For Your Next White Vino, Try Albariño

“I’m ready for a new wine experience.”

This came from a friend who loves white wine, refuses to even smell my reds, and now she insists that Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc all taste the same these days. (They don’t, but I let her go on with her rant.) “Is there another white I’d like?”

Albarino tasting

I had the perfect remedy for her wine boredom. Thanks to the good people at Rías Baixas Wines and wine discovery website Snooth, I had two bottles of Albariño in the fridge, just waiting for me to crack them.

This lip-smacking white, called “racy but not sharp” by one reviewer, is produced in the Rías Baixas DO, a tiny wine region in Galicia, the part of northwest Spain adjacent to Portugal. It’s believed that the Albariño grape was brought there in the 12th century by Cluny monks, who migrated from Burgundy in France. A small number of Portuguese winemakers also grow Albariño; on their side of the border it’s called Alvarinho. They sometimes use it to make Vinho Verde (translated: “green wine”), a dry, fruity-light wine with just a touch of deliberate frizzante, or effervescence.

Albariño is watery-yellow in appearance; if you were reviewing it for a major wine magazine you might refer to it as “pale straw”–a perfect description but not one that would occur to most people.  (When was the last time you looked at straw close-up?)

If you’re a fan of Spanish wines, you probably drink a lot of Tempranillo, an easy-to-drink red and Spain’s most popular wine. It’s also one of the more affordable quality wines on the shelves. You’re likely to find Albariño costs a bit more, partly because this thin-skinned grape doesn’t hang on the vine as long as many varieties, so it produces less juice.

Still, Albariño accounts for nearly all of the grapes grown in Rías Baixas (96 percent), a region where about 99 percent of all wine produced is white. But don’t expect them to all taste the same. The government permits 12 grape varieties in that corner of Spain, and although the wines all are dry, there’s a diversity between them because of the different terroirs, grapes used in the blends, and microclimates in Rías Baixas’s five sub-zones.

Even in the vineyard, Albariño stands out. It’s grown on trellises called “parra” that stretch up to seven feet, preventing mildew and giving the fruit more sun exposure to encourage a more even ripening. By harvest time, the grapevines have formed a gorgeous canopy overhead.

When you buy Albariño, plan to drink it soon; it’s a delicate grape that will lose its fruit quickly. I’d give it a year or two at the most.

Wine Lingo: Capsule = the wrapping, often metal, that protects the cork and neck of a wine bottle, also referred to as the “foil.” Traditionally capsules were lead, but now you find them made of aluminum, plastic, tin, laminates or beeswax.

Albarino bottles med

Vino ‘View: Yep, you’re looking at two dead soldiers in this photo: Marqués de Frias Albariño 2017 (12.5 percent alcohol) and Santiago Ruiz 2017 (13 percent alcohol, $21). Here’s something to watch for when you buy this wine: you’ll see that the label on the Marqués de Frias  bottle announces that the wine is Albariño. It’s earned the right to do that because the wine is 100 percent Albariño, with no other grapes involved in making it, while the Santiago Ruiz is a blend. Spanish law says that, in order to use the word “Albariño” on the front label, it must be the only grape in the wine. Regardless, both bottles were delicious with strong minerality from the granite bedrock found throughout Rías Baixas. The Santiago Ruiz gave the stronger rocky taste, along with apple cider, roasted pear and a subtle licorice aroma. I got a slightly bitter aftertaste, but it was pleasant–it seemed to keep the cooked pear and stone fruit from taking over. The Marqués de Frias provided more of the lime, grapefruit and green apple tastes I expected–a persistent citrus tone that folded into tart cantaloupe by the second glass. Overall I thought it tasted young and rich–two positives!

[The Marqués de Frias and Santiago Ruiz were provided to BigSexyReds for review.]

Cheers!

Mary

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What Wine Writers Want You to Know

Put 300 or so wine writers in the same room and you’ll know what people mean when they say, “Everybody’s a critic.” It’s especially true among those who understand what’s in your glass and how it got there. Opinions, interpretations and (sometimes) attitude will swirl about you like a funnel cloud.

Uruguay class

[Masterclass in Uruguayan Wines, taught by Amanda Barnes, South American wine authority]

But we all agree: we’re crazy about wine (that’s why we come together) and we love learning about it. I brought home plenty of new wine knowledge after the 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference (now Wine Media Conference) in Walla Walla, Washington, and thought I’d share a few takeaways here:

— Walla Walla is a cute, walkable little town, but there’s more: in just a few blocks, you’ll find more than 30 tasting rooms in the core downtown. Sure, we all love to drive from winery to winery and sip great wine on patios overlooking lush vineyards–if we have unlimited time and cash. The beauty of a town like Walla Walla, where the streets literally are lined with tasting rooms, is that you can try the region’s best wines, buy some bottles to take home, and still get to the airport on time. Or just keep people-watching.

— Washington is almost ideally positioned to produce superior wines. The Blue Mountains east of Walla Walla catch the humidity, and no wineries sit in a rain shadow–that is, a “sheltered” slope that doesn’t get sufficient rain. There’s just one snag: the region also doesn’t get much fog, so the sunlight can be pretty intense. Vineyard managers have to pay close attention to the canopy (the parts of the vine above ground, especially the branches and leaves sheltering the grape clusters) so the grapes don’t get sunburned. As one winemaker put it, “These slopes are like a Disneyland for grapes.”

— If you don’t know wines from Uruguay yet, you have a real treat coming. Considering that Uruguayans are the world’s biggest consumers of beef (124 lbs./person annually, compared to 78 lbs./person in the U.S.), it’s no surprise that their wines are 80 percent red (mostly Tannat and Merlot) and just 20 percent white (largely Albariño). Uruguay also walks the walk in terms of educating kids: the government gives families one laptop per child. Cool, yes?

— Back in the U.S., winery owners will be interested to know that 45 percent of wine club members live with a couple of hours’ drive from the winery, according to Wine Business Monthly. And here’s a kicker: 35 percent of winery customers are under 50 years old, yet they bring in only 18 percent of revenues. Apparently they love the wine culture and trappings, but they’re not buying the expensive stuff.

— Another age-related message for all businesses: 50 percent of Gen Z (under age 25) and 42 percent of Millennials (currently age 25-39) think social media is the most relevant channel for ads. If you’re trying to reach the under-40 audience, forget buying print ads; that generation couldn’t care less about magazines and newspapers. Almost never touch ’em.

— Here’s a sobering statistic about websites: 74 percent of smartphone users will abandon a website that takes more than five seconds to load, according to Lewis Perdue, publisher of Wine Industry Insight. Some 42 percent of users expect mobile pages to load in under two seconds. (That figure was eight seconds in 1999–we’re getting more impatient!)

— During a quick visit to the Owen Roe Winery in the Yakima Valley outside Walla Walla, I learned that Yakima shares Walla Walla’s sunshine challenges. (Living in Cleveland, I can tell you it’s a “problem” we’d love to contend with.) The valley runs east-west, so vineyards enjoy a plethora of sunny, south-facing hillsides; some winemakers in this region cover their vines with little white tents to shield them from the intense sun. Driving past the vineyards, those hills blanketed with white tents make quite a sight. Grapes don’t do well on the Yakima Valley floor, where crops can face frost, floods, and soil that can be too deep and “soft.” The solution: many farmers plant hops on those lower elevations.

The next Wine Media Conference will happen next fall in Australia. I’m registered, so I expect to be writing like crazy after that one.

Wine Lingo = Teinturiergrapes whose flesh and juice are red. If you love red wines, you may not realize that your BigSexyRed usually gets its color from the skins. The pulp and juice of almost all grapes are clear; we get red wine when the skins are soaked in the grape juice and they stain the juice red. (“Teinturier” comes from the French word meaning to dye or stain.) One teinturier grape you might recognize is Chambourcin, a French-American hybrid.

Dama, medium

Vino ‘View: DAMA 2013 Cowgirl Cab (14.8 percent alcohol; $19) is a happy discovery from those tasting rooms in downtown Walla Walla. A cowgirl, DAMA’s label explains, “may have an exterior as rough as the desert scrub, but underneath you’ll find an intense, alluring woman who loves deeply and fears little.” This inky-dark-purple wine doesn’t fool around; with such high alcohol you know it’s going to be robust, yet it’s silky with balanced tannins. Cherry and black olive aromas compete, then you settle in with cocoa, coffee and delicious tobacco on the palate and light smoke on the finish. I had it with a spicy chicken pesto and it stood up to the full-flavored dish beautifully.

Cheers!

Mary

Aw, Nuts! Try These Wines for Pecan Day

In the final run up to a major holiday like Easter, it’s easy to overlook an obscure observance like Pecan Day – and we have an abundance of wine choices to accompany our pecan-encrusted trout, pecan pie or a few handfuls of roasted pecans.

IMG_0559

This is the day, back in 1775, when George Washington planted a pecan sapling at his Mount Vernon estate. The baby tree was a gift from Thomas Jefferson, who grew “America’s own nut” at Monticello.

Botanists tell us the pecan, named for an Algonquian word that means, “a nut requiring a stone to crack,” actually is a fruit related to hickory. This inch-long treat is my favorite nut and a nutritional powerhouse, packed with antioxidants, vitamin E, beta-carotene, vision-friendly lutein, and cancer-fighting ellagic acid. It’s a heart-healthy, brain-healthy snack – although, at just under 200 calories for 20 halves, it’s fairly fattening.

You always want to pair fatty foods with an acidic wine, so if you’re eating your pecans plain, without a sugary coating, they’ll go well with a chilled dry Rosé or Sauvignon Blanc. Pecans also are a slightly sweet nut and the wine’s brightness will bring out the pecans’ sweet notes.

If dinner is trout or chicken with a pecan crust, Champagne or Cava (sparkling wine from Spain) will pair nicely; and if you think you’d enjoy just the slightest sweetness to match the natural sweetness in the nut coating, try Prosecco, an Italian bubbly. But keep in mind, you can find sparkling wines at every sweetness level; if you’re eating candied pecans and want to drink a sparkler, look for one that’s a little sweeter.

Candied pecans, in fact, will pair with a lot of lively, acidic wines. Pinot Grigio, Riesling  and Albariño are all good choices. And if your pecans are super-spicy, flavored with Chipotle or other peppers, go for the gusto and open a bottle of Gewürztraminer.

Reds don’t generally pair will with pecans; the nuts are just too mild to make a good match. But if you insist on drinking red wine (and I usually do), reach for a lighter grape such as Pinot Noir, or, if you want a wine with a bit more attitude, a Garnacha.

And if you’re eating pecan pie – the real reason pecans were invented, I think – you’ll want a dessert wine because your wine should be as sweet as your dessert. Look for Tawny Porto or, maybe better, try some Vin Santo from Tuscany, Icewine from Canada, or Sauternes from France. For a more economical choice, look for a late-harvest Viognier (white) or Zinfandel (red).

Wine Lingo of the Day:  Fortified wine = this is a handy place to mention fortified wines, because some of the wines you’ll choose to accompany dessert will have been fortified. These are wines to which alcohol has been added to raise the alcohol level to 15 percent or higher. Fermentation ends, and the winemaker is left with a high-alcohol wine.

Cheers – and for those celebrating this weekend, have a wonderful Easter!

Mary