What is Albariño and where is it found?
Albariño is a white wine grape grown in the northwest corner of Spain and in northern Portugal. There are a few vineyards in South Africa and Australia that are starting to produce it. But the spiritual home of the Albariño grape is northern Portugal and northwest Spain, particularly Galicia. And within Galicia it’s most commonly found in the region of Rias Baixas, one of the five official wine growing regions (denominaciones de origen) in Galicia.
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Now for those of you who don't know Galicia, it's not what you would normally expect from Spain. We all have this vision of Spain as being sun, sea, and sand. We picture ourselves on a hot day, sitting by the pool sipping a sangria. Not in Galicia.
Galicia is green. Very green. And to get that green, you need rain. Plenty of it. Which is what you get in Galicia. And the coast is less about warm waves lapping gently against powdered sand, and more about Atlantic waves crashing against rocky cliffs and leaving bracing sea mist in the air. Quite simply, it's beautiful.
Main Characteristics of Albariño
That climate makes Galicia a perfect home for the Albariño grape. Because Albariño really isn't a big fan of the heat. It does need sun, but it likes a cooler, more humid climate. Which is why Galicia, and particularly the region of the Rias Baixas, is a perfect home for this grape.
But too much humidity isn't good either. So, you’ll often see Albariño vines trailed up on pergolas to raise them up off the ground. This has two advantages. It allows air to flow more freely amongst the vines, which prevents a build-up of stagnant humidity that can attract problems like mildew. And it also gives the vines, and the grapes in particular, more access to the sun. Which, as we’ve seen, is not always abundant in Galicia.
In terms of the grape itself, Albariño produces quite a lot of sugars but it does retain its acidity which is what's so nice about this grape and the wines that it produces. Because you end up with a wine with lovely fresh fruit flavours and a crisp citrus undertone.
What does Albariño taste like?
On the nose you get floral sensations, often with a hint of honeysuckle. But that combines with a nice clean citrus sensation coming through, and sometimes a slight saline note on the top. Not surprising given the vines’ proximity to the sea. So, you’re already starting to get a mix of floral and zesty-ness.
And that carries through when you taste the wine. You get the lime, and other citrus flavours like grapefruit. But you also get softer, sweeter fruit like summer peach. Again, it’s that nice mix of floral fruitiness cut with clean, fresh citrus flavours that really make wines from this grape beautiful to drink.
Winemaking techniques used with Albariño
Albariño is not really aged very often. There are some winemakers who are starting to experiment with barrel aging. But a lot of people argue that if you give this wine too much contact with the barrel then those wooden tones that the barrel imparts will hide the clean, freshness of this wine.
But what you will sometimes see is Albariño that's been left on the lees. Now the lees are basically the dead yeast cells that are left over from the fermentation process. Most wine makers will remove the lees from the wine once fermentation has finished. But in some cases, producers are starting to leave the wine on the lees for longer. That means that the lees impart more body and more complexity to the wine. So, if you see a bottle of Albariño on the lees (sobre lias) then do pick it up and give it a try.
What to eat with Albariño wines
In terms of food pairings then this wine drinks beautifully with seafood and especially shellfish. Clams, mussels, oysters if you can get them – they make a perfect match with this wine. And if you’re getting an Albariño on the lees, then that extra body and complexity mean it will also pair nicely with slightly more robust dishes like fish, paella, and even white meats.
So, if you’re a fan of fruity, crisp light white wines then go out, find yourself a bottle of Albariño, and give it a try. You’ll love it!