Albariño: the golden liquid of Spain

As with any industry, the wine business is always changing and developing, influenced by climate, fashions and the work of wine-makers, producers and drinkers all over the world.  It is both fun and interesting to see these developments and to try the various, lesser-known wines that are now more widely available.  Many wine-producing countries are challenging common-held views about their wines, and Spain is one of those that merits a closer look.

A popular belief is that Spain produces wine of variable quality – from expensive vintage reds that feature oak and reductive aromas, to simple cheap plonk that, while does not offend, does not delight enough to deserve a high price.  As for Spanish white wine, you would be forgiven for naming just the sparkling Cava as the white wine produced here. The most widely planted white grape in Spain is in fact, the hardy Airén, most often used as a base for Spanish brandy.

But look a little further and you can find some lovely Spanish white wines, including Verdejo from Rueda and Albariño grown in Galicia. The latter grape variety has contributed significantly to Spain’s quest to regain credibility for its white wines in both local and international markets.

Wine-makers have taken a closer look at their terroir (the geography, geology and climate influencing the grapes and resulting wines) to select the right grape for any specific region and show how different grape varieties respond in different terroirs. This restores power and pride to the wine-maker who can show how his unique terroir can alter the subtleties of his particular wine. Delicate differences and unusual flavours can certainly be found in Albariño – a white wine not to be missed!

It is thought that Albariño was brought to Galicia by monks during their pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela in theMiddle Ages.  The name, Alba-Riño, means “the white (wine) from the Rhine” and was therefore believed to be a clone of the Riesling grape variety originating from Alsace in France.

Albariño vineyards are planted on the granite-based soils of the Rias Baixas region, in a damp, maritime climate which helps to bring out a crisp acidity and enhance the natural flavours and aromas of the wine.  The thick skin of the Albariño grape loves this damp climate and yields small, sweet fruit with significant glycerol content to make wines with relatively high alcohol and acidity.

While the various sub-zones within the region express subtle differences, they all share a number of characteristics.  Albariño is pale, lemon-gold in colour and the wines are typically packed with flavours of apple, apricot, melon, and citrus.  The best quality Albariños are very aromatic, and add peaches and almonds to the wine’s flavour profile.  In fact, many growers are realising the potential of this grape variety for really premium wines that can age well, and are now experimenting with oak maturation.  These complex, medium-bodied, tasty wines can fetch a high price, but the essential flavours of the grape and natural complexity can be found in pretty much every price bracket, so it’s worth trying a couple – if only to discover a pleasing variety, which is easy to match with food yet aromatic enough to drink alone.

Do send us your recommendations of Albariños, and try some we have listed below for starters!

  • Albarino, Santiago Ruiz 2010 from Bancroft wines at £11.55/bottle
  • Sin Palabras Albariño 2010 from Laithwaites at £13.49/bottle
  • Orballe Albarino, Rias Baixas 2010 from M&S – £53.96/ case of 6 bottles

Published: 05.03.2010 Buletín de Turismo de las Rias Baixas Translated: 13.01.2011

Posted on 8th January by Simona