This Friday we'll be tasting Zios Albarino (al-ba-ree-nyo) from Pazos de Lusco of Rias Baixas, Spain. Albarino is the great white wine of Spain and one of the few varietally named whites from that country. It hails from Galicia in the northwest and the name means white wine (alba) from the Rhine (rino). It is believed monks (it's always the monks, isn't it) brought the grapevines to Spain from the Rhine region in the twelfth century.
Albarino was the name of the district from which the wine was produced until 1988 when Spain joined the European Union. The EU doesn't allow a district to be named for a grape variety. Because of the geography of the region it was renamed Rias Baixas (REE-ahs BUY-shass). Rias refers to the many miles long inlets of water from the Atlantic that create a fjord in Galicia. Baixas refers to the lower Rias region that borders Portugal. In Portugal the grape is called Alvarinho and it produces a fine varietal wine of its own in the northern part of that country known for Vinho Verde.
So what makes Albarino noteworthy? I have always attributed its greatness to the fineness of its flavors. Albarino is a light, clean, floral mineral-driven seafood wine with nuanced flavors of white peach, melon, apricot, pineapple, and mango. The wine is a pale golden lemon color. It is steel barrel fermented which may enhance its natural acidity. It is crisp, elegant, and fresh. I have always thought of Albarino as a lighter feathered Viognier but its origins may include Riesling as a parent and that may account for its acidity. Some attribute its floral character to Pinot Grigio.
Albarino is a grape that may be manipulated in the vineyard and winery. There are five subzones in Rias Baixas with varying soil types. In general the more acidic granite soils impart minerality while sandier soils result in softer, rounder wines. The small green thick skinned Albarino grape is resistant to fungus and a natural for the cool damp Spanish fifty degree coastal climate. The average temperature inland approaches sixty degrees. The wine can undergo malolactic or barrel fermentation for richness and while viticultural and winemaking practices must conform to the historic DO model, leeway is allowed.
Other whites to taste here on Friday include the great Italian Zenato Pinot Grigio and the prestigious Oregon Sauvignon Blanc from Patricia Green. Our reds for the evening include: Abundance Cellars Abundantly Rich Red, Le Lapin Multiplicity, and Domaine de Couran Ardeche Grenache/Syrah. Please join us for that one and please become a follower of this blog.