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Featured Wine Grape: Spanish Albariño


CASTRO BREY ALBARIÑO, RÍAS BAIXAS, SPAIN, 2004

The majority of Spanish white wines have an inauspicious reputation, and for good reason: made from old warhorse grapes like Garnacha Blanc and Verdejo, they’re inexpensive and taste like it.

In the far north-west corner of the country, however, just atop the Portugese border and alongside the Atlantic Ocean, lies the distinctly unique region of Rías Baixas. Here the indigenous Albariño grape dominates, producing wines of uncommon character and quality. Albariño also has a life just below the border, too – where it trades as Alvariñho in the rightly-named “green wine” of Vinho Verde – but in Rías Baixas it seems to produce a wine of notably more substance.

Wine designed for sunshine: the modernist look of the Castro Brey Albariño.

Take this modern/minimally-designed bottle from Adegos Castro Brey, the label of which has the mottled feel of a sticky backstage pass. It emitted a greenish-yellow hew, a honeydew-melon aroma, a good bright citrus kick to the teeth, welcome flavors of peach and apricot, solid body, fine balance and, though the finish was short, the overall impression was of refined quality, a wine punching far above the weight of your usual Spanish aperitif.

Albariño may not be a common grape, but nor is it any longer a provincial secret. The fruits of the Rías Baixas region are fast finding their way across the European Continent and over the Atlantic as wine-drinkers rightly seek out ever more geographically unique tipples. Prices, of course, have risen accordingly: you can expect to pay at least $15 for what was once mere peasant wine. But rest assured: your taste buds will come out feeling appropriately richer.

MUSIC: This sunshine wine will put in a spring in your step. So will Best Party Ever, the debut album by The Boy Least Likely To.

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Discussion

2 Comment(s)

  1. snotty moore

    26 April, 2006 at 7:02 am

    Albarino has never been ‘mere peasant wine’. It’s always been a premium number to match with equally expensive local seafood and I’ve never seen it for less than seven quid over here. Even in Spain it’s not cheap, unlike other local wines like Txacoli in the Basque Lands or Picpoul de Pinet across the border in Languedoc.
    I love the stuff, never had a bad one. (I’ve never heard of yours though- it doesn’t mention the sub-zone it was grown in, so presumably it’s harvested from different regions). The musical comparison should surely be someone cheerful from Glasgow- Galicia is very rainy.

    Verdejo isn’t a ‘warhorse grape’ though. If vinified properly it’s easily a match for Sauvignon Blanc. And Spanish whites don’t have an especially ‘inauspicious reputation’- what about sherry, the best value wine bar none (well, except for Chablis)?

  2. 1 May, 2006 at 8:37 am

    Snotty

    Always good to have someone critique the wine reviews. Sounds like you’ve been to Riax Biaxas and you probably have a better take on Albarinho than I do, but I’ll still hold to a couple of points:

    My World Atlas of Wine (editors by the trusted Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson) says that Riax Biaxas was “until recently extremely poor and virtually ignored by the rest of the country… It was not until the 1990s that these singular wines found a ready and rapturous market outside Galicia.” Later on the same page, talking about the horizontal trellis system, they write “for the thousands of small farmers who grow vines simply to make wines for themselves…” I take all this to confirm that Albarinho was indeed, until recently, “mere peasant wine.” I think the same applies to all manner of grapes that are suddenly fashionable: for example, I can’t imagine the Sicilian farmers can believe the prices they’re now getting for Nero d’Avola after so many years of probably not even exporting it off the island.

    I’ve never been a great fan of Verdejo as a grape, nor of Spanish white wines in general. May just be a matter of taste – though that’s why I found the Albarinho so enjoyable. And I don’t consider sherry a white wine – I tend to hold it in an entirely different category. (Not denying it’s officially a wine, but you never see it racked alongside the Chablis of this world – at least not where I come from.) Sherry is maybe a conversation for another day – perhaps the most acquired of all acquired wine tastes. God knows I’ve tried to acquire it, but so far without success.

    I will certainly give you that Galicia is rainy and I should have noted that. Doesn’t stop me thinking of the summer with white wines in general, but if you have a good new record to recommend from Glasgow (or Manchester??) I could link to that one too.

    If you have been to Galicia what else can you tell me about it? R4 are playing a festival in there a couple of weeks though I doubt if I’ll be going.

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