The Amazing Albariño
One of the finest white grape varieties, Albariño, accounts for 90 percent of all plantings in the Rίas Baixas (ree-ahs-buy-shuss) region of Spain. Rías Baixas is the birthplace of Albariño. One origin theory—romantic but untrue—is that Albariño is derived from Riesling, brought by German pilgrims on the path to Santiago de Compostela, a holy city in Galicia. Another theory is that the Cistercian monks from Burgundy, who established vineyards wherever they built their churches, introduced it in the 12th or 13th century.
Whatever the origin, there is no dispute in terms of the quality and unique flavor profile of Albariño wines. It has been compared to Riesling for its minerality and bracing acidity; to Viognier, because of its fleshiness and peach/apricot character; and to Pinot Gris for its floral bouquet. When grown in highly acidic, granitic earth, Albariño yields a more mineral-driven and structured wine. In sandy soil, however, the Albariño grape gives a softer, rounder wine.
A small, green, thick-skinned variety, the grape resists fungal disease in the particularly damp climate of Rίas Baixas. Albariño is a low yielding variety and expensive to cultivate. It is also one of the few Spanish white grape varieties produced as a varietal wine on its own and designated on labels. Most often fermented in stainless steel for early drinking, Albariño is a versatile grape. It responds well to malolactic or barrel fermentation and maturation to create wines of wonderful complexity and aging ability.
While Rίas Baixas is the birthplace of Albariño, it is also extensively grown in the Vinho Verde region of Portugal and can be found to a lesser extent in both Australia and the United States of America.
Three Albariños to try:
Martin Codax Albarino Rias Baixas, 2010 – Wine Enthusiast Review, “A little leesy on the nose, but mostly it’s forward and lemony. The palate is citric and crisp as a whistle, with lemon, green apple and a secondary sweetness akin to pineapple. Focused and clean on the finish; chiseled and defined.”
Valminor Albarino, 2011 – International Wine Cellar Review, “Pit and orchard fruits on the highly fragrant nose and palate. At once fleshy and focused, with very good cut and an undercurrent of chalky minerality. Closes firm and long, with resonating spiciness and a refreshing note of bitter quinine.”
Do Ferreiro Cepas Vellas Albariño, 2003 – Wine Enthusiast Review, “From the outset, this beauty oozes character. The whole exceeds the parts by a sum of three, as the wine delivers full flavors, complexity and a near Burgundian minerality. This is what great Albariño is about, even if it’s from a hot vintage. Spicy yet thumping with guava, banana and citrus. Simply delicious.”
Learn more about this varietal and the Rias Baixas region at Rias Baixas Wines.