Spain is doubtless a red-wine country, from Tempranillo and Garnacha to Mencía and beyond. But don’t dismiss the country’s white wines made from grapes ranging from Albariño to Viura and Verdejo, Garnacha Blanca to Godello.
In recent years, Spanish wineries and winemakers have ramped up efforts to make cleaner, more consistent white wines that go beyond just being quaffable. The leaders of this movement hail largely from the Rías Baixas, Rueda and Rioja regions.
My blind tastings since June of last year indicate that the Catalonian regions of Terra Alta and the Penedès are also making positive strides with varietal bottlings of Garnacha Blanca and Xarel-lo, respectively.
To borrow an old wine-industry expression, one that could have been coined especially for Verdejo: Just chill it and kill it.
Meanwhile, in Valdeorras and neighboring Bierzo, wines made from the local Godello grape have never been better.
As springtime comes into view, here’s what’s happening with Spain’s top white wines.
As a class, the most consistently pleasing and steady Spanish white wine is Albariño produced in Rías Baixas, located in the northwest corner of the country. Fresh, floral and easy to enjoy, Albariño is Spain’s top exported white, and for good reason. The wines are serious but uncomplicated, and they pair well with all types of seafood.
Recommended White Wines from Rias Baixas
Val do Sosego 2016 Albariño (Rías Baixas); $15, 90 points. Tight citrus peel and peach aromas show a leesy side on the nose. This excellent rendition of Albariño feels round and juicy, but not sharp. Pleasing peach and melon flavors dry out and suggest white pepper on the finish. Saranty Imports. Best Buy.
Vionta 2016 Limited Release Albariño (Rías Baixas); $15, 90 points. Aromas of fresh-cut grass, wet stone and apple are mild on the nose. A round palate with zesty acidity is in full health, while flavors of apple, melon and pineapple last on the finish. Freixenet USA. Best Buy.
Mar de Frades 2016 Albariño (Rías Baixas); $25, 90 points. In this vintage, the wine itself is as catchy as Mar de Frades’s signature blue bottle. Aromas of green melon, apple and lees are spot on for the variety. Flavors of pineapple and citrus finish with modest complexity carried by the presence of lees. Deutsch Family Wine and Spirits.
Not New, But Improved
Noticeable improvements are occurring in Rioja, where a number of traditional and progressive wineries are barrel-fermenting both Viura and Tempranillo Blanco, with good-to-excellent results. These are high-acid whites that can absorb oak and age for decades. Serve these wines with fish, poultry or vegetable dishes.
Recommended White Wines from Rioja
Rioja Vega 2014 Reserva Producción Limitada Tempranillo Blanco (Rioja); $45, 89 points. This barrel-fermented Tempranillo Blanco is low in intensity on the nose. However, in the mouth it is linear and shows strong acidity. Oxidized, old-school flavors of dry white fruits and oak finish long and mellow. Drink this classic white Rioja through 2020. Kobrand.
Sierra Cantabria 2015 Organza White (Rioja); $28, 88 points. Oak and spice notes are out front on the nose but not overpowering. This blend of Viura, Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca is medium in body, with a shot of bracing acidity. Wood-dominant flavors of spiced apple and resin carry the finish. Fine Estates From Spain.
Bodegas Faustino 2016 VII Viura (Rioja); $12, 86 points. Fresh aromas of green apple and melon meld with a note of yeast on the nose. A solid palate holds mild citrus and green-herb flavors that lead to the straightforward finish. Palm Bay International.
In Spain, the top-selling white wine is Verdejo from Rueda, a region located near the city of Valladolid, about 90 minutes northwest of Madrid. That’s not because Verdejo delivers incredible quality, but because it’s fresh, accessible and fits the bill when you just want a zesty white wine. With characteristics similar to those of Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo is Spain’s quintessential patio or tapas bar white wine. To borrow an old wine-industry expression: Just chill it and kill it.
Recommended Verdejo from Rueda
Jorge Ordóñez & Co. 2016 Nisia Old Vines Verdejo (Rueda); $17, 86 points. Mineral-driven on the nose, the palate of this Verdejo is citrusy in feel, with a grippy texture. Flavors of nectarine and peach are mild on a fresh finish. Fine Estates From Spain.
Bodegas Copaboca 2016 Finca Feroes Verdejo (Rueda); $6, 85 points. Apple and apricot aromas lead to a simple but healthy palate. Stone fruit and citrus flavors are ample but flatten out on a low-acid finish. Magical Spirits. Best Buy.
Botas de Barro 2016 Verdejo (Rueda); $15, 85 points. Mild stone-fruit aromas are quiet on the nose. This feels plump on the palate, with dry citrus flavors that are a touch green and bitter. Dangerous Import Group.
Best of the Rest
In the Catalonian region of Terra Alta, Garnacha Blanca reigns supreme when it comes to white wine. Not many years ago, the Garnacha Blancas from here were mostly heavy and oxidized, often with stalky aromas and flavors of wheat and wax. Today, white Garnacha from Terra Alta (and elsewhere in Catalonia) is being made in a cleaner, increasingly fruit-forward manner, sometimes with oak aging.
As for Godello, it’s a white grape produced in Valdeorras (in eastern Galicia) that I’ve often compared to Burgundian Chardonnay. Valdeorras boasts black-slate soils full of minerals, and is now seeing competition from nearby Bierzo, Spain’s capital of Mencía. Versatile and often high in quality, Godellos from both regions are clear examples of the progress Spain is making with its white wines.
Recommended White Wines from Other Regions
Edetària 2016 Viaterra Garnacha Blanca (Terra Alta); $15, 87 points. Aromas of orange peel and tarragon are spunky and a little green on the nose. This fresh, lean Garnacha Blanca shows moderate acidity and short flavors of green melon and almond skins. A bit of saltiness is present on a dry finish. Ripe Wine Imports.
Avancia 2016 Cuveé de O Godello (Valdeorras); $18, 88 points. Mild but focused aromas of apple and lime are fresh and slightly minerally. This is round and easy on the palate, with controlled citric acidity. A simple flavor of orange finishes favorably but without complexity. Fine Estates From Spain.
Abad Dom Bueno 2016 Godello (Bierzo); $24, 87 points. Yeasty white-fruit aromas carry the nose. In the mouth, this basic Godello is fleshy and pulpy. A mix of citrus and nectarine flavors holds steady on a fresh but simple finish. Frontier Wine Imports.