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

Tempranillo Time!

If there’s a perfect antidote to my never-ending POTUS blues, it’s sipping $65 Rioja (“ree-OH-ha”) wines and learning about them from the incomparable Doug Frost, MS, MW. Not only is Frost the funniest, most exuberant wine expert anywhere, he’s also one of only four people on the planet who’s both a Master Sommelier and Master of Wine–making him one smart wine dude.

 

And by Rioja wines, I mean Tempranillo. Like France, Spain sometimes does that annoying label thing where they name the wine according to the region where the wine is produced, not the grapes that go into it. In the case of red Rioja, the grape is Tempranillo–sometimes blended with Garnacha, Mazuelo (also known as Carignan, more often associated with the South of France), and Graciano grapes to give the wine a certain structure or taste. Mostly, though, you’ll be drinking Tempranillo.

The grape has a bit of an identity crisis; its half-dozen pseudonyms throughout Spain and Portugal include Tinta de Toro, Cencibel, Aragon and Tinta Roriz. But it was Rioja that bestowed Tempranillo’s global reputation as one of Spain’s premier grape varieties. In fact, Rioja is one of only two Spanish wine regions, the other being Priorat, that’s been elevated to DOCa status (Denominación de Origen Calificada)–the country’s top-ranking regional classification.

We can thank Rioja for yet another type of label confusion: if it simply states the wine is Rioja, it was bottled fairly young, after aging just a few months in the barrel. Crianza is a step up: wines labeled Crianza spent a minimum of one year in oak and at least a few more months in the bottle. “Reserve,” we know, can often mean whatever the winemaker wants you to believe it means, but in Spain they follow rules; if they label a wine as Reserva it’s been aged at least three years–one year in oak, two in the bottle. And if the label says Gran Reserva it spent two years in the barrel and another three years in the bottle before it left the winery.

If you’ve drank Tempranillo more than once, you already know that the aromas and tastes can be as different as bacon and pork roast. In the Doug Frost tasting, the second glass I tried felt a little oily in my mouth, while the next was warm and spicy, heavy on the cinnamon. Two glasses later, a caramel aroma hit me in the face, but that wine’s finish had a cranberry tartness. Some drinkers taste cherries in Tempranillo while others notice earthier tastes–fig, tobacco, herbs. Wine expert Jancis Robinson notices a masculine character, more savory than sweet, like “fresh tobacco leaves.”

Tempranillo was my first red-wine love, partly because it was one of the few “real” wines I could afford to buy. It’s still surprisingly affordable: you can spend $65 on a rare Gran Reserva if you like, but you can find Crianzas and Reservas for less than $15 in nearly any wine shop. And Rioja (or any good Tempranillo) is always a welcome hostess gift–especially if you’re coming to my place.

Wine Lingo of the Day: Staves = the vertical wooden planks, or slats, that form the sides of wine barrels.

Tempranillo med

Vino ‘View:  Anciano Reserva 2010 Tempranillo (13 percent alcohol; $10.50-12.50). See what I mean? A fine Reserva, less than $13 online at Cost Plus World Market. I bought this bottle in person for $11. It’s from Valdepeñas (DO), (“valley of rocks”), so named because the soil there is rich in limestone rock, sandy loam and clay. That lends a leathery, dry-leaves taste to the wine, balanced with the darker fruits grown in the region, directly south of Rioja in Castilla-La Mancha. It’s velvety-soft–a sexy wine, so I snapped it with the sexy photo in my dining room, “Powerhouse Mechanic” by Lewis Hine (1921). But this bottle won’t keep much longer; buy the 2010 to drink now.

Cheers!

Mary