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Know Your Variety: Albariño

Lovers of aromatic and textural whites should add Albariño to their favourites list. While, it’s still not widely planted here in Australia, a growing list of wine producers are turning their skills to this new age European white varietal and with stunning results.

To find out more about this delicious varietal, we caught up with Andrew Margan of Margan Wines, Judy Kelly of Artwine and Gywn Olsen of Briar Ridge, who have all put their faith in this emerging new favourite.

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Origins

Spain’s most fashionable white wine, Albariño is thought to have been first planted in Spain by monks in the 12th century AD. It has made its home in the Rias Baixas wine region of Galicia on the cooler north-west coast of the country which borders Portugal and where the grape is also grown extensively and called Alvarinho.

The wine is dry exuding aromas of citrusy lime and stonefruits which follow through to the palate with some minerality giving it added complexity. Albariño wines are usually made to be consumed young while the acid remains fresh and the aromatics are vibrant. 

More About Australian Albarino

A mix-up with the original root stocks planted in Australia created some controversary when they were found to be Savagnin, not Albariño. Early 2009, when the Albariño growing in Australia was DNA tested, it was discovered that is was in fact not Spanish and not Albariño – it was the French variety Savagnin. The problem was tracked back to 1989 when Spanish authorities accidently supplied the incorrect propagating material to Australia’s CSIRO. Vines from those sources are now identified as Savagnin. This mix-up has left us with not one, but two delicious white varieties.

Australian Albarino Regions

While it prefers cool to moderate climates like Tasmania, Mornington Peninsula, King Valley, Adelaide Hills, and McLaren Vale, it also does well in warmer climates like the Hunter Valley, Barossa Valley and Riverland.

What The Experts Say

Margan Wines –  Owner And Chief Winemaker, Andrew Margan

Albariño comes from the Galicia region of north-west Spain and I was one of the first ten growers in Australia to access Albariño rootlings, and the first to plant it here in the Hunter Valley in 2014. Galicia is classified as a warm maritime climate and it produces textural wines with low alcohol, high fruit and high acid, just like the Hunter Valley.

I planted six acres on the sandy red loamy soil of Ceres Hill (next to our winery at Broke Fordwich) and have now had three vintages from the block. The interesting thing about pioneering a new variety is that you have no previous understandings of flavour development or chemistry changes in the ripening fruit to work from. Hence, every vintage is very much a new level of understanding on what to expect from the variety as grown in the unique climate of the Hunter Valley. The reason I thought it would do well in the Hunter is that both Galicia and the Hunter Valley are classified as warm maritime climates and the best Spanish examples of Albariño are not unlike the best Hunter Semillons in that they exhibit ripe fruit at lower alcohol and high acidity and the wine is based more about its mouth-feel and texture. Our Albariño is medium bodied with great texture and acid and a spicy lime character locked into its minerality.

Artwine – Owner, Judy Kelly, Adelaide Hills

We fell in love with Albariño about 12 years ago and after some research in Spain decided to order some vines about nine years ago, this was when the debacle over the misclassification by CSIRO occurred and the vines that had been brought into the country were actually Savagnin. We just avoided being caught up in that and planted Fiano instead. Our love of the variety never dwindled and we finally planted on our Woodside, Adelaide Hills vineyard. We bottled our first vintage, “The Real Thing” this year after a nine-year wait, hence the name of the wine. It’s not only the first Albariño for Artwine, but also the first for the Adelaide Hills region.

We’ve made a crisp, fresh style allowing the fruit to express itself in the wine. It’s showing delicious citrus flavours with a touch of stonefruit.

Briar Ridge – Chief Winemaker Gywn Olsen, Hunter Valley

2018 was the first crop off the newly planted block of Albariño. We ripped out a block of Gewurztraminer on our Mount View Vineyard as it was struggling with canopy health and fruit quality and felt that Albariño would be much better suited to our climate in the Hunter Valley. It’s a grape variety known to perform well in heat stress and produces good quality fruit, so we thought we would give it a go. 

The wine is very fragrant and crunchy. It has a perfumed spice note on the nose with a subtle white flower and fruit note. The palate is fruit-driven with a light acid drive and complimented by spice notes. I’ve been really surprised at the fruit intensity of the wine as it’s the first crop off very young vines.

Matching Food With Albariño

Albariño’s crisp fruit flavours, light minerality and fresh acidity makes it a great match with seafood dishes, particularly those that are salty, oily, fatty or a little spicy.

“It’s a wonderful as an aperitif and a great partner with fish,” says Judy. “I love it with sushi and Japanese dishes.”

“Last year my wife Lisa and I walked through Galicia as part of the Camino de Santiago. We drank a lot of Albarino (research, of course) and it went perfectly with all the seafood of the region,” says Andrew. “The 2018 vintage Margan Albariño is the direction I like to see the style going with a muddled lime flavour finishing with this salty mineral back palate and great acidity – I like to serve it with kingfish ceviche or oysters,” says Andrew.

Albariño is a great option to serve with mildly spicy foods as Gywn explains, “Chicken satay or nasi goreng would work a treat with the fragrance and fruit-driven nature of our 2018 Briar Ridge Albariño.”

It also pairs well with tart foods like vinaigrettes, capers and tomatoes, so is a perfect choice to serve with a range of summer salads.

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