Updated: Aug 17, 2018
I think that’s how the song went. Eighties pop sensations, Prefab Sprout, were ahead of the game back in 1988. It was only in the mid-eighties that the wonderful Albariño grape was considered worthy of a solo effort. Until then it was just a party mixer, commonly blended with other local grapes such as Loureiro, Godello, Caiño, Arinto or Treixadura. Such a superstar grape in the making, could never be fully appreciated when sharing the limelight with lesser artists.
Albariño really is one of Spain’s most distinctive grapes. If you like the citrus punch of a Sauvignon Blanc and the aromatic beauty of a Viognier, you should love Albariño. Known for its aromas of peach, apricot and almonds, the wine is balanced by a high, citrusy acidity and has a rich texture.
Albariño’s heartland is Galicia’s Rias Baixas (pronounced RYE-us BYE-shus) in Spain's rain-sodden north-west. However, it is also widely planted in neighboring Portugal’s Vinho Verde region where it is known as Alvarinho. The grape has been in such ascendance that it is now being grown with success in New Zealand, Uruguay, and the American states of Oregon, Washington and California. But we’ve no need to leave the lush countryside of Rias Baixas for tribute artists.
Fantastic when consumed on its own, like most wines, they are best drunk with the food from the region and Albariño is no exception, nestled along Spain’s jagged Atlantic coastline of Galicia, gifted with easy access to a plethora of fine seafood. It is great with raw or lightly-cured seafood like oysters, sushi and ceviche, or try it with a bowl of steamed mussels, grilled prawns or fresh crab cakes.
Let's explore two great Albariños, both from the same Rias Baixas sub region of Salnes and both plucked from the Hotel du Vin wine list.
The first is our Bodegas Castro Martin A2OAlbariño is a favourite of my friend and fellow wine geek Phil Innes of Loki Wines fame. This classic Galician Albariño is made by husband and wife team Andrew McCarthy and Angela Martin at the Castro Martin estate in Rias Baixas. Distinct salty mineralogy on the nose, and an array of pure, clean, white fruit aromas. The palate offers a tang and vibrancy, balanced by fruit with a peachy pear-like quality and with a vivid zesty streak of lemon and mineral acidity. Mouthwatering freshness.
The second is a big favourite of mine. The ‘Condes de Albarei' Albariño was a popular choice on our, wines by the glass list, back in 2013/14. It really is a Prefab Sprout special. Founded in 1988 (yes I know it was Albuquerque really) by a small group of vine growers from the Salnés Valley, who united their efforts and vineyards to make and market excellent, high-quality Albariños. And it worked. Condes de Albarei was the first Spanish white wine to earn a Gold Medal at the Challenge International du Vin in Bordeaux just three years later.
For me, less zesty and more rounded than the Castro Martin. On the nose, fresh with attractive aromas typical of the Albariño grape, dominated by stone fruit (peach, apricot) and tropical fruit (pineapple, passion fruit). White orange blossom flowers with hints of citrus also coming through. Well-balanced and fresh. Taking a slurp you are rewarded with a delicious varietal character together with subtle mineral and citrus notes.
When tasted side by side, despite their different styles, split audiences evenly.
Two cracking wines, both very popular in Hotel du Vin Birmingham. But don’t despair, you can find great Albariño everywhere now.
Hot dogs and Jumping Frogs not required.