It’s cold out; why drink cold wine? But whether the dish you’re serving doesn’t lend itself to red, or it’s all you have in the house, there is still a place for white wine, even in the depths of winter.
I admit the idea of writing about white wine in January is questionable. It’s cold out; why drink cold wine? But whether the dish you’re serving doesn’t lend itself to red, or it’s all you have in the house, there is still a place for white wine, even in the depths of winter.
Some grapes, of course, lend themselves better to cold weather. Richer, creamier whites, such as gewürztraminer, viognier, and oaky chardonnay certainly come to mind. But if those aren’t your cup of tea, so to speak, and you hanker for something a little brighter, albariño almost certainly has something to offer you.
Albariño flourishes in the northwestern quadrant of the Iberian Peninsula, particularly in the Spanish region of Galicia and northern Portugal. Highly aromatic, a glass of albariño often smells of orange blossom and the sea, the latter for good reason.
A great number of vineyards in Rías Baixas—albariño’s chief growing region in Galicia—are within sight of the Atlantic Ocean. This makes the grape an ideal companion for a variety of seafoods: elegant enough not to overpower delicate white fishes and shellfish, but with enough acidity to bite through oilier fishes like tuna.
A chameleon of a grape, albariño’s expressions can range from mineral and lemon through tropical fruit to nutty and spicy. It can be consumed young and lively, or aged for several years, allowing richer flavors to develop.
While perhaps better suited to warm weather, by far the most common expression of albariño is young, fresh, tart and citrusy. 2017 Viñabade Albariño Rías Baixas ($20 /750ml bottle) is the epitome of this style, with a nose of orange blossom and zest, and a palate bracing with acidity and minerality. I can’t think of a better wine to pair with seafood, though I drank a glass with some leftover Christmas stollen (not a classic pairing by any means, but it was the only food I had in the house…) and the nuttiness of the marzipan danced beautifully with the briny note in the wine.
Thankfully, I had planned ahead better for the 2014 Granbazán Albariño Rías Baixas Don Álvaro de Bazán ($50): paired with creamy potato and leek soup, this wine truly shone. While the acidity on the palate had hardly tempered since 2014—this bottle could easily age several more years—the aromas had matured into rich guava and lemon curd.
Some albariños meant for aging are given some time in oak barrels, but the Don Álvaro does not, allowing the true flavors of the fruit to shine through. Lemongrass, orange zest and a touch of pineapple with plenty of minerality as well.
These traditional styles of albariño can hardly be beaten, but some New World producers, especially those in Australia and California, are trying. 2017 La Clarine Albariño Al Basco ($23), hailing from California’s Sierra Nevada foothills, could hardly be more different from its Spanish cousins. The aromas are in the same family, I suppose, notably tropical with opulent papaya and mango, but there is a grassiness and a cloudy apricot hue to the wine.
Most unusually, this wine is quite tannic. Aged on the grape skins for seven months, the wine has a noticeably drying quality on the palate, making it an excellent candidate for pairing with a variety of foods far beyond seafood.
So perhaps the Feast of the Seven Fishes is in our past (and maybe we missed a great pairing opportunity there), but the days are already getting longer, and even if there is still a nip in the air, we needn’t be beholden to glasses of “big reds” for the next few months. There are plenty of hearty, and exciting, white wines to explore.
In order to read our site, please exit private/incognito mode or log in to continue.