I can’t remember when I lost interest in Spanish white wines. It must be a long time ago. Perhaps when I started my love affair with Chardonnay. Not the ubiquitous, highly extracted, mouth-busting, oaky Chardonnays, which were served by the bucket load in wine bars from Adelaide to Notting Hill, Madrid to Montmartre, Casemates to that cute chiringuito in Fuengirola. Not the Chardonnays which inevitably gave rise to ABT, ‘Anything but Chardonnay’ due to its iniquitousness and eventual fall from fashionable grace. The Chardonnays I, and many others, sought above all else, were inevitably (but not always) made in Burgundy. Understated perhaps, lean but complex, with long finishes and the ability to reflect the land they grew in.
A good Chardonnay never lets on what it is, at least not immediately. After all, don’t they say Chardonnay has little character of its own? As the story goes, it’s the soil and sun of Burgundy you taste, silly, not the grape itself. Well perhaps, but whatever it was, whether the mouth-busting, over-oaked Chardonnays everyone seemed to be making in Spain or its partner in crime Sauvignon Blanc, I lost all interest in Spanish whites. I came to believe nothing good ever came out of Spain unless it was red. Of course, I never abandoned the white wines of Lopez de Heredia (Tondonia) which to this day I think as one of the top white wines in the world, nor did I think any less of my beloved wines of Jerez, perhaps the most underrated and inexpensive of fine wines. Both these wines exhibit oxidised notes, complex but oxidised none-the-less inevitably making them niche wines, incomprehensible to the bulk of wine drinkers worldwide who continue to demand stronger and fruitier wines with the underlying complexity of a belly flop in a crowded pool. To each their own, as they say.
A good Chardonnay never lets on what it is, at least not immediately.
Things in Spain, however, have been changing since the excesses of ten or fifteen years ago. Perfect timing of course as we see the price of white the Burgundy escalate to ridiculous heights. It seems that producers in Spain are no longer seeing their white wines as poor sisters of their reds. They are returning to traditional grape varieties such as Viura and Garnacha Blanca and letting these ancient varieties sing their own songs.
I am assured that the white wine scene has changed in Spain for the better and white wines of quality are now common. I am now on a mission to rediscover Spanish whites. Here’s what I tasted over the last few days.
Producers in Spain are no longer seeing their white wines as poor sisters of their reds.
Muga White Rioja 2020
Take the latest white Rioja 2020 from bodegas Muga. Made from Garnacha Blanca, Viura and Malvasia. It’s just over the £10 mark but you get a lot for your money. The wine is still a tad young and should improve over the next 2 or 3 years but even now it has a wonderful crisp acidity with a long and elegant finish rarely found at this price point. Very, very good value for money when compared to its Burgundian relatives. Should pair very well with traditional fried fish found all over Spain.
Lopez de Heredia- Viña Gravonia 2012
Uber traditional producer. The 2012 is the current release of Gravonia. Difficult to find as quantities are small and sell out quickly. Made from 100% Viura and matured in old barrels for four years giving the wine its oxidised notes but strangely whatever oak is there, is well integrated. Then further matured in bottles until released earlier this year. Wonderful notes of bee’s wax and lemons, very long finish. Understated complexity. World-class but not for everyone. £25+
Conde de Valdemar Finca Alto Cantabria 2019
Another White Rioja. Notes of bitter grapefruit but little else. Dull finish. £15-£20
Valdesil Godello Sobre Lias 2019 – Valdeorras
Made from 100% Godello. It’s a grape variety I have only tasted several times. Has been very fashionable over the last few years. Clean with flavours of citrus. Good lingering finish. A tad awkward, not overly elegant. Critics rate this highly. £15+
Albariño de Fefinanes 2020 – Rias Baixas
Good acidity. Too young at present but wonderfully crisp. Complex. Albariños have been shown to age well. £15+