With spring on our minds, there’s a glimmer of hope that the temporary existence near a salty sea is real, and not too far off in the distant future. And so we dream of Rías Baixas, the mystical, fjord-like land in far northwestern Spain, just above the Portuguese border.

With its rugged shoreline, juxtaposed with pristine forests, this coastal zone is so appealing on a number of levels. Notably, it’s home to some of the great white wines of western Europe. The Rías Baixas Denominación de Origen (DO) lies within the region of Galicia, centered around the province of Pontevedra. It is believed that its signature albariño grape was first introduced to the area in the 12th century by the Cistercian monks.

Deep, cold-water currents are the reason Galician seafood is so renowned, and albariño, the most important white grape cultivated here, is truly a harmonious match with the salinity and richness of North Atlantic seafood. The deep estuaries of the Rías Baixas are filled with an abundance of sea creatures and acres of oyster beds teeming with life! The soils here for viticulture are predominantly granitic and sandy.

The albariño grape has steadily been gaining traction with consumers thanks to its versatility at the table–and its downright delicious flavor profile. Albariño’s high natural acidity and saline qualities are a couple of the reasons it marries so well with the full gamut of seafood, as well as pork or chicken dishes.

Try either the 2020 Granbazan ‘Etiqueta Verde’ or the 2020 Carballal ‘Sete Cepas’ with crispy fish tacos to experience the zippier, more chiseled style of albariño. We’ve also been enjoying the 2020 Nanclares ‘Dandelion,’ a wonderful, biodynamic choice that highlights the herbal side of the grape. Think grilled mackerel smothered in salsa verde.

Then there’s Do Ferreiro. They farm a dizzying array of small plots of albariño, with both old and young vines, to create its 2019 Do Ferreiro Rías Baixas. This reference-point bottling has a bit more depth and plushness than the others, as well as more white fruit. This is likely a result of the high percentage of old vines that go into this cuvée. The grapes get a cold soak before indigenous yeasts start off the fermentation, and the juice then gets six months of lees aging. Try this with a richly flavored pork stew, grilled pork with fruit, or even a paella that might have a variety of seafoods as well as chorizo.

For an extraordinary albariño experience, grab a bottle of the elegant and complex 2018 Do Ferreiro ‘Dous Ferrados.’ Only two 500-liter barrels are produced of this hand-picked, cooler-climate cuvée. 

The landscape, culture, and natural bounties of Rías Baixas have a lot to offer those looking for an escape or a discovery off the beaten path. Its calming simplicity will surely fulfill many of our daydreams as we search for a less frenetic existence.

Sometimes, there’s just no convincing the people. Though sherry is a relatively recent discovery for me, I’ve been singing its praises for more than a decade–with little success. I hear all the familiar refrains: “My grandmother used to love her $6 sherry,” or “Who are you, Frasier Crane?” That’s fine–more for me.

 

A solera at Bodegas César Florido

Made primarily from the palomino grape, grown on a chalky, limestone-laden type of soil known as “albariza,” sherry is an incredibly versatile and nuanced type of wine. Its homeland is Jerez (hence the name sherry), located on the Atlantic coast in Spain’s southwestern Andalusia region. Sherry can be mellow and easygoing, sharp and bracing, and everything in between. Some are as friendly and relaxed as an old dog; some have enough power and intensity to send ol’ grandma into cardiac arrest.

Sherry is produced using what’s known as a solera system, in which barrels are stacked in tiers to allow for fractional, cross-vintage blending. When the older stuff at the bottom is removed for bottling (a process called the “saca”), it is replaced at the top by the latest vintage.

The lightest, driest, and tangiest sherries are fino and manzanilla, which spend their aging regimen under a layer of yeast known as “flor” (a process known as biological aging). Amontillado and palo cortado begin life as a fino or manzanilla, but are allowed to oxidize after the yeast dies or is killed off by fortification–a combination of biological and oxidative aging– imparting a nuttier, more caramel-like tone while still retaining tang and freshness. Oloroso sherries are fully oxidative (no yeast) and are rich with toffee and dried fruit flavors, yet still mostly dry. Finally, there are sweet sherries made with grapes such as Pedro Ximénez (PX) and moscatel.

The three poles of the Sherry Triangle are Sanlúcar de Barrameda to the north (home to manzanilla), Jerez de la Frontera to the east, and El Puerto de Santa Maria to the south. At Paul Marcus Wines, we are proud to feature sherry producers from throughout the region (and even a couple that are technically outside the triangle).

Up in Sanlúcar, the venerable Bodegas Hidalgo-La Gitana has been making sherry since the 18th century. Their budget-friendly, young Amontillado Napoleon is bright and dry, with subtle hazelnut notes and a long, clean finish. For a special occasion, try the Amontillado Napoleon VORS, which is pungent, mouth-filling, and caramelized, yet still surprisingly focused and floral for a wine aged well more than 30 years. We also have the Wellington Palo Cortado VOS, a sophisticated 20-year sherry that, despite its age, never lets you forget it started out as a manzanilla–it’s sharp, salty, creamy, and nutty all at once, and a reasonably priced entry point into the world of high-end sherry.

Bodegas Faustino González was founded 50 years ago, but its Cruz Vieja line is a newcomer on the sherry scene. The winery is located in the San Miguel neighborhood of Jerez de la Frontera, where the higher elevation invites the Atlantic breezes in from the west. They source their grapes from the historic Pago de Montealegre vineyard, and they own soleras that date back nearly 250 years.

All of the Cruz Vieja sherries are bottled “en rama” (unfiltered), including a delightfully complex, persistent, and mineral Fino En Rama, aged under flor for six years, and a lightly toasted, elegant, amber-hued Amontillado En Rama, which spends six years under flor plus another six aging oxidatively. Their Palo Cortado En Rama spends only the first of its 12 aging years under the veil, but still exemplifies their lighter touch and commitment to freshness. For a completely different experience, their Pedro Ximénez En Rama is raisiny and sweet as molasses, yet is also highlighted by a few spicy, savory notes. Pour this one over a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

Around since 1896, Bodegas Lustau remains one of the best-known and most-respected sherry producers in the world, offering a wide selection of bottlings. At PMW, we offer two from their Almacenista collection–sherries that come from small, independent producers. The Fino del Puerto González Obregón is a salty, citrusy, and edgy five-year fino from a bodega in El Puerto de Santa Maria, while the Oloroso Emperatriz Eugenia, from a solera in Jerez de la Frontera started by Emilio Lustau in 1921, is rich, woody, dark, and robust, ripe with dried fruit yet still mostly dry.

From El Maestro Sierra, which dates back to 1830, we offer a 15-year Oloroso, which balances its richness with a few higher-toned elements. We also have a few bottles left of some of El Maestro Sierra’s most prized releases: the 70-plus-year-old Palo Cortado and the Oloroso 1/14–wines of tremendous electricity and complexity. In addition, there are a couple of VORS (Very Old Rare Sherry, more or less) bottlings from Osborne, the Oloroso Sibarita and the Pedro Ximénez Venerable. Like the two high-end offerings from El Maestro Sierra, these offer unique, once-in-a-decade drinking experiences that will make you wonder how grape juice can be made to taste that way.

From outside the official Sherry Triangle, we have wines from Chipiona’s César Florido. Chipiona, located five miles west of Sanlúcar, is known for moscatel, a grape that produces sweet wines (though not to the level of PX) balanced with some acidity and gentle fruit and spice elements. Florido’s Moscatel Dorado is a great introduction, with its notes of orange peel and honey. Florido’s Fino Cruz del Mar is a three-year en rama fino that is quite dry, yeasty, and smoky–bright, but laid-back.

Bodegas Alvear can be found in Montilla, about two-and-a-half hours to the east of the Sherry Triangle. PX is king in Montilla-Moriles, and Alvear’s Oloroso Asunción is made with sugar-filled PX instead of palomino. Fermented into a welcoming off-dry style (19 percent alcohol, without any fortification), it combines sumptuous dried figs with a surprisingly lucid and lively finish.

Finally, PMW still has a few options from the Alexander Jules line. Alex Russan had been releasing his barrel-selected sherry since 2012, but recently moved on to other endeavors. Luckily, there are still a few bottles of his Amontillado Sin Prisa 1/42–all culled from a single barrel of a long-forgotten 42-barrel solera in Sanlúcar. Only 400 half-bottles were produced of this vigorous, dynamic, yet unexpectedly polished nectar.

With such an array of producers and styles, there’s a sherry that’s perfect for pretty much every part of the meal. As the old saying goes, “fino or manzanilla if it swims, amontillado if it flies, and oloroso if it runs.” Of course, it can be awfully rewarding as an aperitif or, especially, a digestif–a wine of reflection, if you will. Once you discover the wonders of sherry, trust me, you’ll be hooked.

Just don’t tell anyone else…

Tucked into the far northwest corner of Spain, abutting the Atlantic Ocean, Galicia produces some of the country’s most intriguing and memorable wines. Coastal Rias Baixas, where albariño is king, is perhaps the most prominent of the five DOs located in Galicia, but these days, it’s Ribeiro that’s turning heads in the world of wine.

Image from rimontgo.com

Like a lot of recently “rediscovered” winemaking regions, Ribeiro has an impressive historical pedigree that, over the centuries, has been threatened by the usual trials and tribulations–war, invasion, botanical blight, mass production, etc. But winemaking in Ribeiro dates back about 2,000 years, and has also experienced various periods of prosperity and admiration. Several talented winemakers are today attempting to recapture past glory, and wine connoisseurs are taking notice.

Ribeiro benefits from its specific location within Galicia: Roughly 50 km inland, Ribeiro’s vines are both influenced by and somewhat protected from the ocean climate. Therefore, the wines of Ribeiro tend to be a bit riper and fleshier while still boasting the freshness and acidity generated by the proximity to the Atlantic.

Almost 90 percent of Ribeiro’s wine production revolves around white grapes, most notably treixadura. Balanced and bright, treixadura exemplifies Ribeiro’s unique terroir–it’s vibrant and clean, but with ample fruit, a bit of texture, and keen aromatics.

Among the leading lights of Ribeiro is Luis Anxo Rodriguez Vazquez, who has been making wines in the region for more than 30 years. Included in his lineup are two treixadura-based cuvees, both available at Paul Marcus Wines. Viña de Martin Os Pasás blends treixadura with lado, albariño, and torrontes, and it’s aged in steel on the lees for 10 to 12 months. It makes a perfect match for simply prepared fish and chicken dishes, as well as a variety of hard cheeses. A Teixa adds godello and albariño to its treixadura foundation and spends a year on the lees in large wooden vats. This cuvee partners brilliantly with all manner of shellfish (especially scallops) and full-flavored poultry creations.

 

Another producer working wonders with treixadura is Bodegas El Paraguas, whose estate white blend is mostly treixadura with some godello and albariño. With minimal oak influence (only the godello sees wood), the El Paraguas is a bit more focused than Rodriguez’s blends, and equally as satisfying.

Though mencía has a home in Ribeiro, the rising red star of the DO is brancellao; often relegated to blending status in the recent past, brancellao grapes are capable of making complex, commanding wines that belie their relatively modest body and low alcohol content. It is a grape of contradictions to be sure: elegant and lifted, yet with a brooding, smoky side; dark in color, yet almost transparent at the same time; spicy and mineral, but not without a little tannic impact; expressive and restrained all at once.

Rodriguez makes two brancellao-based cuvees (blended with other indigenous Ribeiro grapes including caiño and ferrol) that have been featured at Paul Marcus Wines: the Eidos Ermos bottling, which combines oak and steel aging, and the slightly sturdier A Torna Dos Pasás, which sees 12 months of used oak. These food-friendly blends can accompany anything from spicy pork dishes to tuna steaks.

We were also lucky enough to get our hands on a few bottles of the single-varietal Dos Canotos Brancellao made by Cume do Avia. A study in finesse, this is a lively, lightly extracted red wine that punches way above its weight and shows that brancellao, when handled with proper care, can even give red Burgundy a run for its money.