By Rick Riozza

Sorry guys!—I know you’re no doubt jonesin’ to be comfortably reading about a warm and lovely—or a cool and lovely, California wine after having the last three columns here covering Spanish and Italian vino ad absurdum (really!?).

For after bottles and bottles of red Rioja wine, my passport has gone missing. And the weather in Spain has probably been as hot as in your neck of the palm trees. So the only right thing to do here is to figuratively delve and dive into a big vat of chilled white Spanish wine.  Olé!

We’ve covered the prized red Tempranillo of the La Rioja region which can well take a chill for summertime quaffing. But what’s really a sexy move not only in Spain but internationally is to enjoy a white Rioja. Yes!—be the first one on your block to ooze cool by serving the young and modern light-bodied, lively dry wine that’s been likened to a “pinot grigio with a brain” (not my words, so please, no hate mail—I’m very sensitive).


Anyway, white Rioja is refreshing, with zingy acidity, and yet still has a great deal of flavor that include notes of almonds, green apples, citrus, flowers, and tropical fruits. Produced from the white Viura grape of La Rioja with some blended amounts of Malvasia and Garnacha blanca (pronounced Gar-NOCK-ka in Spanish wine circles), also known as white Grenache. Look for the $12 Marqués de Cáceres, that offers depth and complexity along with pleasing floral and citrus flavors.

Another great white of Spain is of course Albariño [Ahl-bah-REEN-nyoh]. This wine comes from the cooler North Atlantic coast of Spain where we spend all night eating briny octopus and slithery garlic eels and washing it all down with fresh, crisp, light aromatic wine with notes of apricots, peaches, limes, melons & minerals. Martín Códax Albariño at $14 follows that very flavor profile: Tapas and seafood anyone?

Verdelho [vehr-DEH-loh] is a Spanish white you’re happy to know. Well considered as Spain’s finest grape that can produce first class wine with its popularity spreading to vineyards all over the world. The wine is fresh and full of delicate minerals notes, a flavor profile similar to Albariño but with a long and persistent finish. Look for a bottle at Total Wine & More.

Verdelho also grows as well in Portugal; and on the Madeira Islands, where it is made into the long-living Madeira wine. 25 years ago I bought a case of 1850 Verdelho Madeira: Fresh citrus notes cradled around coconut and maple—an amazing liquid tonic, it energized the body for a couple of days straight. I have one bottle left for that special occasion: Madeira, my dear?
Pretty much everyone knows about Spanish sherry, but no one seems to be drinking much of it. They say it can be an “acquired taste”; wine lovers come around sooner or later when they get hooked on the range of flavors and nuances that are so seductive. Serve it on ice for an opening apero; serve it chilled for a digestif after dinner.

Sherry comes in variant expressions depending on the grape. We’ll cover it adequately in the autumn season. The famed Dry Sack Sherry is full-bodied, lightly sweet, yet crisp, with flavors ranging from roasted nuts, apricots, raisins, figs, toffee, yeast & musk. For you in the know, it’s a unique blend of Palamino and Pedro Jimenez grapes aged in oak for 6 years in the traditional Solera method. One of the best wine buys at around $13 at Vons/Pavilions; my son Paolo and I can’t stop drinking it!

Cava is a sparkling wine made by the traditional method (that includes secondary fermentation in bottle) used to make Champagne, yet it’s lighter in weight and texture due to Chardonnay’s different Spanish terroir and the other Catalonian varietals utilized. It’s also sold for a fraction of the cost of French. Serve it very cold and you’ll feel great having spent only $10 for a good bottle, such as Freixenet Brut in the black bottle.

I just recently met Erik Ran from Aveníu Brands, a Codorniu Company. The company has made Codorníu Original Cava since the late 1800s and continues to make prestige cava. Let’s look for some great commentary from him in an up-coming article.

And a Spanish shout-out to Total Wine & More in Palm Desert for their frequently held fun wine seminars by wine-gal Mary along her assistants, Damaris and Monique. Recently, the group tasted and spoke on a variety of Spanish wines that are available at the store. Call 760.346.2029 and ask about the next wine region in the spotlight and to make reservations.

Napa Earthquake Observant: No need to cry over spilt wine when human lives were at risk. Thank God it hit the wineries at the better time slot of 3:20 am. Our prayers are for the entire wine valley sustaining injuries and loss.

Rick is your somm-about-town and your wine steward at Pavilions in Rancho Mirage. He continues to entertain & conduct at wine events & tastings.