We’ve all been on one side or the other of a “sorry, I thought you were someone else” moment. Maybe you’re mistaken for someone who has similar gait, hairstyle or whatever, and for a moment, to the other person, you are someone completely different. For me, I always get confused with either George Clooney or Brad Pitt – such is life.
Mistaken identities are actually fairly common in the world of wine. Genetic testing led by scientist Carol Meredith and other researchers has unraveled several mysteries surrounding the origins of certain grapes. This is the first installment of sporadic blog posts that will cover this sort of story and today, we’ll start with Albariño.
The nomenclature of Albariño predestined the grape to be misunderstood. Albariño can be loosely translated to White Rhine and for centuries, the people in Western Spain increasingly believed they were growing Riesling brought to the area via religious pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. Surprisingly, deeper research into the variety provided data that showed Albariño is in fact a varietal indigenous to the Northwestern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. It’s known relatives are Treixadura, Caiño Blanca, and Aldeno. While the exact parentage of the grape is at this point unclear, it is believed that throughout history, hundreds of mutations of Albariño emerged and evidence suggests that natural crossings of the grape with other varietals, sometimes aided by the hand of man, steered the grape as we know it today, into existence.
Albariño’s misidentification doesn’t stop on the Iberian Peninsula. A similar issue came to pass on the other side of the world fairly recently. In 2009, dozens of producers in the Barossa Valley of Australia learned through genetic testing that the grapes they thought to be Albariño and had marketed as such, were actually Savagnin grapes, aka White Traminer, a grape native to Eastern France. The mixup supposedly originated in the 1980s with Spanish authorities erroneously submitted Savanign instead of Albariño to CSIRO, an Australian science organization, and from there it was disseminated to farmers. Imagine the surprise.
The questions now are why has Albariño faced so many of these issues and is there something about the grape that makes it similar to other varietals? I’d say that Albariño, when compared to other grapes outside of its region, has an aromatic intensity, broad texture, and rich phenolics that distinguish it as a very unique variety. It does however respond considerably to the nuances of terroir. Even within the small region of the Rias Baixas of Western Galicia, great variations in the expression of the grape exist between the three major subregions of the Val do Salnes, Condado do Tea and O Rosal. The wine can cover a wide range of flavors, from lemon to ripe peaches while still maintaining it’s Albariñoesqueness. Additionally, and also, fortunately, the grape is starting to be widely planted throughout California as well. From Carneros to the Sierra Foothills, the resulting wines are shockingly good. If you aren’t familiar with Albariño, I highly recommend you check out a couple of the bottles listed below as they are some of my personal favorites.
La Marea, Kristy Vineyard Albarino, 2017 $22.99
From a tiny winery in Monterey County dedicated to Spanish Varieties and led the winemaker by Ian Brand, this wine is bright and light with plentiful aromatics ranging from ripe lemon to peach. The limestone soils throughout the region also aid in elevating the acidity while the cool and the long growing season allows the grapes to reach ripeness without producing a high alcohol level which could take away from the elegance of it’s nuanced aromas. This wine absolutely illustrates that Albariño can be grown with phenomenal results outside of Northwestern Spain and Northern Portugal.
Cambiata Albarino 2017 $19.99
This is an Albariño of substantial size and power. It sees about 25% new oak and boasts an alcohol content over 14% which frames it’s luscious tropical and stone fruit aromas. It shows hints of vanilla and nutmeg and sports a lower acidity thus a rich viscosity. This is wine for heartier white mead dishes with creamy sauces or briny shellfish and oysters. I’d even go as far to say that this could be an interesting alternative to some of the plusher versions of New World Chardonnays.
Do Ferreiro Adina, 2016 $46.99
This is sourced from a very small parcel of red slate soils found within the subzone of Val do Salnes, in the greater D.O of the Rias Baixas. In Salnés, the proximity of the vineyards to the ocean greatly impacts the finished wine as the ocean air washes the grapes and imbues them with briny, oceanic, salinity. The wine also sports heightened minerality, floral character, and bright citric aromatics. The finish is lingering with soft tannins typical of this variety.
Do Ferreiro Albarino $29.99
Whereas the fruit for the Adina Cuvee is sourced from a single site, this entry-level Cuvee is created from fruit grown throughout the Salnés subregion. I would go out on a limb and say that this particular wine is the standard-bearer to which other producers aspire.
Casal de Arman Ribeiro, 2017 $22.99
While not truly an Albariño, this wine is composed of predominately Treixadura with trace amounts of Godello and Albariño, it provides a pretty clear illustration of what a more continental climate expression of the white wines from this region can be. Much like the wines of Vinho Verde in Portugal, here in the D.O. of Ribeira, located just east of the Rias Baixas, white grapes are often blended to create aromatic wines of beauty and drinkability. Treixadura, much like Albariño, brings rich aromatics of stone fruit and flowers but the addition of the Albariño and Godello is usually done to assist with acidity. This was a show stopper at one of our distributor’s Spring tasting this year and I’d highly recommend trying a bottle.
With that, I’d like to thank you again for reading and I hope to see you around the shop soon,