Vino 101: Say ‘Hola’ to Albarniño

19 Sep

What’s  thick-skinned and refreshing and is reported to have traveled along the Camino de Santiago in Galicia, Spain? If you guessed Señorita Vino on a spiritual journey, think again.

Photo credit: CRDO Rías Baixas

Photo credit: CRDO Rías Baixas

Although I have yet to make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, I know what I’d drink along the way: Albariño, a crisp white wine made from the hearty Albariño grape. I have a feeling Albariño could become your new go-to white wine: It’s easy to drink, won’t break the bank, and it plays nicely with food. Here are some quick facts to help you get acquainted.

Photo credit: Adega Condes de Albarei

Photo credit: Adega Condes de Albarei

What is Albariño?

Albariño is a white wine made from grapes that grow primarily in Spain’s Galicia region. Galcia is home to Rías Baixas, the most important Denomination of Origin, or official wine growing region, in the area.  Albariño  accounts for 90 percent of the grapes grown in Rias Baixas. In case anybody’s wondering,  Rías Baixas is Galician for lower estuaries. This part of Spain has a cooler, damp climate (heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean), so save the bikini for Ibiza.

Legend has it that German pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago planted Riesling vines along the way, giving rise to Albariño over time. Spoiler alert: it didn’t really happen.

How does it taste?

Albariño has delicate citrus flavors and traces of wet gravel and minerals from the soil. When it’s ripe or grown in a warmer climate, you’ll get beautiful white peach and apricot flavors.  I tried two different Albariños for this blog post (I know, tough job). One is from Spain (El Full Disclosure: I received a sample bottle from the importer), and the other is from California (bought with my own hard-earned dólares).

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The Columna Albariño 2011 is a classic example of a Rías Baixas Albariño. Delicate white floral aromas (think honeysuckle) hover on the palate, with distinct mineral notes of granite. The wine is not oak aged, so you won’t get any butter or toasty aromas. It’s light-bodied with a crisp acidity. Retail: about $16.

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The Viñedos Aurora Albariño 2011 from Lodi, California is a mouth-watering burst of citrus with ripe peach and notes of saffron and honeysuckle. The fruit and floral flavors are nicely balanced by the zingy acidity. It’s fermented in stainless steel, so again, you won’t get vanilla or smoky notes. Retail: $17

What  foods should I serve with Albariño?

Photo credit: Rías Baixas Albariño

Photo credit: Rías Baixas Albariño

One of my favorite wine pairing tips  is “if it grows together, it goes together.” Wines from a certain region usually go well with foods from the same area.  Galicia is known for its shellfish and seafood dishes, so the next time you’re grilling shrimp, steaming mussels or ordering fish tacos, Albariño is a great alternative to Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc. And because Albariño generally is un-oaked and light-bodied, it’s a great companion to spicier foods such as Thai, Indian and Mexican food.

As my globe-trekking BFF from high school would tell you, if you decide to take on the  Camino de Santiago, you’ll need a little vino to wash down the typical pilgrim’s meal of bread, cheese and fresh fruit. I can’t think of a better way to rack up some spiritual brownie points.

¡Salud!

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