My loyalty lies with American winemakers but I still have a deep affection for the wines of Spain. After our last trip to Spain I wrote about the first and foremost wine known by most when we think of Spain – sherry. But during our recent trip I looked around at what the people of Spain were drinking. Just as we have our favorite standbys of chardonnay and merlot, Spanish wine drinkers have their safe bets too.
The albarino varietal is one of Spain’s best-kept wine secrets. You could compare it to the viognier in some ways but lighter, with more acidity. The light and refreshing wine is an ideal match for Spain’s local-catch seafood dishes. The grapes are grown and the wine produced in the northwest corner of Spain in the Rias Baixas region. Most of Spain’s growing regions can best be described as hot, hotter and downright unbearable. This region is cooler and has an abundance of rainfall, giving this wine its delicate, lively aromatic characteristics.
- 2012 Ramon Bilbao Albarino, Spain (about $15 retail)
- 2011 La Cana Albarino, Spain (about $20 retail)
Verdejo (ver-DAY-ho) is Spain’s answer to sauvignon blanc. In the Andalusia region it was on every restaurant wine list, in every wine shop and even in the supermarkets. In most restaurants it’s the varietal used as the house wine, with a listing of “Vino blanco.” The grape is indigenous to the Rueda region in northeastern Spain along the Douro River. The style can be crisp and grassy, similar to sauvignon blanc,or richer, much like a California unoaked chardonnay. It is a style of wine easily paired with a wide range of foods.
- 2011 Tapena Verdejo, Spain (about $11 retail)
- 2011 Nisia Old Vine Verdejo, Spain (about $16 retail)
When in Spain, there is no other ideal bubbly than Spanish Cava. It generally has more acidity than other sparkling wines and therefore it pairs with many cuisines. We had it as an aperitif, with seafood, paella and even pasta. It’s produced in the Penedes region of Catalonia using the same winemaking method as the honored Champagne, but with indigenous grapes. The result is a refreshing, sparkling wine at half the price of most Champagne.
- NV Segura Viudas Brut Reserva, Spain (about $12 retail)
- NV Sumarroca Cava Brut, Spain (about $19 retail)
When walking the long aisles of a wine shop, you’ve probably had moments of discouragement, not because of an inadequate selection of wines but from the humdrum feeling you experience reading the routine labels one after another — cabernet, cabernet, cabernet; merlot, merlot, merlot; chardonnay, chardonnay, chardonnay.
Every once in a while a snazzy label jumps out at you and for a split second you are drawn to the shelf, only to resume chanting the familiar “Cabernet … cabernet … cabernet.”
There is no need for the monotonous wine search when more than 150 different commonly grown varietals await your palate. For a head start on stepping out of the box consider exploring these refreshing summer favorites.
Snubbed almost as often as white zinfandel, Rieslings may be the most under-appreciated white grapes in the world. That’s usually because of the continued misunderstood image of all Rieslings as sweet, the cumbersome, confusing labels or simply because people have not explored the surprising and racy crispness of dry Rieslings.
In its youth it is crisp, light, apple-y and refreshing. With age, fine Rieslings take on aromas of petroleum (in a good way) and become richer on the palate.
- 2010 Cupcake Dry Riesling, California (about $12 retail)
- 2009 Spy Valley Riesling, New Zealand (about $24 retail)
If you enjoy New World chardonnay, you’ll love the unique taste of Viognier. Traditionally grown in France’s northern Rhone region, California’s Rhone Rangers are beginning to master this rich, perfumed grape. At its best it’s a dry, opulent, rich, mouthwatering wine with layers of aromatic flowers.
- 2010 Yulumba Y Series Viognier, Australia (about $12 retail)
- 2010 Bridlewood Viognier, California (about $23 retail)
Albarino is produced and grown in the Rias Baixas region of northwest Spain. The climate in most of Spain can best be described as hot, hotter and unbearable. This area offers much cooler temperatures and has an abundance of rainfall, all contributing to Albarino’s delicate, lively, aromatic characteristic. For centuries, its following was in the local Spanish market, but since its release to the rest of the world, it is emerging with cult status in limited quantities.
- 2009 Martin Codax Albarino, Spain (about $14 retail)
- 2009 Laxas Albarino, Spain (about $20 retail)