Albarino grapes and vines in Galicia, Spain
Albarino grapes and vines in Galicia, Spain (Avarand)

Albarino is a white grape that finds its greatest, most complete expression in Rias Baixas, in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain. The cool, misty climate and granitic soils produce wines that are fleshy and full-flavored while retaining a refreshing raciness.

But the grape has also found a comfortable home on the Central Coast, particularly in Edna Valley, outside San Luis Obispo. The area isn't as wet as Galicia, but the climate is suitably cool, with the moderating influence of the Pacific Ocean. The wines don't have quite the minerality of albarinos from Galicia, but they're delicious nonetheless, and they're a great change of pace from the white wine that Edna Valley is best known for: chardonnay.

Niven Family Wine Estates has led the way on Edna Valley albarino. The company has 50 acres of the grape planted on gentle slopes in its Paragon Vineyard, according to John H. Niven, vice president of sales and marketing. Some fruit is sold, but much of it goes into their Tangent albarino. There's also a smattering of vines elsewhere in the valley.

Edna Valley albarinos have grabbed my attention because of the wines' strong performance at the recent Central Coast Wine Competition in Paso Robles. Although I didn't judge the albarino category, I tasted through most of the wines after the competition.


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The top wine of the competition was an Edna Valley albarino from Paragon Vineyard, the 2013 Mariposa Albarino ($23), produced by CRU Wine Co. It's a very pretty wine, with golden apple and citrus flavors and some fleshiness. The wine is set to be released this month.

Paragon Vineyard was also the source for the 2012 Tangent Albarino ($17), a good value that's fresh and fleshy, with white peach flavors. Another good example was the 2012 Silver Horse Albarino ($27), also from Edna Valley, which is a little floral, with citrus, white stone fruit and a persistent finish. The upcoming 2013 is a little racier, with a slight herbal character.

Monterey County is also a source for some good albarinos. For example, the 2012 Chateau Lettau Albarino ($26), from a Paso Robles winery using Monterey fruit, is fresh, citrusy and persistent. And the 2013 Pierce Albarino ($18) offers fresh Bartlett pear notes.

The Pierce vineyard is in San Antonio Valley in southern Monterey County, which would seem to be an unlikely place for albarino. The area has had success with heat-loving varieties, such as petite sirah and some of the Iberian reds. But Josh Pierce, the winery's co-owner and general manager, says that albarino is "a more versatile variety than people tend to think. It tends to travel well."

He says there were some "growing pains" initially, as the team tried to figure out the variety. The key, he adds, is picking at just the right time, before the acidity drops too much.

Other good Monterey County albarinos to try include those from Bonny Doon, Cambiata and Chesebro, although they weren't part of the competition. Bonny Doon's 2013 Albarino ($18), which carries a Central Coast appellation, is racy and quite citrusy, with a floral note.

To really understand what albarino should taste like, however, it's important to try some examples from Rias Baixas, where any wine labeled "albarino" must contain 100 percent of that variety. Although Spanish albarino has become trendy, and prices have risen in recent years, some of the wines are still quite inexpensive, such as the 2012 Condes de Albarei Albarino ($15), which displays racy white peach and pear and a mineral note. Another affordable choice is the widely available Martin Codax.

For a little more money, the 2013 Abadia de San Campio Albarino ($20), from Bodegas Terras Gauda, is fresh and lively, with citrus and white stone fruit, and the 2013 Pazo de Senorans Albarino ($25) offers fleshy white fruit with firm acidity and some citrus peel bitterness on the finish.

In southern Rias Baixas, just north of the Portuguese border, albarino is often blended with loureiro and caino blanco. That's the case with the 2013 Terras Gauda O Rosal ($24), which is rounder than the same winery's straight albarino, with lively white fruit and a long finish.

Contact Laurie Daniel at ladaniel@earthlink.net.

TASTING NOTES

Albarino is also grown south of the border from Rias Baixas, in northern Portugal, where it's called alvarinho. Portuguese alvarinho tends to be lighter and higher in acidity than its Spanish sibling. Because of the grape's popularity, it's starting to pop up in other parts of Portugal, as well.
I expect to start seeing more albarino in other viticultural areas of the world. There's a small amount grown in Uruguay, and early results have been promising. For example, the 2013 Garzon Albarino ($17) offers racy citrus, green apple and white stone fruit and a slightly drying finish.
Albarino is particularly good with seafood -- not surprising, since seafood figures prominently in the cuisine of Galicia.