Expert opinion is divided over the origin of the Albariño grape, with one school of thought talking of 12th-century French monks bringing the grape to Spain during the crusades and another linking it to the Riesling of Alsace and Germany. The most widely accepted belief however, is that this noble white grape is indigenous to the rain-sodden region of Galicia, in Spain's extreme north-west.
Following some vintners failed attempts to cultivate the grape in North America, it is now grown almost exclusively in this region of Spain, with only limited production also taking place in Portugal's Vinho Verde region, where it is known as Alvarinho.
The finest (and most expensive) Albariño wines are considered to be those of D.O. Rias Baixas, where the grape's success in the face of seemingly ruinous conditions has stood it out as a marvel of modern viticulture. The high rainfall and minimal sunshine of this wet maritime climate seldom allows the grapes to fully ripen and the grapes are therefore picked under-ripe, with high levels of acidity. Despite this, the "wine of the sea" as it is known in Spain, has been receiving worldwide acclaim for its crisp structure and creamy texture. The complexities of aroma and flavour also appear to defy the logic of conventional winemaking, which holds that a wine's intensity is directly related to the ripeness of the grapes.
Despite their high acidity, Albariño wines are not known for their aging ability and although many growers are beginning to experiment with oak maturation, most Albarinos should be consumed within the first year or two of the vintage. Since these dry white wines are rarely barrel fermented, the flavours are clean and vibrant, with elegant aromas of citrus, vanilla, lime and kiwi being typical, with the highest quality bottles redolent of peaches, and apricots, with hints of almonds on the palate. This aromatic structure may explain the generally contested theory of the Riesling link, as we often find flavours on the palate that are highly reminiscent of the wines of Alsace and Germany. In most of the better Albarinos, there is also a flinty, mineral characteristic and the wines, while delicately refreshing on their own, will make a perfect accompaniment to seafood, particularly the famous shellfish of Galicia.
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