Albariño is Spain’s most iconic white wine. A floral, fragrant peachy grape, and planted along the Atlantic north-west coast of cool Galicia’s Riax Baixas region, the Donegal of Spain. Cherished by the Spanish, they consume over 75% at home and export the remainder.
But Spain’s white wines of character are not restricted to the adored Albariño. Spain’s Albariño alternatives are found either in the cooler northern regions with an Atlantic influence, or at high altitude when the chill nights add a restraint and an elegance to the wines.
The Verdejo grape was rescued from extinction and is champion in the region of Rueda’s high altitude plateau north-west of the capital, Madrid. Hungry, stony soils subjected to torrid hot summers with chilly nights and harsh freezing winters make growing conditions difficult for only the hardiest of plants.
In general, the grape vine is a martyr amongst vegetation and performs best when suffering most. These unforgiving growing conditions produce Rueda’s aromatic dry white wines made mostly from Verdejo with 5% plantings of Sauvignon Blanc and Viura (aka Macabeo) vines.
In style, Verdejo is refreshing and very aromatic, not unlike a grassy and green appley Sauvignon Blanc. Its texture is waxy and oily with a rich and generous flavour similar to Sémillon. At 600m-800m the sharp drop in the summer’s night-time temperatures boosts the acidity and aromatics.
Godello, a local grape in Valdeorras and also in nearby appellations Monterrei, Ribeira Sacra and Bierzo. While further inland from Albarino territory in Rias Baixas, Godello shares more the Atlantic’s cooler and damper influence than the Mediterranean. Like Verdejo, the Godello nearly fell into disuse until twenty years ago when reclaimed by a few local producers. Godello is still finding its own identity. The variety has depth of character and an aromatic personality. While successful when fermented in new oak casks, but when made without any oak barrel influence it can reflect the minerality of the soil remarkably well.
Macabeo or Viura as it is named in Rioja, provides a citrus tang and occasionally is either fermented or aged in oak barrels for an added hazelnut richness. Its wines can age remarkably well. Three grape varieties may be used to make the white wine: Viura, for a lemon and green apple crisp character; Malvasía for a richer nutty aroma and Garnacha Blanca for a fuller body.
Verdejo Cien x Cien 2017, Finca La Colina, Vinos Sanz, Rueda
€18.75 – Available at Celtic Whiskey Shop & Wines on the Green, Dawson Street, Martin’s, Fairview and Sweeney’s, Glasnevin.
Perfumed with lime and herbs. Delicious kiwi and lychee flavours delivered in a silky texture with an exotic depth and breadth of character.
Food friend: Enjoy with pork medallions fried in butter with apple quarters and finished with a splash of Pernod.
Verdejo 2016, Prado Rey, Castilla y León
€17.50-€18 in Dublin at Blackrock Cellar and Jus de Vine, Portmarnock. Parting Glass, Enniskerry; Wine Centre, Kilkenny and World Wide Wines Waterford.
Yeasty freshly baked bread aromas. Concentrated lemon zest and apple fruit on the taste buds. Zesty finish and very complete and rounded.
Food friend: Try with omelette embedded with flakes of smoked haddock and cherry tomatoes.
Verdejo 2016, Gran Fuedo, Rueda
€14.99 in Dublin at Just Chillin’, Ongar Village; Goose Off-licence, Sion Hill Road and McCoy’s, Laragh, Co. Wicklow.
Pretty perfume of apple blossom and peach. Feminine in style. Very tasty peach and apple flavours with a crisp finish.
Food friend: Serve with a fresh tuna steak grilled with a squeeze of an orange.
Verdejo 2017, El Coto, Rioja
€14.99 in Dublin at Deveney’s, Dundrum; Donnybrook Fair; Higgin’s, Clonskeagh; Drink Store, Stoneybatter, Fresh Stores and McHugh’s Kilbarrack and Malahide roads. Karwig Wines, Cork.
Unusual to have Verdejo used in Rioja. Aromas of waxy yellow citrus peel. Pithy and zesty fruit flavours attack on entry, underpinned by invigorating acidity.
Food friend: Match with a bitter leafy salad of rocket and chicory with grilled white fish.
Godello 2014, Tempstad, Valdeorras
€19.99 at independent off-licences nationwide
The vineyard’s slate soil and very steep gradient possibly accounts for the wine’s character. Arresting bouquet and echoed on the taste buds with a salty minerality and finishing with citrus and crisp apples. Well-balanced acidity.
Food friend: Serve with roasted monkfish with a creamy onion sauce.
Rioja Blanco 2017, Marqués de Vitoria, Rioja
From €12.99 at Independent retail outlets nationwide including Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Lilac Wines; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; Next Door chain; Greenman Wines, Terenure and Higgins, Clonskeagh. In Cork: Bradley’s, 1601 Kinsale, O’Driscoll’s and O’Donovan’s citywide.
Apple orchard aromas. An intense palate of crunchy apples with a depth of character reflecting elegance and terroir.
Food friend: Serve with prawns and garlic in a cream sauce with pasta.
Macabeo 2017, Familia Castaño, Murcia (Organic)
€15.99 in Dublin at 64 Wine, Glasthule; Baggot Street Wines; Clontarf Wines; Drink Store, Stoneybatter; Red Island Wine, Skerries; Kelly’s, Clontarf. Bradleys, Cork; Matson’s, Bandon; McKeogh’s, Killaloe; Myles Creek, Kilkee and
Muted aromas of green apple skins. Rounded flavours of white apple flesh and integrated acidity. Very well-balanced and a refreshing long finish.
Food friend: Useful on the table as an effective fat blaster, loving to wrestle with creamy, oily and buttery dishes.
Trio White Blend 2017, Care, Carineña
€13 and new to many independent off-licences
Floral fragrance of jasmine with rosemary and ripe melons. Made from a trinity of Macabeo, Chardonnay and Garnacha Blanca. Tart crunchy green apples and pithy citrus fruit lingering on the long finish.
Food friend: Try with pork strips dusted with cumin and baked with plum tomatoes and olives.
Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.
Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.