Top 5 Spanish Whites
Spain is not only a prolific source of inexpensive reds., but also produces plenty of delightful and affordable whites, using grapes that few American wine drinkers are familiar with. Grapes like verdejo, viura, albariño, airén and macebeo produce white wines that strike a nice balance between the bracing intensity of New Zealand sauvignon blanc and the more subtle and restrained style of French white wines. And they are generally inexpensive, costing between $10 and $15 a bottle.
One of our favorites is a 50-50 blend of juice from the verdejo and viura grapes that has been getting solid reviews for three straight vintages, yet is still widely available for between $10 and $12 a bottle, as it was when we first tried it more than two years ago. The 2010 vintage of Fuente Milano Vergejo-Viura was named a “Best Buy” in the July 2011 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine, which scored it 87 points, calling it “juicy and pleasant, with melon, citrus and nice acidity.
Made from garnacha blanc – a white wine grape said to be a relative of the red grenache (garnacha in Spanish), famously used in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and some of our favorite Spanish reds – Colinas del Ebro is sourced from 100-year-old vines in a relatively obscure wine-making region called Terre Alta. The crisp, unoaked wine is nothing if not consistent; it’s scores from the influential Wine Advocate have been 87 points, 87, 87, 90, 87 and 88 points for the past five vintages through 2010.
Another remarkably consistent, yet typically a few dollars more expensive than others on the list, Burgans Albariño is a perennial “Best Buy” for the Wine Advocate, which has scored three of the past four vinatages, including 2010, 90 points(the “off” year was 97 points). The consistently high scores in Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar are almost spooky, ranging from 88 to 90 points in six straight vintages from 2003 to 2008. As the name suggests, it’s made from Spain’s albariño grape, known to produce exotically perfumed, floral and citrusy wines that are typically crisper than chardonnay and perfect for cutting through the humidity on steamy Washington evenings.
A blend of Spain's Airén and Macebeo grapes, Dominio de Eguren Protocolo Blanco has the crispness of a good sauvignon blanc but with more white fruit – some tasters detect a note of pear – than the heavy grapefruit and grass clippings that typify sauvignon blancs or ultra-light pinot grigio. It’s a great bargain at its typical price of about $8 a bottle, but goes on sale frequently for $6 or $7.
If Spain has a signature white wine grape, some would say it’s albariño, while others would argue for verdejo from the region of Rueda. The 2009 vintage of Shaya Verdejo Old Vines scored 91 points in Wine Advocate, 90 points from Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar and 88 points from Wine Spectator. That’s just a point shy of the 92, 89, 89 total the 2008 vintage earned, respectively. Bodegas Shaya is a relatively recent collaboration between the Gil family of Jumilla, Spain and importer Jorge Ordoñez (who brings us many of our Spanish favorites), so it doesn’t really have the track record of consistency generally needed to make our Top 5, but we’re giving señor Ordoñez the benefit of the doubt. It typically costs about $15 a bottle, and is worth the premium, but can be found on sale for as little $12 a bottle.