Thursday, February 27, 2014

Iberian Whites

By Liza B. Zimmerman


These high-acid whites just don’t get enough respect

The Portuguese wine game has long been ruled by the red varietals. They, at least, have the distinction of going into high-end Port blends. However many of the indigenous whites have a long-respected history and convey intense local flavors.

Perhaps the best known is Alvarinho, which generally makes the country’s most distinguished whites. The Trás-os-Montes region, in the far north of the country, is so close to Spain that you can drive across the bridge to shop, is home of some of the best. It is green, rainy and lush beyond belief. I wish I had spent more time there.

In the Douro there are more than a handful of fantastic producers making high-acid and food-friendly wines that will pair divinely with much of New York’s spice-laden cuisine. Quinta do Crasto has long been one of the best and most innovative producers, making both high-end, and entry-level, whites and reds. Their property and many others this gorgeous region are well worth a visit and are only a short flight or train ride—when it comes—outside of Lisbon. The region is also full of great dining destinations, such as DOC Restaurant, which has outdoor decks right on the Douro.

The Alentejo region, among others is also producing great regional wine. Let’s not forget the amazing Madeiras this country also producers that are so supple and caramel-infused dessert friendly.

While Spain’s historic white wine production has generally come from simple, local grapes such as Airén, which is the country’s most widely planted white grape varietal; it has been producing some divine and unique white whites for some time. Albariño, generally in the lead for distinguished whites, is grown on the cool, grassy slopes in the north of the country. It is pretty much a guaranteed go-to wine with any kind of seafood or paella. As someone who has lived in San Francisco for almost a decade I would also venture to say it pairs brilliantly with spicy ethnic food (such as Indian or Chinese: where there are delicate layers of spice).

Another classic Northern Spanish region is Rueda, which focuses on Verdejo, Viura, Sauvignon Blanc, all of which tend to be classically cool climate and high acidity. I will be moderating a seminar and panel on how these wines pair with non-Mediterranean foods in April in San Francisco, so if you will be out this way and are curious please let me know. This first one will focus on how these wines work with the spices in Southern Indian cuisines at Dosa and hopefully others will follow-up on their pairings with spicy Thai and Chinese dishes.

These whites have the lean and mean acidity to pair with a huge range of foods, particularly those that are spice- and seafood-focused. They might even have the courage to wake up your winter palate in New York and inspire you to take a bottle or two to a restaurant. Reach out to me if you would like some suggestions on great BYOB places in New York, as I specialized in bringing my own great bottles when I lived there for many years and still adore doing so when I am back home with my family. 

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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