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Obviously, when you think of Spain, you think of...white wine?
A Fresh Look at Spanish Whites

Posted: September 26, 2011

By Jared Thomas, Special to BTI

Spain is known for many things: the spiciest food in Europe, Dali & Picasso, windswept vistas and robust red wine. But, below the surface and a part from the obvious, a world of refreshment awaits. The white wines of Spain are in a class by themselves. You won’t find the usual suspects here. Very little Chardonnay and even less Sauvignon Blanc. Instead, grapes few have heard of, like Albarino and Verdejo, reign supreme. Going even deeper, you’ll find Macabeo and Godello, two white wines with limited exposure but infinite potential.

If you’ve heard of any, you’ve heard of Albarino. It’s grown in Galicia, specifically in the Rias Baixas region then on up into Portugal (where it’s called Alvarhino). Albarino is unique in both flavor and texture. At its best, it has a natural oily viscousity which coats the mouth and squelches the fire from bolder spices. The flavors of Albarino can be stunning and unusual.

“Aromas of cashew butter, nectarine skin and chive muffin with a dryish medium body and a crisp, long green apple, lime and grass accented finish.” (Palacio de Fefinanes Albarino 2010, 89 points Beverage Testing Institute)

Good Albarino is that rarest of wines; a sophisticated crowd pleaser. The rich texture will appeal to those who like oak on their white wines but the varied tastes will appeal to the adventurous drinker. Also, Albarino tends to take on minerality while retaining a vibrant but often invisible acidity.

Verdejo and Macabeo are two grapes which are set to blow up. They both have flavors in common with Sauvignon Blanc, which the world already knows and loves, but combined with the crisp drinkability of Pinot Grigio, making for lots of lovely citrus fruit which will never be overwhelming.

Verdejo reaches its apogee in the Rueda region in Castile y Leon. You’ll almost never find oak on a Rueda. Instead, it relies on the cooler climate and effects of the River Douro to craft refreshing and sometimes racy quaffers. “Peach pie with a crisp, dry-yet-fruity light-to-medium body and a very tart and drying yellow plum, melon rind, lime pepper and slate finish.” (Nebla Vendimia Nocturna Rueda 2010, 89 Points—Beverage Testing Institute)

Macabeo, sometimes called Viura, is often used for blending. It is one of the 3 grapes in Cava. However, it is also the base for Rioja Blanc which, when made by a thoughtful producer, can be world-class. But it is Macabeo’s use as a well-priced sippable table wine which is most exciting to the adventurous and saavy wine consumer. Less tart than a typical Rueda but still possessing grassy and tropical citrus flavors, Macabeo is perfect for porch sitting, spicy dinners or navel gazing. MataĆ³ 2010 Macabeo, Cariñena $9.99. Best Buy

And, finally, Godello. If you know this one, I’m impressed. It has only recently started escaping the confines of the Spanish border but it’s already making a name for itself. Godello has the potential to be the Chablis of Spain. With a naturally full body and an austere beauty which often ends in bracing acidity, quality Godello has a mixture of elegance and power which hints at the possibility of world class excellence. Good examples can be found from Valdeorras and Bierzo.

Spain can be a treasure trove of delicious white wines, if you know where to look. Whether you’re in the mood for the largess of Albarino or have gotten tired of Sauvignon Blanc or want to be the first amongst your friends to discover a new superstar varietal, it always pays to dig a little deeper. You never know what you might find.

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