Food News

White Wines of Northern Spain

Spanish wines are fantastically food-friendly and provide tremendous value

A lthough Spanish wines have been extremely popular for a number of years, I find they are still relegated to a less than prominent place in most minds. And that is a shame! In addition to being fantastically food-friendly, they tend to be a tremendous value as well as an adventure to discover.

All three of these wines are from northern Spain and have a few shared characteristics, like pronounced acidity, notes of citrus and stone fruit. They are all 100 percent unoaked, which lends a clean and crisp profile. Our first wine, the Berroia Bizkaiko Txakoli ($19), is a good example of this Basque wine (don’t be intimidated by the look or sound of the name—just ask for “cha-co-lee” in the wine store). I was first introduced to Txakoli by a friend who had been filming with famous Spanish chef José Andrés who had enthusiastically shared this style of delightful, if simple, wine with him. I have tried several since then and have never been disappointed. It is a dry wine with an acidity that would please fans of Sauvignon Blanc, but typically also has an effervescence that makes it delightful as an aperitif. It is made from the indigenous Hondarrabi Zuri grape (85 percent) as well as a bit of Riesling and Folle Blanch. The Basque locals typically serve Txakoli with seafood or anything off the grill. I tried this one with grilled lamb chops and it was wonderful—and with the acidity and effervescence. I could easily imagine quaffing this one with a good hamburger.

UNC_SP_Wine_08_AL0817Our next wine is the Castelo do Papa Godello 2015 ($15), made from 100 percent Godello in the Valdeorras district in northwestern Spain. Even if you’re familiar with Spanish wines, the Godello grape may new to you, but be prepared to hear a lot more about it in the future. The grape has the ability to age well like Chardonnay and its versatility is gaining popularity among Spanish wine makers. One thing that makes this particular Godello special is that it is made from only the finest 20 percent of the organically grown grapes produced in the vineyard—everything else they sell to other producers. It is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks which emphasizes the clean, mineral characteristics of the wine and allows strong herbal notes (rosemary and thyme) to come through. The wine opens with aromas of lemon and pear, then expands to more citrus and peach on the palate with a long, bitter-lemony finish. It was the most classically elegant of the three wines, by far. We sampled this with a salad of preserved tuna (Spanish, of course) but I’m sure many richer seafoods would do equally well. Another great companion to this wine was pan-roasted duck legs and potatoes. The savory notes of the wine paired beautifully with the rosemary and pepper on the duck and the sea salt and garlic from the creamy new potatoes.

UNC_SP_Wine_02_AL0817Our final wine is the Columna Albarino 2016 ($18). Made from 100 percent Albarino grapes, it comes from the Rias Baixas on the northwestern coast of Spain. Albarino is the most famous of the over 200 indigenous grapes found in this area. If you are familiar with other Albarinos, you will find this one to be bright and floral as many Albarinos are, but at the same time well balanced and with hints of richness. The vines, planted in 1978, are tended in the system invented by the Romans to allow maximum air circulation around them and encourage a drier ripening season. The nose of this lovely wine begins with citrus, jasmine flowers and notes of quince. It finishes with lingering floral notes and a mineraly, almost flinty note. The natives of the region love to pair this wine with oysters and clams. We sampled it with spicy sesame and pimenton Spanish smoked paprika-crusted seared tuna, which was a delightful match, but I could see how it would hold up equally well to pad thai or tacos. In any case, it is a delightful wine.

These fine examples of northern Spanish whites will surely make a great addition to your end-of-summer patio parties. They might even be an introduction to an adventurous new love affair of previously uncharted territory.