One wine that’s appearing more and more on wine lists across the country is Spain’s famous Albariño wine. Pronounced ahl-bah-reen-yo, the wine is a crisp, complex, dry white wine, Albariño has become a relatively recent favorite among American sommeliers over the least several years for its ability to pair well with food — and even stand sufficiently on its own.
Grown mainly in the northwestern coast of Spain, Albariño represents about 92 percent of the area’s grape plantings and has been grown there for almost 1,000 years. It is also widely planted in Portugal, where it’s commonly known as Alvarinho. Thought by some experts to be a Riesling clone from the Alsace region of France, Albariño was originally grown casually near poplar trees in fields, before larger investments were made in the varietal during the 20th century, according to “Encyclopedia of Grapes” by Oz Clarke.
Albariño wine is known for its distinctive aroma, which isn’t too different from a good viognier or dry gewürztraminer. Rich aromas of apricot and peach dominate, sometimes with hints of almond, apple, peach citrus and flowers.
The Albariño grape vine grows well in the Rias Baixes in Northwestern Spain, particularly the town of Cambados. The weather conditions in this area are generally cool, windy, humid and rainy.
To accommodate this climate, Albariño grapes are grown much differently from other wine grapes. They’re hung several feet high and out in open spaces to allow the prevailing winds to dry them out. This method utilizes the wind to help prevent mildew or other fungal diseases from destroying the grapes, but it’s also an expensive process for the winemaker.
Because of the way Albariño grapes are grown, the Albariño grape develops a thick skin, which contributes to its intense aroma. It’s also the reason the grapes develop as small, conical clusters of small, loosely knit, spherical berries.
Pairing Albariño wines with the right food is a lot of fun, as they go well with several dishes. The high acidity level in Albariño makes them particularly good with seafood, including oysters and mussels. Albariño also pairs well with Cajun dishes, ceviche and other spicy shellfish dishes. Grilled shrimp and a chilled Albariño are a summer favorite of mine.
If you’re looking to try your first Albariño, look for one that’s fresh and young.
Albariño does not age well and its strong aroma begins to fade just months after it’s bottled.
You should be able to find a decent Albariño for less than $30 at your local wine shop or liquor store.
Although Spain is Albariño’s home, a few hundred acres have been planted throughout California since the mid-1990s, including several acres of plants in Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Lodi and the Umpqua Valley in Oregon.
Albariño has also picked up in popularity in Australia where the weather in many parts of the country mirrors Spain.
Often compared to Riesling, I find Albarino much more aromatic and with generally a little more “body” and substance.
If you are looking for a distinctly fruity and aromatic and relatively inexpensive white wine, I suggest you try this wine. The wine is generally lower in alcohol and makes for a great summer alternative.
Vic Poulos, owner Zin Valle Vineyards.