So, Marlborough lovers, we did a tour of New Zealand in part one and then cast the Sauvignon Blanc net further in part two. Now we can begin to look at the broader horizon of other grapes in a similar(ish) style. This could run to 20,000 words so I will highlight the main wines that a savvy Savvy lover should try (see what I did there?) and ones which are fairly widely available.
Some of you might be perplexed at seeing Spanish whites mentioned as an alternative to Marlborough Sauvignon, especially given some of the oxidised muck that got produced there in the past. But Spain is probably the most exciting European country for wine at the moment, reinventing itself and applying modern viticultural and wine-making techniques to traditional grapes and areas.
Many of these grapes are indigenous to Spain, and whereas some such as Garnacha and Cariñena were adopted elsewhere in the southern Mediterranean, lots of them remain rooted in España.
So, to begin at the beginning; Rueda is a small principally white wine region between the rugged red regions of Toro and Ribero del Duero. For much of its history it was planted with Jerez’s Palomino Fino grape and a rustic sherry style was made there. A few dry whites were made here and there from the Verdejo grape, but this practice was substantially boosted by the Rioja house Marqués de Riscal and now this is the main output of the region.
I mention Rueda first as a Marlborough alternative for a couple of reasons: firstly, it can be made with Sauvignon Blanc, even as a single varietal (and is usually labelled thus). Secondly, even if made with no SB it can often show plenty of Sauvignon characteristics. Macebeo (aka Viura) is also permitted in the blend.
Which to try? Rueda is one of the most reliable wines around, but some stand out more than others. Telmo Rodroguez’s Basa was the first quality Rueda that turned my head and remains a firm favourite to this day. Marqués de Riscal produce both Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo based wines here, so try both to compare and contrast. A more recent discovery for me in both restaurants and wine merchants was Protos Verdejo – a fine example at a very reasonable price.
Some wines are more known by their appellation, but others (even in the Old World) are better known by their principal grape. Of course in Albariño’s case it could just be that the grape’s name is easier to pronounce for furriners than Rías Baixas, the main appellation in North West Spain where it is grown. For the record it’s pronounced something like ree-ash bye-shass.
And it’s still fairly trendy, which means it can be overpriced, but the good ones are worth it. And like Sauvignon Blanc, sometimes more complex examples are made with lees stirring and time in barrel. For the latter, try something like Pazo Señorans Selección de Añada, or for a more straightforward, younger, example try something by Brandal.
The homeland of this grape is also North West Spain, both in Valdeorras (in Galicia, above Portugal) and Bierzo (just slightly further east, into Castilla Y Leon). Again we have some pioneers to be thankful for.
Valdesil are the biggest vineyard owners and producers. They make four different quality levels, starting with the fresh and simple Montenovo from vines around the Valdeorras area, then the Valdesil Sobre Lias which is more concentrated and has creamy lees characteristics. Next up is Pezas da Portela which (as linguists may guess) is made from individually vinified selected plots of the slate-soiled Portela vineyard. Subtle oak tones add to the complexity. Finally, the Valdesil range topper is Pedrouzos which has their oldest vines (claimed to be three generations old).
Telmo Rodriguez turns up here again (what’s the opposite of a bad penny?) with his Gabo do Xil Godellos. This is and unoaked and refreshing example grown on granite and slate soils.
The King of Godello, if there were such a person, would probably be the quality fanatical Rafael Palacios. His entry level Bolo is made in stainless steel whereas the Louro de Bolo spends four months in tight grained Norman oak foudres – the size means there is little obvious oak flavour imparted to the wine, but subtle oxygenation makes for a smoother wine. Rafa’s top wine, reckoned by many to be the best white wine in Spain, is his As Sortes. Still 100% Godello, but with more concentration and a lick of oak, it will develop over several years.
This is my personal favourite Godello – it isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it!
What this space for more Marlborough Sauvignon alternatives!
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