Albariño, The Other White Grape

If I asked you what the world’s most popular white variety is, how would you respond? You guessed, it, Chardonnay – unless, of course you live in Spain, where Albariño ranks as the signature white that captures everyone’s heart.

Albar-what? Albariño! Pronounced “Al-ba-ree-nyo”, meaning “the white from Rhine”, is as popular to Spain as Chardonnay is to North America. Grown in the D.O. appellation Rías Baixas (ree-ahs-buy-shuss), Albariño is considered a benchmark producing captivating wines with rich, tart, distinctive aromas and flavors.

What I love about Albariño is its innate ability to mimic so many varietals, yet it distinctively stands out as a wine with unrivaled character and finesse. Emulating its stature would call for a dash of grassiness from Sauvignon blanc, a hint of almond flavors found in Pinot blanc, a handful of mineral flavors from Riesling, a pinch of apple and peach from Chardonnay – then envelop all this goodness with the sweet smells of apricots and orange blossoms found in Viognier.

Albariño really is a unique grape!

I recently tasted a number of delicious Albariño’s from the Rias Baixas region. My favorite among the flight was the 2007 Adegas Morgadio Albarino Rias Baixas, which has wonderfully aromatic aromas with scents of apple and citrus. The style piled up zesty flavors of lime, green tea and melon finishing with a long, rich, clean, zesty punch. Another great find is the 2007 Viña Nora Albarino Rias Baixas, which has nice acidity and flavors bursting with complex honeydew and orchard fruit. Retailing at $14 a bottle, it’s a great wine for the price.

Morgadio

Now Spain isn’t the only area where Albariño is grown. Portugal also produces it under a different name, a.k.a. “Alvarinho” which typically makes a lighter, sometimes fizzy style wine compared to its rival Rías Baixas region.

As for new world territories, Albariño is beginning to spread its wings. According to the Trade Commission of Spain, the first plantings in the United States were in Virginia. In Califronia, Qupé Wine Cellars (1) planted the first block of Albariño in the Santa Ynez Valley in the mid-1990s. Since then, a number of other California appellations started planting Albariño, including Edna Valley, Carneros, Clarksburg, the Central Coast, Monterey, Napa, Orange County, Paso Robles, Sierra Foothills, and even the Lodi region. Did you say Lodi? Unbelievable at it may seem the Albariño grape is growing in a region where Zinfandel is the reigning king. As the growing number of consumer interest in Albariño increased, other states such as Oregon and Maryland followed suit.

Heading to our Southern Hemisphere, Australia began importing the grape about six years ago, which now supports roughly two dozen producers. Some of the more well-known wineries include Chrismont and Sam Miranda from King Valley, First Drop and Tscharke from Barossa Valley, Gemtree Vineyards from McLaren Vale, and Irvine from Eden Valley.

Like the U.S., there is enormous potential for Albariño growth in Australia, which has yet to be explored, and with wine consumers willing to try new grape varieties, there is no doubt that production yields will increase as consumers recognize the uniqueness of what this grape has to offer.

Reinforcing this direction is the announcement of Kirrihill Wines prospecting and evaluating the ability to produce this varietal in Australia’s Adelaide Hills.

“We are working with our growers, Paul and Michele Edwards, to plant Albariño in the Adelaide Hills. They are already growing high quality Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc in their Mount Torrens vineyard and we believe Albariño would be a natural fit,” says Matthew McCulloch of Kirrihill wines.

In Spain, Albariño is grown almost exclusively in the cool and wet environs of the Rías Baixas region in Galicia, a Mediterranean climate where Albariño grows in its granite and chalk soils positioned steps away from the Atlantic Ocean.

Although the Adelaide Hills in Australia is not as wet as the Rías Baixas region, there is less fungal disease pressure, which is a definite advantage for Australian grape growers. In similarity, both Rías Baixas and the Adelaide Hills regions have Mediterranean climates and soil compositions that support the growth of Albariño. “Both regions enjoy a maritime climate with the nearby oceans, Southern and Atlantic, exerting a significant influence. Soils in the Adelaide Hills are varied with weathered schists, skeletal quartzites, sandstones and podsols of varying fertility whilst granite-based soils make up the Rías Baixas, so we are identifying areas within the vineyard where quartzites predominate which is the nearest to a granite-based soil we have,” says McCulloch.

Now I’ve been dying to try one of these Aussie Albariños but I haven’t had much luck tracking one down in Oregon. Most of what I’ve heard, the Australian style is quite different from the Spanish rendition. They still have the floral and fragrant aspects, but they tend to play down the minerality aspect and lean towards more complexity and higher alcohol concentrations with delicious flavors of honeysuckle, lemon, and fresh cut pear. Hopefully I’ll track down one of these fine wines and report back on some tasting notes and locations on where you can find them in the U.S.

So what are some of your favorite Albariños you’ve tried recently?

(1) The first California Albariño bottling actually came from Havens Wine Cellars in 1999.

2017-03-31T20:30:12+00:00

About the Author:

Editor and co-founder of Enobytes.com, Pamela is a sommelier and former restaurant manager and wine buyer with Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), Court of Master Sommeliers & Center for Wine Origins certification. She has contributed to or been quoted by various publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Sommelier Journal, Vegetarian Times, VIV Magazine, UC-Berkeley Astrobiology News, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, NPR and USA Today. True to her roots, she seeks varietal and appellation integrity and is always passionate about finding the next great bottle of wine.

24 Comments

  1. Ryan November 20, 2008 at 6:50 AM - Reply

    Nice article, though one thing to point out. In Spain, many Albarino producers swear that a wine made from it does not truly start to shine without 2-3yrs of age on it, and in some cases many more. It’s a great wine for aging and in Portugal other than the Vinho Verde’s which are lighter, there are more and more full bodied and rich versions!
    Great article!

  2. Chris Geno November 20, 2008 at 11:01 AM - Reply

    Chrysalis Vineyards near Middleburg in Northern Virginia, DC’s Wine Country, produces a great Albarino. Check out their website at http://www.chrysaliswine.com. While their specialty is the Norton wine, their Albarino gets rave reviews around the region.

  3. Patrick November 20, 2008 at 11:05 AM - Reply

    Next time you’re driving through Healdsburg, we can pop open a bottle of my Lodi Albarino – made in H’burg!

  4. enobytes November 20, 2008 at 9:05 PM - Reply

    Ryan, that’s something I didn’t know about the aging aspect. I’ll be on the lookout for older vintages to compare them with what I’ve recently tasted.

    Chris – I haven’t had Chrysalis wines before; I’ll seek one out and thanks for letting us know about it.

    Patrick – I’ll take you up on that and looking forward to it!

  5. Geozel November 20, 2008 at 11:58 PM - Reply

    I really love this site!

  6. Wine of the Week: Coto de Gomariz November 21, 2008 at 9:14 AM - Reply

    […] P.S. you should all check out this great write up about Albariño over at Enobytes: Albariño, The Other White Grape […]

  7. bostontparties.com » BoTalks November 21, 2008 at 9:49 AM - Reply

    […] Enobytes gives me a thirst for a grassy, almondy, stone-fruity, citrusy bottle of Albariño. [Enobytes] […]

  8. Brian November 24, 2008 at 6:12 PM - Reply

    I love albarino but I have a hard time finding it in Idaho. Good article.

  9. Conner November 27, 2008 at 10:31 AM - Reply

    I had the ’06 Pazo de Senorans Albarino recently and really enjoyed it, lots of peach and citrus flavors. A complex wine with a lot of character.

  10. Pete the palate December 1, 2008 at 2:18 PM - Reply

    Australia is starting to produce some quite impressive Albarino and Tempranillo. Both varieties seem to be able to handle some heat, significantly retaining natural acidity. Whilst production is small, a number of larger plantings are coming to fruition. Now we just need to pull out that weed called Pinot Gris (and Sauvignon Blanc).

  11. Pete the palate December 1, 2008 at 2:24 PM - Reply

    In fact one pioneer Dominic Morris of Pondolowie vineyards makes an excellent unoaked Tempranillo (MT).

    He is also the winemaker at Quinta Da Castro in Portugal 3 months of the year. I tasted their top red last week and it is seriously good.

    The light frizzante Portugese interpretation is called Vino Verde. Most is junk, a few are excellent.

    Aussie Albarinos worth investigating;

    Irvine http://www.irvinewines.com.au
    Gemtree http://www.gemtreevineyards.com.au

  12. enobytes December 1, 2008 at 6:33 PM - Reply

    Thanks for your comments and links Pete. I’m really looking forward to tasting the Albarinos coming from Australia.

  13. Pete the palate December 3, 2008 at 12:29 PM - Reply

    My pleasure. I love the name Albarino.The name sounds like a NY gangster. Tempranillo his artistic cousin.

  14. Kim August 5, 2009 at 4:26 PM - Reply

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news for those looking to try the Australian Albarino…

    An excerpt from Wikipedia (Albarino),

    “In recent years Albarino has attracted the attention of Australian winemakers, several of whom are now producing varietal wines. However, it has recently been discovered that grape growers and wine makers in Australia have been supplying and selling wrongly labeled Albarino for over a decade. They thought they were pouring money into the market for the Spanish grape, only to discover they were incorrectly sold cuttings of the French Savagnin grape instead.

    A French expert visiting Australia raised questions in 2008 and DNA testing has confirmed that the grapes are in fact French Savagnin. Almost all wine in Australia labelled as Albarino will be Savagnin.[5]”

  15. Kim August 5, 2009 at 4:32 PM - Reply

    By the way, the one to try and my favorite, Mar de Frades Albarino. :)

  16. enobytes August 5, 2009 at 7:44 PM - Reply

    Hey Kim, the excerpt and findings is greatly appreciated. Interesting comments and thanks for posting.

    Re: Mar de Frades Albarino, I found it on vinquire.com so lucky for me (and those in the U.S) I’ll find it and try it. Thanks for the tip. ~Pamela

  17. Luke August 6, 2009 at 9:20 AM - Reply

    Here is another report on the recent findings of Albariño and Savagnin:

    http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a200904202.html

  18. enobytes August 6, 2009 at 6:01 PM - Reply

    Luke, thanks for the link, good stuff. ~Pamela

  19. 10 Cool Things You Probably Don’t Know About Spanish Wine (but should) | Enobytes Wine Blog September 7, 2009 at 12:06 AM - Reply

    […] The next big white: I know many of you have a long time love affair with Albariño, and who can blame you?  She’s rich and tart, with unrivaled character and finesse. But if […]

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  21. Roger June 21, 2010 at 12:28 PM - Reply

    Albarino has made it’s way into Suisun Valley in last couple of years, taking advantage of marine influneces coming from San Pablo Bay King Andrews Vineyards is the first in valley to bottle it. Grafting in 2010 using clone from Rias Baixas (Duarte Nursery)will expand production as many find this wine delightful.

  22. enobytes June 21, 2010 at 5:29 PM - Reply

    Roger, thanks for the info. I’ll have to find a bottle of Albarino from the Suisan Valley!

  23. […] The next big white: I know many of you have a long time love affair with Albariño, and who can blame you?  She’s rich and tart, with unrivaled character and finesse. But if […]

  24. […] The next big white: I know many of you have a long time love affair with Albariño, and who can blame you?  She’s rich and tart, with unrivaled character and finesse. But if […]

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