Spain: white is the new red
26th Aug 2014
James Lawrence looks at why Spanish whites are now a safe bet
A few days ago, I was sat at a local restaurant listening to a rather heated domestic on the next table. A couple, who seemed to be on amazingly amicable terms considering that they had been married for over 20 years (or so I was told) descended into a great sparring match, when said wife opined that she had recently tried a white Rioja, and it was a nice change from the irritatingly ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc. “Don't be bloody stupid Sarah,” the husband exclaimed; “Rioja is a red wine, everyone knows that, you daft t%$t.” Not wanting to interfere I remained silent, feeling a certain sympathy for Sarah, as she had really hit the nail on the head: white Rioja is indeed alive and well, and now offers great value for money and zesty, citrus driven fruit.
However, this sulky blancmange of an individual actually did me a favour, as he got me thinking about the way we generally perceive Spain and what it can offer. Spain for most consumers means red, red and more red. And Cava. Or at least it certainly used to, as this is hopefully changing as superb Spanish white wines are now really making in-roads into our shops and restaurants. A quiet revolution has swept through Spain over the past 15 years, as winemakers, conscious of the fact that Spain's economy was fast disappearing up its own croissant (sorry, that's France), decided to push exports of these hitherto unseen wines. Godello for example, and Albarino. Two names that no one had heard of in the UK twenty years ago, now both have their respective cult following. And then there is Verdejo, Spain's answer to Sauvignon Banc; zesty, fresh and best without a hint of oak. Moreover, Spain has made full use of indigenous grapes, rather than simply planting loads of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and promoting them as original Spanish whites. The following are some of Spain's best white wines that can be found in a shop near you.
Let's start with the aforementioned white Rioja, which currently makes up about 5% of the total production in the area. That said, certain wines have been around for quite a long time, although the vast majority of Rioja's bodegas (wineries) just produce red, and the estates who have long produced a little white have only recently started to improve their game. The wines were, for a long-time dominated by the Viura, Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca grapes, Viura being native to Spain and used to produce Cava, the country's Champagne equivalent. The name of the game used to be wines subject to long periods (normally) of barrel aging, resulting in a pleasant if often neutral and oxidative style of white. Then, modern winemaking ideas hit Rioja and today fresh, modern, fruity white Rioja styles are firmly established on the shelves, in addition to more rich, barrel fermented examples, and the classic oxidative style. Some great examples are:
Valenciso White Rioja 2012 (RRP: £14.49)
Where to buy: www.allaboutwine.co.uk
Finca Allende White Rioja 2010 (RRP:£19.95)
Where to buy: www.bbr.com
Contino Blanco 2010 (RRP:£22.99)
Where to buy: www.waitrosecellar.com
Albarino and Godello
It's amazing to think that until recently these two wonderful and increasingly popular white varieties – grown in north-west Spain – have languished in obscurity. Of course, local growers championed their virtues for decades, but it is only over the past 15 years or so that wine lovers across the globe have been able to enjoy these aromatic, flavoursome and refreshing wines. And with exports rising, it looks like a new generation of wine drinkers are going to fall in love with Spain's answer to the Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc craze.
Godello remains my favourite Spanish white. It typically offers gorgeous lime-cordial and stone fruit, a crowd-pleasing minerality and a honeyed richness too. Its home is Galicia in north-west Spain, west of the town of Ourense in the Ribeiro and Valdeorras regions. The best results arguably come from the Valdeorras D.O (appellation) which was re-planted with Godello in the 1970s. Albarino is found in the Rias Baixas region of Galicia, which is divided into 5 sub-zones: Val do Salnes, O Rosal, Condado do Tea, Soutomaior and Ribera do Ulla. At its best, Albarino is the most satisfying summer and sea-food wine you'll ever come across. Oodles of citrus fruit, mineral notes, freshness and poise. These guys make great examples:
Fillaboa 2012 Albarino (RRP: £13.54)
Where to buy: http://www.thedrinkshop.com/
A Coroa 2012 Godello Lias (RRP: £12.75)
Where to buy: www.vinissimus.co.uk
Audacia Godello 2011 Les Trois Amis (RRP: £17.15)
Where to buy: www.bbr.com
Rueda's success as a region was largely built on one grape variety: Verdejo. A crisp, dry white of the kind that Spain cronically needed. But this was not always so, Rueda was known as the land of indifferent bulk wine until the Riojan winery Marques de Riscal kick-started quality winemaking by investing in vineyards and production in the 1970s. Today, it is arguably Spain's best value white, and many sexy wines can be yours for under a tenner. Situated north-west of Madrid, Rueda wines can either be single varietal Verdejos, or blends or Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc, and/or Viura. A few varietal Sauvignons are also seen. The best are fruit driven, aromatic and wonderfully balanced, a Spanish alternative to Kiwi Sauvignon that we all love. Apart from embittered wine writers, that is. Try out:
Jose Pariente 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (RRP: £12.49)
Where to buy: www.majestic.co.uk
Tres Olmos Classic 2012 Bodegas Garciarevalo (RRP: £10.75)
Where to buy: www.bbr.com
Also worth a mention are the wines of Penedes and Costers del Segre in Catalunya, south of Barcelona. The best whites are from: Torres, Cervoles, Castell de Remei and Albet I Noya.