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The Albariño Grape

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About Albariño

(Synonyms: Albarina, Alvarin Blanco, Alvarinha, Alvarinho, Azal Blanco, Galego, Galeguinho)


Albarino grapes Map showing Galicia

Albariño is a white-wine grape originating in, and still primarily from, Galicia—the northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula, parts of which are in Spain and parts in Portugal (where the grape is known as is known as Alvarinho). Till fairly recently, Albariño was an obscure variety, little known outside its home; that was chiefly because transport to and from that region was minimal and slow. With the advent of improved railways, the grape came to the attention of the world market, and it is now generally considered one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class white wines (those in boldface in the varietals list to the left of the page). While it is characteristic of Iberian wines to be blends, known by regional names, Albariño is so well regarded that it is usually bottled as a 100% monovarietal.

It is widely felt that the best Albariños come from the Rias Baixas area. Classic winemaking for Rias Baixas Albariño does not involve contact with wood; but in recent years, some winemakers have been experimenting with oak-barrel aging for at least some of their Albariños. The practice (as well as a trend to less-dry renditions) is controversial: some feel it makes a better wine, while others hold that good, bad, or indifferent, whatever results is not "real" Albariño. There are obviously no definitive answers, but be aware of those basic stylistic differences when approaching samples of this varietal, and don't judge all by a few.

Factoid: Albarino is the smallest white-wine grape in the world.

Some Descriptions of Albariño Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "The grape is noted for its distinctive aroma, very similar to that of Viognier, Gewurztraminer, and Petit Manseng, suggesting apricot and peach. The wine produced is unusually light, and generally high in acidity with alcohol levels of 11.5–12.5%. Its thick skins and large number of pips can cause residual bitterness."

  • Rias Baxias Wines

    "It has been compared to Riesling for its minerality and bracing acidity; to Viognier, because of its fleshiness and peach/apricot character; and to Pinot Gris for its floral bouquet. When grown in highly acidic, granitic earth, Albariño yields a more mineral-driven and structured wine. In sandy soil, however, the Albariño grape gives a softer, rounder wine. . . . It is also one of the few Spanish white grape varieties produced as a varietal wine on its own and designated on labels. Most often fermented in stainless steel for early drinking, Albariño is a versatile grape. It responds well to malolactic or barrel fermentation and maturation to create wines of wonderful complexity and aging ability."

  • Oliver Styles, Catavina

    "But what are the classic characteristics of Rias Baixas Albarino, then? This is debatable but probably: a very aromatic nose of something like peaches and apricots; decent palate weight; but not broad or flabby; and a lovely, fresh, zippy acidic finish."

  • Jim Clarke, StarChefs

    "Fresh, aromatic, light. Notes of peach, melon, pear, and sometimes even apricot countered by a crystalline minerality. The vibrant acidity is occasionally smoothed out with the slightest of petillance. Some producers are experimenting with oak-aging, but this is certainly the exception so far."

  • Professional Friends of Wine

    "Typically, its wines are very sweet-smelling, often described as having scents of almonds or almond paste, apples, citrus, lime, peaches, and flowers or grass. Albariño shares many of the same terpenes also found in the other aromatic varieties: Gewürztraminer, Muscat, and Riesling. Albariño wines are particularly suited to seafood due to their bracing acidity (Jancis Robinson calls it "razor-sharp."). This grape's inherent tartness should be embraced in youth, for wines made from albariño do not age well, and the vibrant aromas begin to noticeably fade within months of bottling."

  • Michael Franz, Wine Review Online

    "Albariño can age. And by that I mean not only that it can hang on for a few years after being bottled, but that it can develop."

  • Dennis Schaefer, Wine Lovers Page

    "Part of its attraction is its salinity: you can almost taste the salty sea spray that mingles with refreshing, honeyed flavors of apple, citrus, and stone fruits. While the wines are not necessarily simple, they are direct with great aromatics, plenty of luscious flavors and crisp finishes."

  • Albariño Explorers Club

    (Many images of Albariños, with some popup comments on each maker.)

Some Albariños to Try

(About this list.)

Jancis Robinson has observed of Albariño that "In my experience, although it's unusual to find a bad one, it can be difficult to find a really outstanding one." Discussions of Albariño do not—as they often do with other wines—produce any obvious few prime choices. Reviewers' opinions are all over the lot. Nevertheless, any of these should prove a good specimen of the type.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Adega Condes de Albarei Albariño, $9 - $18. (There is also an Albarei" Pazo Baion Single Vineyard", which is more expensive.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Clear, greenish-gold in color. Clean aromas including herbs, lime, tropical fruits, and melon. A dry wine with higher than average acidity, medium body, and a medium finish. Flavors of lemon and lime, minerality, and bright pineapple.

    Smelling the wine brings out heaps of ripe fruit - golden apple, tangerine, melon, and pear. The fruit is made even prettier by slight floral, spice, and toasty aromas, but kept in the Old World by wet stone and ocean air minerality. Tasting the wine shows candied pineapple and honey with hallmark Albarino acidity balanced by a creamy mouthfeel.

    It has a striking, exuberant bouquet of banana skin, watermelon and peony that is well-defined and alluring. The palate is crisp and well-balanced with lively peach and lemon zest on the entry, hints of papaya and gooseberry, leading to a finish that is akin to a fine tropical Sauvignon Blanc. This is a well-crafted Albarino.

    Pale yellow. Spicy, mineral-accented aromas of lemon curd and orange, with a deeper pear quality emerging in the glass. Juicy and silky in texture, with smooth orchard fruit flavors that expand on the back half. In an open-knit, easy-going style, with good finishing punch and cling.

    Pear, green almond, fresh herb and floral notes mingle in this round, smooth white. Smoke and mineral notes add interest, while firm acidity maintains focus.

    Aromas were filled with sweet apple, peach, lime and some floral notes. A tasty palate was filled with peach, apple, some tropical fruit and a little grapefruit with some honeydew melon. I also got a little stone or slate in the mouth. The finish was nice with some citrus and melon. Good acidity with soft refreshing flavors.

    This pale yellow colored Albarino opens with a mild pear and peach like bouquet. On the palate, this wine is light bodied, nicely balanced and very easy to enjoy. The flavor profile is a mild green apple with hints of lemon, minerality and dash of white pepper. The finish is dry and nicely refreshing.

    Melon and peach aromas are clean and attractive. The palate is round and creamy, with just enough acidic cut. Flavors of melon and peach carry onto the finish, which has thickness and smoothness. Easygoing.

    [L]ight greenish yellow. On the nose, there were pears and flowers. In the mouth, there was salt, followed by limes and tart granny smith apples. The wine had a light body, bright acidity, and a lot of minerality. [T]his wine was good, but the salinity was a little much . . . this is . . . probably a wine best enjoyed on its own.

  • Bodegas Martin Codax Burgans, $10 - $19.
         ($15.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Such an expressive and aromatic wine! Aromas of green apple, lemon, peach, and ocean air minerality jump out of the glass. Tasting reveals a wine as savory as it is fruit-filled. The lemon and subtle tropical fruit flavors are joined by olive and minerals. The feel is classic Albariño - generous acidity with a creamy mouthfeel thanks to gentle lees stirring.

    Bright and lively nose of tropical fruit. Medium bodied on the palate, with good acidity. Citrus and melon woven together on the flavorful finish. This is a terrific white wine that shouldn't be overlooked.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 90

    ♣ Wine Enthusiast (date unknown), 90

    Aromas were green apple, wild flowers and peach with a little citrus. In the mouth there was lots of apple, some lemon and honey. The finish wasn't really dry, but not that sweet and not too long. Sort of like a tart green apple with a few drops of honey. Paired really nice with a broiled salmon steak, brown rice and steamed veggies. Another nice wine I am going to have to add to my list of favorites.

    Peach, nectarine and apricot pop out of the glass without much prompting. The ripe and well-rounded stone fruit is vibrant and fresh upon entry, stretching out and expanding on mid palate, then moving on to an upbeat finish. Coconut, vanilla and ginger are the spicy components that wrap around and transform the fruit flavors to something way beyond the typical fruit (forward) cocktail in a glass.

    I have recommended this wine before, but it is such a great value, versatile wine, and we so enjoyed this Burgáns last night with dinner, that I needed to give it a shout out again.

    The Burgans Albarino is a perennial Best Buy in these pages. The 2010 Burgans Albarino delivers notes of lemon, peach, mineral, and a hint of tropical fruit aromas. Round, ripe, and savory with a slightly exotic personality, it is a nicely textured effort that over-delivers in a big way.

  • Columna, $12 - $17.
         ($14.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    [E]xhibits exotic notes of pineapples, white peaches and honeysuckle, fresh acids, and medium-bodied, intense, concentrated, alluring flavors.

    Green-gold color. Bright aromas and flavors of orange, pear and peach are enlivened by a stony element. Tactile and dry, with attractive candied citrus and honeysuckle qualities carrying through a zesty, mineral-accented finish.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (August 2012), 91

    The nose on this wine is a floral mix of crisp lime, tangerine and green apple that's as fresh and clean as a soft breeze after a spring shower. Sweet citrus fruit fills the mouth and blends well with the notes of clover, herb and spring greens. The finish is long and lively with a pleasant minerality and a kiss of food-friendly, cleansing acidity. This wine is an excellent value.

    [A] classic example of a Rías Baixas Albariño. Delicate white floral aromas (think honeysuckle) hover on the palate, with distinct mineral notes of granite. The wine is not oak aged, so you won’t get any butter or toasty aromas. It’s light-bodied with a crisp acidity.

    Bright straw color. Fresh melon and tangerine aromas are brightened by notes of quinine and chalky minerals. Light-bodied, focused honeydew and citrus fruit flavors show good concentration and a hint of saltiness. Finishes tangy and long, with a refreshingly bitter quality and a touch of fresh orange.

  • Bodegas Terras Gauda Abadia de San Campio Albariño, $13 - $19.

    Some quotations and facts:

    The Abadia de San Campio is an outstanding example of Albariño. It is a beautiful lemon color in the glass with huge aromas of Golden Delicious apple, citrus and some banana. The taste is full of ripe fruit like peach and citrus with some minerality, but a good balance between acidity and sugar keep it fresh and crisp. The finish is long and tart.

    Color was a light golden yellow, very clear and bright. While pouring, I was picking up aromas of pear, but first sniff in the glass the aromas were green apple with pear, lemon zest, some tangerine and a touch of pineapple. A very zesty mouthfeel with taste of lemon, a little ripe apple and a bit of grapefruit. Finish was quite nice, long and citrusy. . . A beautiful wine and Highly Recommended.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (date unknown), 89 Points

    ♣ Wine Enthusiast (October 2010), 89 Points

    [A] pale lemon colour. Alcohol is fairly low (12.5% abv) and the legs . . . dissipate quickly as a result. . . shows lemon citrus and melon with moderate intensity. On the palate . . . a little more complexity emerges. Here the predominant lemon citrus flavours are joined by a sense of waxiness and a touch of grapefruit. Just medium bodied, the acidity . . . is high, which rushes through a finish of moderate length. . . Score: 85/100 . . . shows why there is an increasing interest in this grape variety outside of Spain.

    Lemon, apple blossom and honey aromas make for a correct, attractive bouquet. Meanwhile, the palate is typically crisp and vibrant, with cutting acids that push the pineapple and citrus flavors to a point. Long and exact on the finish, and overall there’s not an ounce of flab to this streamlined white. 89

    [A] a deep lemon yellow color, intense aromas of ripe apple and hints of orange, along with flavors of peach and apricot. It is dry, with a silky texture, subdued acidity, and good concentration.

    This 100% Albariño is a solid example of the character of the Galacian signature grape. Ripe with tropical fruits and citrus, it maintains a crisp, mineral finish.

  • Bodegas Fillaboa Albariño, $15 - $20. (There is also a Fillaboa "Selección Finca Monte Alto", which is more expensive.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    A purists wine--not unpleasant but you probably should be a fan of linear, racy, jangly, tight, searing wines.

    ♣ Wine & Spirits (August 2011), 92 points

    ♣ Wine Advocate (June 2011), 89 points

    Begins with lots of lemon, peach and grapefruit aromas along with hints of custard. Tasting the wine reveals many of the same flavors as the bouquet (lemon, peach and a bit of creamy custard) along with some melon notes. This light-bodied wine has a very nice, fresh acidity. It ends with tart citrus highlights that last a good time. Yum.

    Fillaboa creates one of the few wines that is estate grown and bottled. Food and Wine Magazine named them top Albariño producer in 2007.

  • Agro de Bazan Granbazan Ambar Albariño, $16 - $24.
         ($19.54 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    [A]ll free-run juice, part of which undergoes malolactic fermentation. It retains the freshness and the floral aromatics of its regular bottling; it's more viscous in the mouth too and shows more fleshy peach, nectarine and citrus flavors as well as a good acidic grip on the finish.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 92

    [T]he 2011 Etiqueta Ámbar from Granbazán [was] clearly a step above the others. The Ámbar was aromatic, steely and complex. It was also our best value.

    It had a good, strong nose, of lemon-lime, a touch of honey, and minerals. The mouth feel was big too, bold and brash. I would have preferred it a little more toned down, a little less acidic, but overall, still a very drinkable wine.
    (alternate link)

    This is one of the few wineries that produce "true" albariño; they select the bunches by hand and bottle the very "essence" of the albariño.

    Heady, spicy and musky perfumed nose. Textural and rounded palate has gritty fruit tannins and a warm finish but ultimately finishes flabby and broad. Oxidised pretty quickly in the glass too. Pleasant but ultimately unremarkable.

  • Bodegas del Palacios De Fefinanes, $18 - $26. (There are also Fefinanes "1583" and "III Ano", which are more expensive.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    This is consistently one of my very favourite Albariños . . . It's spritzy, perfumed and refreshing with that Riesling-like crispness that you get in the best Galician whites, notes of pear and stone fruit and a long, satisfying, palate-tingling finish. The taste of (green) Spain.

    Complex, expressive, herby and lemony. This is really delicious with beautiful fruit expression and lovely complexity. A stylish, elegant white.

    [O]pens aromatically with green apple, pear and some sweet floral notes reminiscent of the native white frangipani. The palate has a rich round flavour of rockmelon, yellow flowers with hints of rocket and mint. . . mineral tones and zippy acidity.

    [A] fabulously easy wine to drink with lots of depth and satisfaction. No big flavours jump out, it’s silky smooth . . . and a second bottle (in its distinctive Riesling style bottle) beckons after the first.

    If you buy a bottle of Fefiñanes, don't rush to open it. Owner Viscount Juan Gil is eager to dispel the myth that Albariño should be drunk young.

    The climate provides acidity and freshness to the wine. Lovely balance, crisp fruit flavor spiked with minerals of wet stone. Finishing clean and soft.

    Pale straw in colour, the sweet aromatics are on straight away: white peach, musky white flowers, apple blossom, a slight bit of sea spray with a suggestion of lemon. The first taste immediately has me interested, a luxurious oily texture, flinty, minerally, complexity, great balance and length. A big hit of flavour: apples, white peach, minerals and flint, and pink musk sticks.

    [A] truly incredible wine. Light gold in color with beautifully full and rich aromas of fresh stone fruits, particularly peaches, apricots, and nectarines. Additionally, notes of apples and honey exude from the glass. On the palate similar fruits pass elegantly over the tongue with abounding freshness and minerality. A long and persistent finish – with a slight bitterness on the back of the tongue – complete the experience.

For a Splurge

"Now there are plenty of Albariños to choose from. But the standard bearer for me, the undisputed ruler of them all, is the Albariño Cepas Vellas by do Ferreira."

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