Albarino - My new found grape friend!
Albarino, my new found grape friend!
It's zesty, mouth watering saline wines are a simple treat on a warm sunny day.
Albarino is grown in a number of wine producing countries across the globe, (the US is particularly fond of it at the moment, along with Uruguay aparently) however the real home for this wonderfully refreshing variety is Rias Baixas, located on the coastal region of Galicia, Spain.
99% of the grapes grown in this region are white with 96% being Albarino so it's all about the Albarino... pretty much. This is all down to a commercial decision by the region, Albarino sold wine... Loureiro, Treixadura, Caíño Blanco and the rest, not so much. The latter are still grown but in much lesser quantities.
Tradition dictates that Albarino, as just mentioned, is a fresh, lively and vibrant white wine that shows off its coastal heritage with saline qualities, allowing it to stand alone for its stylistic charms. However, more and more often we are seeing complex styles being produced that will open your eyes and leave you excited for your next Albarino experience!
Growing Albarino in this coastal region doesn't come easily. The grapes are small, have thick skins and are grown on vines fashioned in a pergola style. This pergola style of trellising, where grapes are suspended 7ft off the ground, is mainly down to the ever pressing influence of the wet Atlantic climate. Even with these thick skins, the ever wet and humid region of Rias Baixas requires this pergola (Parra) style to keep the grapes off the ground, helping ventilation and therefore the prevention of rot. This tricky wet and humid climate has lead to the north west of Spain gaining the nickname, Green Spain.
Now, although Albarino's thick skin lends a helping hand in the vineyards, they have the potential to be problematic in the cellar. Too much skin contact with the juice can extract a bitter pithy character which isn't always desirable. With the finer wines whole bunch pressing is used (as long as the stems and pips are phonically ripe). The stems create gaps between the grapes for the juice to run off the skins with minimal skin contact therefore little extraction. Skin contact can be used at the cold maceration stage (before the fermentation), in order to extract further aromatics, however this comes with the previously mentioned problems. Producers such as Zarate and Nanclares are looking for the natural terroir expression and not extra power so tend to stay away from skin contact, the results are pure, precise and age worthy wines that will make you smile.
I mentioned earlier that 96% of the white grapes grown in this region were of Albarino so you may think that most of the whites coming out of this region would taste the same... not quite. Rias Baixas is sub divided in to 5 sub-appellations which allow for a plethora of different climates and growing conditions... the sub regions are as follows:
- Condado do Tea - bold and fruity
- O Rosal - boarders with Portugal
- Soutomaior - smallest of the five with saline and mineral driven wines
- Val do Salnes - probably the most visited sub-region, again saline and mineral wines
- Riberia do Ulla - most northerly sub-reigion, inland with fruitier and floral styles.
The above regions, although sharing similar soil types, all enjoy their own very individual climates which in turn styles with wine produced. In short you are looking at rounder, fruitier wines from those sub-regions away from the coast; with the coast zones tapping up all the saline and mineral characteristics they can get.
Personally, I like the saline, mineral driven wines of the coastal zones. Add a level cellar influence such as vessel influence like barrel or Tinaja (a large clay pot) or lees stirring and you have a more complex style. With the skins being nice and thick you also have the potential to add a level of phenolics to the mix offering a pithy, textural and dense mouth feel. In the hands of a skilled winemaker such as Alberto Nanclares, you will experience Burgundian levels of complexity and aging potential.
We have a number of Albarino to select from. If you are looking for the everyday table wine then you needn't spend too much, however, if you want added complexity and hard saline and mineral line with concentration that will blow your mind then I would thoroughly recommend reaching out for a bottle of the more premium stuff. Even if it's an experiment... you won't be disappointed, I wasn't.
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