How a Burgundy-Loving Sommelier Fell for Spanish White Wines
If you look at Andy Fortgang’s wine lists from Portland’s Le Pigeon and Little Bird from the last dozen years, it’s pretty obvious that he is seriously hung up on the wines of Burgundy. He dedicates a good chunk of his efforts toward these wines, seeking out old vintages and smaller producers that make an intimidating (and undeniably costly) region more available to his guests – there’s Burgundy, and then there’s the rest of France.
But when he and chef Gabriel Rucker opened Canard last year, there was a marked change to the way he built his book. Yes, Chablis, Meursault and Volnay are there, but so are wines from Greece and California and Germany – with an entire page dedicated to white wines from Spain’s Galicia. And that’s not just a list, but a deep dive into four regions that constitute the northwest corner of Spain, with notes on the geography and the grapes of those places. This Galician pause is what makes Fortgang such a great somm – he knows what he likes, but continues to discover wines that inspire him to reimagine his wine lists.
Today, Fortgang says, there are a number of importers bringing in outstanding wines from northwest Spain. A couple years ago, at a seminar with importer André Tamers from De Maison Selections, something clicked that made Fortgang look at these wines in a whole new way. It’s not that he hadn’t had Albariño or some of the white blends Tamers was pouring before – or even that he’d learned something new about the very diverse regions they’re grown in; it was all about the flavor. “For me, it was less about the story and more about tasting these wines. They’re very grown-up in the sense that they’re not bombastic or super fruit-forward or super high acid. They’re kind of simmering.”
Here are five white wines from the northwest corner of Spain that Fortgang thinks deserve more attention:
2015 Viña Mein Eiras Altas ($42)
This blend of three white grapes, Treixadura, Loureira and Albariño, comes from a single vineyard plot in Ribeiro, a rocky, river-strewn inland region of Galicia. “I don’t want to say this wine is perfect, because I don’t think perfect is a good word, but with this wine, all the pieces are there.”
2017 Do Ferreiro Cepas Vellas ($58)
This particular bottling of Albariño is the marquee wine (and has a price to match) from a winemaker who works with centuries-old vineyards on the coast in Rías Baixas. Fortgang describes it as tasting like “salty rocks and lemon.” He also recommends Do Ferreiro’s less pricey bottlings.
2015 Viña Somoza Neno Godello ($24)
Even further inland, in Valdeorras, Fortgang looks for wines made from the Godello grape, like this one from 30- to 40-year-old vines. There’s a bit more richness and texture here than in Godellos from the coast, he feels.
2016 Emilio Rojo ($84)
“This white is on the spendier side, but it’s the crème de la crème of the Treixadura blends from Ribeiro,” says Fortgang. “It can take years to unwind itself, but it’s really special if you can find it.” Rojo farms his small, five-acre plot organically.
2016 Nanclares y Prieto Soverribas Albariño ($42)
“Whereas the Albariño from Do Ferreiro is racy and crisp, this, which is also from the coast, tends to be rounder and lusher. They’re not afraid of the grapes being a little riper,” says Fortgang. “It just shows how every region is dynamic, based on the winemaker.”