Both my wine choices this month come from Spain, the first from the Rias Baixas, a viticultural area in northwestern Galicia where ocean breezes and a relatively cool climate dictate the style of the wines – and in my glass is northern Spain’s star player – the low-yielding white Albariño grape.
This high quality centuries old variety is grown with particular success in this cooler demarcated area of northwestern Spain literally within sight and smell of the Atlantic where it was the very first quality white wine grape in Spain thought important enough to be labeled by its varietal name. The grape’s origins, however, are said to be ‘across the border’ in the Minho region of northwestern Portugal where it is known as Alvarinho.
Although of some antiquity, the highly regarded Albariño adapts well to modern winemaking, and beyond its homeland is grown nowadays in a number of other countries where local climatic conditions and different soil types raise subtly different flavour profiles. You’ll find it as far afield as the USA, Canada and Australia, grown with notable success.
Albariño is certainly a versatile wine grape, adapting well to oak treatment on occasion , so broad-brush descriptions of the taste of this wine might simply read as anything from ‘crisp and delicate’, or ‘no awkward corners’ to ‘peachy-spicy, almost Viognier-like, with good ageing potential’, depending on where and how it is vinified.
So here I am, looking at the relatively youthful Martín Códax Albariño 2013 from vineyards around the cool estuaries of the Rias Baixas denominacion where this grape has proved so popular – and marketable – inasmuch as there are literally thousands of small producers working with it. (The Martin Códax bodega itself is in fact a co-operative enterprise with over two hundred and eighty members.)
The youthful example I am tasting has gentle floral notes on the nose and is clean, crisp and vibrant within, with light appley fruit, a good balanced
structure and an almost creamy finish with, in this case, no obvious signs of oak treatment. Unsurprisingly it is an ideal partner for fish of all kinds, having grown up almost within sight and smell of the sea. Try it, for instance, with grilled sea-bass spiked with fennel butter. Magic!
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Spain (Rias Baixas)
NAME OF WINE: Albariño 2013
PRODUCER: Bodegas Martín Códax
STYLE: Crisp dry floral white
RETAILER: Majestic Wine Warehouse
PRICE: £ 12.99 (currently 25% discount for multiples)
My second Spanish choice finds me a little further south in the ancient kingdom of Navarre. … the reason? I have lighted on a recent addition from there to the wine shelves at Waitrose. This time it is a blend of two grape varieties, Graciano and Garnacha, the first of which is arguably less well known than the second. Garnacha, though, is a grape that lovers of southern Rhône red wines will find familiar – aka Grenache. A Spanish winemaker once told me, half-jokingly, that the less fashionable Graciano is known familiarly thereabouts as the ‘no thank you’ grape – “Gracia(s) No!” – but you should see the results when applied to the brilliantly crafted 100% Graciano wines from the Bodegas Contino in the Rioja Alavesa….there’s much to be thankful for there!
So to my red choice : the label proclaims ‘el Patito Feo’ Graciano/Garnacha 2013. Can the wine really be true to its Spanish name as ‘the ugly ducking’? Not at all in this case, except that the excellent Navarre region of Spain from whiit comes has long felt itself something of the kind when compared to its winemaking neighbour, Rioja, next door.
This particular ‘duckling’ is a wine with classified denomination which would be perfectly at home in any tapas bar in Spain or elsewhere as accompaniment either to cold meats: salcicción etc. or to dishes of pork or (especially) beef…. Great with really juicy beefburgers, I suspect!
The colour is a limpid clear ruby – very attractive on the eye when swirled in the glass – there’s a broad-spectrum red fruits perfume on the nose, but no indication of any wood treatment – so I anticipate the wine will act as ‘servant’ rather than ‘master’. Yes, a youthful taste profile confirms this too – plenty of blueberry fruitiness and freshness – the tannins are gently perceptible, holding the picture in the frame, so to speak, and the wine’s soft suppleness and completeness on the palate hints that it is ideal for shorter-term drinking, particularly with the prospect of food on the table. In all, I find this a very good value wine without any great pretentions or complexity. Here in the UK we are steadily losing our warmer days, but once they return I can even envisage this wine faring well drunk at cellar temperature or even slightly chilled in the manner of the lighter styles of Beaujolais . Will el Patito Feo develop over time into a magnificent ‘swan’? Perhaps not – so grab it for the simple enjoyment and value it represents …. It is what it is, and very nice too, and that’s fine by me!
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Spain (Navarra DO)
NAME OF WINE: ‘el Patito Feo’ Graciano/Garnacha 2013
PRODUCER: Bodegas M&Z, Azagra
STYLE: Youthful fruity dry red
ALCOHOL: 13% abv
RETAILER: Waitrose Ltd
PRICE: £ 7.99