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The Noble Writ: Spanish Spring

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Dave Nelson is the author of the blog Beer, Wine and Whisky. He writes about wine for Gut Check every Tuesday.

While Spain doesn't have the staggering diversity of grapes that Italy does, it's still home to some fantastically distinctive white wines. Fewer of these are imported into the United States than their Italian counterparts, but this again works in favor of high quality -- people just aren't going to waste their time bringing in the plonk.

Today, we have samples of two of my favorite Spanish whites, albariño and Txakoli. Both come from the cool northwestern portion of the country, nestled on the Atlantic coast between Portugal and France, but they are very different in style.

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User "chicadelatele," Wikimedia Commons
Ría de Vigo, Spain
Albariño makes its home in the Rías Baixas -- the grand estuaries that are the Spanish equivalent to the fjords, though made by rivers, not glaciers. This area is relatively cool and wet, at least in comparison to the rest of Spain.

My ideal albariño is ripe, but not too much so. Some folks let the grapes get really ripe, and others even ferment and age in new oak, but this destroys albariño's charms for me. At its best, albariño is like biting into a not quite ripe peach: The stone fruit aromas are there, but acidity is still prevalent and keeps things zippy.

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Dave Nelson
This week, I selected the 2007 Burgáns Rías Baixas Albariño. It poured the palest gold. Intense nose of peach pits, limestone, and a touch of honey drizzled over some fresh flowers. Just gorgeous. It's medium full in the mouth with very good intensity of fruit and nice length. There is enough acidity to keep things moving, but it got a touch ponderous with food. Perhaps this vintage is best as a spring porch sipper.

Imported by Eric Soloman, this should be available quite a few places around town. I picked mine up at the Wine & Cheese Place for about $15. The 2008 vintage should be arriving soon, and fresher is better for both wines that I selected for this column.

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User "Martorell," Wikimedia Commons
The Basque region is highlighted.
And now for something completely different. Txakoli (I'd do it phonetically, but it's almost as indecipherable -- pretend the "x" is a "z" and do your best) comes from the Basque region, the fiercely independent area straddling Spain and France. Though only about 350 miles due west from the Rías Baixas, over-ripeness is not an issue that Txakoli producers need to fear. Instead, fully ripe Txacoli peaks at about 11.5% alcohol, and can go as low as 9.5%, even though it's fermented bone-dry.

There are actually three recognized regions of Txakoli production, the largest of which contains a minuscule 400 acres of vines -- less than one-third the size of Forest Park. The wine I selected comes from the Arbako Txakoli, a region that covers only 130 acres. The main white grape here is hondarribi zuri, whose name is enough to make you realize why the Basque went with Txakoli on the label. There are some other relatively obscure white grapes in the region that may be in the blend as well. In French, they are called petit mensang, gros mensang and folle blanche.

As an example, I selected the 2007 Xarmant Txakoli. The wine poured almost clear -- just the slightest hint of greenish yellow. The nose is slightly briny with lemon juice and a light floral note. As it warms, the citrus fills out a bit. It has a touch of retained carbonation from the fermentation, so there are a few fine bubbles. In the mouth, it's like liquid rocks -- stones, minerals and electric acidity. This is an oyster wine if there ever was one. Also purchased at the Wine & Cheese Place for about $15. I've purchased it at 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar in the past, and the 2008 should also be arriving soon.
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