We’re in the midst of a relentlessly hot summer and most of our wine store customers are looking for bright white wines that both satisfy and refresh. If you’ve never heard of ─ or tried ─ Albarino, now is the perfect time to introduce yourself to this vibrant, flavorful grape.
Albarino (al-baa-ree-nyo) is originally from Spain but it also goes by the name Alvarinho (al-va-reen-yo) in Portugal and is becoming increasingly popular in California. The grape variety is naturally very aromatic; the typical aromas are enough to make you want to dive right in the glass. Citrus, peaches, almonds, flowers and grass are some common aromas wafting from a glass of Albarino. The wines are vibrant on the palate as well with bright acidity and distinctive flavors including white peaches, tangerines, grapefruits and limes. If that’s not enough to convince you that Albarino is the perfect summer wine, some examples also exude a minerality that evokes seashells and the ocean. If you know what it’s like to breathe in fresh, salty sea air, then you know what it means to drink a mineral driven Albarino.
Rias Baixas (ree-ahs buy-shuss) in Spain’s Galicia region is Albarino’s homeland. Many Spanish wine labels will list both the region and the grape but it helps to know that most white wines you’ll find from Rias Baixas are made from the Albarino grape. Galicia is situated on the Atlantic Coast which may explain the suggestion of the sea in the wine’s flavor profile. As you might expect, Spanish Albarino is delicious paired with foods from the sea, particularly shellfish. The spices common in Spanish cuisine will only serve to heighten the enjoyment of Albarino. Add an element of heat such as paprika or cayenne to your grilled fish or shellfish dishes and you’ll have yourself an ideal food and wine match.
Also on the Atlantic Coast, the Vinho Verde region in northern Portugal has become synonymous with the white wines of the same name. The wines are typically a blend of several local white varieties but Alvarinho is the most distinguished grape used to make Vinho Verde (VEE-nyoh VEHR-deh). The wines are light, sometimes even slightly sparkling, and are generally great values. Alvarinho also makes single varietal wines in the northern Vinho Verde region and these tend to be richer and more tropical than the blended wines. Grilled sardines ─ a Portuguese specialty ─ are a great food pairing but if sardines are not your thing, fried clams, calamari, and even assorted cheeses work well with Alvarinho based wines.
In the 1990s California began to take notice of the Albarino grape and it has adjusted well in many regions across the state. We have only just recently started to see some really authentic examples, most from the Central Coast near the Pacific Ocean. California Albarinos tend to have slightly more body than their European counterparts but the trademark liveliness is there. The wines will complement summer fare such as oysters and lobster rolls amazingly well.
Wines made from the Albarino grape are meant to be drunk young so look for current vintages such as 2010 or 2011. Cheers.