Albariño is being grown all over the world, but it originates from Rias Baixas. We spent some time getting to know a little about the region and then tasting through 3 Albariños from this region and doing a little experimental food pairing.
Where does Albariño come from?
This area is the Northwestern corner of Spain, and it’s probably not what you picture when you picture Spain. Located above Portugal with two edges of coast line on the Atlantic. It’s called Galicia and it sounds Gaelic for a reason. This area was inhabited by Celtic people who lived north of the Douro River. My dear friend Pepe who is from Spain once told me about this area with such passion and longing, that he created a picture of this place for me without my even seeing it. The area is often wet and cloudy and feels more like Ireland than Spain. You find it populated with many ginger-haired blue-eyed Spaniards. Bagpipes are not uncommon and Celtic crosses dot the landscape.
Within this green wet corner of Spain you find Rias Baixas. “Rias Baixas” means “lower Rias” in Galician. This coastal area encompasses 4 inlets and it is rich in fishing and aquaculture. Wide beaches and beautiful vineyards, great seafood and wine make this an idealic destination.
Albariño and how it is grown
90% of the wine coming out of Rias Baixas is Albariño, and the grape is thought to have originated in the area. While it has been proven to be indigenous to Spain, there were legends saying that monks had brought Riesling or Petit Manseng from Burgundy to this region of Spain back in the 12th or 13th centuries. It does resemble Riesling in it’s minerality.
This grape is very good at thriving in this moist environment, but to up the odds of success, the vines here are trained on pergolas. The pergolas are hewed from granite (makes sense because wood would rot in the moisture). The pergola’s keep the grapes off the ground, they get protection from the sun and great airflow. These pergolas can be up to 7 feet tall, so the breezes pass through keeping down mildew and allowing for even ripening. Harvest is by hand into 40 lb bins and yields here are low, between 3 and 5 tons per acre.
The Wines for today
2016 Luzado Albariño
The first was a 2016 Luzada Albariño. This is an estate grown and bottled wine from Val do Sainés in Rais Baixas. We picked this up at Trader Joes for $6.99. This was to be our low end wine for comparison. Quite honestly it stood up pretty well. The closure on this wine was screw cap, so quick and easy to get into. On the nose I got dusty rocks, minerals, lemon spritzer and pith. As it opened up it blossomed with honeysuckle. On the palate there was a tartness, like an under ripe green apple. It lingers on the palate and we found it to be really nice. Is there a ton of depth and nuance? No, but the nose did evolve and kept me going back for more.
We paired this one night (yes at $6.99 it’s easy to pick up another bottle), with Indian and Thai food, which are go to pairings for Albariño. It was beautiful with the Palak Paneer, the brightness of the wine went well with the greens in the dish. With the Pad Thai, it was nice, but we still got stung a bit by the heat of the dish, so I think I will still prefer Rieslings with Thai.
2015 Alma Terra Albariño
The 2015 Alma Terra we picked up at Total Wine. This bottle set us back $16.99. This is a “Ponte” which means it is single vineyard. When I stuck my nose in this glass, I got peach pits and dusty honeysuckle. In my mouth it was more tropical with a little pineapple and tart still hard white peaches. (I actually tasted this wine with some slightly under ripe white peaches). There was a bit more nuance to the nose on this wine, but we found that it settled quickly, and didn’t continue to open or change. This bottle had a cork closure. I mention this because, surprisingly, each of these bottles had a different closure.
2014 La Caña Albariño
Lastly we had a 2014 La Caña Albariño. This wine again came from Total Wine and ran $19.99. Upon sticking my nose in the glass, I knew we had something different here. The nose was beeswax and honeysuckle and it felt comfortable and round. It opened up to peach and nectarine and citrus blossoms late in the day on a hot and humid day. 80% of this wine is fermented in Stainless and 20 percent in French Oak puncheons. It rests 8 months on the lees before bottling. This wine was not bright and sharp, like the previous wines, but rather comes across like a beautiful watercolor painting, the colors melding and blending softly as they seep into the paper. This perhaps is because it sits on the lees for 8 months. Oh and this bottle had a composite stopper.
While the La Caña was my favorite of the evening, it is also clearly a different style of Albariño.
Eggplant was the theme du jour. We had picked some at Gilcrease Farm and were ready to dive into using it. I made a dip, with a recipe from my friend Corinne. It called for roasting the eggplant, scooping out the insides and mixing it with mayo, yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I tossed in some lemon zest for good measure.
Michael pulled up a recipe for Eggplant parmesean. He had just made several jars of roasted tomato sauce that we used in this. Pretty simple, slice the eggplant in 1/8 inch slices lengthwise, salt and let sit for 30 minutes. Then do an egg and breadcrumb dip and fry them. Then layer like lasagna…a layer of eggplant, a layer of sauce and repeat twice (3 layers), then top with fresh mozzerella slices and bake.
We also made some fried calamari and we had white peaches and nectarines as well as two types of flavored goat cheese and a sampling of spanish cheeses.
So…as to the pairings; The Luzado was really wonderful with the eggplant dip. I attribute this to the lemon juice and zest in the dip. The Calamari was great with the Alma Terra. The La Caña blended well with everything, it didn’t make anything sparkle or shine, but it was really easy going playing well with all the dishes.
How was the Eggplant Parmesean you ask?
Well, due to the red sauce, it really didn’t do much of anything with the wine, but, it was tasty on it’s own!