From the land of bold reds: 10 superb Spanish whites
By Eric Asimov
Spain is overwhelmingly associated with red wines.
Nonetheless, exceptions are easy to find. Albariños from Rías Baixas come to mind, and they have indeed become popular in the 30 years since Americans first became aware of them.
Sherries are white wines, albeit fortified. Most cavas are white, too, though sparkling. Traditionally made white Riojas, like those from the great producer R. López de Heredia, can be among the most distinctive, singular wines in the world.
On the whole, though, Spain brings to mind the world of red Riojas and Ribera del Dueros, Priorats and myriad others from the Mediterranean coast and the interior made of grapes like garnacha, monastrell and bobal.
This is why I’ve been so intrigued over the past few years to taste such unusual and captivating white wines coming from every corner of Spain, from Galicia in the northwest to Catalonia in the northeast to Jerez in the south to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic.
In early April I shopped in New York retail shops and came away with 10 fascinating Spanish whites that could come from nowhere else in the world.
I won’t contend that they were easy to find. It helps for research to have Spanish restaurants with forward-looking wine lists, like Ernesto’s on the Lower East Side and Saint Julivert in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and dedicated Spanish wine shops like Despaña Vinos y Mas.
But the rewards of these wines are plentiful, even if, for now, you have to keep them in the back of your mind until you find yourself looking at a great Spanish wine list or stumbling upon a wine shop that has invested in Spain.
What makes them so unusual? The grapes for a start. These bottles are made of albariño, palomino, treixadura, godello and garnacha blanca, among a few others. You may encounter them elsewhere, as in Spain’s Iberian neighbor Portugal, but not often beyond that.
Most of all, though, it’s the combination of searching for winemakers who are simultaneously looking backward and forward, conscientious farmers — just about all these wines are made from organic or biodynamically grown grapes or the equivalent — and Spain’s own singular wine culture.
These 10 bottles are terrific examples of what I’m talking about, but plenty more are out there, including other cuvées from these producers. If you see whites from Goyo García Viadero, snap them up. Same with Partida Creus, MicroBio, Parés Baltà, Emilio Rojo, Comando G, Muchada-Léclapart and Recaredo.
No doubt, plenty more could be added to this list. I’ll be interested to hear suggestions. My research is not remotely complete.
Here are the 10 bottles, from least to most expensive.
Callejuela Blanco de Hornillos 2019, 13%, $17
Pepe and Paco Blanco make excellent sherries from small parcels they farm in the Jerez region in Andalusia. Recently, they began to make unfortified white wines like this one from palomino, the main sherry grape. You can taste the influence of the albariza soil along with the flor, the yeast that forms on the surface of fino sherry as it ages and provides its characteristic tang. This wine is pure, fresh and mineral, with that tinge of sherry. At $17, it’s an amazing value. (La Luz Selections/T. Edward Wines, New York)
Zarate Rías Baixas Albariño 2020, 13%, $26
Eulogio Pomares, who makes the Zarate wines, thinks most albariños are intended for immediate consumption. He believes in making wines capable of aging. His technique? Using grapes from older vines farmed biodynamically, fermented naturally and aged on the lees; the residue of the yeast after fermentation is complete, which adds texture and character. This entry-level bottle may not last for years, but it’s definitely a cut above, bright, floral and stony. (The Rare Wine Co., Brisbane, California.)
Cota 45 Ube Miraflores 2020, 12%, $31
I’m fascinated by the wines of Ramiro Ibañez of Cota 45, who is exploring the terroirs of Jerez through a series of unfortified wines made of palomino and other indigenous grapes. Jerez is of course best known for sherry, but Ibañez, the Blanco brothers and others have suggested an alternate regional history of multiple grapes with a focus on terroirs. Miraflores is a great introduction to the Cota 45 wines, savory and pure, highly suggestive of the best sherries yet different. As I said, I’m fascinated. (José Pastor Selections/Llaurador Wines, Fairfax, California.)
Terroir Històric Priorat Blanc 2017, 13%, $35
Dominik Huber makes excellent Priorats and other Catalonian wines under the Terroir al Límit label. Terroir Históric, his second label, is dedicated to thirst-quenching, yet intriguing, wines that explore Huber’s conception of historic styles of the region. This bottle, a blend of garnacha blanca and macabeu that has been aged for six months in concrete, is tangy, herbal and surprisingly subtle. (European Cellars, Charlotte, North Carolina.)
Laura Lorenzo Daterra Viticultores Manzaneda Gavela da Vila 2019, 12%, $35
Laura Lorenzo explores old vineyards and traditions largely in Galicia in northwestern Spain. Here’s another wine made from palomino: Though the grape is most known in Jerez and southern Spain, Lorenzo found an old vineyard on sandy granite soil. She fermented the wine in big old chestnut barrels with a brief skin maceration, so this is a mild orange cuvée, slightly tannic, fresh and alive. It has lingering flavors of dried fruits and flowers and an intriguing texture. (José Pastor Selections/Llaurador Wines)
Nanclares y Prieto O Bocoi Vello de Silvia 2020, 12.5%, $37
This is a Rías Baixas albariño, although it’s not labeled that way. In addition to the wines they make from their own vines, the excellent producers Alberto Nanclares and Silvia Prieto supplement their production with grapes from other local farmers, as in this bottle. The grapes were foot-stomped, fermented with indigenous yeast and aged in traditional old chestnut barrels. The result is a subtle, textured wine with stony, floral flavors that linger long after you swallow. (José Pastor Selections/Llaurador Wines)
Luis Anxo Rodríguez Vázquez Ribeiro A Teixa 2018, 12.5%, $45
Some of the most interesting white wines from Spain, like this bottle from Luis Anxo Rodríguez Vázquez, come from the Ribeiro region. Rodríguez farms tiny parcels throughout the region, focusing primarily on the treixadura grape and supplemented with other indigenous varieties. This bottle comes from a single vineyard on granite soils. It’s largely treixadura with smaller amounts of albariño and godello. It’s textured and minerally, with an attractive, almost grainy flavor that adds complexity. (José Pastor Selections/Llaurador Wines)
La Perdida O Pando Orange 2020, 13%, $50
Nacho Gonzalez of La Perdida is a natural winemaker in the Valdeorras region of Galicia. He seeks out isolated, abandoned hillside vineyards — the name La Perdida means “the lost” — and farms them organically, bringing them back to health. This orange wine is made of godello grapes and fermented in clay amphora, where it ages with the skins for six months. It’s not particularly tannic, but the complex flavors of spices, flowers, herbs and dried fruits are fascinating. (José Pastor Selections/Llaurador Wines)
Envínate Vinos Atlánticos Palo Blanco 2020, 11.5%, $57
Evínate, a group of four friends, makes wonderful wines from different parts of Spain, with a particular focus on the Canary Islands. This wine is made of 100% lístan blanco, better known as palomino, grown in an ancient vineyard high up on Tenerife in the Canaries. It’s fascinating to compare this wine with the Callejuela Blanco, made of the same grape grown in the Jerez region, and the Laura Lorenzo palomino grown in Galicia. It has a completely different character with none of the sherry personality. Instead it has herbal, nutlike, mineral flavors that are subtle. Do not serve this wine too cold. (José Pastor Selections/Llaurador Wines)
Do Ferreiro Rías Baixas Albariño Dous Ferrados 2018, 13.5%, $60
Gerardo Méndez of Do Ferreiro is another albariño master. For years, he concentrated on two cuvées, the straight-ahead bottle and one made from old vines that aged beautifully. Now, his son, Manuel, and daughter, Encarna, run Do Ferreiro, and those cuvées have been joined by a number of single-vineyard bottles like Dous Ferrados, a small, organically farmed plot on red slate soil. This wine is richer than either the Zarate or the Nanclares, with deep, floral, almost honeysuckle flavors. (De Maison Selections, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.)