Albariño, most commonly spelled Albarino or Albarinho (in Portugal), is a noble varietal source of some of the world’s most refreshing and thirst-quenching wines. The varietal is not nearly as popular as the international superstars Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, but the wines made with it are of extraordinary quality.
Albariño is not only an alternative for crisp wines made with Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Vermentino and Gruner Veltliner, but it’s also a unique varietal that thrives were no other white grape can. Albariño is planted where the climate is too harsh on the vines, making it truly special.
Perhaps Spain’s most popular white wine grape, there’s no doubt Albarino is climbing the popularity ranks, and it’s now featured in the finest wine lists in the best restaurants worldwide. The grape’s affinity for seafood is extraordinary, and it’s also a superb apéritif. There’s a place for Albarino on the table for sure and in everyone’s wine cellar as well. Once you get to know this unique grape, you’ll surely add it to your shopping list monthly. Here’s all you need to know about Albarino grapes and their refreshing wines. Spain’s pride and joy.
Where Is Albarino Grown?
Albariño is a white grape variety with bright green skin. The grape could be found growing wild centuries ago mingling with poplar trees along the Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic Coast. The grape was domesticated and used to make white wine in both countries.
Most Albariño grapes grow in the NortWestern part of Spain. www.doriasbaixas.com
Spain’s average precipitation ranges between 400-600mm of rain per year. The Northwestern corner of Spain, known as Galicia, and neighboring Portugal, gets over 1,200mm of rain. The intense rainfall and humidity make it impossible to grow regular grapes. Only varieties adapted to the humid climate thrive in the region, mainly Albarino.
Albariño is the leading grape in Galicia, particularly in the DO Rias Baixas. The grape also thrives across the border in Portugal, where it is blended with other grapes to become the famous Vinho Verde. Both expressions of Albarino share similar traits — the wine has high acidity and fresh fruit on the nose with citrus and herbal notes.
Albariño has also shown promise in cold-climate regions in California, the UK and New Zealand. Winemakers in cold, rainy areas need not look further for a white variety that delivers, and that’s making Albarino popular outside of Spain and Portugal.
Viticulture and Winemaking
Albariño might be resistant to heavy rains and humidity, but it’s still prone to fungal disease. This makes grape growers train the vines up in pergolas, several feet above the damp earth, to protect the vines from excess moisture. Unlike other wine regions, grape growers must look up to tend the vines, making the vineyards impossible to mechanize.
Albariño grapes planted over the ground. DO Rias Baixas
Most wines made with Albariño are hand pruned and harvested, but the result is worth it. It comes without saying Albarino grapes develop a thick skin, which adds texture to the wine, and enough sugar to produce wines with alcohol levels between 11.5-12.5% alcohol by volume.
Albariño wines are fermented in temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks and they usually spend time on their lees, the spent dead yeast, which gives body and a round texture to the wine.
Oak-aged versions of Albarino exist, but they’re rare. Oak masks the grape’s fruit flavors, their most desired trait. This means, of course, that most wines are not made to last. Most wines made with Albarino are best enjoyed between 1-3 years after harvest. This doesn’t mean the wine isn’t complex — Albariño can offer endless layers of flavor and texture over that exquisite acidic and almost saline palate.
Albariño wines are often inexpensive, and the best values often come from Portugal and fall within the Vinho Verde appellation. The Spanish versions can be more refined, especially from the Rias Baixas DO, and they can be more expensive.
Wines made with Albariño have a distinct botanical flavor profile mingling with citrus and white fruit aromas. Scents of pears, green apples, apricots and peaches are not uncommon, along with fresh herbs and marine salinity. These are some of the most reputable Albarino wines in the market today:
- Raul Perez ‘Sketch’ Blanco. Honey and mineral aromas come out of this small-batch, artisanal Albariño made by the illustrious winemaker Raul Perez, known for its Bierzo wines made from grapes from extreme vineyards. The grapes for this wine are hand-picked and carried in small boxes; the grapes grow high in pergolas with a plantation density of 1600 vines per hectare at 60 meters over sea level. Citrusy and saline, this extraordinary wine is lovely with seafood.
- Paco & Lola Albarino. Young and modern, Paco & Lola offers a clean-cut Albarino fermented in stainless steel. The grapes are grown sustainably over granitic and sandy loam soils in Rias Baixas. With an alcohol volume of 13%, aged in its fine lees and bottled young, this wine is crisp, refreshing and excellent with sushi, white meat and pasta.
- Martin Codax Albarino. Medium-bodied and crisp with pears, passion fruit, apples and lemon zest on the nose. Bright and light with noticeable minerality. One of the most famous wines in Rias Baixas and a wonderful Albarino example. Ideal with grilled octopus, oysters and other seafood.
- Pazo de Señorans Albariño. Palid straw yellow with greenish glints. Medium-high intensity. The balance of acidity assigns a structure of great volume to the wine improves its traces until the retro nasal. This one spends a minimum of 5 months on its lees before bottling. One of the best, in our opinion.
Albarino is Extraordinary
Whether you’re looking for a crisp palate-cleanser or white wine to pair with your sea-scented meal, Albarino has you covered. The maritime variety is incredibly versatile; it’s beautiful on its own and food compatible.
There’s no doubt wines made with Albarino are best enjoyed in warm weather, but the thirst-quenching and herbal-scented wines are delightful year-round. The best thing about Albarino is that it is rarely expensive, so stocking your fridge with a few bottles won’t burn a hole in your pocket — this is a great buy.
Albariño might play a unique role in the Spanish and Portuguese wine repertoire, but the grape is finding its way to wine regions elsewhere. Wine enthusiasts and experts, connoisseurs and industry professionals, they’ve all found a place in their hearts (and cellars) for Albariño.