Albariño (alba-reen-yo) is a white wine grape, best known for the crisp, mineral-laden wine it produces in Spain’s Rías Baixas (ree-yas bye-shas) region on the Atlantic coast. It is aromatic and usually quite full-bodied and, despite the often-hot climate, produces a well-balanced wine with plenty of texture and acidity. The Atlantic Ocean’s cooling influence likely helps maintain the acids and aromatics, but it stands up remarkably well, holding its structure even in hot, dry years.
In Portugal, it’s called Alvarinho and often made into a light, slightly sparkling wine known as Vinho Verde. However, it’s not always made in such a light-hearted fashion. To achieve a richer style, a winemaker might choose to age the wine on its lees (the yeast hulls and extract leftover from the fermentation process) or in oak barrels. Lees aging boosts the mineral qualities of the wine and adds a layer of richness that would not usually be present.
If oak aging is chosen, it’s usually done in older, neutral barrels, resulting in a richly textured white wine that does not take on any noticeable oak flavors.
The majority of the world’s albariño production is in Spain, where it makes up 90% of the plantings in Rías Baixas. Portugal is next, followed by tiny pockets in the United States, Uruguay, France, New Zealand, and South Africa. It does best in cooler areas within these regions, which is why you’ll discover it successfully grown in places like the coastal mountains of California’s San Luis Obispo County.
What Does Albariño Taste Like?
Albariño is an aromatic grape that shares some flavors and aromas with the likes of riesling and pinot gris. However, its flavor profile leans more toward melon and sweet citrus, whereas riesling’s most typical descriptor is lemon drop.
On the nose, you’ll find aromas of ruby grapefruit, honeydew melon, pear, tangerine, and white peaches. On the palate, expect a medium-bodied dry wine with high acidity and a distinct mineral richness.
If you’re tasting Vinho Verde, the wine will be lighter, slightly sweet, and a little spritzy as it’s bottled with a bit of CO2 left in.
The best Spanish albariños can age five or six years before reaching their peak, but a Vinho Verde should be consumed immediately.
What Foods Pair with Albariño?
When pairing albariño, think of the culture it hails from. Seafood, shellfish, salty snacks like olives, and cured meats are all excellent choices. If you like spice, try it with a ceviche or spicy chorizo. Paella is an obvious choice—it’s got all the right ingredients for a satisfying pairing, especially when it’s loaded up with fresh clams, mussels, and shrimp.
Lighter grilled meats, like chicken, turkey, or pork, are a good match for albariño, as are spring vegetables, like asparagus (try it with a drizzle of hollandaise), peppers charred on the grill, or vine-ripe tomatoes with fresh basil pesto.
If you’re a cheese lover, look no further than manchego, grilled halloumi, or well-brined feta. Soft, fresh cheeses like bufala mozzarella or burrata are simply divine.