Perusing wine lists on a recent visit to New Orleans I kept gravitating toward Albariño, attracted by its ability to pair with spicy cuisine, as wells as by its value. Albariño is a hot variety these days, as Pinot Grigio lovers look for similarly crisp wines to serve chilled in the heat of the summer, and as a match for food. Exports have doubled since 2004, with 48% of exports aimed at the U.S. market.
Albariño is the perfect accompaniment for opposite ends of the spectrum — from spicy to delicate. It’s a refreshing palate cleanser for spicy foods, and it doesn’t cover up the flavors of more delicate dishes (it pairs particularly well with Asian cuisine).
Albariño comes from the Rîas Baixas Denomination of Origin (DO), in the lush northern mountains of Spain, an area of Galicia that borders the Atlantic ocean to the north and Portugal to the south (Albariño is known as Alvarinho across the border). It’s an area of small vineyards (more than 20,000 individual plots) that cover 8,650 acres. Albariño constitutes 90% of all plantings. There are 200 wineries within the DO, and about a quarter of them export to the U.S.
Albariño’s natural character is light and citrusy with pronounced minerality, and as befits its delicacy, most of the wines are stainless steel fermented and see no oak or malolactic fermentation, though a few producers are experimenting in that direction in an attempt to coax a bit more complexity and rounder texture from the wines.
Here are half a dozen of my current favorites:
2006 Don Olegario Albariño:
This wine has the usual structure, freshness and minerality you’d expect from an Albariño, but it’s rounder in texture and offers a rather exotic fruit profile — peach, apricot and pineapple. $25.00. 90 points
2007 Alba Rosa Albariño:
The Alba Rosa is strongly floral, backed by kiwi and white peach flavors, as well as a complex fresh herbal element in the background. It’s crisp, perfectly balanced, with a long mineral finish. $20.00. 90 points
2007 Torre La Moreira Albariño:
A medium bodied wine with the character of freshly cut white peach and lemony tartness, followed by a pleasant mineral finish. $17.00. 89 points
2007 Martín Códax Albariño:
White peach, mineral and lime combine in this very elegant and very affordable Albariño. I was particularly struck by its lovely, long finish that invites a second glass. The 2006 vintage is equally good. $15.00. 89 points
2006 Albariño de Fefiñanes Albariño:
A classically-styled Albariño, lean, clean, dry and minerally, with muted citrus and apple on the nose, and a fine level of intensity from the nose through the finish. A perfect oyster wine. $19.00. 89 points.
2007 Maior de Mendoza Albariño:
Winemaker Cristina Mantilla ages her Albariño sur lie (on the yeast lees) to add a softer texture to the wine and add subtle nut and vanilla notes to the citrusy core. It shows a deep and satisfying minerality. $18.00. 88 points