I was fortunate to recently attend an Albarino wine tasting and food pairing event at the Little Goat restaurant in the West loop of Chicago. The Little Goat is one of Stephanie Izard’s (winner of Bravo’s Top Chef) two restaurants. The event was hosted by Tastemaker and Sommelier Jill Zimorski. Jill is the Wine Director and Sommelier for 3-star Michelin restaurant Alinea, based in Chicago.
Jill walked us through 5 different Albarino wines from Rias Baixas, Spain. Rias Baixas, pronounced (Rias BY-CheZ) a Denomination of Origin (or D.O. as referred to in Spain) is located in the region of Galicia (GA-LEE-Thia) in Northwestern Spain. It was established as a D.O. in 1988, and is perched directly on top of Portugal, butting up against the Atlantic coast.
Rias Baixas has a unique, cool maritime climate with ample rain balanced by more than 2,200 hours of abundant sunlight during the critical grape growing and ripening season. Albarino is the primary indigenous white grape to this region. The soils are primarily granitic and the coastal climate also supports mineral-rich alluvial top soils (a combination of clay, silt, sand and gravel that forms over time from running water deposits). All of these factors combine to create Albarino wines with good natural acidity and balance, moderate alcohol (approx. 12.5%) and an aromatic nose with streaks of minerality on the palate, making it a refreshing, thirst-quenching, great food pairing wine, perfect for the spring or summer.
Ninety-nine percent of all wine made in this region of Spain is white wine. The people of Galicia primarily eat seafood due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. As a general rule of thumb, white wines typically pair best with shellfish and seafood. The Albarino grape represents 90% of all plantings. Other important permitted grapes include: Treixadura and Loureiro which are often blended with Albarino and Caino Blanco, Torrontes and Godello.
We tasted Albarinos made into several different styles. Here are some of the winemaking trends and techniques currently being used in Rias Baixas:
The wines were paired with a variety of foods to demonstrate that Albarino pairs well with other dishes besides just seafood or shell fish. We tried all 5 wines with tuna poke with piri piri, smoked blueberries, daikon and radish, beef tataki with unagi, English pea tapenade and a spring onion pierogi with chive yogurt and rhubarb relish.
I have to admit, Jill didn’t need to persuade me into thinking Albarino is a fashionable wine. Albarino has long been one of my favorite white wines to enjoy in the summer and I encourage you to try it if you haven’t yet done so. Here are some of the producers and wines we tried.
Wine #1- Terra De Asorei Producer 2015 Pazo Torrado, stainless steel fermented, no malolactic fermentation or sustained lees contact. 12.2% www.terradeasorei.com
Wine #2- Bodeaga Veiga Naum Producer 2015 Veiga Naum Albarino, stainless steel fermentation, no malolactic fermentation or sustained lees contact. 12.4% www.bodegasriojanas.com/en/bodega/veiga-naum
Wine #3- Martin Codax Producer 2014 Martin Codax, 3 weeks fermentation in stainless steel; 40% of wine undergoes malolactic fermentation, rests on light lees for 4 months with no oak contact. 12% www.martincodax.com
Wine #4- Bodegas La Cana Producer 2014 La Cana, maceration with wild yeast for two hours, stainless steel fermented, left in contact with lees for 8 months. 12.5% www.lacana.es
Wine #5- Altos De Torona Producer 2015 Altos De Torona Rosal, blend of Albarino, Loureiro, Caino Blanco. 12.5%