Can Albarino white wines age – Peter Ranscombe joins an online tasting to find out.
ONE of the most attractive elements of albarino is its freshness.
Spain’s flagship white wine is the perfect example of “what grows together, goes together”.
It’s high acidity and bright citrus flavours are the ideal foil for the seafood harvested in Galicia’s Rias Baixas region.
But can albarino age?
It’s a question that’s been playing on my mind since Mark Jarman, head of wine operations at Morrisons, mentioned to me that he always buys an albarino for the supermarket chain that’s a year older than the current vintage on the market.
He believes the extra time in tank on its lees – the dead yeast left over from the fermentation that turns grape sugars into alcohol – adds body to help balance the acidity.
This afternoon I was able to put Jarman’s theory to the test with an online tasting of aged albarino, organised by the body that promotes Rias Baixas’ wines.
Winemakers from seven wineries joined the Zoom call, sharing their insights into how and why they age their wines.
Albarino’s ageing ability is a theme that we’ve put to the test before over lunch at The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh.
But this afternoon’s tasting gave the opportunity to assess the wines in depth – and without the distraction of delicious nosh.
Comparisons with riesling and chenin blanc
Like assyrtiko, grillo, vermentino, and other coastal whites, part of the appeal of albarino is its youthful freshness.
But, as Diego Ríos Muñoz – the winemaker at Bodegas Granbazán – observed during today’s tasting, albarino can age in a similar way to chenin blanc or even riesling.
It’s not as simple as sticking aside a bottle of a random 2020 supermarket albarino and hoping it’ll age well.
Instead, what linked all the wines this afternoon was a focus on specific plots, whether individually or in blends.
Older vines – which produce fewer grapes, but with more intense flavours – was another recurring theme.
As was the focus on ageing the wines in their tanks or vats in the winery, rather than giving them extended bottle age.
That comes back to the need for lees ageing, with the dead yeast cells adding body, texture, and complexity.
Yet bottle age has a role to play too, with more honeyed and nutty flavours developing in some of the wines that spent longer under glass.
I was impressed by the individuality of the seven wines on show – albarino may account for 95% of the vines planted in Rias Baixas, but the sprinkling of other white varieties added character to many of the wines, as did the mix of the five sub-regions within the area.
While most supermarkets and independent bottles shops will stock an albarino these days, this afternoon’s tasting illustrated that we’re only just scratching the surface when it comes to this fascinating grape and its ageing potential.
Granbazán Don Álvaro De Bazán Albarino 2018 (£23.60, Iconic Wines)
Granbazán only makes its aged albarino in the best vintages, when the grapes are at their healthiest and able to undergo a long cold soak and balance their acidity and alcohol. A lively spritz in the glass leads into an even livelier nose, with a big hit of lime and lemon sherbet. The acidity is still fresh and assertive, but the two years of lees ageing helps to bring roundness to the texture, while the lime and lemon sherbet provide balance. Many online merchants seem to stock the 2015 too.
Martin Codax Lias Albarino 2018 (£18.35, Exel Wines)
I’m a big fan of the Martin Codax co-operative, and its aged Lias wine always impresses. Here, jasmine aromas darted in and out of the lemon, apricot, and lemon sherbet notes. On the palate, there was a hint of green bean – but nothing unripe there – alongside the dried apricot, lemon rind, and textbook salty tang. The grapes for the wine come from a single plot that’s 100 metres further inland from the coast in a tiny valley.
Bodegas del Palacio de Fefinanes Albarino de Fefinanes III Ano 2017 (£31.13, Winebuyers.com)
This is where things really started to get interesting, with the aged aromas and flavours shifting up a gear. While it was the texture that was the most demonstrable sign of ageing with the Granbazán and Martin Codax, the III Ano provided a shift in flavour too. A bit of honey joined the apricot, jasmine, peach, and lemon on the nose, with even more honey on the palate, alongside lemon rind, fresher lemon sherbet, more apricot and peach, plus a really salty tang on the finish. Harvested from a vineyard where the vines have an average age of 40 years, with some reaching 125 years old. Lots of Spanish retailers are selling the wine into the UK, but the Winebuyers platform is including all shipping and taxes in the price it quotes from Decantalo.
Paco & Lola Albarino 2015 (£19.27, Winebuyers.com)
The Paco & Lola co-operative’s standard albarino caught my eye when it joined the line-up recently at Tesco, so I was interested to taste its older incarnation. Closer to runny honey than the thick heather honey of the Albarino de Fefinanes III Ano on the nose, with an interesting mix of peach and lemon. Much nuttier and more honeyed on the palate, with savoury lemon rind flavours too. The acidity is still high, but well-integrated, while the classic salted almond tang is still present on the finish. Again, Winebuyers is quoting the all-inclusive price from Decantalo.
Pazo Senorans Albarino Seleccion de Anada 2010 (2011: £53.50, The Good Spirits Co)
Winemaker Vicky Mareque began her portion of the tasting with an apology – because the 2010 we tasted had already sold out, although Glasgow’s Good Spirits Company is among the stockists for the 2011. I can see why people snapped up this wine so quickly. Made from grapes from a single plot – with some vines hitting 80 to 100 years old, and the average tipping the scales at 55 years – this was the most intense and complex of the wines on show. Bottled in 2018, its nose stretched from red apple skins and dried apricots through to more developed honey, nutty, and toasted notes. It had also developed a richer and slightly oily texture, with lemon rind, lemon curd, and lime flavours amid the honey and toast on the palate.
Read more of Peter’s wine, beer, and spirits reviews on his blog, The Grape & The Grain