I love when out-of-town friends come to visit, giving me an excuse to splash out on a fancy restaurant or two. It’s especially fun when those visitors happen to be from New York — a city known for thinking it has the best of everything — because Chicago’s culinary scene officially rocks.
Mercat a la Planxa, an upscale Catalan (tapas) restaurant in The Renaissance Blackstone Hotel, has been on my list for a couple of years. The food and wine from Catalonia in northeastern Spain almost never fail to impress me, and I wanted to see if Mercat did this region proud. The food indeed delighted us both, particularly the eye-rollingly delicious rabbit-filled agnolotti topped with roasted chestnut purée, brandied cherries and brown butter (pictured). But I must admit I failed to order a single Catalan wine from the by-the-glass list.
Only two were offered, one of which I already knew and loved, the floral Viña Esmeralda by Torres. I opted instead for a 2010 Finca Os Cobatos Godello from the Monterrei D.O. (Denominación de Origen, or Orixe in Galician). Completely unfamiliar with either the Godello variety or the Monterrei wine region, I had no idea what to expect. The wine had a fresh, green aroma, and it tasted juicy and a bit floral, with food-friendly acids. Had I been served it blind, I might have guessed it was a fun Sauvignon Blanc from some New World appellation.
Monterrei, it turns out, is a relatively new, rather remote D.O. along the border with Portugal in Spain’s Galicia region. In contrast to much of the rest of the country, green Galicia receives ample rainfall, and its best wines are “delicate, lively, aromatic whites that go perfectly with the shellfish that is the standard Galician diet,” according to The World Atlas of Wine. It goes on to note that because of the region’s geographic isolation and small-scale wine producers, “it was not until the 1990s that these singular wines found a ready and rapturous market outside Galicia.”
The tiny inland region of Monterrei, however, is still up-and-coming. The Oxford Companion to Wine laments that in Monterrei, “The recovery of local grape varieties is less developed than elsewhere in Galicia,” and concludes, with a faint glimmer of hope, that “This is still more a project based on distant glories, than a current reality.”
The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia sheds further light on the situation, explaining how Monterrei’s provisional D.O. status was actually revoked (scandal!), “when too few of its growers showed any interest in modernizing their estates.” But progress continued nevertheless, and the region finally achieved full D.O. status in the late 1980s.
Finca os Cobatos seems to be one of the few more progressive wineries, since it does indeed recover local varieties. Godello, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, is a “fine white grape variety” native to the area, most successfully grown in Valdeorras, another inland region just northwest of Monterrei. Finca os Cobatos also bottles Mencía, a well-regarded red grape grown widely in Galicia. Doña Blanca and Gran Negro are other local varietal wines to seek out.
Galician wines may be more difficult to find than those from Rioja or Catalonia, but judging from the Godello I tasted and the general critical praise, they are worth the search. Good hunting!
2010 Finca Os Cobatos Godello: Fun, juicy, green and a bit floral, rather like a New-World Sauvignon Blanc. A good value.
Find It: It doesn’t seem to be widely available, but I did find the 2009 at The Bottle Shop for $12. (Drink the most recent vintage you can find.) At Mercat a la Planxa, it sells for $10 a glass.