Article By: Sandy Block, MW
Spain’s red wines have been on fire in the US lately, with each year of the past several experiencing double digit sales growth. Blind tastings of Spanish reds, at whatever price point, continue to provide revelations of remarkable quality. What’s less widely known though is the dramatic improvement in Spain’s white wines. One of the amazing things about the country’s emerging quality wine culture is how it has now touched nearly each of its sixty demarcated regions. Despite the fact that their names themselves remain largely unknown, confidence has grown among consumers that any Spanish wines they are likely to encounter will taste delicious, and this quality association has now spread to white wine as well.
Among Spain’s rich tapestry of unique indigenous white grapes, none are accorded higher prestige locally or internationally than the exotically perfumed Albarino variety originating in the country’s cool, windswept, Atlantic northwest region of Galicia. Rias Baixas, the Denomination of Origin within Galicia that is home to most of the finest Albarino vineyards, has developed into Spain’s flagship white wine zone. While not easy to pronounce (REE-us BIE-shuss), the Albarinos made there are increasingly known among seafood lovers as quintessential with shellfish.
It is not inexpensive to grow grapes in Rias Baixas and grape yields tend to be bit lower than average, so compared to elsewhere in Spain, the region’s Albarinos are a bit higher in price. While I have been conducting a blind tasting of Rias Baixas Albarino for several years, the most recent one in April 2O13 uncovered an unusually high number of well-made examples. The style tends to be lees influenced and lively; if oak is used it tends to be subtly integrated rather than obtrusive, as the wines are moderate in alcohol.
Each of the following Rias Baixas Albarinos fit a general profile of fresh, charming and highly aromatic wine that would provide charming companionship for Shrimp, Oysters or Mussels Provençal. The selections are listed in ascending order of preference,
but all are quite good. Ageability is not among Albarino’s many virtues, however, so 2O11 is the oldest vintage I would currently consider.
LA CANA 2O11
Partially barrel fermented, this is among the fuller and rounder styles of Albarino you may encounter. Slightly honeyed, with an aroma of tangerine and pear, the wine is a bit soft and round on the palate. It has a pleasing citrus dimension and a note of lemon peel on the finish, as well as a grace note of salinity. Scallops come to mind as the best partner. $18
BODEGAS RAMON BILBAO “VALINAS” 2O12
Produced in the northern Val do Salnes, near Le Cana, this is a real crowd pleaser: vibrant, juicy, substantial on the palate, yet edgy and lingering. The group favorite, it’s a fresh, yeasty, unmistakably cool climate wine that features a slight spritz, pronounced green apple flavors and creamy texture along with
an edgy mouthwatering finish. $15
MARTIN CODAX 2O11
Perfumed with peach, white flowers and lime, this is a delicate Albarino, also from Salnes, with soft, mellow apple-like flavors and a subtly mineral aftertaste. Dry and a bit bracing, it is made at one of the region’s larger cooperative cellars. Lovely and refreshing counterpoint to a bowl of chilled gazpacho. $16
CONDES DE ALBAREI 2O11
Produced at another of the region’s large cooperative wineries, this mellow wine has a slightly floral perfume, is vibrantly tart and apple-like on the palate, and finishes with a refreshing slightly bitter lime-like edge. A bit rounder and less sharp than some of the other wines, it would be a good choice with grilled shrimps. $14
Sourced from the southernmost vineyards of the Condado de Tea and O Rosal subzones in Rías Baixas, Lícia is a tank fermented wine with herb-scented, lime like aromas. Fresh and zesty, it has a slightly bitter, spicy apple quality. Crisp and light, this is an Albarino that would complement raw shellfish beautifully. $13
Somewhat richer in style, Burgans has an enticing orange, pear and floral aroma. Round, with brilliant fruit expression, a touch of spritz and a smooth texture, this is balanced with lemony, mineral tones. Delicious and supple, with a soft texture, its lingering tart, spice-accented finish make it an ideal match for ceviche. $14
An estate bottled wine, and perhaps one of the most famous of the producers, Morgadio’s golden apple, pear-skin, slightly richer, more honeyed notes set it apart. Ripe, with a fuller fruit expression and a hint of almonds, this wine’s dry spicy richness makes it a nice accompaniment for grilled seafood steaks. $22
I had this wine and the next tied with the highest rating. It originates in the southern Condado de Tea subzone towards the west of Rias Baixas, extending along the Miño Valley to the neighboring Ribeiro DO. The soils here are granite and slate based and the location further from the Atlantic results in a style that is bright and zesty. Unusual for the region, the wine is fermented with native yeasts. It has a subtle apple, tobacco and bread dough aroma. Clean and understated, it is given some skin contact to increase aroma, and then aged, like most of the other wines in the tasting, for an extended time on the lees prior to bottling without any wood treatment. Intensely flavored, with lemon and passion fruit flavors, electric acidity and a slightly peppery finish, this is a wine that would beautifully complement trout or Arctic char. $16
PAZO DE SENORANS 2O11
A lovely classic Albarino from the Salnes Valley with floral, honeysuckle notes subtly accented by lime zest and grapefruit. Produced by one of the acknowledged quality leaders of the region, it is clearly a bit fuller on the palate than most of the other selections. It also left the driest impression. With more prominently tart lemon flavors, this is a polished white wine that has an engaging touch of mineral salinity and a lingering subtly pear-like finish. An engagingly dry but sharply defined wine, it would be a great choice with simply prepared herb-accented sole or halibut. $22