The most popular grape I have ever introduced to people at my tastings is albarino. It seems to appeal to everyone who likes a crisp vibrant white wine, so it is hardly surprising to see it becoming the new hot grape – planted from Spain and California to New Zealand – now available in the UK.
Imagine the peachy aromas of viognier, with the zippy freshness of sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio and the rich palate texture of an unoaked chardonnay. Albarino – or alvarinho as it is known in Portugal – has great natural acidity making it taste so fresh often with a minerally edge.
This thick-skinned grape, with its characteristically small bunches, gives it its soft rich textural mouthfeel, making it great for serving with seafood dishes such as monkfish or scallops.
Albarino is believed to be one of the oldest varieties in north-west Spain. Mentioned in 1843 in Galicia, there are apparently 300 year old vines growing there.
Today it is extensively cultivated on more than 5,000 hectares in remote Rias Baixas in the far north east. This is albarino’s real stamping ground – with very strict DO regulations introduced in 1980 – which means the albarinos from Rias Baixas DO we see in the UK are very good.
Just over the border in Portugal, where alvarinho is grown in vinho verde country – a verdant green land near the coast north of Oporto – there is less than half the amount of albarino planted as there is in Spain. Here you can buy single varietal (one grape) alvarinho in vinho verde (see our tasting), but you will also find it blended with another little-known Portuguese grape called loureiro.
Now the albarino grape is popping up everywhere from Uruguay in South America, Marlborough in New Zealand, Washington State, Oregon and California. Examples of these are few and far between still in the UK (try Coopers Creek from New Zealand, Bonny Doon from Monterey in California or Tangent from Edna Valley in Calfornia) – so our own albarino tasting focused on the best from its homeland in Spain and Portugal.
SOALHEIRO ALVARINHO VINHO VERDE 2013
Vinho Verde, Portugal
(£14.95, The Wine Society)
The owner of Quinta de Soalheiro, Jose Antonio Cerdeira, was the first to plant alvarinho vines in 1974. Planted on granite soils in Moncao d Melgaco, almost within sight of the Spanish border, this is certainly Portugal’s most serious alvarinho example. I loved the sleekness, limey crisp flavours and succulent fruits on the palate. Very stylish packaging too. The retailer suggests serving with dim sum or herring. Alcohol 12.5 per cent
TASTE THE DIFFERENCE ALBARINO 2013
Rias Baixas, Spain
Just as it says on the label: crisp, refreshing with elegant minerality. The best of the UK supermarket own label albarinos we tried. Made by winemaker Enrique Pineiro at family winery, Adega Gran Vinum. Alcohol 12.5 per cent STAR VALUE BUY
‘MOST WANTED’ ALBARINO 2013
A bit disappointing compared to Sainsbury’s albarino. Light, crisp, dry and inoffensive but does not really show the great characteristics of the grape. Alcohol 12.5 per cent
(£12.99, Aitken Wines, Dundee; Abbey Fine Wines, Melrose; The Cave, Glasgow; Exel Wines, Perth; Cornelius Wine, Valvona & Crolla, Fine Wine Co, Fountainhall Wines, Henderson Wines, Edinburgh; Luvians, Cupar/St Andrews; Lockett Bros, N Berwick)
Made by the dynamic Martin Codax co-operative – set up in the mid 1980s by 50 families with 420 hectares of vineyards. Martin Codax is not the winemaker, but the name of a medieval poet and minstrel. A very classic zesty crisp minerally style of albarino, although it lacks the fleshy succulence and textural mouthfeel some other albarinos had in our tasting. Alcohol 12.5 per cent
EXHIBITION ALBARINO 2013
Pazo de Senorans
(£12.95, The Wine Society)
This is a peach of a wine made at the beautiful 16th century Pazo de Senorans in Vilanovina. This is a real classic albarino with creamy mouthfeel and a hint of salt on the finish. A joint favourite with the Pazo de Barrantes wine below. Alcohol 12.5 per cent STAR BUY
PAZO DE BARRANTES ALBARINO 2013
(£15, Raeburn Wines, Villeneuve Wines)
Rich tropical fruits, lush rich texture and well balanced acid and minerality from one of my favourite Galician wineries, owned by the mighty Rioja family Marques de Murrieta. It is great to see a big Spanish wine family investing in remote Galicia. Alcohol 13 per cent STAR BUY
CAIXAS ALBARINO 2013 Martín Códax
(£7.49, Majestic Wine)
A cheaper wine from the Martin Codax co-operative. This is a scaled-down lighter albarino with tropical fruit notes. It is a bit too tart on the finish – disappointing. Alcohol 12.5 per cent
DEUSA NAI ALBARINO 2013 Marqués de Cáceres
(£9.97, reduced from £13.49, until 3 August, Majestic Wine)
Floral aromas with a very limey palate. Not as enticing as other albarinos in our tasting with a short finish – but an acceptable example at its knockdown summer price. Alcohol 12 per cent
PAZO DE VILLAREI ALBARINO 2014
(£8.95, The Wine Society)
A minerally, lighter albarino, but very acceptable at this price. The retailer suggests serving this with smoked mackerel, which might work quite well. Alcohol 12.5 per cent STAR VALUE BUY