Ten years ago, there was no such thing as a Spanish white wine section at local retail outlets. More like a slot, maybe two or three.
“You would see the occasional albariño or viura, and that was it,” said Chuck Kanski.
What a difference a decade makes. Now Kanski’s store, Solo Vino in St. Paul, has more than a half-dozen brands of txakolina, a once-obscure light (in body and alcohol), slightly fizzy white from Basque country. And several godellos and verdejos, plus some xarel-lo, macabeo and protocolo. And a malvar that he particularly loves.
Zestos Old Vines Malvar ($11) is “the quintessential wine for summer,” Kanski said. “It pairs extremely well with guacamole and with potato salad and with pickled green beans or carrots or cukes, the cold fare that one would expect to find at picnic table.”
That’s a trait shared by almost all the Spanish whites that now fill shelves, not slots, at many stores: They’re crisp and refreshing, bracing but smooth, and considerably more complex than the tasty vinho verdes from Spain’s Iberian neighbor, Portugal.
That makes them fantastic choices for summer sipping, but I also enjoyed the jolt of energy and “lift” they provided throughout our recent near-endless winter.
The freshness and underlying acidity and minerality make them versatile at the dinner table, too. Besides grows-together/goes-together choices such as gazpacho and paella, these wines also cozy right up to all manner of fish and fowl and most pork dishes.
Despite the similar traits, these varietals are distinctive, starting with verdejo from the Rueda region. “When it’s very cold, you get more citrus,” Kanski said. “Then you get more white fruits when the temperature is in the 40s. And when it’s at the proper temperature in the low 50s, there’s more apricot and peaches.
“I have not met another grape that does that, where it changes its taste profile as it changes temperature.”
Among the better verdejo options, most in the $12 to $18 range: El Perro Verde, Paso a Paso and the stunning Basa from Telmo Rodriguez.
The people behind the wine
Rodriguez is among the winemakers and importers who are behind the rapid rise in quality and quantity of Spanish whites making their way here. This category, in fact, is a good one in which to shop via the back label: Look for Jorge Ordoñez Selections, Eric Solomon’s European Cellars, the Artisan Collection and Andre Tamers’ De Maison Selections, among others.
Perhaps the best introduction to Spanish whites is either the seriously tasty Protocolo de la Tierra de Castilla or, for a bit more money, some basic viuras from Rioja such as Cune, El Coto, Lorinon and Marques de Caceres.
Albariños tend to be a little spendier, more in the $15 to $22 range, but the Do Ferreiro Rebisaca, Lagar de Cervera, Paco & Lola and Santiago Ruiz O Rosal are way worth the money.
Other exemplary bottlings: A Coroa Valdeorras Godello, J. Miguel Jane Penedes, Beso de Vino Macabeo, Vina Sastre Flavus Blanco and a gorgeous dry muscatel from Malaga called Botani (the best wine with fried chicken ever, Kanski said).
But wait, there’s more: parellada (used to make Cava sparkling wines but delicious on its own), grenache blanc, blends such as Can Feixes.
As for txakolina, Xarmant is a dandy introduction. Ask for it by name — if you dare.
“I joke around all the time that I haven’t mispronounced anything since this morning,” Kanski said. “But people are so much more comfortable with wine in general, their curiosity is so strong that it supersedes them being worried about pronunciation.”
For those who remain daunted, it’s “chock-oh-LEAN-ah.”