Meet Spain’s Favourite White Grape - Albariño
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Meet Spain’s Favourite White Grape - Albariño

Written by
Vintage Cellars
February 16, 2017
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Albariño is one of Spain’s most aromatic white wines. Come on a journey with us through the region, learn about the grape varietal and why this white can’t be missed.

If you’re looking for something to impress at your next dinner party, it’s hard to go past the quality and finesse of Albariño [al-bah-ree-nyoh]. Being one of the iconic Spanish white grape varietals, Albariño first took root as many as 800 years ago when it is believed that monks first planted the vines in Spain in the 12th century AD. Since then, it has made a permanent home in Galicia, in the north-west corner of Spain, where in the Rias Baixas [ree-as bye-shass] wine region it is heralded as one of the finest white wines in the country.

But if you’ve never heard of Albariño here in Australia, you might be forgiven, since the majority of white wines on the shelves - such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Viognier - are all French in origin. Yet Albariño is so popular that it makes up 90% of the 8,650 acres of vines planted in Rias Baixas by thousands of independent growers.

Albariño and Rias Baixas – the grape and the region

Rias Baixas lies on the western edge of Galicia facing the Atlantic Ocean. Its coastal horizons make it a cool wine region that is windy and often wet. Vines are often trained high above the ground to allow them to dry out naturally or on a trellis to be managed with consistent spray programs. The Albariño grape itself, however, has a thick skin, allowing it to thrive in the wet, seemingly difficult conditions. The resulting wines produced are so unique that they express a balance and style specific to the region, influenced by the altitude (80-200 metres above sea level), granite soil and maritime climate. The stylistic expression of a wine specific to its region is known as terroir [te-wah].

Albariño – the white aromatic

Albariño is part of the aromatic family of white table wines. These wines, which also include Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Viognier, are so named for their signature aromatic bouquet, which is rich and expressive – dancing wildly out of the glass. At its heart, Albariño has a lime citrus core with clean minerality and a stimulating acidity that many commonly associate with Riesling. In fact, so considerable are these similarities that in a blind tasting you could mistake it for a Riesling variant if it weren’t for the rich and vibrant palate of apricots that also make you think of Viognier.

And then comes the natural tartness of pink grapefruit that some liken to Sauvignon Blanc. Yet, with all these similarities, Albariño is distinctly not a Riesling, nor a Viognier or a Sauvignon Blanc. Rather, Albariño is absolutely unique; an intensely aromatic white wine with an elegant balance of apricots, limes and minerality that linger in a long, dry palate. Food matching is easy for such a wine: fish, oysters and seafood are a match made in heaven, and the apricot notes will match itself perfectly to any cheese selection from a chèvre, such as Holy Goat La Luna, or a lush blue like St Agur.

When to drink Albariño

Albariño wines are typically designed to be consumed young while the acid is fresh and the aromatics are vibrant. Winemaking techniques can vary, however, as the wine responds well to some oak integration, barrel fermentation and ageing, making it a great expression of winemaking skill. The Burgans Albariño with its citrusy and floral flavours, as well as the Alba Albarino with its stone fruit aromas, are produced by one of the best-known producers of Albariño in the Rias Baixas - Martin Codax. Both come at a remarkable quality and value. Without a doubt Albariño shows us Spanish white wines are serious business; with a level of class that makes them a thrilling prospect for every wine explorer.