Spanish wines, reds and Riojas in particular, have been subjected to as much criticism as praise on these pages. Time and time again I've been lured back to revisit the tempranillo-based wines from northern Spain only to find that the brutal practice of oak-bludgeoning remains widespread. Well, chalk one up to keeping an open mind. These two samples - one white, one red - prove that there are always exceptions to the rule. The albariño is from the Rias Baixas region in northwestern Spain and the crianza is a Rioja. While very different wines in style and substance, both are admirable for their quality and authenticity.
2015 Granbazan Albariño Rias Baixas 'Etiqueta Verde' $20
If you are in search of an opulent, rich white (like Melania Trump probably is right now), this is probably not what you're looking for. But if you are looking beyond the horizon for something truly stimulating and off the beaten path, you have to check this out. Clean and with steely precision, this fleet-footed porch pleaser delivers minerality and brilliant sunshine, lending it a unique energy (which is surprising given its low alcohol.) Enjoyed with mussels in a Provençal broth, it enhances rather than interferes, but stands quite well on its own, too. Anything else? Yes: sometimes less is more.
2011 Viña Real Rioja Crianza $19
The red is far more serious than I would've expected from a crianza (Rioja's entry level). Stately and dignified, the solid construction shows Moroccan spice under savory fruit that's aging nicely. The oak is present, but thankfully not overt. Very pure and clean. With food it really comes alive and it's got the guts to hold up nicely to charcoal grilled steak with olives and parsley butter - what a terrific duet. Lots to love here. A little picey for a crianza, but worth it.