The Delight of Pairing With Albarino
During my early years of wine education, Albarino never seemed to make an appearance on my dinner table. Being so raw and green in wine tasting and education in general, I’m sure that I was still way to focused on the “big” grapes to even consider alternatives. Perhaps if I had lived in Spain, the name Albarino would have become a household name. But as the wine world has become more internationalized, especially during the last decade, “new” wines have shown up on stage and to our benefit, one of them is the white wine Albarino.
Albarino has become one of my personal favorite and food friendly whites over the last five years with its steely clean and acid driven personality sporting aromas of lemon, tangerine & nectarine, peach and occasionally pear intermingled with refreshing minerality, hints of wet stone and freshly cut grass. While you may, on occasion, come across it’s alter ego from Portugal called Alvarinho, the true home of the grape is Galicia in the Rias Biaxas appellation of northwest Spain. This terroir benefits from its proximity to the Mino River and more so, the Atlantic to the west which keeps the temperature cooler in the summer and milder in the winter than inland regions. While there are five subregions, the Condado do Tea and Val do Salnes tend to produce the best Albarino.
The grape is a late ripening, green thick skinned variety that does best in a cool-mild climate, thus its success in the Rias Biaxas region. The vines tend to be vigorous and the grapes hardy, resulting in wines that are highly aromatic and flavorful. Invariably, Albarino is highly acidic and with extended hang time, will reveal more sugar and thus potentially, higher alcohol. While most wines labeled Albarino will contain only the grape itself, some may blend with other indigenous grapes. Alvarinho (Portugal) which often blends with other grapes such as Loureiro and Treixadura, is a bit sharper on the palate than its Spanish cousin. California appellations such as Carneros in the Napa Valley, Clarksburg in Lodi, the north central coast, Santa Barbara and Southern Oregon all produce good quality Albarino, although a bit more full and round than the Spanish counterpart. As well, certain areas of Australia offer the right terroir for the wine.
The Albarino grape (and wine), for me, is at its very best in the unadulterated form: unoaked and single variety. That offers the best of its true expression: clean, acid driven with lively citrus notes and refreshing minerality. There are those, however, that prefer a softer wine and if that’s your preference, then a blend would be the way to go. Keep in mind that the blending grape(s) will alter the flavor profile. For example, blending with Treixadura infuses a lychee scent while the Loureiro adds herbal and floral notes. While there are oaked versions of the wine, be aware that the wood may mask much of the grape’s innate flavor. Either way, choose the most recent vintage to gain the freshest expression as the wine doesn’t benefit by aging.
If ever there was the perfect example of pairing a region’s cuisine with its wines, this is it! The heart of Albarino production lies on the northeast Iberian coast, the same region from which the majority fresh seafood such as crab, octopus and scallops is resourced. The spiny acidity, citrus profile and low alcohol content of Albarino is an ideal match for the sweetness of the seafood whether served whole, as a tapas, or accented with regional spice such as Spanish paprika (pimenton), or lemon, lemongrass or lemon verbena. With fresh seafood so abundant, it’s easy to dive into a tangy, citrusy dish of cerviche, fish crudo, or fresh lemon accented fish carpaccio of salmon or tuna. Now pour yourself a glass of Albarino and you have a seafood lover’s delight! But you don’t have to stop there. Paellas, indigenous to Spain with its origin in Valencia, especially with fresh seafood, and Albarino are another “made in heaven” match.
Fried foods love clean and refreshing wines to cut through the crust and Albarino is a perfect candidate, especially if you’re looking for dry citrus notes. Asian dishes such as sushi and richer dishes such as seafood stew, casseroles of chicken, sausage and pork are fun pairings. And speaking of pork, how about pairing a chorizo dish (spiced, ground pork) with Albarino. Now there’s a great match!
And if you’re looking for a cheese aperitif before dinner, try a little Manchego from Spain with a cold glass of Albarino. There’s regional pairing for you!
Albarino is one food friendly wine and with the summer coming on, this is an affordable wine to stockpile.