It is perhaps difficult to equate the popular image of sunny ‘holiday’ Spain with that of a country capable of producing coolly elegant, crisp, aromatic dry white wines – but if you know the country’s attractively rugged coastal province of Galicia which sits atop Portugal’s northern border, then you’ll remember that the picture is rather different. The humid Atlantic climate which promises around 50 inches of rain a year, offers a marked contrast to what obtains inland. Here one is far from the Spain of the ‘Costas del…’ whatever. The name of the official wine region itself, Rías Baixas, relates to Galicia’s low estuarine coastline, permitting sea breezes to penetrate inland. Wine production aside, due to its exposed position on the northwestern tip of Spain, Galicia has for many centuries been closely associated with fishing and shipping – Galician fishing boats venturing far out into the Atlantic. Mussels, razor clams, langoustines, oysters – whatever is caught – find ready buyers worldwide at the fish auctions in A Coruña or Vigo…. and the wine style thereabouts seems well in accord with Galicia’s world-acclaimed chief exports…..
The high quality grape variety renowned for the ‘cool’ qualities I mentioned in starting is the Albariño (syn. Alvarinho over the Portuguese border). Known and grown by the name ‘Rosal’ in Galicia itself, it is the principal player in Terras Gauda ‘O Rosal’, 2014 – the white choice for December.
The patrician Albariño was one of the first batch of Spain’s quality grapes officially allowed to be bottled in its own name, and it certainly deserves the rave notices it gets. A good swirl, and my tasting glass initially offers citric elements and an attractive light spice on the nose, opening out further to reveal an attractive wider bouquet of white flowers. The first sensation on the palate is of a bracing lemony acidity, but there is shapeliness and depth too, and the light spicing I picked up on the nose is echoed on the palate, persisting all the way to the finish.
Delicious served chilled as an aperitif, or with goat’s cheese, you’ll already have guessed that Albariño is wonderful alongside shellfish – some grilled gamberones perhaps, – or why not partner it with the simple Galician recipe I offer below:
Caldeirada con ajada – classic Galician fish stew with garlic sauce.
1 kg. potatoes, thickly sliced1 Spanish onion, coarsely chopped
1 kg. assorted white fish fillets – turbot (very much a local speciality), hake, monkfish, sea bass etc.
Ajada (Garlic sauce)
6 tblsps olive oil
8 cloves of garlic, peeled
½ tsp sweet paprika
pinch of hot paprika (to taste)
Bring the sliced potatoes, onion and bayleaf to the boil for 20 minutes with 1.5 litres of water.
Cut the fish into bite-sized pieces and place on top of the cooked potato and onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook covered for 10 minutes.
Drain, reserving 1 cup / 250ml of the cooking liquid for the ajada. Discard the bayleaf.
Meanwhile, for the ajada, pour the olive oil into a thick-bottomed saucepan and let the peeled garlic cloves take a little colour over moderate heat. Once browned, remove them from the oil and discard. Now add a ladle of the reserved cooking liquid, the sweet paprika and the hot paprika (to taste) and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
Pour the resulting sauce over the fish stew and serve immediately.
Country of Origin: Spain (Galicia)
Name of Wine: Terras Gauda ‘O Rosal’ 2014 D.O. Rias Baixas
Style: Crisp aromatic white
Producer: Bodegas Terras Gauda
Alcohol: 12% Vol.
Retailer: The Good Wine Shop
Price: £18.50 (£17.00 web)
It is hard to imagine another quality grape variety worldwide that has so many ‘aliases’, so will the real Sangiovese please stand up? It certainly seems to do here as a delicious ‘red’ choice for December. I have always loved the wines from this warmer part of Italy and ‘Bellamarsilia’ Morellino di Scansano from southwest Tuscany’s coastal strip, the Maremma, is a newly-discovered favourite.
Widely variable in its nature, habit and style, the classic grape variety Sangiovese, regarded by wine cognoscenti as Tuscany’s mainstay red grape, has the reputation as being a bit of a chameleon. The origins of Sangiovese are obscure enough in the first place: some say Calabria, others say Tuscany itself….perhaps even elsewhere. More learned pages have been written and more opinions have been divided on the subject of its celebrated clonal diversity that it is hardly surprising that the identities of several entirely separate grapes have been confused with it. Sangiovese at its peak is celebrated in central Italy’s most serious and age-worthy wines, particularly from hilly Montalcino where it stars in ‘Vino Nobile di Montalcino’ and, possibly in its ultimate concentration and cellar-worthiness, under the name Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Equally, Sangiovese usually takes the lion’s share of the blend for the wines of Chianti and Chianti Classico . Off piste, around the community of Scansano in the former coastal ‘bad-lands’ of the Maremma in Tuscany’s wild and woolly west, Sangiovese is grown and sold as ‘Morellino’ – a name describing either the shade of brown of the wild horses thereabouts or that of the colour of dark Morello cherries. Take your pick.
To the south-west of Tuscany with the town of Grosseto as roughly your target, Bellamarsilia Morellino di Scansano comes from Poggio Argentaria, a two-centre wine estate with vineyards both in the hills and on flatter land at a sea-level, albeit a little inland from the coast. Bellamarsilia occupies the latter, with vines planted some thirty years ago.
The climate in this southern part of Tuscany is more Mediterrannean than Continental, as prevails further north and inland, and the composition of this wine is a blend of 85% Sangiovese and 15% Ciliegio. Although Sangiovese adapts brilliantly to oak-maturation, at Poggio Argentaria the musts are fermented and matured with native yeasts in stainless steel in temperature-controlled vats, and given the methods of farming here the results are certified as ‘organic’. This particular wine has already attracted several awards, particularly from the Gambero Rosso ‘slow food’ organisation – a ‘tre bicchieri’ accolade, no less.
I have always liked Morellino di Scansano wine. Direct, fresh and uncomplicated, partly because it is a wine that usually requires relatively little ageing, displaying both the true taste of Sangiovese and also a clear echo of its place of origin. (Maybe I’m just yearning for a bit of remembered Tuscan warmth in the heart of a British winter.) Recalling that the Italians make wine as essentially the servant of food rather than always for its own sake, the locals tend to partner this particular style alongside game, wild boar or hare, but having sampled it on your behalf I can say that the ‘cut’ of this fresh, fruity and particularly taste-friendly wine would go exceptionally well with roast turkey too. A hint, perhaps, as a possible choice of accompaniment for the Christmas dinner ahead? It’s a thought.
Country of Origin: Italy (Tuscan Maremma)
Name of Wine: Bellamarsilia Morellino di Scansano DOCG, 2013
Style: Un-oaked juicy mid-weight organic red
Producer: Poggio Argentaria
Alcohol: 14% Vol.
Retailer: The Good Wine Shop
Price : £13.50 (£12 web)