Spanish Whites for Hot Texas Summer

 

The first time I traveled to Galicia in northwest Spain, I was young, ignorant of most things and, by all remembered evidence, not nearly thirsty enough. There I was, traveling through vineyards producing what – four decades later – would emerge as America’s hottest white wines, and I didn’t even bother to try a glass. For that, I’d have to wait until the grapes called Albarino (alba-REEN-yo)-and Godello (go-DAY-yo) had come into their own. 

It was a different world back then, in the final days of military dictator Francisco Franco, but even then Galicia felt different from the rest of Spain. You’d catch a slow-moving, narrow gauge train from somewhere else – anywhere else, whether Madrid, Barcelona or down south in Sevilla or Cordoba – and come up through what is mostly hot, dry countryside into a world of Atlantic-borne rain. Which works out just fine, near the ocean, because you feel suddenly cold and start ordering Galicia’s single most famous dish every place you go – the stew known as caldo gallego. I made the trek northwest to visit the cathedral that had attracted millions of religious pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages and still does today, spotting the soaring twin spires of Santiago de Compostela rising above the deep green forests and fields. On my next trek to Galicia, I suspect my gaze will stick closer to the ground.

As American wine lovers, particularly those of us in Texas, have embraced spicier and spicier Latin and Asian cuisines, we’ve created a bit of a quandary. Chardonnay just doesn’t taste right anymore – especially that heavy oaky, buttery California style that, happily, most producers are moving away from. And Italian Pinot Grigio (a terrific white wine, done right) has evolved with the market toward tasting like cold water. Drier Rieslings, Viogniers and especially the scarily named Gewurtztraminer remain excellent choices, but even the driest Riesling can’t shake the image of being “too sweet.” All this has created an opening for the light, crisp yet subtlely floral notes of Galicia’s Albarino and Godello.

 Known across the border in Portugal as Alvarinho or sometimes Cainho Branco, Albarino was probably brought to the Iberian peninsula by Cluny monks in the twelfth century. Its name “Alba-Riño” means “the white from the Rhine,” and many have figured it to be a Riesling clone originating from the Alsace region of France. It’s also suggested sometimes that Albarino is a close relative of the French grape Petit Manseng.

Godello is the native white-wine grape of Valdeorras, one of five Galician Denominaciónes de Origen. (Rías Baixas, the home of Albariño, is another.) Yes, the Atlantic Ocean influences the climate, but Valdeorras is a full 100 miles inland. The rock-hard terrain is mountainous, inhospitable to growing almost anything except grapes – which, as we’ve been told again and again, need to suffer to make good wine. The harsh landscape gives Godello its distinctive character. With both with fresh lemon and wildflowers in its flavor mix, a great Godello combines the minerality of a fine Chablis with the acidic snap of a Sauvignon Blanc. 

Some great beginnings, according to Spanish wine buyer Collin Williams at Spec’s, include La Cana and Laxas for Albarino and Abad Dom Bueno and Gaba do Xil for Godello. These wines range in price from $11.99 to $15.99. They taste like the Old World’s gift to the New World expressed in white wine.

 

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