When most folks think of Spain, *probably* the first thing that comes to mind is red wine. But the country actually has a lot of decent still white wine—and no, not all of it is Albariño. In a previous post, I talked about how I compartmentalizing a few of the major red wine producing regions of Spain has been helping me with my WSET Diploma studies. Today, I’m doing the same but with the white wines of Spain. So, once again, let’s start with a little theory:
Describe three major white wine producing regions in Spain, including climate, topography, and typical viticultural practices. What is the main white wine grape of each region? Describe them and explain why they are suited to that particular environment. What are the common winemaking methods used to produce these varieties? Describe the resulting wines in a dry tasting note.
Below, I’ve got bullet points that answer those few questions along with my tasting notes from each region. I’ve also slipped in a few Pop Quiz/Trivia questions throughout this post—see if you can answer those as well.
Buena suerte y salud!
For a general overview, see Wine Region Overview: Spain based on WSET Level 3 material.
About Rias Baixas
- Maritime climate with the Atlantic moderating temperatures, providing warm summers and mild winters.
- Annual rainfall is high and falls throughout the year—fungal disease is a major risk, as is rain just before harvest; vintage variation is a result.
- Soils are free-draining, helping to mitigate excessive rainfall.
- Pergola system is popular, often using granite stone supports in the humid atmosphere—benefits that high training promotes air circulation under canopy, reducing likelihood of fungal diseases
- 95% production based on Albariño; typically made into a varietal wine (other grape varieties are permitted: Loureira, Treixadura, Caino Blanco)
- What Rias Baixas sub-region is considered the heart of Albariño viticulture?
- dominant grape of Rias Baixas DO in Galicia;
- is well-suited to the damp, maritime climate, as it has thick skins (less susceptible to rot damage/fungal pressure);
- it is early to mid-ripening (climate change and improved viticulture means it ripens successfully in most vintages);
Wine: Torres Pazo das Bruxas Albarino 2018
Appearance: pale lemon
Nose: medium (+)—lemon, lime, apple, pear, just ripe peach and nectarine, blossom, toast/biscuit, hint of cream, hint vanilla, hint baking spices (vanilla, nutmeg)
Palate: dry, high acid, medium body, medium alcohol, medium (+) intensity: lemon, lime, apple, pear, just ripe peach and nectarine, blossom, toast/biscuit, hint of cream, hint vanilla, hint baking spices (vanilla, nutmeg), wet grass, herbal (kefir lime leaf; sorrel)
Finish = medium (+)
Assessment of quality: (6 marks) Very good—balance between fruit, floral, and earthy aromas; complexity from winemaking showcased with lees aging—not texturally necessarily, but definitely aromatically (a testament to the no-stirring technique); same with just a hint of barrel notes—probably old/large-format and not an extended amount of time. Primary fruits stay fresh and forward because of the restraint in winemaking. Finish just shy of long
Suitability for bottle ageing: (3 marks) I do not think this wine is intended for long-term aging, as the joy in this wine is the freshness of the varietal character. With time, these characteristics will fade and the wine will become imbalanced. Further, the nature of the dominant fruits, which are on the citrus and green side of the spectrum are such that they would not mature or develop.
- Valley of Gold”
- most easterly Galician DO, thus has continental climate
- vineyards are planted at altitude with diverse range of soils
- (predominantly slate—used to be a mining region in ancient times; main grape is Godello, most important black variety is Mencia
- Indigenous to Galicia;
- most important white variety in Valdeorras DO;
- early budding, early ripening;
Wine: Bodegas Avancia Godello Valdeorras 2018
Appearance: medium lemon
Nose: medium (+) intensity—ripe green apple, ripe green pear, lime, lime leaf, very herbal—ground coriander, white pepper, rose petal
Spices like cumin, dried coriander
Hints of honey/agave nectar, hay, dried apple
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, medium (+) body, touch of texture on surface of tongue, medium alcohol, medium (+) intensity: baked apple and pear, lime, lime leaf, very herbal—ground coriander, white pepper, dried rose petal, lemon skin/pith
Spices like cumin, dried coriander, ginger
Hints of honey/agave nectar, hay, dried apple
Finish is medium (+)
Assessment of quality: (6 marks) This wine is of very good quality that shows a lot of complexity in the winemaking—there are obvious signs that this wine was created in a kind of oxidative style in order to introduce and promote a variety of advanced fruit flavors, such as the baked apple/pear, dried florals, hints of honey, hay, and ginger along with the spice notes from what I assume is from time in barrel, such as the coriander and cumin.
There is a touch of texture to the wine, which makes me believe it may have spent some time macerating on the skins prior to fermentation—but it’s a delicate texture, not overwhelming the palate, or adding any bitter phenolics, but just adding a bit of textural intrigue as well as weight and body to the wine. I also believe that some of the notes, such as that hay and even some of the dried herbal notes could be an indication for time on the lees, with the lees integrated into the wine via stirring—as the body of the wine is fairly advanced at a medium (+).
Given the intensity of flavors and aromas, the complexity in the winemaking, and the balance of the primary, secondary, and even the slight hints of tertiary, I am rating this wine as very good. Just because the finish fell just shy of long at a medium (+), I cannot rate this wine as outstanding in quality—but it is very good. And quite interesting.
Suitability for bottle ageing: (3 marks) I absolutely think this wine is suitable for bottle aging, as it already shows hints of what could become tertiary flavors over time—ginger, honey, dried herbs, baked fruit. While much of this can be attributed to the winemaking style at this moment, that winemaking style is conducive to age-ability in white wines and these flavors and aromas are intended to, and certainly will, develop and mature over time.
- Marques de Riscal winery in Rioja noted the potential for the local Verdejo grape to make fresh, fruity white wines if handled protectively—investment in Rueda as the catalyst for the region’s success.
- continental climate with hot, dry summers, cold winters, and low annual rainfall;
- Vineyards are at altitude, thus cool nights that help retain acidity;
- Soils contain limestone with sandy clay sub-layer and stony topsoil which tends to be free-draining; low organic matter and thus reduces vigor in the vines;
- Other key grape variety Sauvignon Blanc can be blended with Verdejo or made as a single varietal
- Most inexpensive wines are generally made in a protective way with cool ferment (using cultured yeast) in stainless steel and bottled soon after.
- Mid-priced wines tend to have seen time on lees;
- most expensive are fermented and/or mature din oak;
- ML is usually always avoided
- Rueda also makes a small amount of red wine—why isn’t this as widely promoted as their red wines?
- key grape variety of Rueda DO in Castilla y Leon;
- is relatively drought resistant, thus suitable to the region’s lack of rainfall;
- thin-skinned grape with low vigor vines; high in acid
- prone to oxidation
Wine: Marques de Riscal Blanco Rueda 2019 (Do you remember what key historical influence Marques de Riscal and Marques de Riscal winery had on Spanish wine culture?)
Appearance: pale lemon
Nose: medium intensity—lemon, lime, green apple, green melon, wet grass, wet stone minerality, with a flinty kind of quality
Note: this wine was clearly made reductively, as there were sulphur notes straight-away that needed time to blow off
Palate: dry, high acid, medium (-) body; confirming that reductive note, the wine has a bit of a ‘spritz’ quality to the texture; medium alcohol; medium level of intensity— wet stone minerality, with a flinty kind of quality is even more prominent on the palate than on the nose, lemon, lime, green apple, green melon, wet grass, and a bit of dry toast, perhaps from some time on lees
Finish = medium (+)
Assessment of quality: (6 marks) This is a very good wine that shows complexity in its primary characteristics, which showcase a distinct terroir with the wet stone/flinty quality. The high acid keeps the fresh fruits vivacious from start to finish. While there is a reductive quality to this wine, it is by no means a fault, instead adding to the textural intrigue—as well as some of its own aromas and flavors—that contribute to the complexity of this wine. There is good intensity of aromas and flavors, though the finish does fall at a medium (+), thus the wine is of very good quality.
Suitability for bottle ageing: (3 marks) This wine is not suitable for bottle aging, as the nature of the fruits are not such that they would develop or mature with more time. Furthermore, that reductive quality of the wine is one that’s best enjoyed young, as these aroma, flavor, and even textural components may become even more prominent with time, creating imbalance, and in that case, would make for a faulted wine.
- white grape, mainly planted in Catalunya used for both early-drinking still wine as well as Cava
- most planted white grape in Rioja (70% of all planting of white grapes);
- late budding, late ripening;
- thick skinned
- best suited to warm, dry sites;
- fairly neutral grape variety
- simple if grown at high yields and fermented in stainless; concentrated, complex, and ageable if yields reduced and matured in oak
- Located northeast of Castilla Y Leon and is bordered on its east by Navarra DO; runs along the River Ebro
- valley of the River Ebro, towards the east is fairly open and thus receives some Mediterranean influence
- River Ebro has multiple tributaries, providing vineyard sites with varying aspects and altitudes.
- Sierra de Canabria to the north protects Rioja from Atlantic weather; to the south, the Sierra de la Demanda shelters the vineyards from the warmer weather of Central Spain
- Rioja is divided into three zones: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Oriental (Do you remember the defining features of each region?)
- Tempranillo is the most planted grape variety
- ability to produce larger yields means that many Garnacha Vines have been replaced with Tempranillo in Rioja Orientale; HOWEVER quality-minded Rioja Orientale producers have begun to replant Garnacha (Do you remember why?)
Rioja White Winemaking
- Inexpensive white Rioja made in simple, unoaked style with protective winemaking techniques for early consumption;
- varieties like Verdejo, Tempranillo Blanco and Sauvignon Blanc can be blended with Viura to provide more flavor intensity and acidity;
- Higher quality white Rioja made in oaked style
Wine: Bodegas Muriel Blanco 2019
Appearance: pale lemon
Nose: medium—lemon, vanilla, blossom, white peach, nectarine, pear, grass, hint toast/biscuit
Palate: dry, medium (+) acidity, medium (+) body, medium alcohol, medium (+) intensity of flavors—lemon, pear, vanilla, hint of cream, hint of toast/bread, just ripe white peach and nectarine, green melon
Assessment of quality: (6 marks) This is a good wine. It has a nice, round mouthfeel, and a fairly voluptuous and smooth body. While the aromas and flavors are fairly subtle, there’s a good balance between the citrus and stone fruits, which in itself adds a bit of complexity. Further, there are notes of lees aging and possible time in barrel, as indicated by the toast and vanilla notes—while these are subtle as well, they also come forward in the form of the texture of the wine. They also help uplift and carry the subtlety of the primary aromatics/flavors. I also get just a hint of cream, as if there may be a portion of ML used, but this could again be from the lees aging, which sometimes comes across this way as well (yogurt, bread dough). While the aromas were only medium, the palate did come around to a medium (+), the intensity of which carried through to the finish, which was also medium (+)—assisted by the persistent acidity (also a medium (+) level.)
While I teetered on the edge of very good and good, I am concluding that this wine is of very good quality because the balance of primary and secondary characteristics are such that they create a well-rounded wine both in body and flavor. And because the intensity came through on the palate and carried through to the finish, I do believe that that intensity pushes the wine from good to very good. There is some complexity in the winemaking (lees, barrel, as noted) that helps create that intensity and, as stated, helps to elevate the primary characteristics. Though, the wine did fall short of long, thus cannot be rated as outstanding.
Suitability for bottle ageing: (3 marks) Because of the lack of intensity of aromas, despite the fact they did come forward a bit more on the palate, I do not think that this wine is suitable for extended aging. Further, the nature of the fruits are such that I do not think they will develop in any significant way over time. This wine is soft, delicate, in nature, and I fear that these subtle nuances will dissipate with time.
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