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Tasting Albarino Wine

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Looking for a vibrant new wine to try with dishes of summer? Sure, you can go the Chardonnay route or set down a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, but if you run in some of the cooler wine circles you risk your friends finding you a bit ‘old school.’ If being cutting edge, wine-wise, is important to you, then rush to your local wine shop and scope out an increasingly popular varietal called Albarino.

Albarino is the signature grape of the Rias Baixas DO Denomination of Origin, which was established in 1988. The region is in Galacia, far in to the coastal NorthWest of Spain, where the area’s original inhabitants were Celtic (which I am told accounts for the fair complexion of its many residents).

The terroir is varied enough so that Rias Baixas is divided into five subregions, the most popular of which is called Val do Saines. Others include Condado do Tea, O Rosal, Soutomaior, and Ribeira do Ulla. Experts, it’s said, can blind taste different Albarino wines and assign them to the various sub-regions based on the minerality, acidity and texture of a wine – quite a feat to aspire to!

So, you may be asking, why Albarino, and why now? One easy answer is that summer weather calls for a crisp, refreshing white wine, yet Albarino pairs with so much more than seafood and white fish. At a recent tasting and luncheon event, I enjoyed Albarino with a tomato-based seafood stew. If I had ordered this dish in a restaurant, I might have chosen a Tempranillo wine, yet the Albarino went well with this dish.

Prior to the lunch, members of the media and trade benefited from a tutored tasting of eight different wines from the Albarino varietal, two of which hailed from the U.S. (Virginia and Sonoma). Moderating the panel was Paul Grieco, co-owner and sommelier of New York restaurants Hearth, Insieme, and Terroir. From previous conversations with Paul, I can certify this is a man who grew up in the restaurant industry and knows his wines. Questions he asked of the four Spanish winemaking panelists were profound, revolving mostly around winemaking techniques such as the choice of using maloactic fermentation.

Two years earlier, I had been present at a similar tasting, yet if memory serves, thirteen Albarino wines were served during the tutored tasting. At the time, I remember wondering if thirteen Albarino wines could really be so different from one another. After all, they have the same pale yellow straw color and a noise that is similar – though there are variations. During the tastings of the eight wines I could detect yellow flowers, citrus, lime, grapefruit, yellow apple, and pear. Acidity is high in these wines due to the high acid content of the soil and the climate, yet some wines were remarkably more acidic than others. I could also tell a distinct difference between the 2007 and the 2008 vintages.

Producers on the panel included Lucia Carballeira Lois of Adega Condes de Albarei, R. Carlos Falcon of Bodegas y Vinedos Don Olegario and Emilio Rodrigues Canas, of Bodegas Terras Gauda. What made the tutored tasting interesting was the winemaker’s obvious passion for their region’s grape varietal and Paul Grieco’s lively narration. While most wines were 100% Albarino, the Terras Gauda O Rosal 2008 was made with only 70% Albarion, 20% Laureio, and 10% Caino Blanco. It was said that the tiny bit of Cano Blanco gave it its richness.

During lunch I had the opportunity to chat with one woman, Alicia Carro Marino, who was the Export Manager for the Paco & Lola brand (it is a co-op). This wine is recognizable by its attractive blue and white polka-dot bottle and clever, friendly name. Alicia told me a lot about the region and a bit about the story of how this brand got started – very intriguing listening and to my way of thinking represents a new paradigm. In earlier years, winemakers made the wine first then figured out how to market it. Now it all starts with the marketing.

Below are some of the producers present. If you see one in your local wine store or supermarket, try it out. When the afternoon temperature reaches a hundred, you can pour yourself a glass and pretend you are in the cool, green region of Rias Baixas.

As Laxas
Condes de Albarei
Adegas d’Altamira
Don Olegario
Maior de Mendoza
Marqués de Vizhoja
Martín Códax
Martínez Serantes
Adegas Rosalía de Castro (Paco & Lola)
Palacio de Fefiñanes
Pazo de Señoráns
Pazo San Mauro
Santiago Ruiz
Terras Gauda

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