Among the assortment of wines arriving on Ontario shelves Saturday as part of a special Spanish promotion, one little white gem made me smile more than the rest. It's not the best of the lot. But I am happy to report that, at $13.95, it is at least the most affordable.
Alvarez de Toledo Godello 2010 is like the humble conversationalist you're thrilled to encounter at a party, all charm and no pretense. It's light and florally perfumed, with more flavour than its weight would initially suggest. The word "pretty" springs to mind. Needless to say, it's not a collector's trophy.
It comes from the wrong side of the tracks, too – not famed Rioja, Ribera del Duero or Priorat, but a place called Bierzo, a humble yet up-and-coming appellation in Spain's northwest. This is where a handful of indigenous local grapes have been cultivated for centuries, including red-skinned mencia and, in the case of this wine, godello, a little-known white experiencing a revival.
According to Wine Grapes, an encyclopedic new book by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz, godello was on the verge of extinction in the 1970s, when its entire population numbered just several hundred vines. Thanks to local growers intent on beating back the imperialist march of global varieties such as chardonnay and pinot grigio, it has undergone a reversal of fortune, as have many of Spain's more obscure varieties.
Today, godello covers several thousand acres, mostly in its home region of Galicia but also in Portugal. If you're familiar with Spanish wine, you might find a similarity between godello and verdejo, another high-quality, aromatic variety and a key component in the lean, whispering whites of Rueda, which I also love. Recent DNA tests suggest the two varieties may be siblings.
Both grapes shine with minimal handling in the winery, their fragile flavours and aromas easily overwhelmed by the vanilla-like overcoat of oak. That's one reason Alvarez de Toledo eschews barrel aging to produce its godello. It's the consummate "naked" wine – all charm, no pretense and, best of all, no clothes.
Alvarez de Toledo Godello 2010 (Spain)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $13.95
This is a good argument for why the world should plant more godello and less pinot grigio. It's light, dry and unoaked, yet it delivers more character than most grigios at the price. Expect an uncanny note of peach along with subtle floral-spicy aromatics and a hint of mineral on the finish. Nice as an aperitif or with light seafood.
Cuatro Rayas Vinedos Centenarios Verdejo2011 (Spain)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.95
I like the nervous tension in this tart, light-medium-bodied white, which dishes up flavours of lemon drop and herbs, culminating with pleasantly bitter chalkiness. It would be grand with light seafood.
Valldosera Brut Nature Cava (Spain)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $17.95
Bone-dry and substantial, this serious, bargain-priced bubbly comes across with a big essence of bread dough, owing to extended time maturing on its spent yeast cells. Lemon, herbs and stone add complexity and electric acidity keeps things lively. It's almost in the league of Champagne.
Alvinte Albarino Rias Baixas 2010 (Spain)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $14.85
Albarino is another one of those gossamer-light whites that manage to pack delectable fruitiness and aroma into a lean package. The variety is a strong suit of northwest Rias Baixas region, and this example is a bargain. Fresh, pear-like and light, yet with a slightly waxy texture, it bristles with a mineral-tinged finish. Light seafood is in order.
Solar de Sael Crianza Mencia 2007 (Spain)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $15.95
Like godello, this hails from the northwest Bierzo region, where the fine reds are based on a local grape called mencia. It's often compared with gamay of Beaujolais fame for its cherry-like flavour, crisp backbone and light body. One can fairly make that comparison here, though the texture is a bit thicker, more like a high-end Beaujolais cru. I love the chewy texture and notes of baking spices. Pair it with roast pork.
Cims del Montsant Garnatxa I Carinyena 2010(Spain)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $15.95
Garnatxa is Catalan for garnacha (a.k.a. grenache), a supple red blended here with carinyena (Catalan for carignan). The wine is medium-full-bodied with bright, juicy berries and a dusting of earth, suggesting a cross between Beaujolais and Côtes du Rhône. Pair it with roast poultry.
Gray Monk Gewurztraminer 2011(British Columbia)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $19.95
Dry yet luscious and veering toward off-dry, Gray Monk's 2011 gewurztraminer does the musky grape proud. It's hard not to draw a comparison with Alsace, home to the grape's finest renditions. Classic notes of lychee, rose and ginger leap from the glass, accompanied by melon and grapefruit. Try it with curries or other Asian fare. $16.99 in B.C., www.graymonk.com.
Road 13 Castle Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011(British Columbia)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $45 in B.C.
Mid-weight yet concentrated for a pinot, this well-structured red offers up dark-fruit and mocha flavours along with tobacco and toasty notes carried on a subtly chalky texture. Ideal for grilled salmon or rare duck breast, though it could improve with three years in the cellar. road13vineyards.com
Pondview Cabernet Merlot 2010 (Ontario)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $19.15
From the excellent 2010 vintage, this smooth, full-bodied red achieved very good ripeness and is deftly balanced with well-integrated oak. It is layered with dark berries, vanilla, dark chocolate and coffee and finishes with a pleasantly powdery dryness. It would sing with steak or grilled lamb chops. pondviewwinery.com