White Gems from NW Spain

White Gems from NW Spain
Samaniego, an old village in Rioja
taken thorugh the glass of the Baigorri winery
Vina Tondonia Blanco 1996 Reserva, Rioja Alta, 12.5%

When I first noticed this 100 per cent Viura, with a rich honey colour, on the shelf in Tondonia in Haro, I thought “this has to be a dessert wine”. I said as much but was quickly corrected: “All these whites are dry,” said the lady in the bodega, who had learned her English in Dublin.

So we had a taste and yes it is dry. And so much more! There are gorgeous floral blossoms on the nose. On the palate, there is a soft explosion of beautiful exotic flavours but, while rich, the aged wine is well crafted and well balanced, all leading to a very pleasing, lingering dry finish. Indeed, there are constant reminders of sherry. This is surely something different and very highly recommended.

I had accidentally come to the right place for old whites! “To talk in our bodega of white wines being exclusively young and uncomplicated, would be asking for trouble. We have never been averse to ageing white wines in oak for as long as reds, and the result is much more surprising than might be expected.”

“ When this type of wine has spent a long time in contact with oak, the oaky tastes and aromas are overly noticeable and even unbalanced. Nevertheless, when left for a few more years in bottles, the rough edges of oak become sufficiently polished and balanced to create a seductive bouquet of spice, bitter almonds, vanilla and walnut, trademarks of the majestic and opulent Viña Tondonia whites.”

Tondonia or, to give it its full title, Bodegas Lopez de Heredia/Tondonia, is run by two sisters who proudly protect the reputation and practices (sometimes they use material from a previous year to “correct” an unsatisfactory vintage) of this long standing family firm.

Whatever they do, they do it well. Just to finish with a quote from The Finest Wines of Rioja and Northwest Spain: “..the reason Tondonia deserves a position of prominence on the Rioja podium is the sheer quality and seductiveness of its wines, across virtually the entire portfolio”.

2011 Bodegas Rafael Palacios Valdeorras As Sortes Val do Bibei, 13.5%, Ballymaloe Wines at BT.

This was the star of the wines featured at the Jancis Robinson appearance in this summer’s Ballymaloe Literary Festival. And indeed Jancis herself is a big fan: “This is clearly the most wonderful harvest of a great wine. Great length and balance, although still very young. ..... A lovely wine with elegance to be deployed for many years.” Alas, my bottle didn’t last too long!

Jancis is not the only one to approve. The authors of The Finest Wines of Rioja and Northwest Spain (worth getting your hands on a copy) are also major fans of this Godello and the results that Palacios has achieved.”This is one of the finest whites, not only in Valdeorras or Galicia, but in the whole of Spain.”

High praise indeed, so there is hardly much need of my tuppence worth which just confirms that it is a very good wine indeed and well worth a trek into Brown Thomas in Patrick Street.

Palacios, just like Thursday’s Ballymaloe visitor Telmo Rodriguez, seeks out what look like poor hillside terroirs from which he extracts gems like this one. Indeed, the name As Sortes has to do with small plots, the result of inheritance being drawn by lot, often out of a hat, and called sorte in Galician.

Martin Codax Albariño 2011, Rias Baixas, 12.5%, €15.85 Karwig Wines

Martin Codax was a famous troubadour in Galicia in the 13th century. When 270 wine makers of the region banded together in 1986, they took the name as a symbol of the region and of its culture. Thanks to the local winemakers and in particular to the local grape Albariño, Martin is now the best travelled of all Galician troubadours.

Hope this Albariño keeps travelling in this direction. Albariño is the main grape of the appellation and now one of the best known of Galicia. Its bunches and berries are small, allowing for an early ripening. It is a sweet and lingering grape, with high levels of sugar and acidity which give the wines an amazing freshness. Traditionally cultivated in “emparrado”, it is one of the main symbols of Galicia.

This 2011 is bright and clean, full of flavours and complex aromas, a little tingling on the palate and a good dry finish, a very good example of the Albariño, pretty much an unknown grape until that coming together in 1986 when it began to emerge as a varietal, both locally and internationally.