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Nobody Expects the Spanish Whites

October 7, 2010

I was out to dinner the other day and was elected to pick a bottle of wine for the table. When I chose a bottle of Burgans Albariño, a Spanish white, all parties were shocked to learn of the existence of such a thing as a Spanish white wine. I had realized that whites are definitely outnumbered by reds in Spain but did not realize that it wasn’t until the 1990’s that Spain began exporting much white wine at all. Most of Spain is a little too warm to grow white winegrapes except to make Sherry-like wines. But in the high elevation areas of the northern and predominantly northeastern part of the country there are a few knockout varieties of white grapes, including Albariño and Verdejo, being made into fresh, lively style wines.

The Burgans Albariño I chose at the restaurant is both a fabulous reflection and expression of everything the Albariño grape is capable of.  From Galicia in the broader region of Rias Baixas (pronounced ree-ass by-shuss) in northeastern Spain, this white wine is fresh, delicious, and keeps me coming back for more.  Albariño (pronounced al-bar-een-yo) is an “in-between” winegrape in that it combines the characteristics of many types of white wine while at the same time standing out as a unique grape unto itself.  Albariño combines the minerality of Riesling, grassiness of Sauvignon Blanc, hint of almond from Pinot Bianco, apricot & orange blossom on the nose of Viognier and the fleshy fruit flavors of a Chardonnay all in one fabulous wine.

We recently brought another example of a fresh-style Spanish white into the store at Andover Liquors: El Perro Verde. This wine, which takes its name from the Spanish expression “rarer than a green dog,” is made from 100% organically grown Verdejo grapes; From the greenish tint in the glass, to the dog on the label, to the color of the synthetic cork (also sporting a dog, I might add) and right down to the earth-friendly growing techniques, everything about this wine is green. This fresh, aromatic, soft and full-bodied style of Verdejo was never even crafted until the early 1970’s when a French winemaker saw the potential in the high-altitude vineyards of Rueda in northern Spain. In wine years, Verdejo as we know it is just a baby!

When I compare the two wines side by side in the glass they really look quite similar. Take one sniff however and it’s a whole different ballgame. Both have a definite peachiness about them but the Burgans also brings a lot of exotic aromas like mango, papaya, and violet while the El Perro adds fresh tangerine and apple to the bouquet. On the palate, the Burgans blends wet stone minerality, lime zest, floral character and dried apricot and smoky peach into a uniquely complex and round delight. It creates an intense and truly pleasurable sensation in the mouth with light sweetness that is smooth and well-balanced.  Meanwhile, the El Perro Verde hits mid-palate with zesty citrus peel followed by juicy ripe fruits and a hint of minerality before finishing with fresh sage notes. A slight nod to creaminess balances the bright acidity. The Verdejo has a good fleshy texture and is amazingly powerful yet suave and subtle.

I wish I could pick a favorite, but I really love them both equally! They are both tart-edged and medium-bodied. Both producers practice organic agriculture and bear in mind the effects their actions have on this planet and the sustainability of human life on it. Both wines have alternative closure methods (the Burgans screwcap is especially easy to open). Both wines could pair well with a wide variety of cuisine. Both Albariño and Verdejo are becoming more accessible and more affordable in the United States. And, finally, both of these Spanish whites are absolutely mouthwatering!

Spanish Whites, Yo Te quiero infinito; Yo Te quiero, oh mi Corazon…

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