For almost 20 years, savvy wine consumers have gravitated toward Spain for red-wine bargains.
But that’s only half the story — actually less than that when we consider pink and sparkling wines — because Spanish whites offer up similar quality and value.
Slowly and surely, buyer habits are starting to change as fermented-grape-juice enthusiasts delve into the wondrous world of albariño, verdejo, godello and even some varieties that don’t end in “o.”
Many of these wines emanate from the cooler regions in northeastern Spain, where the Atlantic Ocean provides brisk breezes and crisp salinity for the native grapes.
Although richer chardonnays have made some inroads in Iberia, most of these wines are bright, crisp and lively, benefiting from cooler evenings (aka the “diurnal shift” in temperatures) and light touches from the vintners (little if any oak, a marked contrast to the general approach toward red wines there). The sunny climes mean that grapes ripen and can be picked earlier, then emerge lowish in alcohol (rarely over 12.5%)
The delights start, but hardly end, with albariño, most of it grown in the (mostly) seaside region of Rias Baixas just across the border from Portugal. They’re bold and refreshing almost to the point of being exhilarating on the palate, but it might take a while to get there because the aromas of flowers and stone fruits are so alluring.
Even large-production brands such as Burgans, La Caña and Martin Codax have upped their games in recent years in the wake of competition from countless stellar wineries that never reached these shores, much less the heartland, a decade ago.
These along with Kentia and the delicious La Val can be had for $15 or under at most stores. Paco & Lola is an excellent $20 albariño, while Do Ferreiro and Albamar still provide quality-to-price value in the mid-$20s. The spendier bottles tend to add tropical-fruit flavors to the usual citrus notes but still boast lip-smackin’ brininess.
Further inland, but still benefiting from the Atlantic’s maritime influence, are the Rueda region’s verdejos. Any and all sauvignon-blanc aficionados should check out these grassy, light and lively lime/grapefruit options.
And the expenditures are minimal. Naia, Pregón, Paso a Paso and two offerings from Shaya, “Arindo” and “Honoro Vera,” are exemplary introductions under $15. Better yet, the Telmo Rodriguez’s Basa Rueda Blanco is a superlative verdejo-led blend in the same price zone.
The other grapes in the Basa are sauvignon blanc and viura, the latter another worth-seeking-out Spanish white as a varietal wine. Most wines from Rioja and many from Navarra labeled simply “Blanco” (white) have viura as the primary or only grape. (It’s also a major contributor to some of the better Cavas from northeastern Spain.)
Over the years, large producers such as El Coto and Marques de Cáceres have mastered the art of making marvelous under-$15 Rioja Blancos, while boutique winery Cune offers up a stunningly complex $18 bottle.
That’s the good news. The better news: These mouthwatering wines, one and all, are at least as well-suited for meals as they are for the patio. Break out the paella. Or stock up at the cabin for a great marriage with fresh-caught panfish.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com.