Spain is most often recognized for the great red wines of Rioja, Jumilla and Priorat. For white wine drinkers, however, it’s time to consider the amazing Spanish whites.
The still whites of Spain come in a range of styles, from light and crisp to lush and ripe to rich and structured. As a whole, the most reputable whites come from northern Spain where the temperatures aren’t as outrageously hot as they are in central and southern Spain.
Today, we will begin with the lightest and end with the fullest.
Rueda, a region in north-central Spain, is the home of the white grape varietal verdejo, not to be confused with the differing varietal verdelho of Portugal. Verdejo is the famed and prized grape of Rueda that when young produces clean, crisp wines with notes of lime, quince and flower blossoms. Light to medium body, zippy fruit and minerals make these wines excellent spring and summer wines. The other added bonus is that these wines are always affordable, with prices beginning around $12.
Perhaps one of the most fun and exciting whites, albariño, comes from Rias Baixas in northwestern Spain. This varietal’s thick skins aid in its ability to thrive in the humid coastal climate. These aromatic wines offer notes of white peach, pineapple, ripe flavors and a saline minerality that makes for excellent pairings with seafood. These medium body wines are also great values, with prices ranging from $15 to $20.
Often considered the best of both Spain’s whites and reds are the wines from the most revered region, Rioja. Here, viura is queen. As with most grape varietals, there are synonyms by which viura is also called, such as macabeo. However, macabeo denotes it comes from a different region in Spain’s sparkling wine region, Penedes. Viura has a wide range of potentiality, from light and acidic to rich and oaky. The unoaked versions are lightly floral, and if picked early enough, can have a high mineral content that balances out the wine’s high acidity. This varietal is also capable of barrel-aging due to the grape’s ability to tolerate light oxidation. This is where white Riojas can become expensive and very complex.
The barrel-aged versions can accommodate lovers of California chardonnay and white Burgundy drinkers as well. For lighter foods, the unoaked versions make the most sense. However, for white meats or heavy fish such as halibut, the barrel-aged versions will have the added weight and complexity to marry such dishes. Prices for these wines can swing drastically due to the varying styles. Unoaked versions start in the $15 range, while the longer barrel-aged versions can fetch prices well over $50. Try not to let that deter you, as there are outstanding affordable oaked versions starting in the $20s.
It is often said that there are two types of white wine drinkers: chardonnay and anything but chardonnay. Spain offers wines to suit both palates.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at email@example.com.