Geek of the Week — Albariño

A few weekends ago the temperatures rose so high in the San Francisco Bay Area that if we had been able to bottle it we would now have enough heat to last us another 12 months.

spain341But if you listen to any of my family members or friends from back east, you’d think Thanksgiving was right around the corner. People are starting to talk as if red wine is the only kind that exists. “It’s sweater weather!” And, If I read one more sentence about pumpkin spice anything I’m gonna have a stroke.

The fact of the matter is it’s just mid-September, temperatures are still comfortable in most of the lower 48, and the opportunity to enjoy gallons of white wine is still very much at hand. So, before you start digging in the front closet for your favorite mittens, let’s take a few seconds to talk about albariño.

Allow me to start by asking a question: just how much albariño did you drink this summer? The correct answer is, “not enough.” No, you didn’t drink enough. It’s never enough.

To be fair, some of you are steady fans of this Iberian jewel. And some of you have never even heard of it. The first bunch of you? Feel free to talk amongst yourselves while I clue the other group in on what they’re missing.

IMG_2108My first taste of albariño was in the summer of 1997 when I was in Spain for my younger brother’s wedding. I don’t know if it was at the rehearsal dinner at the delightful El Petit Dorado in Sant Feliu de Guixols or in some simple tapas bar days later in Barcelona. Either way, what matters is that I came home excited by this grape and eager to share my new discovery.

I’ve never lost my affection for albariño but, like any relationship there are dry periods, and I will confess that I’ve been, for the most part, living an albariño-free existence the past few years. That all changed recently when I had the pleasure of hosting several bottles for a let’s-get-reacquainted party. But before we take a look at that guest list, let’s learn a bit more about this popular grape. No better place to do so than in the pages of Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. The following snippets, part of a much longer entry, offer points of interest for both the newcomer and aficionado. Strap on your thinking caps.

——————–

–This variety originates from northeastern Portugal or over the border in Galicia in northwest Spain, where it was once exclusively cultivated – as Alvarinho and Albariño respectively.

IMG_4155–In Portugal, Alvarinho shows great morphological diversity, which usually indicates that the variety is quite old, and in Spain it is considered to be among the oldest varieties of the northwest. Even thought the variety was not mentioned in Galicia until 1843, a parcel of forty 200-300 year old Albariño vines has been observed there.

–Moderately vigorous, robust and fertile. Best suited to dry soils.

–However, the quality of the variety and the wind of fashion have taken the variety beyond NW Iberia as far as North America and the Antipodes. [One of my favorite versions of this variety comes from Bokisch Vineyards in nearby Lodi, about 80 miles east. -TGB]

–The best variety wines combine aromas and flavours that are both fruity and floral – from linden, orange and acacia blossom through lemongrass and honeysuckle or orange, dried orange peel, grapefruit, bergamot, peach, and in some cases, green apple. Fresh acidity balances the full body and firm structure and there can often be a marine note, reminding the taster how well these wines go with seafood.

——————–

I was relieved, when I read the above entry following my tasting, that I had picked up a fair bit of what Robinson mentioned. (I’ll confess not being familiar with acacia, or linden for that matter.) As the first person outside the wine trade to earn the prestigious Master of Wine, she is a prolific and precise taster, and one of the top names in the wine world. Just being within shouting distance on something as simple as a few affordable white wines is certainly gratifying.

So, who showed up that day and what were they wearing? In no particular order…

IMG_39762014 Terras Gauda “O Rosal”
Rias Baixas, Spain

This wine pops out of the bottle and into the glass with a nearly petillant energy and verve. Green gold, with aromas of pears and yellow apple and a pleasing note of ocean breeze. In the mouth the flavors are tart and fruity citrus and a hint of honey. As it warms a layered complexity begins to show, accompanied by whispers of mandarin orange. If you don’t hunt some down now, keep it on your list for next summer. Glug. Glug. Glug.

70% albariño, 15% loureiro, 15% caiño blanco. 12% abv.
N/A cases produced
$20 SRP
**Sample from winery

IMG_39782015 Lagar de Bouza
Rias Baixas, Spain

There is a minerally reserve to this wine, despite its own slight effervescence. Right up front there are notes of chalk or talc, followed by orange peel and unripe yellow apple. Out of the glass it remains reticent, showing almost nothing up front. On the midpalate it finally speaks. A pleasing texture carries along flavors of mandarin orange and Meyer lemon. There is no shortage of bright acid, which, along with the insistent stoniness, leaves you wondering why the oysters have yet to arrive. This wine’s minerally, earthy tones dominate. Not a wine for those in search of fruit.
100% albariño. 12.5% abv
2500 cases produced
$16 SRP
**Sample from winery

IMG_39772015 Robaliño
Rias Baixas, Spain

This wine draws you in with inviting, bright aromas of orange and lemon, backed up with strains of dusty chalk. But in the mouth you realize that it smells far more alive than it tastes. Oh, there’s enough there – good fruit, lots of refreshing acid, and a bracing, minerally finish. Yet, if it could speak it would ask for some food to keep it company, but nothing too powerful or complex. This is a fun but simple wine that would be best early in the week. Not ready for its star turn.

100% albariño. 12.5% abv
4200 cases produced
$18 SRP
**Sample from winery

IMG_41192015 Lagar da Condesa
Rias Baixas, Spain

The aromas of this wine are full of mandarin orange and lemon cream, with whispers of tropical fruit and wet stones. There is also the undeniable presence of oak. In the mouth the barrel treatment the winemaker’s notes speak of are immediately apparent. Left on its lees in partial French oak, the wine is supple and round and creamy. Happily, there is plenty of acid to balance the almost lush mouthfeel and ripe fruit flavors. This is a good, well made wine that would be perfect with a light summer meal on a warm evening. Not all wines need our undivided attention. Some are more drinkers than thinkers. This is one of them.

100% albariño. 12.5% abv
n/a cases produced
$18 SRP
**Sample from winery
 

IMG_41162015 Paco & Lola
Rias Baixas, Spain

There was some debate among members of The Grape Belt staff whether this wine was the most popular kid at the party. It certainly did get plenty of votes.

The most vibrant and complex nose of the five wines here. Intense aromas of Meyer lemon, ripe green apples, wet stones, and flowers, with a fragrant whiff of sea salt. In the mouth the show just got better, with delicious lemon and mandarin flavors. The sturdy minerality was surrounded by a tingly, vivacious tension, which the refreshing, mouth-watering acid only accentuated. This wine has impressive QPR (quality-price ratio). Plenty of acid and zip to go with oysters and other shellfish, and enough body and weight for any baked or grilled fish or seafood dish.

100% albariño. 13% abv
n/a cases produced
$20 SRP
**Sample from winery

Maybe you’re a huge chardonnay fan, or maybe you only drink pinot grigio. No matter. Whatever grapes you fancy, do yourself a favor and find some room in your wine world for albariño. I guarantee you you’re going to be so glad you did. If I’m not right, please let me know.

Cheers!

 

++Photos of Rias Baixas vineyards (top two photos) courtesy of Katie Riley. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Geek of the Week — Albariño

  1. Pingback: Geek of the Week — Albariño – THE GRAPE BELT

  2. brendanriley2017

    Great post; thanks for the new vocab word: “petillant”; still irks me that our rank amateur photographers didn’t get a proper shot of us, drives me crazy that Mary is blocking Denis, forever. 21 days dry, you’re making me thirsty. : ^>

    Ta’

    >

    1. Tom Riley

      You’ll be happy to continue down that road. I’m starting to get in shape and know the final impediment is the albariño, and all its friends. After the Fitzgerald obsequies I’m gonna join you for a while. I’d like to see 80 myself. Thanks for reading.

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