Albariño / Alvarinho wine grape

Albariño / Alvarinho
An aromatic white grape native to Galicia in northwest Spain – or perhaps to adjacent northern Portugal where they call it Alvarinho – this once-obscure variety is now regarded as Spain and Portugal’s best white grape.  Crisp and fragrant, it’s a perfect foil for food - especially seafood.
 
Albariño has become almost synonymous with the D.O. of Rías Baixas, in Galicia.  Although other grapes are permitted, most Rías Baixas is varietal Albariño.  Other Galician whites blend it with Treixadura and Loureiro.  So do the Portuguese, apart from the Monção e Melgaço sub-region which specialises in varietal Vinho Alvarinho.  This is often rather more powerful and full-bodied than most Rías Baixas.
 
Albariño means “white from the Rhine” and at one time the locals believed that it really was Riesling that had been brought to Galicia by German monks.  DNA analysis has since proved them wrong, but has yet to reveal where it did come from or what its parents are.  It most likely orginated here: it’s genetically very diverse with hundreds of different clones, indicative of a very old variety that has been slowly diversifying in the region for perhaps thousands of years.
 
It has very small, thick-skinned berries in loose clusters that allow air to ciculate easily.  These make it resistant to the rot and mildew that are ever-present threats in its wet and humid homeland.  That rainfall also encourages overcropping, leading to dilute, underripe grapes.  But Albariño ripens early and easily, so even at very high yields it still achieves 12% to 12.5% alcohol.
 
Its thick skins contain many of the same terpenes found in other aromatic varieties like Muscat, Gewurtztraminer, Viognier and Riesling.  When fully ripe its scents closely resemble Viognier (apricots, peaches, and almonds) but with the crisp acidity and citrus fruit flavours (lime, apple, sometimes melon) of Riesling.  Less ripe examples are not so richly scented, with grapefruit and lemon zest aromas.  Both styles often feature a briney minerality that hints at their seaside origin, and all have bracing, food-friendly acidity.
 
Despite the fullness of its flavours, Albariño is rarely more than medium-bodied.  Its thick skins and many pips can cause residual bitterness in the wine if not carefully handled.  It used to be thought that its wines, like Viognier, wouldn’t age and had to be drunk young, but there is increasing experimentation with oak-aging and long lees-aging to produce more long-lived wines.
 

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