Albariño is a mostly unsung hero on planet wine. The white grape calls northern Spain and Portugal home, where it’s called Albariño and Alvarinho, respectively.
Those in the know believe the variety is closely related to Riesling and Petit Manseng. The name stems from the Latin term “albus,” which quite appropriately means white. It may go back as far as the 12th century in Europe, where it used to grow — and in some cases still does — up the trunks of poplar trees in farming regions. Some of the oldest still-producing vines in the world are thought to be Albariño, some approaching the three-century mark.
The grapes are thick-skinned, meaning they can stand up to coastal winds that are common in places like the Iberian Peninsula. That also translates to wines with a slight hint of bitterness thanks to their phenolic content. This may not sound like a selling point on the surface, but think of how important a good hop bill is to a balanced beer. The same can be true for a good white wine, especially one like Albariño with a higher skin-to-juice ratio and larger seeds as well.
In the glass, it’s quite aromatic. On the palate, you tend to get dialed-in melon flavors and things like nectarine and apricot. Indigenous to coastal areas, Albariño also tends to have a delicate hit of sea salt. Fans of bright and zippy wines like Muscadet will fall for this dry and acidic white wine. It’s invigorating on its own and all the better with a good fish taco.
While it’s tough to beat a quality version from the northwest corner of Spain, there are some solid versions coming out of Australia, Oregon, California (especially along the San Luis Obispo coast), and a few other pockets. Regardless of where it’s made, Albariño tends to maintain its glowing personality thanks to stainless steel or other non-oak means of fermentation and aging. Some wines can truly wake the palate up and Albariño is one of them.
Here are a few Albariños to try:
Some of the best Spanish-inspired wines on the American west coast come from southern Oregon’s Abacela Winery. This wine is great, with Granny Smith apple and lime notes and cutting acidity. (It’s a go-to white anytime I’m cooking and confused about what might pair well with a lighter dish.)
The Fefinanes is one of the best out there, from the variety’s most famous Spanish homeland in the Rías Biaxas appellation of Galicia. It’s bright and sunny, the perfect wine for ceviche. And the bottle is just plain cool-looking, with an ancient-looking label and magnificent juice inside.
This coastal California winery is a big supporter of dry and aromatic whites. Its Albariño is certainly that, with vibrant fruit, a slight hit of banana, and a fantastic kick of sea air. Look out for more great Albariño from the Enda Valley, which offers an ideal climate for the grape.
Another stellar Spanish option, this wine is technically entry-level but an overachiever at that. The “green label,” as it’s called, is from the famous Salnés Valley in the Rías Biaxas and shows delicate flavors thanks to gentle handling in the cellar. Think wildflowers, pithy fruit, and a persistent finish.
This Albariño from the Evergreen State is made from fruit grown in the Ancient Lakes AVA of central Washington. Honeydew and a punch of minerality move in tandem in this lovely wine, which has a different weight and mouthfeel thanks to fermenting in lighter, Hungarian oak.
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