Although Spain’s red wines have led the way in the export market, its white wines are up and coming. Two regions in particular can claim to produce whites of international stature. These regions use different grapes but achieve roughly the same end: fresh, crisp and fruity white wines that are delightful with Spain’s bountiful seafood.
The Galicia region, on Spain’s northwest coast, boasts a cool, maritime climate and abundant rainfall, perfect for white wine grapes. Spaniards call this area “Green Spain” for the year-round lushness of the landscape; it could hardly be more different from the arid plains of La Mancha that constitute most foreigners’ vision of Spain.
The principal grape-growing area in Galicia is Rías Baixas (REE-uss BAY-shuss). Wines produced there qualify for the Rías Baixas DO (denomination of origin) as long as they meet certain guidelines. The dominant grape is the Albariño, and although the DO regulations permit other grapes in the blend, many of the top producers use only Albariño. The wines are fermented in temperate-controlled stainless steel tanks to maintain their crispness. A few producers age the wines in oak to flesh out the aroma and texture.
Head inland to the region of Old Castile and the Rueda DO to find Spain’s other great white wine—some would say its greatest. Made largely from the Verdejo grape, Rueda wines for centuries were vinified and fortified like sherry and allowed to oxidize intentionally. Not until the 1970s did winemakers begin to abandon that style in favor of techniques that would preserve the wine’s freshness. Today, although sherry-style Rueda still exists, most of the exported Rueda DO is reliably bright and vivacious, with no hint of oxidation. Rueda Superior must contain at least 85 percent Verdejo. Other white grapes, including Sauvignon Blanc, are allowed in Rueda DO but Verdejo accounts for 70 percent of the harvest.