Albariño - The Celtic Grape
On St Patrick's weekend, don't forget the grape with a Celtic history.
Galician Celts can trace their history back to 600 B.C . In the Northwest of Spain, on the edge of the Atlantic - it is known as the seventh Celtic nation. Not only is the language peppered with Celtic words, Pagan customs still abound and numerous Celtic symbols can still be identified in the stone relics of the region.
The local grape, is Albariño and although vines of between 200-300 years of age have been discovered in the region, the Rias Baixas DO was only established in 1980. This, is in stark contrast to for example, Rioja, where the legal protection of the region for quality grape growing started in the 16th century.
Prior to 1980, and today, a meander through the region will highlight a local culture of grape growing to make local wines for personal consumption. In fact, numerous houses can still be spotted with two or three rows of vines growing alongside, potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes and other garden vegetables.
Albariño wines are made in a range of styles. From the more Northern parts of the region, closest to the sea, the style is refreshing, crisp and saline with greengage and green apple notes. From the warmer or more inland areas, the wines take on a peachy slightly more exotic character.
Both styles share an integrated refreshing acidity and whilst the wines are typically not aged in oak, they can have some extended skin, or lees contact or both with can add a touch of depth, concentration and roundness to the palate. Some estates also use large format oak barrels for their top wines, not to give oak aromas or flavours, but to give the wine some added complexity.
Albariño wines are very versatile and work remarkably well with food. Locally, they would be matched with prawns, mussels from the local beds, padron peppers and tortilla. For fans of Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño is certainly an excellent alternative if you want to experiment with something a little different.
The grape is now being more widely planted and apart from Portugal beside the border of Galicia, Albariño can also be found in New Zealand, the US, Uruguay and the Languedoc.
An extract of this article first appeared in Taste.ie Feb 2018 & Wine Issue 5 (O'Briens Wine) June 2018