While a number of indigenous white grapes call the northwestern corner of the Iberian Peninsula home, there is one variety that has been making quite a name for itself outside its native land recently. This rising star in the winegrowing community is Albariño, a light crisp refreshing wine perfect for the warm afternoon temperatures of the upcoming summer months.
High in acidity, Albariño grapes are a comparable alternative for folks looking to add diversity to their typical go-to Sauvignon Blancs and Viogniers. They are very food friendly wines and will pair nicely with seafood and shellfish repertoire. As Albariños tend to have a touch more body than the aforementioned Sauvs and Vios, they can stand up to some spicier or more flavorful meals that other white wines may struggle to complement. Also, Albariños showcase a minerality on the palate similar to more traditional white varieties but distinct in a detectable briny quality reminiscent of the vineyards’ proximity to the ocean. Occasionally, Albariños spend some time in oak which adds depth and richness to the ever-present aromas of apricot and citrus fruits that dance on the palate. No need to age even the oaked versions as this grape is best enjoyed when the wine is young and fresh.
This hardy varietal grows well along the chilly rain-soaked coast of the Atlantic and is widely planted both north and south of the international border-defining Minho River, making it a staple in both Spanish and Portuguese vineyards. North of the river, in Spain’s Galicia region and its famous wine subregion known as Rias Baixas, the grape is mainly featured as a single varietal wine. Alternatively, south of the Minho in Portugal’s world-renowned Vinho Verde region, most of the white wines are blends of multiple native varietals. It’s interesting to note as well, that in Portugal, Albariño’s moniker changes slightly to ‘Alvarinho’ and is occasionally known by the name Cainho Branco. Additionally, the Vinho Verde region has a penchant for bottling their wines with a slight effervescence that enhances the light zippy flavor profile.
Since the Albariño grapes are right at home in a maritime climate, they actually flourish nicely in coastal areas on this side of the pond as well. Our New World versions are strikingly similar to their European counterparts and the wines retain their stellar flavors and style. States commercially producing domestic Albariños are Virginia, Oregon, Washington and some cooler wetter enclaves along the Central Coast of California. Likewise, New Zealand vintners are discovering the versatility of Albariño and excellent selections from the North Island are increasingly being experimented with.
So, if you are looking for a light crisp white wine to bring to your next warm afternoon soiree, think Albariño. It is off the well-worn path of Chards and Pinots yet pleasant and appealing to a variety of palates. Not to mention, it is reasonably priced and relatively easy to find at your local wine shop. As the summer heat hits, refresh with Albariño in your glass.
By: MaryJane Baker Vu