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Eat & Drink » Wine

Wine of the Sea



There’s an interesting Spanish white wine that I’ve spotted popping up on restaurant wine lists a lot lately. It’s called Albariño, and its relative high quality and low cost make Albariño an ideal wine for both restaurateurs and their customers.

What is Albariño? Well, I first came across it as a component of Portugal’s popular Vinho Verde. Called Alvarinho in Portugal, Albariño is the white grape used to make the dry white wine of Spain’s northwestern Rias Baixes. In fact, to earn the label in Spain, the wine must be made from 100 percent Albariño grapes.

It’s a wonderfully fruity, flavorful and fragrant wine that usually sells in the $10-$20 range. The thick skins of the Albariño grape contribute to its amazing aromatic qualities. Get a whiff of Albariño’s pear and orange-blossom scents, and you’ll be sold!

But it’s also great on the tongue. Because Albariño usually isn’t fermented in wood casks, it tends to be exceedingly light on the palate. And yet, Albariño can have a slightly creamy texture like Chardonnay. Citrus, apple and peach flavors are abundant, as are subtle notes of almond and candied lemon peel. Its razor-sharp acidity makes it a good partner for seafood, much like Sauvignon Blanc.

In fact, Albariño pairs so well with seafood that in Spain it has been called the “wine of the sea.” One wine expert I know calls Albariño “Sauvignon Blanc on steroids.” Indeed, to many wine drinkers, it tastes like a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and dry Riesling, with maybe a splash of Viognier thrown in there as well'very vibrant.

Having said that, I’ll also say that I wouldn’t want to get near a bottle of 1986 Albariño. This is a wine meant to be drunk young. It loses fragrance and flavor rapidly after bottling, so you’ll want to drink it within a year or two of bottling. Albariño is definitely not a good candidate for long-term cellaring.

My favorite example of this lovely, quaffable wine is Martin Codax Albariño, which sells for around $15. I haven’t been able to find it in Utah, but there are other good options here. Burgans Albariño 2004 sells for $10.95 and is a good, cheap introduction to this wine and reminds me of the aforementioned Martin Codax. This version of Albariño is medium-bodied and very crisp, with lots of tropical fruit and a mineral base. For food pairings, I’d recommend shellfish, shellfish and … oh yeah, shellfish. The peach, melon and pear aromas in Serra de Estrela Albariño 2004 ($14.95) would also go nicely with seafood, although I’d also consider it for pairing with Spanish Serrano ham or prosciutto and melon. It’s a pale yellow-green wine with a hint of quinine on the finish, which would also make it a good choice for chicken and veal piccata dishes or anything with olives, such as tapenade.

At the higher end of the Albariño price spectrum here in Utah are the Morgadio Albariño 2004 ($18.95) and Pazo Senorans Albariño 2004 ($19.95). Morgadio Albariño is a bit more tropical than some, with flavors of coconut, pineapple and blood oranges on the palate'a very silky, elegant and festive wine. As for the crisp and clean-tasting Pazo Senorans Albariño 2004, its flinty dryness makes me think of oysters, especially big fat Tottens from the Northwest Coast.

Whatever you do or don’t eat with Albariño, I urge you to go out and find yourself a bottle of the stuff. It’s a perfect summer wine with a slight bit of festive effervescence: The sort of wine that could transform a seaside clambake or simply make sipping on the patio more memorable.