Albarino? Alvarinho? What’s going on here?
Crisp and refreshing with phenomenal texture, Albarino, has become one of my favorite white wines since my time spent working in Spanish restaurants. During my time there I discovered a common theme: one grape varietal can, and will, have many, MANY different names-even within the same country. Sometimes these names are wildly different, like Tempranillo and Tinto del Toro, but sometimes, they are so similar it can be a little confusing, like Albarino and Avarinho. Are they the same thing? The answer is: yes and kind of? Let’s figure this out…
In north, north western Spain, there is a small area, an eco-system of its own, called the Iberian Peninsula where Spain and Portugal are split by the Miño River. On one side, in Portugal, they grow Alvarinho, and on the other, in Spain, the grow Albarino. Both are the same grape, thriving in the Peninsulas’ unique terroir that is shared by the two countries. The Peninsula is a lush, micro-eco-system that supports unique bio-diversity. One of the most famous examples being the Iberian pig: a very special and rare black-footed pig that eats very special acorns that only are found on the Peninsula. This pig is just one example of how special this area is, the wine produced there is another.
The two wine regions share a lush and green Atlantic-ocean influenced climate alongside a granite-dominate soil type that impart a distinct minerality to the wines. Grapes are grown on both of the river banks and due to that both regions also share the common use of pergolas for vine training and management. Pergolas are a trellising system that keep the vines off of the ground, allowing air to flow through the vines and keeping them away from moisture, which can lead to mold and rot. You would think that having all of this common ground, pun intended, between the two regions would produce very similar wines. Especially when you consider this is the same exact grape, just grown on opposite sides of a river that you could cross on foot. Surprisingly, though, this is where the similarities in Albarino and Alvarinho end.
In Spain, Albarino comes from the north-western region of Rias-Baixas where it accounts for the majority of the vines planted. Rias-Baixas is a small region with very low production of 100% Albarino wine in comparison to the extremely large region of Vino Verde, Portugal, where they grow Alvarinho. Vino Verde produces nearly 9 times as much wine as Rias-Baixas, but it’s definitely not nearly all Alvarinho grapes that are grown there. In fact, Alvarinho is one of 45 different grapes grown there, and therefore most of the wines found there are actually blends. Single-varietal Alvarinho (100% Alvarinho) wine is somewhat rare and can only be found in the sub-regions of Vino Verde, Monãço and Melegaço, which are the regions directly on the Miño river banks, and therefore the closest to Rias-Baixas.
In Rias-Baixas, Albarino wine is ripe and floral, with stone fruits, ripe apple and grapefruit. Typically there is a fresh zing of acidity, granitic minerality and, sometimes, a slight creaminess on the palate. While most of the wine found in Vino Verde is a blend, I love it for its brightness, slight salinity and effervescence that is just delightful on the hottest of days. When you do have the opportunity to have a 100% Alvarinho from the most northern part of Vino Verde, it will bear many similarities to the wines of Rias-Baixas, but with more subtle tones of apple and grapefruit, not quite as ripe fruit flavors. Typically unoaked, Albarino or Alvarinho is the perfect accompaniment to your seafood dishes and salads this summer. Stop by Murphy’s Wine Shop to try the Nortico Alvarinho from Portugal with me! I also have a few favorite’s, from both regions, that are a part of our online collection and often are on the shelves in the shop. For more information, special orders or to find a specific Albariño, please contact me, Emilie Zeiger, directly at email@example.com I will happy to assist you with any of your wine needs.
Here is a selection of Albarinos available at our line wine store – www.murpyswinestore.com.