We asked RTD Wine & Spirits columnist Jack Berninger to harvest some grape information for thirsty (or simply curious) Virginians. Here's a look at a gem you may not have discovered.
An alluring grape that makes an alluring wine, albariño might be a surprise waiting for you to uncover. Although still produced in low quantities in Virginia, it is beginning to make inroads as winemakers discover the relative ease with which they can grow the grape and make the wine.
Background: Many believe that albariño originated in Spain or Portugal, but it’s hard to dislike (or disprove) the widely espoused theory that French monks brought the grape to Spain in the 12th century on their pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle St. James at Santiago de Compostela. Today, the largest portion of the world's albariño grapes are grown in the northwest portion of the Iberian Peninsula, in the Rías Baixas area of northwestern Spain.
By either name: Portugal lays claim to a large area of albariño grapes, adjacent to the albariño-growing region in Spain. But the name of the grape – the same grape – is alvarinho, which often is used in the popular summer wine Vinho Verde.
In Virginia: Only nine state wineries are producing albariño wine, but the grape seems right for Virginia. Its prospects to rival viognier and chardonnay may be stalled only by winemakers' reluctance to try new things and the availability of albariño grapes. "Along with Petit Manseng, it is our most bulletproof white vinifera in the vineyard,” said Mike Henry of Horton Vineyards. “It has the best acid/sugar/ph balance of all of our white vinifera grown in the state, requiring the least amount of manipulation in the cellar. We are on the cusp of an albariño thing here in the Mid-Atlantic.”
By the numbers: Only 44 tons of albariño were produced in Virginia in weather-plagued 2016; 24 other grapes produced more. Worldwide, it was the 103rd most-grown grape among the 1,270 listed in a study by the University of Adelaide.
In the vineyard: Albariño seems to grow best in well-drained, sandy loam soil, such as that in Madison County, where it does very well. Albariño usually requires less shoot and leaf removal than other varietals.
In the bottle: Peachy aromas catch your nose and won’t let go until the light, bright flavors of citrus, green apple and grass take charge – and make you wonder why you hadn’t tried this wine before. Usually aged in stainless steel to give it a crisp finish, albariño can range from dry to semi-dry. Its piercing acidity makes it an excellent pairing with seafood.