To mark the end of National seafood week – we look at the Albariño grape variety from Rias Baixas, North West Spain and its love affair with all things fishy.
ALBARIÑO is Spain’s favourite white grape. It’s light, delicate, stone fruit (apricot and peach), with underlying lime/lemongrass freshness, can knock the socks off Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, especially if drunk as an aperitif or with food.
It’s a great friend – i.e. not too dominant – to pair with fish, shellfish and salads and potentially with chicken and lightly spiced Asian and Mexican dishes.
Bars and restaurants in trendy Madrid and Barcelona cannot get enough of it. The UK is now discovering the elusive grapes amazing food-friendly qualities.
The wines are created in the green hills and steep valleys of Galicia, Northwest Spain. Galicia is a wet and breezy region, thanks to the Atlantic sea on two sides and westerly winds and, it has copious amounts of sunshine creating perfect conditions for this grape varietal. It is a part of Spain yet culturally different to the rest of the country. Its remoteness means it has kept a language and culture of its own. Galician’s claim Celtic origin. You can walk along the local streets to the sound of bagpipes.
The region attracts millions of visitors every year – especially pilgrims who flock to Santiago de Compostela cathedral, built in the ninth century after a hermit claimed that he saw a vision showing him where the body of St James was buried – a miracle! Many of the pilgrims walk part of the Camino de Santiago, resting their weary legs at cosy lodges along the way and dining at restaurants and bars, sampling the local seafood and drink the local wine.
The majority of vineyards are family-owned. Some make their own wine and sell it locally but others take their crop to the local co-operative to be made into wine. There are bigger estates in the region, many of them serving the international market.
One of the key founders of Albariño was Palacio de Fefiñanes, founded in 1904.
It is housed inside a spectacular baronial palace that sits on the main square of coastal Cambados. The facility was built in 1647 by Viscount of Fefiñanes Gonzalo Sarmiento Valladares (1583-1659) and is currently owned by Juan Gil Careaga. The wine’s label design dates from 1928 and shows an engraving of the Fefiñanes Palace.
Around 4000 hectares of Albariño are nurtured in Rias Baixas (pronounced ree-ash-bye-shass) and the landscape is a veritable patchwork of over 20,000 individual vineyard plots spread across five sub-zones; Val do Salnés hugs the Atlantic coast line and is where you will find the highest concentration of wineries. Condado do Tea and O Rosal follow the River Mino, which forms the border with Portugal. Then there are two smaller sub-zones: Soutomaior and Ribeira do Ulla.
Grapes from vineyards close to the sea have more freshness and vibrancy, with an almost saline tang and citrusy aromas, whilst the inland grown grapes have softer, rounder flavours with more tropical fruit overtones.
The soils are both granite and slate on the surface with lighter granite subsoil that absorbs the heat and gives the wine its distinct flavour. In Ribeira do Ulla the soils are mainly alluvial.
According to a vintage report produced by Wines of Spain and wine expert Patricia Langton, the 2016 harvest produced grapes with ‘unbeatable quality’ with wines having an excellent balance between alcohol levels acidity with very good fruit quality.
Sparkling wine fuelled by the popularity of Prosecco, has propelled Rias producers to experiment with creating sparkling wine (Rias Baixas Espumoso). The category was authorised by the Consejo Regulador D.O. in 2012. There are now 68,000 litres being made. The wines are made from predominantly from Albariño with other local ‘authorised’ grapes featuring in the blends. The wines are produced using the traditional method.
Seafood and Wine:
Pair young Albariños with: Oysters: Fresh white crab: Fresh prawns or shrimp: Mixed shellfish platters: Steamed mussels or clams: Simply grilled fish such as seabass, squid or sardines: Light creamy cheeses like goats cheese: pastas and risotto such as smoked haddock and leek risotto: Ceviche (marinated raw fish): Sushi and sashimi.
Pair more complex, mature Albariños with: Prawns with garlic: Seafood stews: Seared scallops: Arroz negro (black rice with seafood).
Selection of wines from The Great Northern Albariño Showcase, Iberica, Leeds.
(All wines are around 12.5% alcohol vol)
Rectoral do Umia 2016
100% Albariño grapes, golden colour with greenish hues. On the nose it has an intense aroma of apple and stone fruits. On the palate fresh, tight acidity and well balanced.
100% Albariño. On the nose: lemon green wine with golden hues with intense fruit of pear, apple and peach. On the palate: integrated acidity, freshness of apple wrapped in the smoothness of stone fruit, crisp, fresh and clean mouthfeel.
Importer: Barton, Brownsden, Sadler
On the nose: fine and delicate, subtle aromas of fennel and herbs, fruit (apricot and peach slices with lemon, green apple and floral notes. On the palate: the mouth is round, clean and pleasant with nutmeg, baked apple, honey and lemon. RRP: £19.50
Albariño de Fefiñanes 1583 2015: A barrel-aged white wine.
This wine saw its first vintage released in 1995. The wine is fermented in French oak barrels and aged for 3 months in French oak barrels on its lees with periodic bâtonnage.
On the nose a complex aroma of fresh apple compote and balsamic, wafts from the French oak. The palate is silky, with plenty of fullness and body, and reveals an unctuous and elegant mouthfeel. RRP:£26.95
Pazo Senorans 2016
The nose is clean, elegant and subtle, mixing aromas of white flowers and freshly cut grass, citric hints and a balsamic touch. The palate has pungent flavors, good depth with some minerality and a dry finish. This is a very good ‘text book wine’ from Salnés.
Importer: Alliance Wine Company
Frore de Carme 2012
On the nose: Intense with aromas of white flowers, honeysuckle, balsamic, eucalyptus, fennel, menthol aromas. On the palate: white fruit, Apple, pear, citrus notes and lemon peel.
Mar de Frades Sparkling
A toasted bread and almond kernel character pervade. On the palate it is broad, tasty and fresh. In the aftertaste the typical Albariño notes reappear with a pleasant and crispy aftertaste. RRP: £25
Importer: Cellar Trends
Adegas Pazos de Lusco 2016
Meaning ‘sunset’ in the local Galician dialect, Lusco is a vibrant, bright, and relatively full-bodied Albariño. It has a powerful nose with aromas of fresh herbs, tropical fruits and floral tones. Fresh and complex on the palate, the wine is unctuous, soft and refined. RRP: £13
Bodegas Santiago Ruiz 2016
A combination of five native grape varieties to Rias Baixas: Clear and bright yellow. Intense and complex nose showcasing aromas of fruit (apple, pear, and apricot), herbs (lemon verbena, aniseed) and mineral notes. On the palate is full bodied, fruity with wet-stone minerality with a long and crisp finish. RRP: £14.99
Denominacion de Origin (D.O.)
Established in 1988
Val Do Salnés, Condado do Tea, O Rosal, Soutomaior and Ribeira Do Ulla
Acres under vine:
Val do Salnés, O Rosal and Soutomaior – alluvial over granite. Condado do Tea – granite and slate on the surface with lighter granite subsoil: Ribeira do Ulla – alluvial.
Maritime, dominated by the Atlantic Ocean. Cool and damp but with abundant sunshine. The coolest and wettest zone is Val do Salnés.
Hours of Sunshine:
More than 2,200 during the growing season.
45 inches – 65 inches per annum.
Mainly white: Albariño (95%) Treixadura and Loureira Blanco.
Number of wineries:
Number of grape growers:
2015 = 991,797,50 litres
2016 = 1,067,483,05 litres