Led by Rioja, Spain’s red wines enjoy a global reputation for quality. But it is only in the past decade or so that Spanish white wines, and indigenous Spanish white wine grapes, have acheived any real prominence. Now, many wine drinkers will have tried a Verdejo from Rueda or a Godello from Bierzo, and even more will have exprienced the speciality grape of the cool northern Galicia region, Albariño. Albariño has become a fixture on restaurant lists and wine shop shelves, its crisp, clean but fruity and food-friendly flavours finding genuine mass-market appeal.
The variety’s real stronghold is an area called Rías Baixas in Galicia, accounting for the vast majority of bottles on our shelves. Neighbouring regions produce Albariño too, and just south of the border in northern Portugal the Vinho Verde region around the towns of Monção and Melgaço bottles Alvarinho, the same grape. Internationally Albariño is taking off in a still relatively small way, with plantings in California, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia – though producers in the latter were shocked to discover recently that almost all of the plant material sold in Australia as Albariño over the past 10 years or so was in fact Savignin, a completely different variety from eastern France.
A couple of theories as to Albariño’s heritage suggest Riesling and Petit Manseng as either distant ancestors or relations. It tends to produce a wine of modest alcohol, with very good freshness and lightly citrus and peachy flavour, but a good mouthfeel and texture too. But winemakers are experimenting more and more with the style, including skin- and lees-contact, barrel ageing, and fermenting with wild yeasts, so the profile of Albariño is getting a little less simple to define.
Lined up on my tasting bench were 12 examples from its Albariño’s Rías Baixas homeland. Though this was a fairly homogenous group, small differences made for fascinating comparison.
(2016) The cheap, cheerful and modern consumer face of Albariño, £5.48 at Asda might just be the cheapest Albariño in the UK? It's fresh with lemons and crisp, crunchy green apples, the palate showing good texture, fruit that flirts with peachiness and a balanced if very slightly short finish. Zero complaints at this price though - a good buy.
(2016) Adegas Gran Vinum is a family-owned company which produces the Esencia Divina Albariño, hand-harvested then made in stainless steel with some lees ageing. Pale in colour, the nose here is saline and fresh, touched with a little lime blossom and peach, but delicate. On the palate it is a bone-dry, grapefruit pith and lemony style that is well done, but it is an Albariño crying out for some shellfish perhaps. Stockist and price for the 2015 vintage.
(2016) Terra de Asorei is a cooperative cellar, and this is a handsomely packaged Albariño with a bit of leesy and citrus peel punch and immediate appeal, the floral aspects adding more delicacy. The palate display lovely orange and lime fruit, before a lemony, rather pithy, but undoubtedly fresh finish. Stockist and price quoted is for the 2015 vintage.
(2016) A particularly birght and zippy Albariño this one, punchily limey and crisp clean apple fruited, with a little floral edge adding interest. Despite the low alcohol it packs a flavour wallop, lots of citrus, lots of clean, lean orchard fruit and just hints of peach or nectarine flitting at the edges. A very nice example.
(2016) A very traditional and wonderfully austere style for this Albariño from Agro de Bazán, almost the polar opposite of a more luscious interpretation like that from Lagar de Cervera. The fruit is so tightly framed in the white fruit and citrus spectrum, and a big salty lick of mineral-flecked acidity drives it wonderfully.
(2016) Torre de Ermelo's Albariño is bottled in screwcap which makes perfect sense but which is actually quite unusual for this appellation. There's a leesy, lightly cotton-candy note to this, with ripe apple aromas and a touch of herby lift. Crisp in the mouth, that background nuttiness from the lees plays with the dry Cox's Pippin fruit and big lemon zest burst of acidity rather nicely.
(2016) There's a really pleasing herb and nettle touch to this wine, fermented with ambient yeasts, adding a little hint of wildness to lovely pert fruit and shimmering lemon fresh acidity. A clear and bright example of lovely quality.
(2016) From northerly vineyards close to the Portuguese border and schist (slate) soils, this is juicy but full, and packed with fruit and substance. Really tangy and personality-packed stuff, it shimmers with vitality.
(2016) From the Val do Salnés sub-region, Eidos de Padriñán's Albariño comes in a no-nonsense Bordeaux-shaped bottle, and being a 2012 pours with a darker golden colour. There's a breadth to this, a fulsome peach and ripe apple fruitiness that fills the palate, though the lick of mineral salt to the acidity gives lovely definition. Drinking really well, savoury but still pin-sharp. Stockist and price quoted is for the 2014 vintage.
(2016) The Co-op of Condes de Albarei's Albariño is delicately perfumed and ultra-fresh and refined aromatically, delicate seashells and flowers amongst the downy peaches. In the mouth it's all citrus and slightly tart apple, a good crisp and lively style, though perhaps just a tad harsh in the finish after that lovely nose.
(2015) Always a class act, Fefiñanes is a compact winery housed in the ancient granite cloisters of the grand Renaissance palace in the central square of Cambados in northwest Spain. Classy stuff indeed, so much flavour and aroma, so much concentration that flashes across the palate with masses of dry apple punch, lime, and ozone, and texture too. Yes it's expensive, but it is just a superb example.
(2016) Bodegas Attis's rendition of Albariño has a natural character to the aromas, subtle and lightly earthy over some oatmeal and crisp orchard fruit. It's cool on the palate too, fairly understated with its citrus and crisp apple tones, but nicely textured, glimpses of sweeter nectarine on the mid-palate, and a nicely composed, quite long finish. Stockist and price quoted is for the 2012 vintage.