Why Albariño is Spain’s Quintessential White Wine

There are few better partners with seafood than the coastal wine of Rías Baixas, Albariño. This grape is the embodiment of Spain’s most refreshing bottles.

What’s the one wine that has become almost synonymous with Spanish vino blanco? It’s Albariño.

Albariño (pronounced al-bar-Een-yo) hails largely from five subzones in the Rías Baixas wine region, which spans the western Galician coastline in northwest Spain. Over the past 15 years, it’s blossomed into Spain’s most notable white wine.

Why? For starters, Albariño, which is grown predominantly on old-school overhead pergolas, yields a highly approachable wine with a mix of floral, oceanic and citrus aromas. On the palate, a good Albariño is racy but not sharp, with a sense of minerality derived from the granite bedrock that exists throughout the Rías Baixas region.

The overhead harvesting of Albariño
The overhead harvesting of Albariño

A proper Albariño delivers tastes of lees (spent yeast), buttercup, peach, nectarine, melon, citrus and even a touch of salty brine, which results from  the nearby Atlantic Ocean influences.

The best food to pair with Albariño is seafood. Albariño-friendly dishes include Gallego classics like boiled or grilled octopus with spicy pimentón, as well as shellfish, lobster and grilled fish.

Drink these wines when they’re young and vital, within 16 months after harvest. If Albariño has a fault, it’s fragile and doesn’t hold up well in the bottle. A 2016 wine that’s perfectly fresh now may taste stale and wheaty in a few short years.

While Rías Baixas is known as the capital of Albariño production, other Galician wine regions like Ribeiro, Monterrei and Ribeira Sacra also grow the variety. There, it’s often blended with other white grapes like Treixadura, Loureiro and Godello.

Albariño also pops up frequently in California, Southern Oregon and Washington. In general, these wines are riper and not as finessed as the Galician originals. So, while one can take Albariño to other places with success, there’s no substitute for the real thing.

Spain’s Hot Corner

Recommended Bottles

As Laxas 2016 Albariño (Rías Baixas); $22, 90 points. Light in color and mellow on the nose, with leesy notes, this always-reliable Albariño is fresh and kicking with acidity. Apple and peach flavors carry over to a plump finish with lasting stone-fruit and melon notes.

Pazo San Mauro 2016 Albariño (Rías Baixas); $19, 89 points. Fresh stony apple and citrus aromas are composed. Following that lead, this feels focused and fresh. Flavors of stone fruits, citrus fruits and white pepper finish crisp but not real long or deep.

Rectoral do Mar 2016 Albariño (Rías Baixas); $20, 89 points. Dusty peach and mild citrus aromas set this wine’s plump palate up with spritz. Despite the indistinct nature of its pulpy, salty apple and citrus flavors, it’s well made overall and on target. Drink now.

Terras Gauda 2016 Abadía de San Campio Albariño (Rías Baixas); $20, 89 points. Moderately floral aromas of stone fruits and fresh carrot juice feed into a round palate that’s balanced and well shaped. Nectarine and peach flavors are nice and easy. This wine is slightly leesy-tasting on a medium-length finish.

Condes de Albarei 2016 Albariño (Rías Baixas); $14, 88 points. This wine’s classic Albariño aromas of white flowers and stone fruit are simple and nice. It feels round and true but a touch flat. Thompson grape, melon and ripe apple flavors hold steady on the finish. Drink now.

Licia 2016 Albariño (Rías Baixas); $16, 88 points. Punchy citrus, apple and lanolin aromas are a bit dusty and entirely typical of Rías Baixas Albariño. Direct citrus flavors and a note of briny orange peel finish a bit salty, with a hint of green banana.

Palacio de Fefiñanes 2016 Albariño (Rías Baixas); $26, 88 points. This wine’s dusty white fruit aromas aren’t as focused as expected from Fefiñanes. Its spritzy palate resembles that of a soda, offering ripe sweet melon and lime flavors. A bit of pyrazinic grape skin character is noticeable on the finish.

Pazo de Barrantes 2016 Albariño (Rías Baixas); $20, 88 points. Neutral white-fruit aromas lead the nose of this wine, while it’s round on the palate, with just enough acidic cut to keep it from feeling oily. Briny peach and nectarine flavors finish with a mild salty note. Drink now.

Rosa Nautica 2016 Albariño (Rías Baixas); $25, 88 points. Aromas of lemon curd and citrus blossom come with a hint of pine. This feels lemony and narrow, with a tight body that’s showing little to no give. Nectarine, citrus and green-melon flavors are fresh prior to a dry citrusy finish.

Con un Par 2016 Albariño (Rías Baixas); $19, 87 points. This quiet Albariño comes from the Vicente Gandia family of wines. It opens with short, peppery aromas backed by a medium-bodied palate. Peppery, slightly bitter flavors echo the nose, with a hint of stone fruit to help it along. Drink now.

Published on August 18, 2017
Topics: Spanish Wines
About the Author
Michael Schachner
Spanish and South American Editor

Reviews wines from Argentina, Chile and Spain.

Michael Schachner is a New York-based journalist specializing in wine, food and travel. His articles appear regularly in Wine Enthusiast, where he is a longstanding contributing editor responsible for South America and Spain. Schachner reviews more than 2,000 wines annually for WE and regularly travels to Chile, Argentina and Spain to keep abreast of the constantly changing global wine map. Email: mschachner@wineenthusiast.net.



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