dioxide, and a new cork installed.

I can reliably tell you none of us was interested in all that; but I thought you might be.

What we found fascinating was, initially, five or six very fine strands of tiny bubbles in sprightly motion from the bottom of the glass to the very top. This is a strong indicator of quality in European expressions of what Americans insist on calling champagne. (That name is forbidden by international law if the wine actually does not come from the Champagne region of France; in Spain, it’s properly called Cava, in Italy, Prosecco.)

The bubbles — which annoy many Americans, who want ‘em bigger and brawnier — in their Spanish subtlety were nicely matched to the perfect, light “fine gold” color of the wine.

So much for being subtle. We sniffed, and got clean chardonnay-type impressions (the actual grapes are not named) and an assertive yeastiness. We had moved into the true character of this wine, which the wine club had been forced to substitute for a northern Italian Prosecco (it had sold out, they said). I’m glad.

In the mouth? Wow — an immediate attack of great friendly citric acids, which I studied a bit before moving into flavors. There the chardonnay nose gave way to strong suggestions of gewurtztraminer and carnations. This was not subtle, we all agreed. It may therefore have been a good thing that we drank this wine as an aperitif, although I’m confident it would, like all “champagnes,” go well with a wide variety of meals.

I’ve put you through a lot of reading, haven’t I? Too bad I’m not being paid by the word. Too bad I’m not being paid. — Bob Cramer, The Fearless Taster.