Thursday, March 14, 2024

White Wines of Northern Spain

                              The Viura grape, by law, must be at least 51% of a white Rioja blend

White grapes in Spain’s home of the world famous red Tempranillo grape?  That seems like an oxymoron to those who enjoy the Rioja or the Ribera del Duero’s world-class reds.  But, wait!   There is "white" life beyond "red" for wine lovers.   Spain’s north produces some wonderful white wines and you don’t have to travel to Spain necessarily to have them.  With summer approaching these sublime whites can enchant even the most discerning of wine connoisseurs.

                            Rioja Blanco is a rarity in the red Tempranillo-centric Rioja district

White Rioja (aka Rioja Blanco) is made from a blend of white grapes, the most important of which is Viura.   Rioja Blanco is rare, accounting for only a mere 10% of the Rioja’s entire wine production.   Often aged in oak, these whites take on bold aromas of roasted pineapple.  On the palate, an older white Rioja can reveal layers of subtle lemon flavors, minerals and good acidity.  In its youth, these whites offer a lemon-lime profile, laced with honeydew melon and mineral nuances.

As mentioned above, white Rioja is a blend of Viura with an accompaniment of a few other obscure white varieties not known to consumers outside of Europe.  For example, ever hear of a white Tempanillo?  A cousin of the red Tempanillo grape, this white often appears in a Rioja Blanco.  Malvasia and white Garnacha are two other popular white grapes used for blending.  By law, however, Viura must account for the majority of any Rioja Blanco.

          Seafood paella, popular in Spain's south, is often accompanied by a Verdejo from the north

Verdejo is the other hallmark grape of northern Spain.  Go into any restaurant in Spain and ask for a glass of white wine.   Or, head to any wine shop in Spain and ask for white wine.  Chances are in both cases you’ll be offered a Verdejo from Spain’s Rueda wine region.  Verdejo accounts for 40% of all wines sold within the country of Spain.   Its popularity may be due to Spain’s warm climate, although Verdejo is a flavor bomb offering up tropical, stone fruit and citrus.   

If you’re looking for a new white for the summer, both White Rioja and Verdejo from Rueda are terrific wines to try.  Both are available in the US.


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