Albariño - crisp white aromatic wine: what's not to love?
In this latest grape-focused blogpost I take a look at the Albariño or Alvarinho grape and why Albariño wines are becoming increasingly popular. I latched on to this grape variety (pronounced phonetically as Alba-reen-yo) several years ago and have been slowly converting people over to its wines; in my opinion, Albariño, especially from the Rías Baixas DO, is one of the best Spanish (and Portuguese) still white wines today.
Albariño is widely regarded as an aromatic grape variety but the term "aromatic" can, I think, put lovers of crisp white wines off. It shouldn't because most decently made Albariño manages to combine lovely fruity aromas and flavours with a light or light-medium body, crisp minerality and fresh, mouth-watering acidity.
It is the thick skins of the grapes and keeping the wine on the lees during fermentation which help develop the intensity and range of aromas and flavours.
Flavour Profile of Albarino wine
Albariño in general produces light, crisp dry white wines with lovely fragrances and flavours. It is usually not oaked and only really blended with other grapes in Portugal's Vinho Verde.
At its worst, when produced in a commercial style which is easily done in warm regions as the Albariño vine is quite prolific, it can have a very one-dimensional peach flavour but a well-made Albariño wine from lower-yielding vines will display:
concentrated perfumes of various fruit - peach flesh, apricot, melon and citrus fruit - with some apple or orange blossom notes.
a very fruity palate - green apples, peaches, apricots, melon and citrus fruits especially lime - with hints of spice and almonds. Also minerality and sometimes with a little salinity
despite its complex and sometimes intense flavours, a light to medium body
low-ish alcohol levels of c. 12%
There are a number of producers who have moved into sparkling Albariño wine production.
Vinho verde produced in Portugal is generally white, very light, low alcohol (sub 11.5%), spritzy wine. The spritz, for which vinho verde is known, was traditionally a by-product of the secondary fermentation but now the carbon dioxide is injected. Seeing Albariño's popularity some Vinho Verde producers are using more Alvarinho in their blend; others are experimenting with single variety Alvarinho wine.
Where to find Albariño
This grape variety does not feature in the list of the top 30 most planted white grapes in the world so it is fairly niche.
There is some debate as to whether it is originally Portuguese or Spanish, certainly it came from that top left hand corner of the Iberian Peninsula, either from North East Portugal or Galicia in North West Spain. I use the Spanish spelling simply because Spain grows the most Albariño these days. There are apparently vines over 200 years old in Galicia.
The Rías Baixas region in Galicia with its relatively cool (and somewhat damp) climate produces the most - in fact 96% of vines in this region are Albariño - and, in my opinion, it is this region which produces the best examples of varietal Albariño.
The grape can also be found in Australia where winemakers have been experimenting with different varieties and finding the best match between grape variety and terroir. However due to an error in the labelling of various vines sent from Spain to Australia many years ago it is thought that much of Australia's Albariño is in fact a grape called Savagnin Blanc (not to be confused with Sauvignon Blanc) - whoops! Let the buyer beware.
The USA, New Zealand and Uruguay also grow Albariño however the amount of the Albariño grape variety grown outside Spain and Portugal is a tiny proportion of the total production.
When to drink Albarino wine
Albariño wine is not produced for keeping. Although some producers are experimenting with oak which would provide a structure more suited to ageing, oak has a tendency to overpower the grape's flavours so needs careful handling. Albariño is produced for drinking relatively young, at 3 to 4 years of age though well made Albariño can keep a little longer.
Pairing food with Albarino wine
Given its lovely acidity Albariño can be consumed without food, as an aperitif or at a get-together with friends.
Food-wise it works especially well with:
fish because of the hint of saline minerality in much of the wine, including oily fish
most fish dishes including fish served in Mediterranean tomato-based sauces
spicy dishes including Thai and Indian food and tagine
If you look at my guidelines for food and wine-matching tips the intensity of the dish should be matched with the body of the wine and therefore the relatively complex and intense Albariño can cope with quite strongly flavoured dishes.
It's time to give Albariño a try
...especially if you haven't tried it before. As mentioned above I was really torn between Aromatic Whites and Crisp Light Whites when categorising the style of the Ferrum wine so....
You should try it if you are a fan of
aromatic wines like Soave, Viognier, Pinot Gris and Grüner-Veltliner
but also if you like
crisp light wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Arneis and Grechetto.
As the Albariño grape is becoming better known, indeed positively fashionable, it is likely to go up in price however it can currently represent very good value for the quality.
© Wines With Attitude Limited, www.wineswithattitude.co.uk
Lindsay Cornelissen DipWSET is passionate about good quality wine and set up Wines With Attitude to share that passion with other wine lovers.