Spain’s premier white variety, albariño, got off to a shaky start in Australia, with a mix up seeing the French variety savagnin planted instead. That error has been remedied, with genuine albariño now in the ground, while those wayward savagnin vines have established their own distinct identity.
Also known as
Alvarinho is the albariño synonym that wine drinkers are most likely to come across, with the two words similar enough to suspect a link without any more information. Alvarinho is the Portuguese word for the grape, with albariño the Spanish name.
What albariño tastes like
Albariño varies somewhat in profile, with it having racy citrus and apple notes when less ripe, though it can develop more exotic characters of stone fruit and even tropical fruits when riper. The palate is usually racy, though higher ripeness can provide noticeable weight, and it frequently displays sea spray notes, which are often attributed to the maritime climate it thrives in.
Vineyard & winemaking
A grape that excels in maritime climates, and relatively moderate ones at that, albariño is a grape that generally expresses itself with a gentle but distinct aromatic profile and high acidity, so most makers tend to enhance this by making it in a fairly pure and lean style, without oak. However, there are certainly producers that pick later and employ winemaking processes akin to making chardonnay.
Where is albariño grown?
Albariño is arguably Spain’s key white grape, grown most prominently in Rias Baixas, Galicia. It is not Spain’s most widely planted, though, with airén taking that honour (in fact, airén is in the top five most-planted grapes in the world, and the second most planted white, and it’s pretty much all in Spain). Albariño very much is seen as the leading quality grape, with different expressions coming from the varied soils of the five subzones of Rias Baixas. Crossing the southern border into Portugal, albariño occupies a less distinguished place as a blending grape in the Vinho Verde appellation, which is a style of young, or “green”, wine, celebrated for its fresh glugability. However, it is also bottled as varietal alvarinho, and was one of the first to break free from historic blends that never declared their varietal compositions.
Albariño around the world
While not widely grown outside of Spain, albariño seems to be finding a second home on the Californian coast. With similar conditions to Rias Baixas, California’s San Luis Obispo Coast is seen as prime territory, but it is grown across the state, albeit in still small quantities, with about 120 hectares currently bearing fruit.
Albariño in Australia
Albariño has an odd history in this country. At a time when interest in the grape was riding something of a wave, with Spanish food and wine very much on trend, Australian producers were finding a thirsty market for their wines produced off young vines. But, in 2009, fledgling plantings of the grape were identified as not being albariño at all, but rather savagnin, which is best known as the grape used in making some of the most revered wines of France’s Jura region. As all the albariño planted was from the same source, much hand wringing followed, with some even trying to prove that much of Spain’s albariño is in fact savagnin, too. Not that it helped much. Interestingly, in the decade it took to turn that mistake around the interest in savagnin has grown substantially, while the fervour around albariño has a cooled a little. True albariño is now grown in small quantities in a couple of dozen sites, with no real pattern to where, with both warm and cool climate sites selected, from the Riverland, to the Hunter Valley, to the Adelaide Hills.
Some of the best Australian albariño
Anderson & Marsh