Tasting Wine: Albarino becoming most loved white-wine grape

One of the most popular white-wine grapes these days is albariño. I don’t mean in the sense that everyone who comes into my restaurant sits down and says, “I’ll have a glass of albariño,” but it is the one white-wine grape that just about everyone, including red wine drinkers, seem to appreciate, if not love.

Albariño is the darling of Galicia in northwestern Spain. It is also grown in northern Portugal, where it is called alvarinho. But there are few folks in California who have taken a stab at it. Some producers have not been able to fight the temptation to put this vibrant grape into oak barrels, but I have yet to meet an oaked albariño that I liked.

Although it has similarities to riesling, the history of albariño is unknown. One theory is that German monks brought it to Galicia. Another is that it is related to petit manseng, a grape grown in the southwest of France. The Galicians like to think of it as a native variety and, at this point, I don’t think anyone is going to give them an argument.

A highly acidic grape varietal, albariño typically has peach and citrus flavors. Rias Baixas, the area on the Galician coast that is best known for the grape, is filled with ocean fossils and granite and the wines typically have a pervasive minerality. You generally want to drink albariño within two years of the vintage, as its salient feature is its freshness.

Here are three albariño sure bets. Enjoy.

Fillaboa Albariño, 2007 (Rias Baixas, Spain): Fillaboa has gone through several importers, but the wine has stayed consistently good and reasonably priced. Minerally and briny, it has pink grapefruit and a hint of pineapple on the palate with a long, clean finish. Suggested retail: $21

Pazo de Senorans Albariño, 2006 (Rias Baixas, Spain): Proprietor and winemaker Marisol Bueño is one of the heroines of this appellation, not only for the quality of her wines but also for her efforts in helping Rias Baixas receive DO (denominacion de origen) status. With bright peach, green apple and lime fruit underscored by racy mineral notes, this is a lively, and at the same time subtle, delight. Suggested retail: $32

Tangent Albariño, 2007 (Central Coast, California): Just to mix things up, I thought I’d throw this domestic albariño into the ring. Made by Bailyana, an Edna Valley pinot noir and chardonnay producer, it is composed of Monterey and estate fruit. Fresh and fragrant with white peach and grapefruit on the palate, it shows that albariño holds great promise stateside. Suggested retail: $19

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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