A Passion for Albariño
My first wine love will always be Bordeaux. It was my first wine country trip, and where I knew that wine was destined to be my life’s passion and even my career! Soon after though, my attention was drawn to Spain, and since then, Spanish wines are the ones I’ve championed. There are so many regional differences, and although in most of the fine wine world it’s Vega Sicilia or bust, there are some amazing wines to be found from Rioja to Ribera del Duero, Priorat to Rías Baixas.
Let’s focus on Rías Baixas. The land of small rivers, which is what Rías Baixas loosely translates to, is home to the Albariño grape. The varietal is native to Galicia-Portugal, though for many years it was presumed to be a clone of Riesling as its name derives from the word for ‘white’ and ‘Rhine’. Albariño has similar characteristics to Riesling indeed, particularly the further west in the D.O. (Demoninación de Origen) of Rías Baixas one goes.
Albariño is a dry wine with citrus and petroleum scents, high, searing acidity, and impressive citrus and floral flavors, very much like Riesling. Its distinction comes in its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, and the rich sea-salt salinity that makes this wine manna to folks like me who are driven towards bone-dry, mineral-driven wines that still have great fruit and structure. Fishing is an important part of the livelihood of Galicians, and to this point, Albariño goes well with seafood of all types.
I love Albariño, and my passion for it and collecting great bottles of it goes back well over a dozen years ago, when I tasted probably the best expression of the varietal in Raúl Pérez’s Sketch back in 2007. This was back when the wine was aged underwater in Austrian egg-shaped barrels! Unfortunately, this is not done any more, but it is still one of the most exquisite Albariños made in the market. Unfortunately, finding a bottle isn’t easy, if not downright impossible, these days! I was able to try a bottle of 2009 with Raúl himself shortly before COVID, and wow, it was still singing, boasting such gorgeous acidity and freshness of flavors that I would have thought I was drinking a much younger wine!
Fortunately, there are impressive examples of Albariño you can have today that are tasty and you won’t have to scour the four corners of the earth to find. Palacios de Fefiñanes is a terrific example; the oldest continuous winery in Rías Baixas was founded in 1583, and its flagship wine is under $25 and delightful drinking. Do Ferreiro is another great house whose Cepas Vellas is one of the most sought-after white wines in the world, and Forjas del Salnés, from the basic Leirana Albariño to the allocated Finca Genoveva (the single vineyard site where Raúl produces his Sketch from), produces a solid line of terrific expressions of this varietal.
Last but not least, there is Pazo de Señorans. The flagship wine is crystalline pure in its bouquet and palate, but the Selección de Añada represents one of the most serious (if not slightly tricked out) expressions of Albariño, aged in tank on its lees from 6-8 years before release. Luis Gutiérrez of the Wine Advocate likes to compare it to aged Sancerre, and the almost savory aromatics here are quite indicative of that profile, but on the palate, it is so fresh, bright, and expressive, with lively tangerine, lemon, and white floral flavors and pungent minerality, you wouldn’t believe that the current vintage (2011) is ten years old!
So yes, I’m a white wine lover, and a Spanish wine lover, so no surprise that my drink of choice is Albariño. I collect wines of all types, but with so many new producers and expressions all the time, it’s no wonder that all roads lead me back to Albariño.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born and raised in New York City, Sam Nelom stumbled into the world of wine after having studied for a career in law. Today, he is a private client wine specialist at Acker as well as the resident Spanish wine expert. Sam is passionate about Spanish wines and the great white wines of the world and has traveled to Europe (and particularly, to Spain) many times since beginning his journey into wine. A seasoned retail buyer with an extensive client list, Sam has written about his tasting experiences for Acker’s Wine Club program and beyond.