At 1000 meters in altitude, farming at Castell d’Encus is an interesting proposition. Surrounded by mountains, the site is prone to snow, frost, and attacks by ravenous birds so extensive steps must be taken to protect the vines and fruit from the depredations of nature. As is the case with other regions where the vines struggle to thrive, the finished wines benefit from the suffering. Despite the youthfulness of the vineyards, the finished wines are remarkably complex and nuanced, and show the potential of moving back to places long abandoned. Because the climate is so extreme Raul has selected more northerly varieties to cultivate: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Riesling and Albarino. What indigenous varieties were planted up here so long ago, will never be known, it seems that he’s doing just fine with these – as recently remarked by Luis Guiterrez, “These are some of the most exciting new wines throughout Spain.”
White grapes are used in two famous types of Spanish wine, Sherry and Cava, but we will limit this discussion to still whites. Let’s begin with perhaps the best known and most highly regarded internationally, Albariño . Produced in the region of Rías Baixas, just above Portugal in northwestern Spain, Albariño typically sees no or little oak and is medium to medium-plus in body. Aroma and flavor notes often include citrus and peach, often with subtle floral notes and a suggestion of sea spray, giving the wine a zesty feel. Often bottled as a single varietal, Albariño is sometimes blended with other indigenous grapes like Loureira and Treixadura. Try one of these Spanish whites from Forjas del Salnes.
Let’s look at a few other Spanish white wines. Godello also hails from northwestern Spain and presents a profile of grapefruit, minerality and a slight smoky quality. Enjoy a bottle from Bodegas Avancia. The region of Rueda, northwest of Madrid, is home to Verdejo , which makes refreshing, un-oaked white wines whose herbal vibrancy recalls Sauvignon Blanc . Protos makes a tasty version. Up north in the Basque region, we find the wine called Txakoli (sometimes called Txakolina). Pronounced “sha-ko-LEE,” it’s made from a local grape called Hondurrabi Zuri and is light, fresh, citrusy, dry … and with razor sharp acidity that makes it a fantastic partner with local seafood and tapas. Ameztoi Gertariako is a good Spanish white wine producer to check out.
The Penedѐs region, best known for the oceans of delicious Cava it sends to the world, also produces still Spanish whites, sometimes from international varieties like Chardonnay , and often from the same grapes used for Cava. These include Parellada, Xarel-lo and Macabeo. Avaline produces a fine example of Penedes white. Finally, we visit the Rioja region. While it is historically and internationally famous for its reds, Rioja also produces fine Spanish white wines. These are usually based on Viura (the local name for Macabeo) and make good everyday sippers, although some aged versions can be stunningly complex. A good place to start is the white Rioja from Bodegas Muga.
As you can see, Spanish white wines offer a vast opportunity for exploration!