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What our expert thought of Leiras Albariño

about this wine About this wine
Albariño is today regarded as Spain’s best white grape, yet only thirty years ago no-one outside of its homeland in western Galicia had heard of it.  The area didn’t even have a Denominación de Origen until 1980 when the DO Albariño was created, but it remained of local interest only.  The EU doesn’t allow appellations to be named for a single grape variety, so when Spain joined in 1986 the DO disappeared again.  After two years of intense political negotiations between local producers, the Rías Baixas DO was created in 1988 to replace it.
That proved to be the turning point: the number of producers and the area under vine doubled in the first year.  Today the region produces 40 times as much wine as it did in 1987 and almost all of it is Albariño.  A range of other varieties, both white and red, are permitted, but less than 5% of the vineyards are planted with red grapes and less than 10% with other white varieties.  This is only partly due to demand for newly-fashionable Albariño: it’s difficult to grow anything else in this climate.
The Rías Baixas are the wettest part of Spain, and one of the coolest.  When it isn’t raining the green hillsides are often shrouded in mist.  It looks rather more like the west coast of Ireland than like the rest of Spain.  All this humidity is bad news for vines, and very good news for their diseases.  But Albariño’s small grapes have thick skins and loosely-packed clusters, which makes them particularly resistant to rot.  Those thick golden skins also contain high levels of terpenes, which provide the intense aromas associated with this variety.
This wine comes from the Val do Salnés subregion, which is home to most of the best-known producers.  It’s the most northerly, coolest and wettest of the four subregions and consequently produces the sharpest, most minerally wine, which is often said to have a salty tang to it.  Producers here normally encourage malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity and round out the wine.  Lees contact after fermentation is often used to the same ends, especially by the more premium wines.
It’s made by the Cava giant Codorníu who ten years ago bought up four vineyards here and built a winery.  In Galician, ‘leira’ means “a plot, a levelled and delimited field” so this wine is named Leiras to reflect the four separate plots that contribute to the blend.  Winemaker Jordi Ratera aims to make a rather bigger and more structured wine than is typical for the region.
the tasting The Tasting
The wine is a lovely greeny-gold.  The rich colour is due partly to Albariño’s thick skins and partly to extended skin contact before fermentation to maximise the extraction of its sought-after scents.
There’s a big, sweet-smelling nose of elderflower, almond paste and candied pineapple - very exotic.
This is dry, but it tastes just slightly off-dry due to the richness of fruit: an Albariño characteristic.  There’s medium+ acidity (actually on the low side for this grape) and medium body (which is as weighty as Albariño gets) with ripe, mouthfilling flavours of pink grapefruit and white peach.
These lead into a long, tingling finish with just a hint of bitter almonds about it.  The acidity shows up better here; it was rather swamped by the fruit on the palate.
This is an exotically ripe and unusually full-bodied example, from a particularly warm year.  Conventional wisdom has it that Albariño doesn’t age and should be drunk young.  However, the winemakers of Rías Baixas disagree, and this 2012 would seem to back them up.
This vintage ran out almost as soon as we’d bought it, and if you buy some of this wine you’ll probably get the 2014 instead.  I’ve tasted it and it’s lovely: very much the same wine but slightly less exotically rich, with crisper acidity and more of that saline quality on the palate that Val do Salnés is noted for.

Tasting notes

clear medium lemon

Intensity pronounced

Aromas floral (elderflower), nuts (almond paste), tropical fruit (candied pineapple), mineral (brine)

Development developing

Sweetness dry

Acidity high

Body medium

Intensity medium++

Flavours citrus (pink grapefruit), stone fruit (white peach)

Length long

Flavours as palate, tingling acidity, saline, hint of bitter almonds
Other notes
Unoaked. Exotically ripe and full-bodied for the region.

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