In March I traveled through Galicia with Gerry Dawes, considered the leading expert on Spanish food and wine in the United States. We spent eight days visiting bodegas and tasting wines made from regional varietals such as Mencia, Treixadura, Loureira, and Torrontés.
At the end of our journey, one varietal stood out, moving Dawes to proclaim, “This is the greatest white-wine grape in all of Spain.” The object of Dawes’s praise? A wine called Godello from the region of Valdeorras.
Galicia, which lies north of Portugal on the Atlantic Ocean, is also the home of Albariño. Ten years ago, Albariño was an obscure varietal that only the most passionate American wine lovers had heard of. Today, along with Grüner Veltliner, it’s the darling of fine restaurants, joining Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling as food-friendly alternatives to Chardonnay.
Godello stands poised for a similar breakthrough. Traditionally ignored by the wine press but now represented by several importers, Godello (pronounced go-day-o) has been embraced by insiders in the American wine world and within a few years should be recognized as the outstanding varietal it is.
Godello is the native white-wine grape of Valdeorras, one of five Galician Denominaciónes de Origen. (Rías Baixas, the home of Albariño, is another.) The Atlantic Ocean influences the climate, but Valdeorras is 100 miles inland, and the terrain is mountainous, inhospitable to growing almost anything but grapevines, whose roots burrow deep into the rock-hard ground, clinging to the steep slopes and leaching minerals from the slate-based soil.
The stresses created by this harsh landscape give Godello from Valdeorras its distinctive character. The minerals are what you’ll taste in a glass of great Godello—a delicate middleweight with fresh lemon and wildflowers in the bouquet and a long, bracing finish. A great Godello combines the minerality of a great Chablis with the acidic snap of a Sauvignon Blanc—it comes at you quietly, with elegance and persistence.
Although most Godello is vinified in stainless-steel tanks—the Galicians like it full of pure and uncorrupted fruit—be aware of a potential problem: Some producers are fermenting Godello in new oak barricas, which impart an ugly, wooden taste to the wine. Dawes and I visited with Horacio Fernández, the winemaker at Bodega Godeval in Valdeorras, which makes the Godello you’ll find most often in the Washington market. Wetasted two Godellos side by side; the wines were identical except that one was aged in stainless steel, the other in oak. When we expressed our strong preference for the less-expensive, unoaked version, we listened in surprised silence as Fernández explained that he, too, prefers that wine—the oaked version is just a special cuvée he makes for Americans.
Finding an unoaked Godello isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort—and will open up new possibilities for food pairings. Few wines go better with shellfish than a great Godello, and some savvy restaurants are taking advantage of this: Jaleo, Bistro Bis, Corduroy, and Taberna del Alabardero have offered the wine. Taberna is pouring a very good 2005 Vina Somoza by the glass. “I like Godello even more than I like Albariño,” sommelier David Bueno told me as I sipped a glass and ate some octopus.
Perhaps the best example in town is the Godello at Vidalia, the beautifully pure 2005 Montenovo by Bodega Valdesil. A bottle sells in the restaurant for $32—an excellent value. Vidalia’s sommelier, Doug Mohr, is beginning to run low but plans to buy the 2006 vintage when it hits the marketplace.
Small importers have discovered Godello and are scouring Valdeorras to find the best bodegas. To Dawes, Godello grown in Valdeorras is “the right grape, grown in the right climate”—and it’s coming here at “the right time.”
Obscure no longer—and for that white-wine lovers can be thankful.Don Rockwell is the host and moderator of Donrockwell.com, a forum for food and wine lovers in the DC area.