October is Albarino month at Wine Wise
About the Grapes
Albarino is a white grape variety predominantly from the Rias Baixas region of Galicia in North West Spain. The region started to develop its commercial wine production in the mid 1980’s when the wine became fashionable in the capital Madrid.
The wine is refreshing and high in acidity with fresh fruit flavours and a touch of minerality. The fruit flavours display as white peach and lime with a superfresh characteristic. The wine pairs well with local seafood and can match up to a creamy sauce thanks to the high acidity levels.
Alcohol levels are not too high with these wines. The balance of sugar ripeness and acidity levels in the grapes falls in favour of the latter and therefore there is a modest amount of sugar to converted into alcohol Typical levels are 12-12.5%
Most wines are young and fresh and are not meant for ageing. Usual recommendations are to drink the wines between 1 & 3 years. There is some experimentation with oak ageing and resting on lees (this is the process of leaving the wine in contact with the used yeast cells after fermentation). These will offer additional complexity to the wines with a full body and creamy or biscuit-like characteristics with the possibility of some extended ageing.
Untypical of Spain, this windy region is lush and green and has nearly twice as much rainfall than Manchester. Overall annual average temperature is 15 degrees (UK enjoys overall annual averages of 7-11 degrees). This is considered marginal for the full ripeness of grapes (16 degrees is usually considered minimum) and the climate is considered cool in grape growing terms. It can be difficult to get the grapes to full ripeness and vintages can widely differ. Some summer temperatures however can reach 40 degrees which aids grape development and ripening
The region is home to pine forests and eucalyptus trees, the latter of which were introduced in the 1950s and have thrived in this environment. As well as being a coastal environment and subject to sea mists and maritime influences, there are a series of rias (similar to the fjords of Scandinavia) and also complex river system leading to high humidity, even far inland. To combat this, many of the vines are grown on pergolas which provide an elevated growing position away from the floor. Air can circulate easily underneath and throughout the vines and reduce the risk of fungus and mildew. Quite often other crops are grown beneath the vines or animals are able to graze, doubling the value of the land.
The soils tend tp be of an alluvial nature due to the river system with a high prevalence of granite.
The individual berries are usually small with thick skins, protecting the grape from the cool, damp conditions and threat of mildew. Despite the difficult climate, the vines are usually high yielding with little impact on flavour intensity. It is usually considered good practice to limit the amount of bunches on a vine to preserve the flavours of the remaining grapes. This is not so imperative in this region.
Until recently many vineyards were not well tended and the grapes used for local and domestic wines only. Many of the local population left the region in search of city employment so ownership was remote and bare minimum attention was paid to the land. However, since the upsurge of interest from the 1980’s onwards, vineyards are being reclaimed from nature and restored to full productivity. Some wire trained linear vineyards are appearing which can take advantage of machine harvesting but on the whole, the traditional pergola systems prevail.
There are over 6500 different growers in the region who sell their grapes to one of 178 wineries. Many of these are co-operatives.
Many wine merchants and supermarkets are now listing Albarino. Prices range from around £8.00 upwards.
In summary, this wine is a flavoursome refreshing wine and a welcome change from the flooded market of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio.