Zippy, cocktail-hour jazz from Pink Martini played off a nearby MacBook. Fluttering candles beside the small battalion of wine stems presaged a coming thunderhead. Slivers of baguette flanked a basket of sweating bottles perfectly chilled against the July twilight.
I'd just pulled five corks and one twist-off when the droplets hit, but seven guests were just enough to help clear the patio and move our soirée indoors. As we gathered 'round the AC, the wines sang, especially when paired with an ensalada of goat cheese, local greens and berries; grilled shrimp; perfectly medium-rare salmon; and fresh strawberries.
By now, nearly any fool with a corkscrew seems to prefer whites over reds when the mercury edges into wish-I-had-a-friend-with-a-pool territory. Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Grüner Veltliner are go-to grapes in such climes, but in recent years, Spain's gotten groovy with steely, mineral-driven wines made from albariño grapes. Ground zero for this gig is Rías Baixas, a coastal area in northwest Spain with about 190 wineries.
Rías Baixas (REE-uss BUY-shahss if you've been practicing your Galician) is made up of mainly small and smallish bodegas that produce lively, softly perfumed wines. Mouth-watering acidity makes them ideal pairings with food — particularly seafood and cheeses — and since they rarely venture above 13 percent alcohol, you can operate light machinery with aplomb after tippling one or two with trout at lunch. There are five sub-zones in the region: Val do Salnés, Ribera de Ulla, Soutomaior, O Rosal and Condado do Tea. Val do Salnés leads the American albariño invasion, thanks in part to two cooperative wineries, Bodegas Martín Códax and Adega Condes de Albarei, producing more than 1 million bottles each.
As eight of us munched from our now-indoor picnic, we pondered a few examples of the wine for beachfront fêtes or any affair involving tapas, tikis and tube tops.
Albariños to Try
- Bodegas Martín Códax Albariño 2007, $13.99 A nose of wet rocks, with fresh, briny, oceanic notes and ripe, mid-palate warmth. (Visit wine-searcher.com .)
- Adega Condes de Albarei Albariño 2007, $12.99 Ripe Bosc pear aromas. Not as round as Martín Códax, nor as crisp as Fulget, but more floral. Delicious with cheeses. (Visit Wine Lovers, 364-2020.)
- Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes Albariño 2007, $21.99 Aromas of bananas and a splendid dancing vivacity, with fond richness and markers of wood aging.
- Adegas Valmiñor Albariño 2007, $15.99 Hints of blood oranges, vanilla, apricots, apples and citrus. (For the last two wines, visit kysela.com and search for Richmond stores, which can put in an order for them.)