For a place that grows a quintessential summer and seafood wine, Galicia, the area in Northwest Spain most known for Albariño, is actually rather gray and gloomy, with weather that always feels damp and gray even when it’s not raining. Called Green Spain for its lusher and cooler climate than the rest of Spain’s hotter, drier, more red wine-focused wine country, the Rias Baixas DO specializes in this fruity white grape.
Albariño’s tendency toward flamboyant aromatics, and the same potential for slight bitterness as grapes like Gewurztraminer has let to rumors that Albarino is a Riesling clone brought to Spain by monks in the middle ages, but modern DNA testing doesn’t support this. Many people don’t realize that Albariño grows in Portugal as well, where they call it Alvarinho.
Different Paths in Portugal and Spain
Minho, the area of Portugal that produces Vinho Verde, has a very similar wet, rainy, maritime climate to Spain’s Rias Baixas region, and grows Albariño as well. In Portugal, it’s often used to make Vinho Verde. Because it’s almost always blended with other grapes and doesn’t appear on the label, it’s flown under the radar in Portugal and become more famous in Spain, where it’s more often made as a single varietal wine. Alvarinho also tends to be grown on high trellises called pergolas in Portugal, in an effort to mitigate the rot that grape vines are prone to in this moist climate. Unfortunately, this also encourages the vines to overproduce, resulting in grapes with a little less varietal character than their Spanish cousins.
Spain took this same grape in a different direction than Portugal. Until the 1980s, Spain produced blended white wines similar to what you still find in Portugal – blends of Albarino, Treixadura, Avesso, and Pederna. But when the Rias Baixas DO was established in 1985, Spain started farming this grape a bit more carefully and producing more concentrated wines that reflected Albariño’s true potential, like the delicious Valminor.