What is Albariño?
The number of different wine grape varieties now grown and produced in Australia is quite mind-boggling. According to Wine Australia, in 2020 there were 130 different varieties crushed across the country, and Albariño was one of them.
So, what kind of grape is Albariño? Classed as an ‘alternative variety’ here in Australia, Albariño is a white wine grape whose parentage is questioned. One theory is that it’s closely related to the French grape Petit Manseng, and the other is that it’s a Riesling clone from Alsace.
No matter what it’s past, one thing for certain is that it produces absolutely delicious expressions, and deserves loads more attention from Aussie wine lovers.
Albariño has been touted by many to be the premier white grape to come out of Spain (a country that is more renowned for its red wines than its whites).
But having got off to a little false start here in Australia, it is less well known than varieties such as Fiano, Vermentino or even Grüner Veltliner.
This anonymity gives it the advantage of causing a positive surprise when people try it for the first time, and believe me when I say, there is lots to like about this Spanish export!
Albarino originates from the French grape Petit Manseng and could be considered a Riesling clone of Alsace.
You can cellar Albariño for up to 2 years.
Albarino’s flavour profile is fabulously fresh with lemon, grapefruit, stone fruit, melon and an interesting wet stone minerality. Albariño thrives in cool to moderate climates like Tasmania, Adelaide Hills, Mornington Peninsula, King Valley, and McLaren Vale, and also warmer climates of the Hunter Valley and Barossa Valley. Its similar in weight to Verdelho and Pinot G.
Albariño's flavour profile is light-medium bodied, and is more dry than sweet.
Albariño thrives in cool to moderate climates like Mornington Peninsula, with a similar weight to Verdelho or Pinot G.
Albariño pairs well with richer foods to match its savoury texture – seafood, shellfish, oily fish, and salads with vinaigrettes.
It’s a lighter to medium-bodied dry style of white wine.
Albariño pair well with richer foods like salads and oily fish for the savoury texture.
Did you know original plantings of Albariño in Australia created controversy as they were later revealed to be Savagnin - a very different variety.
Where is Albariño wine from?
To find out more about this adaptable variety, let’s first answer ‘where does Albariño come from?” 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 home of Albariño is Galicia in the north-west corner of the country. It is best known as being the key grape variety in the Rias Baixas DO, where it makes full-flavoured white wines with peach, citrus and mineral characters that pair perfectly with the local seafood.
Albariño constitutes more than 90 percent of the grapes planted in the Rias Baixas area, where the complex mesoclimates within this DO signify the many different sub-regions and variations between vintages and vineyards.
Does Albariño grow in Australia?
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 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.
The relationship between Australia and Albariño didn’t start well. That false start I mentioned above was to do with the fact we planted the incorrect variety!
In 2009, with the excitement around Albariño growing, a visiting French ampelographer, Jean-Michel Boursiquot commented that he suspected our Albariño vines were something else.
Subsequent testing revealed that Australian vignerons had planted Savagnin, a grape most closely associated with the Jura region of France. The mix-up was caused when Spanish authorities supplied the wrong propagating material to the CSIRO.
Currently less than 25 wineries around the country have Albaiño in the ground with regions as far stretched as the Barossa, Hunter and Adelaide having small plantings.v
What Australian regions does Albariño grow in?
Australia's Albariño regions at a glance
Cool climate regions
- Mornington Peninsula
- King Valley
- Adelaide Hills
- McLaren Vale
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.
Warm climate regions
- Hunter Valley
- Barossa Valley
Albariño is a quick ripening variety, but one that offers great flavour weight and refreshing acidity off a lighter frame.
The wines can be on a scale anywhere from light and zippy to fuller bodied and with a creamy texture if winemaking artefact like oak and lees aging is used.
Peach, citrus fruits and a slight saline note are classic characters.
What does Albariño taste like?
Now that we know where it grows, let’s get to some more crucial questions. What does Albariño taste like? Is Albariño dry or sweet? Should Albariño be chilled?
Albariño is a dry white wine exuding aromas of citrusy lime and stone fruits 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.
“The best Spanish examples of Albariño are not unlike the best Hunter Valley 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,” explains Andrew Margan, Owner and Winemaker, Margan Wines. “Our Albariño is medium-bodied with great texture and acid, and a spicy lime character locked into its minerality.”
Like most white wines, Albariño benefits from some time in the fridge, or ice-bucket, prior to serving. However, don’t chill it too much – you want to enjoy its wonderful aromas and flavours. Around 10°C is the ideal serving temperature.
What does Albariño taste like?
What styles of Albariño does Australia make?
To tell us more about this somewhat elusive grape we consulted some avid admirers to uncover more about Albariño and what styles it produces here in Australia. We caught up with Andrew Margan, (Margan Wines, Hunter Valley), who was one of the first to plant Albariño in Australia, and Judy Kelly (Artwine, Adelaide Hills), who is another devotee.
Albariño according to Andrew Margan - owner and chief winemaker, Margan Wines, Hunter Valley
Andrew Margan - owner and chief winemaker, Margan Wines
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). 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 grown in the unique climate of the Hunter.
Traditionally in Spain, Albariño is trellised on tall pergola-style structures designed to provide maximum shade for the fruit. We use a modern-style of trellis here (vertical shoot positioning), but are mindful of shaping the leaf canopy to also shelter the bunches. Too much direct sun can encourage the development of flavours that we don’t want.
We hand pick these grapes with exceptionally high natural acidity. We ferment the juice in stainless steel tanks using a small volume of solids and wild yeasts to achieve more savoury aromatics. Extended lees contact post fermentation resulted in a textural complex wine.
Our 2021 Ceres Hill ALBARINO has aromatic notes of lime zest and crisp, nashi pear and sea spray. The palate has juicy lime, sherbet, grapefruit, pear and lemon balm. The palate is textural with mineral notes and finishes with refreshing acidity and a characteristic touch of salinity, paying homage to its coastal origins.
Albariño explained by Judy Kelly - Owner, Artwine, Adelaide Hills
Judy Kelly - Owner, Artwine Wines.
We fell in love with Albariño about 16 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’ in 2018 year after a 10-year wait, hence the name of the wine. It was not only the first Albariño for Artwine, but also the first for the Adelaide Hills region.
In 2021, along with The Real Thing, we also released our 2021 Spanish Queen Reserva Albariño – it delivers intriguing aromas of citrus and lime and stone fruit that introduce a similar palate, with minerally textural complexities and a dry finish.
Facts on Albariño
Albariño is also planted across the border in the northern Portuguese region of Minho. There it is known as Alvarinho – a name many argue is the correct one for the variety.
Alvarinho grapes are used to make the Portuguese wine Vinho Verde – a low alcohol, light and tart white wine that normally has a little spritz!
What food pairs 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.”
In 2017 my wife Lisa and I walked through Galicia as part of the Camino de Santiago. We drank a lot of Albariño (research, of course) and it went perfectly with all the seafood of the region, I like to serve our Margan Albariño with kingfish ceviche or oysters.
Andrew and Lisa Margan, Margan Wines.
Albariño is also a great option to serve with mildly spicy foods – chicken satay or nasi goreng would work a treat with a fragrant and fruit-driven 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.
In addition, it would be superb with white cheese and vegetable based rice dishes such as paella.
For a quick look at what pairs with Albariño check out these tasty dishes and recipes below.
Now that you know all about Albariño, there’s just one thing to do – add some to your wine order!