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The Albariño of Rías Baixas

As summer approaches, our minds dream up our next vacations; they take us to the café-lined streets of Paris, the sunny beaches of Bali, the snowy mountains of Mendoza…

For those of us who can’t exactly hop on a flight to our dream destination next week, certain wines – and their ability to reflect a distinct sense of place – can be the next best thing.  One example is Albariño from Rías Baixas, a white wine that almost tastes like sitting at the beach along Spain’s cool, misty northwest coast.

Rías Baixas is unlike anywhere else in Spain. The small coastal D.O. sits in the broader region of Galicia, also known as “Green Spain” due to its cool maritime climate and abundance of rain – a kind of oasis in a country known for its hot, dry summers.

This climate is a perfect match for Albariño, a thick-skinned grape variety native to the region. While there is plenty of rain in Rías Baixas, there is also ample sunlight, which allows Albariño to ripen and ultimately express notes of white peach, apricot, melon and honeysuckle. Still, the region’s cooling coastal influences produce wines that are light and elegant, chock-full of mouth-watering acidity. The wines often show a slight salinity, mirroring the cool, salty air in which their grapes thrive.

It is no surprise that Rías Baixas wines have burst onto the global wine stage, adored by trendy sommeliers and industry influencers. Comparable to some of the most renowned white wines in the world, Albariño from Rías Baixas offers exceptional value – you can get all the crisp acidity and minerality of a Chablis or a Sancerre for a fraction of the cost. The wine’s fresh style also makes it an ideal pairing with a wide range of foods, but it really shines with its region’s staple cuisine: seafood.

So, what are you waiting for? Pour a glass, grill some oysters, and take a mini-vacation at your dinner table.

Tempranillo – The Ultimate Grilling Wine

Located in the heart of Spain, Ribera del Duero is Tempranillo country. Thanks to a heady mix of cool nights and sizzling hot days, it’s the perfect climate for bringing out the best in the region’s bold style of Tempranillo.

Ribera del Duero – The Grape

Hands-down the Ribera del Duero’s shining star is the Tempranillo grape, known locally as Tinto Fino. The region’s rugged climate forces Tempranillo to ripen with thicker skins, more pigmentation and higher levels of acidity, which all translates to high-powered, meat-loving tannins, vibrant color pigments and incredible aromatic profiles in the glass. The wines of Ribera del Duero show an alluring mix of supple intensity and extreme food-pairing versatility.

Ribera del Duero – A Griller’s Delight!

When it comes to the best wines for grilled grub, red wines typically top the list. Wines that can handle smoked sausage, grilled steaks, poultry, pork and a kabob of seasonal veggies and assorted meat should carry their own balance of fruit, acidity and structure. Tempranillo brings all three key components to the grill and generously offers up exceptional food pairing partnerships.

  • Grilled Salmon: Tempranillo can also show its versatility in partnering up with the likes of grilled salmon, where the wine’s innate fruit character shows up bright as a backdrop against the variety of seasonings and marinades that often wrap themselves around a summery salmon filet. Serving tip: serve cool at around 55-60 degrees especially for lighter fare like salmon
  • Grilled Chicken: Whether slathered in barbecue sauce or simply seasoned with fresh herbs and a squeeze of lemon, grilled chicken is an easy pairing partner for Tempranillo’s earthy character and fruit forward (often black cherry and strawberry) nature.
  • Grilled Pork: From tenderloin to pork chops, Tempranillo is a master pairing partner with all things pork. Maybe it’s the traditional pairing roots of Jamón ibérico or maybe it’s that Ribera del Duero’s higher acidity cuts through the dry spice rubs and always handy barbecue sauces with familiar ease, either way Tempranillo is a no-brainer for pork themes whether grilled, slow cooked or cured.
  • Steak, Burgers and Brats: Ribera del Duero’s full-throttle tannins can make it a steak lover’s dream. The wine’s tannin astringency is easily tamed by the steaks fatty components and the flavors of both are deliciously elevated. Tempranillo also carries its own smoky character, thanks to oak’s happy influence, which gives it an edge to serving with a wide range of smoked, grilled and cured meats.
  • Veggies? Yes! Don’t let the “red wine with meat” myth steer you away from the grilling adventure of salt and pepper veggie kabobs. Tempranillo is one of the most versatile reds around. Sometimes Tempranillo comes across like a spicy Pinot Noir. The wine’s herbal, earth-driven character can make it an unforgettable partner for the concentrated, sweet flavors of lightly charred veggies.
  • Solo: We aren’t the only ones that like to sip a glass while turning steaks on the barbie. A glass of Tempranillo while pulling grill patrol is the perfect way to get the party started.

Ribera del Duero’s Tempranillo promises loads of blackberry, black cherry and blueberry fruit in tandem with an earthy mineral-driven, tobacco-induced flavor profile. Full throttle fruit and integrated structure, along with Tempranillo’s sassy style and versatile pairing nature make it a top pick wine for serving with a wide variety of grilled fare this summer.

Want to give Tempranillo a go with the grill? Check these out:

 

 

Great European Garnacha/Grenache for Toasting #GarnachaDay 2017

Garnacha, one of Spain’s signature red wine grape varieties, is known and loved as “Grenache” in France, where it enjoys exceptional plantings in the warm Mediterranean climate of Roussillon. While staking claims on being one of the oldest and widest planted red wine grapes in the world, with its origins firmly planted in the varied terroirs of Spain and France, the EU boasts over 97% of the grape’s plantings on an international level.

Garnacha/Grenache – The Grape: Early to bud, often last to harvest, this hardy, thin-skinned red grape is thought to have originated in the landlocked region of Aragon in northeastern Spain. Because Garnacha/Grenache acclimates quickly to the varying demands of crazy continental climates as well as the warm weather patterns of the Mediterranean like a champ, it is a go-to grape for all sorts of winemaking missions. From world class rosés to concentrated collectibles and fortified favorites, and routinely bottled as a key contributor in synergistic blends or flying solo as a single variety, Garnacha/Grenache brings plenty of vinous charm and outright versatility to the winemaker’s cellar. After all, what other single grape variety can lay creative claim to redwhite, and rosé, dry, off-dry, and sweet, fortified along with sparkling wine renditions?

Garnacha/Grenache Flavor Profiles: In general, Spain and Southern France’s warm, sunbaked growing season gives rise to well-ripened Garnacha/Grenache grape clusters that may carry considerable sugar, which converts to elevated alcohol levels in the bottle. Ranging from medium to full-bodied, often hauling higher alcohol levels (15% is not uncommon), with lower levels of innate acidity, and sporting thinner skins that give way to modest tannins all balanced by engaging aromatics, Garnacha/Grenache shines bright with delicious ripe red fruit character. Expect a berry medley to take center stage with raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and cherry dominating initial impressions. Peppery influences along with cinnamon and cloves, earth and herbs, chocolate and coffee, savory spice and smoky notes may all debut in the bottle. Tapping into old vines that produce lower yields, allows many Garnacha/Grenache vineyard managers to deliver assertive wines with remarkable flavor intensity that showcase a rich, full-bodied, concentrated palate profile. Just to keep things interesting, Garnacha/Grenache may also be crafted as delicious white wine, ranging from fresh and mineral-driven to rich, round and full-bodied, dubbed appropriately as “Garnacha Blanca” or “Grenache Blanc.”

Pairing Picks for Garnacha/Grenache: With its less intense acidity and tamer tannin levels offset by ripe fruit forward flavors, European-style Garnacha/Grenache is a versatile, food-friendly partner for all sorts of delicious fare. A natural for grilled meat, smoked baby back ribs, a mix of regional barbecue, burgers, brats and brisket, chorizo and shrimp paella, seasonal gazpacho, Serrano ham and Manchego, slow roasted lamb, chicken stuffed with chorizo, lentils, the Paleo favorite of bacon-wrapped dates, spicy tacos and burritos, hearty stews, and meat lover’s pizza, Garnacha/Grenache promises and delivers some serious pairing partnerships.

Regional Garnacha/Grenache in Spain and Roussillon:
Today, Garnacha/Grenache finds firm footing throughout Spain and the Roussillon region of France. In Spain, the most passionate producers and classic wines can be found from these five DO regions: Campo de Borja, Terra Alta, Somontano, Cariñena and Calatayud.  Campo de Borja, the self-proclaimed “Empire of Garnacha,” was the first to embrace and develop the concept of modern varietal Garnacha wines. Its picturesque wine route is a haven for wine country tourists. Terra Alta, the white Garnacha specialist, delivers mineral-driven wines that highlight the grape’s versatility. Somontano approaches the grape with a New World spin, crafting luxury wines built to age. Cariñena  is an up and coming region that combines altitude, wind, significant diurnal temperature swings with old vine concentration, but let’s face it Cariñena is not quite a household name (yet!) for Spanish wine growing regions, which means that the price to quality ratios are still stellar. Calatayud often delivers its Garnacha in a versatile light. From intense, hot pink rosés to full throttle, full-bodied high-octane reds.  Grenache is the enterprising go-getter of Roussillon, backed by 28 centuries of vineyard prowess and a coveted Mediterranean climate, this French wine growing region is bringing laser-like focus to biodynamic and organic wine offerings. From the Spanish border along the coast, the Roussillon region caters to old Grenache vines that produce both dry and fortified wines from the grape.

Classified as PDOs (Protected Designation of Origin) by the European Union, wines from all of these regions are upheld to strict standards to ensure the highest level of quality.

8 Popular Garnacha/Grenache Bottles to Try (all under $20) – Delve into the delicious array of European style Garnacha or Grenache from a variety of regions and styles at stellar values with prices ranging from $10-20.

 

The Albariños of Rias Baixas

Many regions throughout the world are known for a particular specialty—gastronomic or otherwise—but some more than others have the ability to conjure up vivid sensory memories. One such region is northwestern Spain’s Rías Baixas. To the uninitiated, this may just look like a confusingly-spelled set of words. But to those who have visited or tasted the wines and cuisine of this region, the phrase “Rías Baixas” is enough to make the mouth water, evoking the sensation of salinity in many different forms: a refreshing glass of white wine, a briny seafood meal, or the crisp, fresh air of a picturesque oceanside vista.

The wines of Rías Baixas owe much of their personality to the geography and terroir of the lush, verdant region. Situated along the Atlantic Coast, the relatively modern DO (established in the 1980s) is unique within Spain for its focus on white grapes, which thrive in this relatively cool, damp corner of the country. The name “Rías Baixas” (pronounced “re-ass by-shuss”) comes from Galician—”rías” is the word for the sharp estuaries that cut in to the “baixas,” or the lower-altitude region of southern Galicia. These narrow, finger-like bodies of water that stretch inland from the Atlantic Ocean contain a mix of fresh and salt water, making them an ideal home to an incredibly diverse array of delicious maritime creatures that make up the cuisine of the region. Hard granite soils combined with mineral-rich alluvial top soils provide optimal growing conditions for top quality white wine production.

The other key component of this region is its star grape variety: Albariño. While other varieties are permitted, Albariño makes up the vast majority of plantings, and with good reason. It has the ability to produce distinctive wines that maintain their unique varietal character in a wide range of styles, owing both to the diversity of the five different sub-zones and to winemaking decisions such as maceration length,  the use of wild yeast, barrel fermentation and aging, malolactic fermentation, and lees contact.

Texturally, Albariño typically falls somewhere between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay, while flavor-wise, floral perfume, zesty citrus, stone fruit, and minerality are ubiquitous. In the warmer sub-regions of Rías Baixas, ripe melon and peach flavors dominate, while bottlings from cooler climes are often marked by lean acidity as well as grapefruit and lemon notes. An undercurrent of salinity runs through most examples, making them an unparalleled pairing with the region’s plentiful seafood offerings. The Albariño grape is so integral to the style of the wine produced in Rías Baixas that the name of the variety is printed on every bottle—a practice rarely seen elsewhere in Spain (or most of Europe, for that matter).

Thanks to the adaptability of Albariño and its friendly, near-universal appeal, the Rías Baixas DO has something to offer just about every white wine drinker. These wines can be enjoyed year-round, but are especially delightful during the spring and summer, when warm, sunny weather calls for a crisp, refreshing beverage. They sing when paired with any kind of marine life—particularly oysters or scallops—but are equally fantastic on their own. If you can’t make it to Spain for a vacation this year, a bottle of Rías Baixas Albariño just might be the next best thing.

Some of our favorites include:

Granbazan Etiqueta Ambar Albariño 2015
Bright yellow stone fruits come to the forefront here in this complex example, with notes of marzipan, rose, spice, and citrus pith. The palate is round and fleshy, but vibrant acidity keeps it light and freshing.

Condes de Albarei Albariño 2015
This is all about the floral side of Albariño, with a lovely perfume and high flavor intensity on the palate. The luscious texture brings to mind peaches and cream.

Martin Codax Albariño 2015
A great entry-level option—the price is right, and the fruit is ripe and mouthfilling. The flavor profile is simple and straightforward, with plenty of fresh apple and pineapple as well as some nutty character.

Valminor Rias Baixas Albariño 2014
Stone fruit and grapefruit shine in this flavorful bottling, with hints of dried herbs and spice on the long finish. Searing acidity means that this one may not be for beginners, but makes it an excellent complement to grilled fish, lobster, or crab.

Pazo de San Mauro Albariño 2015
This is a big Albariño, with a rich creamy texture and notes of baking spice and marzipan alongside yellow peach and nectarine.  If you’re looking to make the transition from red to white wine for summer, this would be a good place to start!

Experiencing Rioja

14_04_16 1130 Rioja at The Wine Bar_1600_Blog

Let’s take a trip to Rioja. The three hour drive from Madrid to Haro, the westernmost city in the district, is well worth the trip. This area is a natural for fine dining: known for lettuces, peppers, onions, artichokes, asparagus, beans, peas, goat, beef and sausage making. Then there is the wine.

The magnificent and internationally acclaimed Rioja longs to be poured into a glass. Rioja is available in white (Blanco), rosé (Rosado) and of course red (Tinto). The white, made from Viura, and rosé, crafted from Garnacha, are fine wines, but I choose to spend most of my money on the Crianza.

Why is Rioja so cool? The wine is incredibly versatile and food-friendly. Plentiful in the marketplace, Rioja is ready to be paired with any cuisine, from classic American fried chicken to Sichuan chicken. Rioja has what it takes to make the experience memorable so feel free to experiment. The notion that “one must serve Spanish food with Rioja” is as old a tale as red wine with meat and white wine with fish. Go on and draw from the garden, search the pantry and grab the butcher’s or fish monger’s choice of the day before you crack open a bottle of Rioja.

My personal pick is the 2010 Cune Crianza. This wine is fresh, fruity and substantial. Some tannins for firmness on the palate, yet nice and rounded in the finish;  perfect for a buffet while relaxing in the backyard with family and friends. In the end, one does not have to visit Northern Spain to enjoy the Rioja experience.