My latest marriage of grape and groove tells the tale of how a Mexican guitar virtuoso was inspired by a boozy New York saxophonist to write a tune that would enthrall a celebrated author and grace a sunset over Spain’s North Atlantic coast. The grape is Albariño and the groove is Santana’s “Samba Pa Ti”, and the story starts in the Rías Baixas region of Galicia.
Let’s answer the obvious question first. Rías Baixas is pronounced Ree-ahs Bye-shass, and it’s the homeland over the increasingly popular Albariño grape. It’s right in the south west of Galicia, on the Atlantic coast and the Spanish-Portuguese border. The regions number one industry in fishing, it’s second is wine; and much like Argentine Malbec and beef, Albariño and seafood complement each other perfectly.
The Rías Baixas offers Albariño sun, rain, a coastal breeze and granite soils, which result in a wine ripe with fruit and fresh with an elegant minerality. Many of the vineyards are on the coast, but the wine you’ll find on the shelves of Whitmore & White is from the slightly more inland sub-region of Condado do Tea. Our Albariño from Pazos de Lusco is the typical tale of apricot and peach atop a wave of fresh minerals and citrus, but is fuller than many you’ll find on the market. Just a stones throw from the Portuguese border, Condado do Tea’s inland location is the warmest and driest in the region which means slightly riper grapes and a more subtle acidity. The real difference on the palate is felt in the texture or mouth-feel, and this has a lot to do with the winemaker and a technique called lees aging.
During the fermentation process, yeast reacts with the grapes sugar to produce alcohol and the wine we love so well. Normally the residue of grape skins and yeast, called lees, is filtered off immediately, but here the winemaker chooses to age the wine on it’s lees for 6 months. This gives the wine a richer texture which rounds off the acidity a touch which when married with the natural mineral quality of the Albariño grape, gives us a long elegant finish.
In preparation for this blog, I felt duty bound to try the latest vintage of one of my favourite wines. I know, it’s a tough job sometimes but I’m here to tell you that it’s another cracker! The cleansing mineral notes are particularly prominent, and the super fresh stone fruit demands this wine be sipped long into a summers evening. The name gives this away I suppose as Lusco means ‘sunset’ in the local Galician dialect. So with the sun-kissed tipple decided, let’s travel back in time to 1969 to find its musical partner.
Not many people had heard of San Francisco band Santana when they strode onto the Woodstock stage on August 16th 1969. The festival would become era-defining and their breakthrough performance one of the highlights. Soon after they would score a top 10 hit with ‘Evil Ways’ from their debut album ‘Santana’. The following year they started writing what would become there most famous album ‘Abraxas’.
Recovering from a long European tour in New York, the bands virtuoso guitarist, Mexican born Carlos Santana, heard a mournful saxophone blowing through his hotel window. The melody was beautiful but would periodically stumble and stop. Looking out onto the street he saw the reason why. The saxophonist was distinctly worse for wear and couldn’t resist a regular sip of whatever the poison was he had in his back pocket! Taken by the bittersweet scene, Carlos heard a new melody and “Samba Pa Ti” was written in a matter of hours.
The melody that came to Carlos Santana that New York afternoon has a wonderfully seductive lilt. So much so that in his book ’31 Songs’ Nick Hornby writes of how on first hearing ‘Samba Pa Ti’ he promised to himself that this would be the song he lost his virginity to! Whilst it has undoubtedly been the soundtrack to many a nocturnal endeavour, I think its fusion of blues and Latin rhythms also suits the wistful romance of a summer sunset. You’ve seen the weather forecast, we’re due a heatwave, so don’t delay, grab yourself a bottle of our Albariño and enjoy Santana with a ‘Lusco’!
Until next time,