When it comes to white wines that are under the radar, inexpensive, easy to drink, and food-friendly, albariño and torrontés are two that are at the top of my list.
They are each very different, but have a place on our table depending on our mood and the type of food we are eating. Albariño, from Spain, is a wine of great finesse and with a bright crispness. It goes well with lighter and more subtle foods, fish, chicken, mild cheeses, and lighter pastas in a white sauce or olive oil. Torrontés, from Argentina, is more exotic, with a lushness that is backed with a citrus finish. This wine is great with spicy dishes; Chinese and Thai food; grilled fish, pork, or chicken; and nuts and milder cheeses. They are generally in the $10 to $20 price range — which makes them (along with New Zealand sauvignon blancs and Oregon pinot gris) some of the best buys in flavorful and food friendly white wines.
Here are two new, delicious arrivals in both categories that I highly recommend.
Albariño is the name of a white grape grown in the Galicia region of northwest Spain. Its origins are a bit cloudy, but it has been grown in this area for more than 500 years. The grape is also grown across the river in Portugal, where it is known by a different name and is most often blended with other grape varieties. Up until recently, it was also used as a blending grape in Spain. However, after the D.O. (Denomination of Origin) was established for the area of Rías Baixas (located in the southern part of Galicia) in 1985, production switched to making the wine as a varietal (as in, made from 100 percent albariño grapes). It rapidly became an international favorite and plantings are now also found in California. (To read a review on a lovely albariño from Tehama County in California click here.)
2010 Vionta Albariño Limited Release Rías Baixas Spain
Light yellow in color, this wine has a lovely perfume with hints of melon, citrus, and peach with a faint floral mineral undertone. It has finesse and is balanced with gorgeous fruit hinting of melon and citrus with a faint minerality. This is delicious wine that rates very high on the drinkability scale. — Outstanding. $15 Best Buy Freixenet USA, Sonoma, Calif.
Torrontés is a white wine grape variety primarily grown in the northern part of Argentina. It seems to thrive at high altitudes and does well in cold, dry, wind-swept conditions. It is now believed that it is related to the muscat of Alexandria and the mission grape of California. The latter was brought to California by Spanish missionaries and widely planted near the missions, hence the name. For a very long time it was the only grape planted in California, but today very few plantings remain. The mission grape was also introduced to South America at about the same time. Interestingly, the torrontés grape was long thought to be related to the torrontés grape grown in the Galicia area of northwest Spain (the same area now noted for the production of albariño), but that theory has now been refuted by DNA evidence. Torrontés became the most widely planted white grape variety in Argentina in the early part of this century and this trend is continuing. It is now exported to many areas of the world. It is very aromatic and to me is reminiscent of a blend of muscat, viognier, and pinot gris. (To read an earlier article featuring Torrontés click here.)
2011 Crios Torrontés Mendoza Argentina
I loved the 2010 version of this wine and this 2011 is a great encore. As I said before, "Crios means offspring and refers both to my children and my label of wines that display loveable fruit flavors and excellent balance…And no oak — just a lot of motherly attention."
Light yellow in color, this torrontés has a stunning perfume of lychee nut, muscat grape, and lime. The wine is supple and rounded with a gorgeous grapefruit tinged finish. Redolent with a gorgeous floral complexity showing hints of lychee nut, grapefruit and lime, this is a gorgeous wine that is irresistible and delicious now. — Outstanding. $10.89 Best Buy Vine Connections, Sausalito, Calif.
Think of the warm weather of spring and summer that is just around the corner. Along with the soon-to-arrive 2011 rosés, think albariño and torrontés.
— John Tilson, The Underground Wineletter