By Lisa Perrine Brown, Oryana Wine & Beer Purchaser
When I started this wine coordinator job, I knew mostly about American and French grape varietals but most of Spanish and Italian wine varieties escaped me. I know most of us stare at the foreign wine section perplexed at which wine would be the perfect choice. What ideally would match our taste buds and pair well with the meal we are preparing that night? I drank plenty of wine while backpacking through Europe, but those wines were poured into my used water bottles from a cask. I was in my 20s and the name and varietal weren’t important then. Back in the day in Spain and Italy, wine was cheaper than buying a new bottle of water or that’s what me and my friends and I told ourselves, wink. What else was in my backpack? Cheese! And butter, a butter knife, and a mini cheese planer. I was prepared!
So, let’s travel to the major white wine making areas of Spain this month and learn about their grapes and juice. Did you know that many Spanish wines are aged in their wine cellars in oak barrels and bottles? Many American wines are only a year or two old when you buy them. Not all wines age well but Spanish wines do, and they do it for you! No need to invest in a wine cellar. When you look at a bottle of Spanish wine, you might see words like Joven, Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva. These terms tell you how long the wine has been aged.
- Joven: means that the wine didn’t spend too much time resting at the winery
- Crianza: means a wine has spent one year in oak barrels
- Reserva: means a wine has been aged two years; one of these years has to have been spent in oak.
- Gran Reserva: means the wine has spent a very long time at the winery aging
Because Spain is part of the European Union, many of the wine labeling system’s apply.
- Denominacion de Origen (DO) – where the grapes were grown
Each individual DO has its own rules for wine production, for example it might delineate what types of grapes can be grown in that region. Sometimes the DO is mentioned on the back label of a wine bottle or on the capsule over the cork.
Spanish wines often list the type of grape used directly front and center on the label. Something to be cognizant of is that there are many regional language differences in Spain. Consequently, the same grape has slightly different names. For example Garnacha might appear as Garnatxa.
The climate of Spain varies drastically because it is a peninsula. Central Spain sizzles most of the summer yet is super cold during the winter. Galicia, in the northwest, benefits from cool ocean breezes and many rivers, so it’s quite green. Howling winds, brutal heat, and arid land proves challenging when growing grapes in most of the south. Both warm and cool temperatures are contributed to the Mediterranean breezes. The Pyrenees mountains block rain clouds from bringing irrigation to Spain’s north central areas.
Okay by now you’re probably getting thirsty.
Spanish White Wines
Cava is the most famous sparkling wine of Spain. Cava is produced mainly in Catalonia, just northeast of Barcelona. Like Champagne in France, Cava is made in the traditional champoise method of secondary fermentation so it gets its bubbles in the bottle. Cava is a basically a blend of Xarel-lo, Macabéo, and Parellada grapes, and produces sometimes white or Rosé wine. Cavas have richness that complements crisp appley flavors due to extended aging with spent yeast. Cava’s are typically dry like Champange but some can be sweeter, Brut (dry) or Semi-Seco (a bit sweet) are your clues. Cavas are a great choice if you love drinking bubbly.
Cavas to try:
- Cava Brut, Biutiful. 80% Macabes & 20% Chardonnay. Aged for 15 months. The result is sparkling wine that is complex, dry, and punctuated by fine bubbles. The wine flavors are orchard fruits with floral notes and a mineral undertone, balanced by lively acidity and a creamy texture. (Available at 10th St.)
- Brut Rose, Juve & Camps – Pinot Noir Cava
- Valdelavia, Organic Cava Brut. 40% Xarel-Lo, 30% Macabeu and 30% Parellada. This fresh sparkling wine offers notes of yellow apple, vanilla-orange custard, and tangerine. (West & 10th)
Now we are going to travel to the Basque country. San Sebastián is the coastal area of northern Spain. This area makes me daydream of sun umbrellas and old-fashioned beach chairs. “Framed by golden beaches and lush hillsides, San Sebastián has undeniable allure, from its venerable dining scene to its grand architecture and packed cultural calendar.” From Lonely Planet.
San Sebastián grows the Hondarribi Zuri grape. This grape produces a citrusy wine with low alcohol and a bit of light fizz. Bring this on your boat or enjoy while sitting in the sun. I know we all have to wait a few more months, ugh! I drink mine eating European cheeses and pistachios while gazing at the sunshine-glistened snow. This area also produces a Hondarribi Beltza grape which produces rosé. Do sea breeze aromas weaving through the blood orange and pink grapefruit flavors that’s lightly spritzy rosé intrigue you? Well then put on your sun glasses watch something tropical on Netflix and give this one a try. I got a bit of lime.
Txomin Etxaniz Rosado 2019 will be available at Oryana West for a limited time. (Let me know if you want it back for summer.)
In the Basque region between Green Spain and the semi-arid interior areas lines Navarre, or as the Spanish write it, Navarra. In between these vastly different climatic zones the weather patterns are quite vast. Summers can have heat waves and winters tend to have cool spells. Interesting weather patterns produces unique grape varietals.
Currently at both our stores, we are carrying Azul y Garanza. This white wine is made with the Viura grape (sometimes known as Macabeo or white Rioja. Uniquely, Azul y Garanza bodega utilizes concrete tanks which is ideal for separation methods during production due to the local soils. This allows them to use indigenous natural yeast of the grape during fermentation.
Rias Baixas, north of Portugal on the western coast comes from Albariño, Loureira and Treixadura grapes varietals. “Galicia bears a stronger resemblance to the green fields and rocky coasts of Ireland than then classic images of drier, Castilian plains. The hillsides of Galicia are covered in mist that shroud granite castles, vineyards and manor houses.” Riasbaxas Wines
Albariño grape varietal is a white grape that is bone dry yet known for its crisp aromatic melon character to peachy, apricot, mango, and honeysuckle bouquet with abundant natural acidity. Fermented their grapes with the native yeasts found in their vineyards. This wine is produced completely of partially malolactic fermentation can produce a round and softer profile, will age gracefully. Fourteen other grape varieties are permitted in the DO but the white Rias Baixas represents 96%. Pairs well with soft cheeses like burrata, or semi-hard cheese like manchego, gouda and salty feta. Meat pairings: lighter meats, fish and seafood are excellent choices.
Paco & Lola. from Albariño, D.O. Rias Baixas. Fermented in Stainless Steel. Ideal with appetizers, sushi, fish, light meats and seafood. Notes: grapefruit and lime, orange blossom, with sweet tropical background, and lychee. Elegant wine.
Kale, Apple, Manchego Cheese Salad with Tahini Vinaigrette
Recipe from Rias Baixas Wines
1/3 cup tahini
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice from 1 lemon
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/3 cup water; you can add more for a thinner consistency
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 large bunch Lacinato kale — remove the stems and thinly slice leaves. If in a rush, you can also use bagged kale.
1 small apple, cored, cut into match sticks
1/2 cup shaved Manchego cheese
Optional — a pinch of cayenne pepper, for heat
Sea salt and ground pepper to taste
- For the dressing: Add the tahini, olive oil, lemon, and maple syrup into a small bowl or blender. Whisk in the water a little bit at a time, whisking until the water is incorporated. Keep adding water and whisking until you reach the desired consistency for your dressing. Taste and season with sea salt and pepper.
- Add the kale to the bowl. Drizzle some dressing onto the greens and use clean hands to mix and massage the kale so the leaves are coated evenly with dressing. Keep going through the process until the leaves are coated and the kale is slightly wilted.
- With a vegetable peeler shave the 1/2 cup worth of slices of the cheese. Transfer the salad to a serving platter and scatter with the apple, pine nuts*, and shavings of Manchego cheese. Drizzle on more of dressing if desired – it’s pretty as a garnish on the plate. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
*For the pine nuts: Toast the pine nuts either in a small sauté pan until slightly brown in color, or place the pine nuts on a small tray and bake at 300°F in a toaster oven for 8-10 minutes. Watch them as they burn easily!
“Albariño Wines are surprisingly versatile to pair with a wide range of dishes, Rías Baixas Albariño is a great match with various cuisines. The classic pairing is with seafood, but Albariño can stand up to unexpected international fare. Spicy and flavorful cuisines like Chinese, Indian and Thai usually overpower wines, but Albariño’s low alcohol and ripe fruit flavors match beautifully with the fruity chili notes. Sushi presents a difficult pairing with the raw fish and a variety of other textures, but Albariño’s crisp, clean flavors compliment it perfectly. Other pairings that are surprisingly successful include hard-to-pair, popular take-out meals like cold sesame noodles, chicken tikka masala, pad thai, tacos, and more.”
From Rias Baixas Wines
Many of these international foods are available in Oryana’s freezer aisles and sometimes at the 10th St Hot Bar and West’s Deli.
Bico da Ran, grape Albariño from Val do Salnes, Denomination of Origin (DO) Rías Baixas. Perfect with seafood, vegetable dishes and creamy sauces or on it’s own. Enjoy flavors of citrus, fennel and tropical fruits. (10th St.)
Valdeorras and Viura
For rich and textured whites I’m choosing to write about two areas: a tiny region of Valdeorras and Viura the famous white grape of Rioja. First grown in Valdeorras is the Godello grape. The Godello grape is pairs well with octopus, mussels, chirizo and roasted halibut. It’s crisp minerality combined with lemon and cantaloupe flavors makes a perfect pairing. For cheeses, pair this wine with stinky, ripe, and washed rind cheeses.
- Avancia, Cuvee de O. Godello grape. The 2018 Avancia Cuveé de O Godello is a white wine with an exotic twist. TASTING NOTES: This wine showcases aromas and flavors that go beyond primary fruit. Enjoy its unique aromas and flavors of savory spices, sandalwood, and dried earth with grilled pork chops topped with fresh herbs. (West & 10th)
- Gaba do Xil, Godello. Valdeorras Denomnacion de Origen. From Valdeorras (“Valley of Gold”) in eastern Galicia, a region once famous for gold mining and now best known for it sunique and complex wines made from the indigenous Godello grape. The wine is named for the river Sil that flows through the region (Xil is its ancient name, used by the Celtic people who once inhabited the area). Many of the river’s tributaries are flanked on either side by vineyards, planted in terraces on steep slate hillsides. The label displays a dozen bridges, symbolizing the idea of crossing from one vineyard plot to another.
Next, I needed to write about this varietal because I want to sip it next to a warm fire! Viura, also planted around Galicia and in Catalonia for use in Cava (doppelganger name Macabéo). It’s sometimes blended with other grape varietals like Garnacha Blanca or Chardonnay, or bottled on its own. Slightly pale gold, fresh and aromatic of bruised apples, curry, and coconut. Complex and developed, the taste is fruity, developed and very fine. Cellared four years in American oak barrels and fined* with fresh egg whites. Then it doesn’t hit the shelves until nearly a decade after the grapes were picked. Pairs well with fish, grilled seafood, well-seasoned meat and pasta.
*Egg whites can be used in the “fining,” or clarification and stabilization, of wines. Fining agents are added to a wine to coagulate with sediment particles and settle to the bottom, where they can be easily removed.
Azul Y Garanza 2019, Viura varietal, DO Navarra. While the Azul y Garanza organic vineyard is mostly planted to red varietals, there are a few hectares of Viura, the Spanish white varietal grown most widely in Rioja and also known as Macabeo in Penedes, where it is one of the three grapes typically blended for Cava production. The nose offers aromas of just-sliced Fuji apple, kiwi, lime, and a faint hint of white flowers and honeysuckle. The aromas flow onto the light-bodied palate as similar flavors and are joined by a subtle suggestion of white peach. The finish is dry, crisp and citrus focused with medium acidity. (West & 10th)
Thank you for taking this journey to northern Spain with me!
Spanish Red Wines to be continued soon. Stay tuned…