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A First Course in Wine: From Grape to Glass. Copyright 2013; Race Point Publishers, NY. 224 pages. Forward by Mario Batali.

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Viva España! The White Wines of Spain

Spain is the third largest producing wine country by volume and has a culture rooted in the enjoyment of food and wine.  The climate and soil vary from region to region, with each specializing in different grapes.  As a result, Spain offers a wide variety of wine styles ranging from sparkling, white, red, and fortified.

Albariño Vineyards in Rias Biaxas, Galicia (SP)

Other than Sherry, Spain’s most important white wines come from the north.  Galicia is a lush area bordering Portugal in the northwest of Spain.  The land is a maze of rolling hills and forests divided by estuaries and rivers.  The principal white wine grape is Albariño.  It produces wines that are refreshing and sharp, with flavors of peaches, pears, and citrus.  Those who like invigorating, acidic whites should embrace these teeth-chattering wines.

Within Galicia are five smaller appellations:  Rías Baixas, Ribeiro, Valdeorras, Ribeira Sacra, and Monterrei.  Of these five, Rías Baixas is the most popular, and wines from this appellation are easiest to find.

Located east of Galicia and in the center of the country is Rioja, Spain’s most famous wine appellation.  In 1991 it became the first winemaking zone to receive the country’s highest denomination—Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa).  Although more famous for its red wines, Rioja produces very popular and excellently made whites.  The dominant grape for white wines is Viura, also known as Macabéo.  Other grapes used for blending with Viura include: Garnacha Blanca, Malvasía Riojano, Maturana Blanca, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Verdejo.

Further south in Castilla y León, white wines from Rueda are based on the Verdejo grape.  While historically a major part of Spanish wine, the grape fell out of favor with winemakers for some time due to a high propensity to oxidize—meaning the wines turned from crisp and refreshing to nutty and caramelized in a brief amount of time.  Since the 1970s, however, producers have refocused their attention on Verdejo.  Wineries have invested in modern technology and are more diligent in the vineyard.  Around the same time, Sauvignon Blanc was introduced to the area.  Now there is a full range of wines, some produced entirely from either one grape or the other and some produced by blending both grapes together.

Next time you’re looking for a new style of white wine, give the Spanish aisle a try and see what you find.

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