Light-bodied, tangy and lush with the flavors of stone fruits and citrus, the once little-known Albariño is quickly rising as a star on the international wine stage. A native of Galicia on the windswept northwest coast of the Iberian peninsula, the grape thrives in both Spain and Portugal. The predominance of the crop is grown on Spanish soil, particularly in the region of Rías Baixas, where it is recognized as Spain’s premiere white wine.
Albariño is a small, thick-skinned, green grape that fares well in the region’s cool, damp and blustery maritime climate, although yields are low and the abundant rainfall make them prey to rot and mildew. To counter this, wine growers train the vines on 7-ft-high canopies called parras in order to take advantage of the drying winds. But the cool damp weather has a plus side, imparting a lean, dry, highly acidic crispness to the finished wines. Proximity to the sea manifests a pleasant salinity, although grapes grown inland in more sheltered micro-climates will often emphasize softer, richer overtones with more pronounced fruit and higher alcohol levels.
Albariño wines are sophisticated and elegant, exhibiting tantalizing scents of honeysuckle, orange blossom, almonds, lime zest, green apples, tropical melons, peaches and apricots, with a vibrant, succulent palate to match. Clean, zesty acidity is their signature characteristic, making the wines irresistibly food-friendly. Often a stony minerality is present as
well due to the granite-and-chalk soils.
Most producers ferment Albariño in stainless steel tanks, but recently some are experimenting with oak barrel-aging and malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity and add fullness.
The grape is known as Alvarinho across the border in northern Portugal, where it is used to provide structure for the wines named after the Vinho Verde region. These are often infused with carbon dioxide to induce an effervescent, sparkling sensation in the mouth, but they are just as fresh, fruity and acidicly tangy as their Spanish neighbors. Alvarinho is also often blended with Portuguese varietals like Avesso, Arinto and Loureiro.
Albariño has also been grown successfully in California, Oregon, Washington State, Australia and New Zealand.
EXPERT WINE RECOMMENDATIONS
• Luis Carreno
89 Danada Square East, Wheaton
- 2016 Bieler Family "Daisy" Pinot Grigio Blend (Wash. State) $17. Pinot Grigio dominates this field blend. Lush flavors of apples, peaches, pears, citrus and spring flowers are braced by racy acidity and a wonderful depth.
- 2016 El Terrano Albariño (Spain) $16. Zippy acidity greets the tongue with this Albariño from the slopes of the Miño River. Clean and tangy, with juicy flavors of citrus and stone fruits buttressed by a saline minerality.
• Allixe Lischette
Cabernet and Company
434 N Main St., Glen Ellyn
- 2016 Ostatu Rosado Rioja (Spain) $16. Rosé from the chalky clay soils of Rioja. Aromas of ripe red berries and cherries lure the taste buds into a matching palate of tangerines, herbs, spices and minerality. Acidity is mouth-watering and the finish is lively and packed with red fruits.
- 2011 CVNE Viña Real Crianza (Spain) $16. Cherry-red blend of Tempranillo and 10 percent Garnacha shows off a ripe nose of cherries, currants, plums, blackberries, and strawberries, with
a hint of oak. Full-bodied, with balanced tannins and a spicy finish.