As much as I appreciate the freshness and food friendliness of Sauvignon Blanc (and yes more Chilean ones soon!), there are other white grapes that it’s high time for people to discover. Two at the top of my list are Chenin Blanc, like Sauvignon Blanc originating in the Loire Valley of France, and Spain’s Albariño aka Portugal’s Alvarinho, both coming from the Iberian peninsula. While Chenin Blanc was widely planted at one time in California, too often it was made into simple, sweet, insipid wine but there’s plenty of potential. Albariño, however, has always been uncommon in California. Fortunately, as people are discovering the Iberian versions, they are more interested in trying out the Californian ones. And at least one vineyard in California is planning on expanding their vines!
Granted, the terroir between Spain and California is different, which impacts the grapes and the wines made from them, and yet there are similarities. Rías Baixas has “the hand of God” — fingers or rivers and estuaries that meet the sea and bring salinity to the wines.
While Lodi is a 90 minute or more drive from the Pacific, the mighty rivers of the Sacramento delta region allow the cool coastal air to seep inland to Lodi where Lucas is sourcing their Albariño. The Clos des Amis Albariño vineyard is located much closer to the Pacific: Santa Paula’s South Mountain is only a few miles and a 30 minute drive from the seaside following the Santa Clara River.
Comparing the four wines, we were struck by how much acidity we found in the Spanish wines, and while the California wines also offer similar characteristics, there’s more fruit, and the wines just are not quite as elegant and as refined as their Spanish counterparts which are also surprisingly affordable. In addition to salinity and acidity, Albariño typically offers citrus or white stone fruit, or even a combination.
Three of the wines are also made by women! Rías Baixas is a region with a long history of women winemakers, and sustainability. Granbazán harnesses the power of the traditional Galician Parra vine canopy, shielding the grapes from sunlight and rain but also allowing for easy harvest. Clos des Amis harnesses the sun to be solar powered. Condes de Albarei winemaker Lucia Carballeira is one of several female winemakers in the region, while Gretel Compton planted, grew, and tends the Clos des Amis Albariño, and Heather Pyle Lucas makes the one at Lucas from grapes she purchases.
Last summer, I tasted Heather’s Albariño at the Lucas Vineyards in Lodi, and David Lucas encouraged me to check out their very limited and special Albariño. Gretel joined me recently to taste and tell me about her wine in comparisons to the others with a nice snack on my deck. Both tastings remind me what a pleasant way to enjoy a day: in good conversation with good friends new and old, with simple fare, and delicious wines.
International Albariño Day takes place during the annual Fiesta del Albariño held in the small coastal town of Cambados, Spain during the first week of August. Cheers!
Spain vs California Albariño
- 2020 Condes de Albarei Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain
- 2020 Granbazán Etiqueta Ámbar Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain
- 2020 Lucas Albariño, Lodi, CA
- 2021 Clos des Amis Estate Albariño, Ventura County, CA
- Italian Speck
- Humus with sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, basil
- Kalamata olives
- Spanish orange cookies
- Mary’s Gone Crackers Sea Salt and Black Pepper
2020 Condes de Albarei Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain
sample for my review
Color: straw, lemon
Aroma: Salinity, ocean grass, beachside, lemon, lemon verbena
Palate: Tart lemon, lemon verbena, round acidity, full mouth feel of acidity, not quite ripe nectarine on the finish, salinity.
Pairing: Fabulous with everything, great with this, with that, with everything! Not as much complexity in this wine means it works well, but it’s absolutely stunning with the orange oil in the cookie.
2020 Granbazán Etiqueta Ámbar Albariño, Rias Baixas
sample for my review
Color: Lemon, pale hue.
Aroma: Highly aromatic for the grape, with floral perfume, white flowers like gardenia and tuberose, loquat.
Palate: Racy acidity more from a less ripe stone fruit perspective, nectarine, salinity, floral finish. Lovely complexity.
Pairing: The complexity makes it food friendly but it’s enjoyable on its own if you like a wine with acidity– which we do! Works well with the humous, loves the sun dried tomato, and the Iberico, less so Manchego.
2020 Lucas Albariño, Lodi, CA
purchased with an industry discount at the winery
Color: Lemon to light golden straw
Aroma: Heavy sulphur dirty sock aroma that gives way to peachy notes, and a bowl of fresh summer stone fruit and floral aromas
Palate: Fresh white stone fruit, salinity, characteristically albarino but not old world — doesn’t have the dominating acidity. Fresh pineapple on the finish.
Pairing: Cashew brings out the sweetness in the wine, so consider orange cashew chicken. The wine works fine with Iberico but a but gummy, not so great with the Manchego, but loves the salt in the cracker and the saltiness of the sundried tomatoes. OMG this orange oil cracker! So good with the wine.
2021 Clos des Amis Albariño, Ventura County, CA
sample for my review
Gretel says she has about 50 vines producing grapes; the wine we tasted was from the first harvest, and this will be the second in 2022. The new owner wants the vineyards to be nice and even and pretty so she’ll be getting more land to plant maybe three more rows of Albariño.
Color: Very pale lemon, unfiltered so on the cloudier side.
Aroma: Starts off with some sulphur and propane, then moves into a honeysuckle floral medley, with fresh stone fruit.
Palate: Nice acidity and salinity, with fresh bright white stone fruit and a lemon phosphate finish.
Pairing: Iberico nice, works with cashews– birds of a feather, better even with the manchego cheese. So wonderful with the smoke quality of the Italian speck, enhances both, try it with smoked trout salad fresh or grilled stone fruit and cashews. Humous with all on crackers make everything fresh and bright, orange cracker so good!
Happy Albariño Day! What’s in your glass? California? Spain? Portugal? Cheers!