Spring and summer are great seasons to explore and enjoy the world of white wines.
Chardonnay and Rieslings may be the best known white wines to Americans, but one white grape worth searching out is the Albarino varietal. Grown in Portugal, Spain, and the United States, Albarino wines are known for rich, ripe fruits and good acidity. They’re a perfect choice to accompany fish and chicken dishes during the warmer months. Notes of grapefruit and pineapple counterbalance a racy minerality, making this an exceptionally food-friendly style of wine.
In Portugal, a slightly sparkling style of wine (similar to the famed Vinho Verde) called Vinho Alvarinho is produced. Lightly effervescent, with aromas of lemon peel and grapefruit, Vinho Alvarinhos are a great picnic wine, and also make nice wine-based cocktails when mixed with soda, mineral water, or tonic.
In Spain, Albarino grows in the rainy Northwest region of the country, in the Rias Baixas area of Galicia. Paired with local seafood like fresh oysters, clams, cockles, and langoustines, Albarino shines by highlighting the freshness of the seafood and accentuating the natural saltiness of the oysters and clams. Here in America, where cockles and langoustines can be difficult to come by, try pairing Albarinos with fresh halibut for a nice contrast between the wines acidity and the richness of the fish. Or try it with shrimp, where the fruit notes in the wine will accentuate the sweetness in the shrimp, while the acidity of the wine will provide some contrast to the fat in the shrimp. Grilled barbecued chicken, especially served with a fruit salsa, is another great pairing with Spanish Albarinos, making for an easy and elegant combination that takes little effort.
Albarinos are now being produced in the United States, as well. California winemakers in Clarksburg, Carneros, and the Santa Ynez Valley are all producing quality Albarinos. Southern Oregon also makes excellent Albarino wines. In particular, look for Albarinos from Abacela for wines that exhibit a steely minerality, ripe pear and apple notes, and the classic lemon and grapefruit notes common to all Albarinos.
While Albarino wines do not have the notoriety of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, or Riesling, the American public is starting to discover just how exciting these wines can be. Because of that, Albarinos are becoming easier to find, and better wine shops and grocery stores now usually carry at least one or two examples of this fine varietal. Try a bottle of Albarino with seafood or grilled chicken this spring and discover just how food-friendly this emerging wine can truly be.