All About Albarino

Getting to know Spain's workhorse white

 


Well, the weather has certainly begun to change, and while many folks are making the transition to autumn reds, I’m holding onto the last vestiges of summer and finishing off the season with some great seafood dishes, which, of course, require a white or two!

This week I’ve been trying a few Albarinos, a great white from the Rias Baixas region of Spain. In this northwest coastal corner of Spain, Albarino has been one of the workhorse whites for decades, though traditionally it would have been a component of a blended wine. The Rias Baixas DO was only established in 1986, and in the intervening years Albarino has come to account for almost 90% of the vines in the Rias Baixas. More incredible than that was the explosion of area under vines, which attests to the popularity of Albarino. A mere 237 hectares in 1987 has ballooned into almost 4,000 hectares today! So, was all that planting worth it?
Well, first it’s worth taking a look at where those vineyards were planted. The Rias Baixas takes its name from the unique topography of the region. The area is heavily marked by wide estuaries, or rias, and these are the southernmost, or lowest, group – hence baixas.  With such diverse topography the growers here have had lots of conditions to explore. This heavy investment in vineyard development has been, in part, a giant journey of discovery helping to delineate the finest growing regions of the area.

Whether the “best” vineyard lay in one or the other of Rias Baixas’ five distinct subzones is a matter of personal preference; my money is on the Ribeira do Ulla, responsible not only for Albarino, but home to those freaking delicious Padron peppers that everybody’s frying up right about now!

Ok, so that’s no way to choose a favorite, but it might as well be. As you can imagine, with so much land under vine there are a lot of bottlings from which to choose. There are some 20,000 vineyards planted to Albarino in Rias Baixas, a startling little factoid that may have no bearing on the current question, but makes my Pardon-influenced answer a little more compelling.

As you might expect, this stretch of the Spanish coast is home to rather cool and somewhat damp conditions. While summer daytime highs can be downright hot, the region is blessed with the kind of conditions perfect for the production of Albarino. These conditions allow the wines to express their fruit flavors (which range from citrus to orchard fruit and at their best touching on peach and apricot) while retaining zesty, fresh acidity and a wonderful mineral tone.

These are wines that bask in their purity, bracing acidity and near-saline minerality. Many producers have been tempted to begin to soften the edges of these sometimes-assertive wines by barrel fermenting and allowing the wines to go through partial malolactic fermentation, but to my mind this is mostly a misguided exercise. These are wines of character -- their own character -- and trying to make them into something that they’re not cannot benefit Albarino as a whole.

The growth of the US export market from half a million liters in 2004 to a million and a half liters in 2008 attests to the fact that these wines are finding a healthy market. What’s even more amazing is that while those exports to the US account for 48% of total exports, total exports only account for about 20% of annual sales. Not only do we love this stuff, the way it is, but the Spanish seem to be keeping the lion's share for themselves, and it’s easy to see why.

Albarino is a great addition to anyone’s white wine repertoire. It’s a fruity wine at times, but balanced and fresh, and it loves to be served with food. I find it goes wonderfully with seafood, and particularly well with my clam and chorizo pasta sauce! There certainly are many examples of Albarino, each subtly different, but most worth trying. I’ve added notes of some of my favorites below. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!


2009 Martin Codax Albarino 12.5%

Flowery, pollen, peach, green plum, a little waxy, touch of seashell – vibrant acids on entry, ripe and round feeling with an almost lush quality to the the peach and apricot fruit, even a touch of apricot pit adding a nice bit of tension in the mouth, touch os mineral spice on the finish. Solid – 87pts

2009 Burgans Albarino 12.5%

Soft pear fruit, leafy fruit on the nose with notes of carambola, carnations, and a touch of candlewax – Bright and juicy in the mouth with succulent pear and peach fruit tones in a lean, crisp frame. Gains a nice sweet edge on the mid-palate and finishes with a touch of lime peel.  86pts

2009 Santiago Ruiz Albarino

Lime leaf, kiwi and guava on the slightly exotic, pungently aromatic nose. This is very bright with cutting acids that may be too bright for some people. There is a modest amount of flesh helping to buffer the acids but the light banana, lime and salty mineral flavors are acid driven and linger on the moderately long finish. This really would do well with some food, melon and prosciutto, something fatty and sweet would work well.  This is good but not for everyone. 88pts

2009 Morgadio Legado del Conde Albarino 12.5%

Lemon pith, clay soil, chalk, apricot and green apple notes on the subtle nose.  Zesty and fruity in the mouth with a blanket of soft fruit covering a vibrant vein of citrus, tangerine, and pear fruit that yield to sweet lime and mineral tones on the soft, long finish. This is not lacking in acid by any stretch but does have a rounded quality that makes it a bit softer than many Albarinos.  The finish really exhibits fine purity to the fruit. 88pts

2009 Pazo San Mauro Albarino 12.5%

Lightly leesy on the nose with lovely, transparent citrus rind and pear tones accented with smoky, quartz notes and gentle green background notes.  Nicely taut in the mouth with excellent clarity to the pear and mineral tones that drive through on the lean but flavorful finish.  This exhibits lovely balance with all the fruit, mineral and structural components in harmony and real succulent length packed with salty mineral tones. This is a winner! 91pts

2009 Salneval Albarino 12.5%

Dusty minerals, very clean, a touch salty with soft notes of stemmy herbs, and milky green flowers. Quince, sweet lime zest, sweet pear - lovely entry rich and concentrated with striking fruit flavors right up front backed by subtle notes of herbs and flowers all backed up with a vibrant mineral vein. This is layered and complex with a nice edge of anise accenting the taut fruit that extends through the moderate finish which end with a zesty lime peel note and lovely river stone minerality. 89pts

Mentioned in this article

Comments

  • Gregory, I totally agree with this article. I'm a Rias Baixas Albariño fan too, but you must drink the wines not so young, but with 3-4 years aged. Now is fantastic to drink wines of 2005-2006 vintages, with their fresh acidity, salty and mineral notes. Rias Baixas don't need oak: barrica version of wines are not so fantastic like wines fermented on lies and aged simply in steel. Fantastic wines are Pazo de Señorans, Albariño de Fefiñanes, Do Ferreiro Cepas Viejas and many others
    Cheers!
    Franco Ziliani

    Sep 02, 2010 at 12:08 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 231,032

    Ciao Franco!

    Thanks for the suggestions, you list my three favorite bottlings. I've had the Señorans with some age in it, but will now look for others from the vintages you suggest.

    Sep 02, 2010 at 12:14 PM


  • Snooth User: meg2010
    364956 1

    Are Albarinos drier than pinot greis or chardonnays?

    Sep 02, 2010 at 1:57 PM


  • Great Albariño can be enjoyed any time of the year.
    Here’s a challenge for Snooth:
    Could you get the best from Martin Codax and make them available in the US?
    -Organistrum
    -Gallaecia (Late Harvest)

    Sep 02, 2010 at 2:12 PM


  • Snooth User: swinnea
    483269 16

    I may be off base But of the ones I've tried that are locally available I've settled on Nora

    Sep 02, 2010 at 2:47 PM


  • Any chance you could post the approximate prices for these wines?

    Sep 02, 2010 at 2:58 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 231,032

    By clicking through to each wine's page - each wine title is a link - you can find the prices for the wines, which range from $10.99 to $21.99.

    Nora is a fine Albarino.

    I can always ask Martin Codax!

    Sep 02, 2010 at 3:01 PM


  • Snooth User: MarlynB
    220599 5

    The only one that seems to be readily available is Burgans, which I have found at BevMo.
    Trader Joe's used to have a house label one, but once they ran out, they told me "it wasn't popular enough" to revisit. Very frustrating!

    Sep 02, 2010 at 3:52 PM


  • Snooth User: playbells
    563446 10

    I'm a sweet wine sipper myself, and all of the names mentioned just lost me I never heard of them, then again theirs a lot of wines I never heard of. Are these wines sweet? I recently came across a sweet red wine name voulet very tasty..

    Sep 02, 2010 at 4:17 PM


  • Snooth User: SharShar65
    512356 29

    Visiting Vigo, Spain, in May, 2009, we went to the Granbazan Winery. I feel the best Albarino wine that I had in Spain was the Granbazan Ambar. I wish I had had the foresight to ship a carton home!

    Sep 02, 2010 at 4:20 PM


  • Good work on Albarinho! I sugest you to try the Portuguese Alvarinho aswell!

    Sep 02, 2010 at 4:42 PM


  • Nora is also the best one I have found locally. Haven't tasted the Salneval (clicking on the link reveals a banana flavor not mentioned in the review above, which is not appealing to me) or the Pazo San Mauro. Is the Pazo San Mauro better than the Nora? Gregory, where do you place the Nora in relation to the wines above?

    Sep 02, 2010 at 5:13 PM


  • Snooth User: winetastinginLA
    Hand of Snooth
    498900 29

    Technically I can still wear white till after Labor Day Right?

    Albariño is considered one of, if not the finest white wine from Spain. This crisp and fruity variety comes from the northwest region of Galicia.

    You can still wear white and enjoy it. I enjoyed this Albarino all summer long.
    This 2009 EVO Clarksburg Albariño has aromas of fresh peach, pear, apple and gardenia with hints of orange peel and lemon. Flavors and mouth-feel are light and refreshing with crisp acidity and a pleasing smoothness. The finish is slightly tart but long and enjoyable. Enjoy this wine with halibut prepared with citrus, egg salad, acorn squash or mozzarella cheese. Available from WineShop At Home.

    Sep 02, 2010 at 5:24 PM


  • Snooth User: Wblackbu
    392758 1

    I've seen Albarinos from Oregon and Eastern Washington. Any chance of some comparison tastings with the Spanish?

    Sep 02, 2010 at 5:54 PM


  • Snooth User: wineduck
    234906 2

    My daughter lived in Ovieto, Spain(Asturias) for a year and raved about the wonderful white wine the locals enjoyed. It has become my favorite white. Abecela, a Spanish winery in the Umpqua Region of Oregon, has introduced an Estate Abecela this year. It should be interesting to taste the subtle differences due to the soil and weather in this region.

    Sep 02, 2010 at 6:24 PM


  • The Trader Joe's Petit Reserve Albarino was a limited bottling and if we're lucky it'll be back next year.
    Dancing Coyote from Clarksburg AVA make a very refreshing CA Albarino for under $11.
    And as we get closer to the Holidays, IMO Albarino is an excellent choice for Thanksgiving since its brightness and refreshing acidity cuts through all of the sauces & fats. Yummy!

    Sep 02, 2010 at 7:37 PM


  • Snooth User: Seabrooker
    167088 56

    I first met Albarino when I was living in Cambados (Galicia) in the 1960's. My parents later moved to that area, living there until the late 1990's. In the 1960's, Albarino was a wine you could find, unlabelled, in the best bars - "branding" it came later, as you've noted. My favorites now come from the Minho valley - Licia, for instance. Just a few US producers are trying to grow it - I hear a winery in Monterey has one, and a couple in Umpqua (Schmidt is one). It's bound to be different - growing conditions in Galicia are unique (granite soils, frequent cloud cover, 100+ inches of rain a year). The legend is that Albarino evolved from the Riesling grape brought by the monks of Cluny along the pilgrimage routes to Santiago, but I don't know how close to reality that is! It makes a delicious wine - great value and great with seafood.

    Sep 02, 2010 at 9:00 PM


  • Am I misunderstanding the math here or are the vineyards really averaging only one-fifth hectare each? 4000 hectares divided by 20,000 vineyards (???). A typo perhaps?

    Sep 02, 2010 at 11:04 PM


  • Paco and Lola is my favorite!

    Sep 03, 2010 at 12:20 AM


  • "Am I misunderstanding the math here or are the vineyards really averaging only one-fifth hectare each? 4000 hectares divided by 20,000 vineyards (???). A typo perhaps?"


    Yeah, this sounds quite strange. I guess "vineyards" is not equal with "wineries" here. There are about 200 wineries in the Rias Baixas.

    Sep 03, 2010 at 3:33 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 231,032

    There are in fact some 20,000 different vineyard plots producing Albarino in the Rias Baixas. Many people maintain their own smalls plots, and this does not refer to the number of wineries. I defer to Critov on that number as it's not something I have at my fingertips, but I do believe there are something like 6,500 individual growers involved in the cultivation of these plots.

    Sep 03, 2010 at 6:18 PM


  • OK, one single winery normally owns or administrates different vineyards for their different wines (or even for a single wine), and it's quite true that in the somewhat rustic Galicia there are still plenty of tiny, family owned plots, but a ratio of 100 vineyards per winery would sound weird.
    Those 6,500 individual growers... I think there are no more than 40,000 vine growers in all Spain, and the wine production in Galicia is a mere 1% of the total.
    Help!!! We need more statistic info.

    Sep 03, 2010 at 8:08 PM


  • Snooth User: BG422
    343567 19

    Another vote for Nora. An article on Verdejo would also be great -- another good Spanish white a lot of people are not familiar with.

    Sep 03, 2010 at 10:36 PM


  • I've enjoyed Dom Bardo. Have you had it, and if so, how does it compare to the ones you reviewed?
    I'd also put in a vote for an article on Verdejo.

    Sep 04, 2010 at 2:45 PM


  • Snooth User: BG422
    343567 19

    I've had the Dom Bardo (2007) along with most of the others reviewed, and liked the others better.

    Sep 04, 2010 at 5:09 PM


  • I have loved albarino since first tasting it back in the 80's. At that time there was speculation about the connection between primitivo and zinfandel, which has since been proven. I have always suspected that there is a genetic connection between johannisberg riesling and albarino (maybe carried to northwest Spain by Santiago di Compostello pilgrims from Germany in the middle ages?). Has this connection occurred to anyone else, and has any dna research been performed?

    Sep 04, 2010 at 8:55 PM


  • Snooth User: Seabrooker
    167088 56

    Research on the origins of Albarino identify it as most closely related to the French Petit Manseng grape, grown in the Languedoc. Its similarity to Viognier and the German Traminer grape is also obvious in wines. The name means "white" (=alba) "Rhine" (=rino), in Gallego. We'll just have to wait for the DNA testing to be completely completed. We should also bear in mind that it was grown completely unregulated for the best part of 1000 years, so there are probably many clones out there.

    Sep 08, 2010 at 3:59 PM


  • Snooth User: cafallis
    570016 7

    Last I knew, Albarino de Fefinanes wasn't exported. Is it available in The States now? Where?

    Sep 15, 2010 at 9:21 AM


  • Snooth User: rqf1313
    520818 18

    Great wine for South Florida where we wear white and drink white all year round. Some of our best seafood's season is the winter. Stone crabs, spiny lobster and shrimp

    Sep 20, 2010 at 2:29 PM


  • Snooth User: JCabral
    427541 3

    You must try the Portuguese Alvarinho, simply fantastic

    Sep 20, 2010 at 6:37 PM


  • Snooth User: brodyluv
    149235 40

    Vino V makes Confundida 2009, 100% Albarino from grapes grown in Santa Barbara County, with all the desired characteristics of this wonderful grape.

    Sep 30, 2010 at 10:19 AM


  • I live in Pontevedra, quite near Cambados, the cradle of Albariño. The German connection of Cluniac monks bringing it along the pilgrims' route to Santiago is nice but ultimately the stuff of legends. Recent DNA testing has proven that the Riesling connection is also misleading, with the current concensus being that it's one of Galicia's numerous 'authoctonous' grape varieties. New World wineries can try as they might to imitate these stunning wines, after all it's supposed to be the sincerest form flattery, but they'll never be authentic Albariños. To bask in the glory of a true Albariño you'll have find a willing importer or simply jump on a plane, the latter being the better idea of course. Watching the sun go down over the Atlantic with a dish of percebes (goose barnacles) and a bottle of Pazo Señorans ever so lightly chilled is, to use a cliché, an experience to die for. This years gold medalist in La Fiesta de Albariño in Cambados was, for the second year running, Señorío de Rubiós, a wine from the Condado do Tea subzone on the River Miño. http://www.bodegas-cotoredondo.com/...

    Dec 08, 2010 at 6:40 PM


  • Regarding the numerous grape growers in Rais Baixas. I toured there a couple of years ago and asked what the grape prices were per tonne and was told a kilogram price! When I questioned 'why qoute in kgs' I was informed that the average delivery was 75kgs. As one drives around the vineyards it is evident that most small farms have a few vines around the houses on complex granite-post trellis system that allows good air flow to help with desease control. Naturally there are now many large vineyards but many growers may have as few as 100- 200 vines.It is a wonderful region to visit with great people involved in the wine production and great seafood.

    Dec 09, 2010 at 3:07 AM


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