As summer fades, or perhaps this year more accurately described, as summer washes away, there’s no need to give up on white wine so soon. A vibrant and refreshing white might be exactly what you need to get you through just a few more rainy days! Look to northwestern Spain and you’ll find albarino. Produced in the Rias Baixas (REE-yahss BUY-shuss) region of Galicia, albarino is considered one of Spain’s most amazing and successful white wines. So much, that albarino accounts for 90% of all plantings in the region. The success however is only recent, occurring in the past couple of decades, due to modern advances in wine making technology throughout Spain.
Prior to the improvements, the norm for white wine production in Spain was to ferment the harvested fruit in large barrels outside in warm temperatures. The result was oxidized wine that lacked acidity and tasted flat. During this time albarino was enjoyed as a local or country wine, and that’s where it stayed; with virtually no exports until the 1980s. It wasn’t until the use of refrigerated, temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks became widely accepted that albarino was really discovered for its true beauty.
Rias Baixas, in the heart of Galicia, is a coastal region, situated above Portugal and bordered by the Atlantic. This makes for a wet coastal climate, especially as compared to the majority of regions in Spain, which are hot and dry. The grapes are grown using a trellising system so the fruit is elevated above the ground to escape moisture and allow for better air circulation around the fruit. However, Rias Baixas isn’t the only albarino producing region. In Portugal it it’s called alvarinho and it can also be found in France, New Zealand, Oregon, Washington, California and Virginia.
Overall, albarino is a thick skinned grape and those extra layers help protect it from the rainy and humid growing conditions found in northern Portugal and northwestern Spain. Hey, maybe this grape is the next great success story in our tropical Virginia these days! In terms of flavor, it has a host of appealing fruit flavors ranging from extremely bright, with citrus, peach and honeysuckle notes to something a bit more round with stronger Granny Smith apple and apricot flavors. The acidity level is high and the texture is round and mouth-filling. It finishes with a hint of nuttiness and mineral. Let’s just say a glass of albarino is absolutely refreshing, but it’s no lightweight either. It’s a terrific partner to a wide variety of foods. Given the abundance of fresh fish and seafood in Galicia, it’s a natural pairing, but certainly not the limit. It’s also a fine companion to chicken, pork, spicier Asian cuisine, Latin flavors or a simple fruit and cheese plate. As the rain gauge overflows and you’re dreaming about that last beach vacation, a cool glass of albarino is certainly worth exploring. Cheers!