Albariño tasting: Imbibe puts Galicia’s A-list grape to the test

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Drinks: Albarino, Drinks, Wines
Location: Spain

Often grown within sight of the crashing Atlantic, the zesty, textured wines of Spain’s north-west have ‘seafood wine’ written all over them. Clinton Cawood joins a top team of sommeliers as they put Albariño, Godello et al through their paces


Albariño’s star has been rising for some time, but there’s more to Galicia’s A-list grape than meets the eye, and more grapes and wine styles in the region to explore and discover too.

Albariño ticks all the boxes: light, aromatic, refreshing and food-friendly, with growing customer recognition. But there are many faces to this grape, from approachable, citrus-led wines at lower price points, to more premium examples with greater complexity – and even oak, lees work and some age.

PANEL
Stefano Barbarino, Chez Bruce Restaurant; Clinton Cawood, Imbibe; Elizabeth Gatti, Serge et le Phoque at The Mandrake; Andres Ituarte, Coq d’Argent; Euan McColm, Beaverbrook; Alex Pitt, Typing Room; Carolina W Seibel, Portland

Move beyond Albariño though, and you’ll find lots more to explore in the region’s blancos, starting with Godello, and moving further into various other varieties and blends. With value for money and food-friendliness, the latter can offer some real points of interest for those who don’t mind a bit of hand-selling.

HOW IT WORKS

To obtain a snapshot of the white wines from Galicia, we asked UK agents to submit examples from their portfolios, with a minimum price point for Albariño of £10 ex-VAT, and no price restriction for other varieties and blends. These were tasted blind by a sommelier panel, with tasters aware of each wine’s variety, region and price. Each wine was scored out of 20, with results averaged to obtain a percentage score for each. All prices are ex-VAT trade.

RESULTS

88 Xose Lois Sebio, Máis Alá (Godello) 2015, Valdeorras
TOP GODELLO
‘This explodes on the palate. It’s an appley number, with lots of lees contact adding weight. Texturally, this is like silk bedsheets for your mouth,’ EM. ‘A lovely nose of peach and apricot; toasty, nutty flavours too, and more hazelnut and almond notes reflecting on the palate. Easy to sell to a white Burgundy drinker,’ SB.
£21.18, Hallgarten & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

86 Pago de los Capellanes, O Luar do Sil Godello 2016, Valdeorras
‘Yellow plum and herbaceous notes lead to ripe fruit on the palate, with lime pith, minerality and complexity on the finish, and a touch of beeswax,’ CS. ‘Fresh citrus zest and lemon confit notes kick things off on the nose of this bright, light, summery wine. More citrus follows on the palate, which has great structure for food – refreshing acidity, some grip, and overall elegance,’ CC.
£11.75, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

85 Xose Lois Sebio, O Con Albariño 2015, Rías Baixas
TOP ALBARIÑO
‘This is rich and textured, with peaches and cream, and warm, woody notes that complement the bright orchard fruit. Leads to lots of salinity and freshness on the finish,’ AI. ‘Like a lemon meringue pie, with zesty, salty butter. Super-creamy too – this really stands out in terms of quality, and I think restaurant guests would be happy to pay extra for it,’ AP.
£18.94, Hallgarten & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

83 Sameirás 1040 (Treixedura blend) 2015, Ribeiro
‘A great nose, with some oak bringing up sweet spice and coconut, and a palate that’s buttery and oily in structure, but with a dry finish. A good match for meaty fish,’ SB. ‘An intriguing nose, with ripe plum and some florality, plus a light touch of petroleum. Both fresh and cooked lime, as well as stone fruit join on the lightly mineral palate. There’s saline and a butter biscuit note in there too,’ CS.
£15.90, Les Caves de Pyrene, 01483 538820

83 Terras Gauda, La Mar (Caino Blanco blend) 2015, Rías Baixas
‘Very tropical in nature, with papaya heart and guava notes, but delicate white flowers on the finish to ground it and give it refinement. Ends with passionfruit and saline notes,’ AI. ‘Fresh, herbaceous and really unique, with apple, pear drops, rose and hedge trimmings – pair with lemon chicken with oregano and olives,’ EM.
£18.70, Les Caves de Pyrene, 01483 538820

82 Fraga do Corvo, Monterrei Godello 2016, Monterrei
‘The lovely golden colour shows the ripeness of the fruit, with aromas of white peach and melon leading to a delicate, gentle palate with some minerality coming through,’ SB. ‘A slight spritz with nectarine flavours shining out, and lots of texture. This is well suited to Eastern flavours, with its weight allowing it to stand up to crispy duck,’ EM.
£10.75, H2Vin, 020 3478 7376

81 Bodegas Martín Códax, Organistrum Rías Baixas Albariño 2014, Rías Baixas
‘An aged style that’s nutty with more tertiary notes and riper fruit, and some oak that’s well integrated into the wine, all while not losing its primary aromas,’ EG. ‘A very aromatic wine, with lychee, mango, nectarine and persimmon – it reminds me of a floral saké with racy acidity, and would be a really wonderful match for Thai green curry,’ EM.
£14.75, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

80 Bodegas Martín Códax, Alba Martín Rías Baixas Albariño 2016, Rías Baixas
‘Massive tropical pineapple aromas on this almost-creamy nose give way to a lighter, more elegant palate, with pineapple core joined by apple and fresh nectarine, and a pithy finish,’ CC. ‘A pleasingly bright, fresh and spritzy style of Albariño – classic, crisp and dangerously gluggable! Great as an aperitif or with raw shellfish,’ AP.
£10.35, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

80 Bodegas Ramón Bilbao Albariño 2017, Rías Baixas
‘Bright fruit on the nose here, with yellow plum and green banana, leading to coherent, shining fruit on the palate, with a touch of herbaceousness. There’s some minerality present too in this easy-drinking white,’ CS. ‘Fresh, peachy and saline, as you’d expect from Albariño. It makes for a great introduction to the variety for someone who hasn’t tried it before,’ AP.
£9.68, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

79 Compañía de Vinos Tricó, Tricó (single-vineyard Albariño) 2015, Rías Baixas
‘Good fruit and a touch of yeast on the nose lead to bright fruit and herbaceousness on the palate, with some lime pith and almond bitterness. This has good body and structure – it’s refreshing and savoury,’ CS. ‘Super citrusy and saline. I love the acidity of this wine, as well as its generous body and texture. Give it a plate of fried squid and garlic aioli and you’re in Wonderland!’ AP. 
£14.75, H2Vin, 020 3478 7376 

79 Pago de los Capellanes, O Luar do Sil Godello Sobre Lías 2015, Valdeorras
‘A good example of Godello, with peach galore, as well as lemon, orange and green tea, and a long finish on a fresh palate. I’d have this on its own,’ EG. ‘This has a rich texture, with good minerality and bright acids, and red apple and mint flavours leading to a long, salty finish,’ AI.
£18.65, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

77 Bodegas Castro Martin, Albariño Family Estate Selection 2016, Rías Baixas
‘Clean, concise and packed with concentrated nectarine and tangerine, and with lovely acidity that provides all the branches to hang that delightful fruit on. A match for crunchy, leafy salads with hummus and roasted red pepper,’ EM. ‘This is a little bashful, but herbaceous on the nose, with refreshing minerality and some candied-lime acidity on the palate, plus good waxy background notes,’ CS.
POA, Bibendum, 0845 263 6924

77 Bodegas Pazo de Villarei, Pazo de Villarei Albariño 2016, Rías Baixas
‘Yellow stone fruit and dried apricot on the nose lead to some richness of fruit on the palate, with more of those flavours and some sweet, woody ginger, plus good overall complexity,’ CS. ‘A well-defined expression of this variety, with a generous fruit core of plums, citrus and pears, and a salty finish that lingers on the palate. I’d be interested to try this with grilled octopus,’ AP.
£11.20, Red Squirrel Wine, 020 3490 1210

PANEL COMMENTS

Stefano Barbarino, Chez Bruce Restaurant
‘These Albariños would be great for light dishes, fish dishes, or just on their own, and many were great value – particularly at the lower price points. The Godellos, in something like a Michelin-starred venue, would be good for white Burgundy drinkers.’

 

Clinton Cawood, Imbibe
‘As Albariño becomes better known, it’s good to see that the wines live up to expectations, and offer a range of complexity at different price points with great food-matching potential. But Godello was arguably the star of the show here; definitely worth introducing to customers in restaurants.’

 

Elizabeth Gatti, Serge et le Phoque at The Mandrake
‘When you think of Albariño, you think of something dry and fresh, which is a fashionable style at the moment. These are crowd pleasers. The other varieties and blends here were more varied, offering additional choices – with greater complexity and ripeness in some cases, making them more food-friendly.’

 

Andres Ituarte, Coq d’Argent
‘These are summer wines, but there’s a real sense of terroir in all of them too. People know about Albariño, so it sells, and if you do recommend it they’re not going to be disappointed. Godello is a bit trickier – no one really knows what it is, but the prices are really good, so there’s a lot of opportunity here.’

 

Euan McColm, Beaverbrook
‘The blends were more polished. The ones I enjoyed had some lees contact and texture, with the winemakers finding ways other than oak to flesh out the wine. For Albariño, the question is why the prices are so high in general, although in the middle here there were clean, fresh styles with undoubtable quality.’

 

Alex Pitt, Typing Room
‘People aren’t looking for Rías Baixas, but they are looking for Albariño, so the other varieties and blends from Galicia here are a hand-sell. They would nevertheless work well at these prices – they were very good value. As for Albariño, I prefer the leaner, more citrus-focused style that’s roaring for grilled squid; but there’s a place for the more aromatic, rounded styles, for someone looking for a Côtes du Rhône white, for example.’

 

Carolina W Seibel, Portland
‘We definitely saw a range of styles on the price spectrum when it came to Albariño, with fruity styles at the lower end, great for pub food like calamari, and more herbaceousness at the higher end, so better suited to more delicate vegetable-dominant dishes. The other varieties and blends were suited to many different cuisines, with a lot of them very versatile.’

76 Bodega A Coroa, A Coroa Godello 2016, Valdeorras
‘Restrained and saline at first; with light peach notes on the nose before bright, fresh stone fruit on the palate, and a return of that salinity. A sunshine wine to pair with oysters,’ CC. ‘With notes of lemon, white pepper, lemongrass and a hint of ginger juice, this is unpretentious and elegant.’ EG.
POA, Bibendum, 0845 263 6924

76 Bodegas Martín Códax, Martín Códax Lías (Albariño) 2015, Rías Baixas
‘Really well put together, with a dense, fruity core but with generous saline acidity that provides real backbone, and makes it great for monkfish or even turbot,’ AP. ‘Lemon, nectarine and mango notes, with a smooth, cooling, mineral quality – a very clean, enjoyable wine,’ EM.
£12.50, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

75 Ailalá-Ailalelo, Ailalá Treixadura 2017, Ribeiro
‘With its notes of ripe apricot, peach and a hint of lychee and jasmine, this is wonderfully springy. As Keats said, a “tasting of flora and the country green, dance and Provençal song”. Great on its own to enjoy its complexity, or accompanying a lightly spicy dish,’ EG. ‘A seductive fruit character, with Himalayan sea salt and white pepper too. This would be amazing with roast quail done in chilli and citrus,’ AI.
£10.83, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

75 Alter Ribeiro Blanco (Treixadura blend) 2016, Ribeiro
‘This reminds me of a Rhône Viognier, but with a lot more acidity. It’s creamy with white stone fruit, providing quite a luscious texture, yet remains elegant and poised,’ AP. ‘Fresh and light, with green apple, lime, mint, peas and white pepper; an aperitif wine and a crowd pleaser,’ EG.
£10.95, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

75 Bodegas Martín Códax, Martín Códax Albariño 2016, Rías Baixas
‘Refreshing, with high acidity and plums, green bananas and ripe apricot on the palate, as well as some herbaceousness,’ CS. ‘A full, mineral body with flint noticeable, along with bright acids and lots of kiwi and orange blossom. An elegant and fresh wine, with a
solid dose of saline,’ AI.
£10.60, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

74 Lagar de Costa Albariño 2016, Rías Baixas
‘A good, easy-drinking example of this grape that’s quite ripe on the fruit side, with apple and pear notes, and a touch of honey too,’ SB. ‘Among the lighter styles here, but with ripeness nevertheless, and some bright, sour, fruity acidity on the palate that makes this a great summer wine – no food required. Really zippy, juicy and crowd pleasing, and at a good price too,’ CC.
£11.62, Astrum Wine Cellars, 020 3328 4620

74 Mar de Frades Albariño 2017, Rías Baixas
‘With its banana, pear-skin and pineapple notes, this has a really lovely mouthfeel, with a bit of grip on the finish, and some mineral notes and salinity that really push this on. Good value for money too,’ AI. ‘Both baked and fresh green banana notes, as well as a medicinal touch on the nose, leading to good ripeness of fruit, plus some biscuit sweetness and
a touch of vegetal bitterness on the palate,’ CS.
£13.01, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

72 Compañía de Vinos Tricó, Tabla de Sumar (Albariño) 2016, Rías Baixas
‘Fresh, mouthwatering fruit aromas are joined by an interesting herbal note on the nose, leading to an elegant, nicely put together palate with no shortage of fruit, but lifted by neat acidity too,’ CC. ‘If a guest asked for a wine with lots of citrus fruit character, they wouldn’t be disappointed with this. It’s crying out for some fried cuttlefish or squid, and a beach view,’ AP.
£11.50, H2Vin, 020 3478 7376

71 Bodegas Martín Códax, Mara Martín Godello 2016, Monterrei
‘Starting with some expressive pear notes on the nose, this is clean and fresh, with some orange oil on a rather long finish, offering good value,’ EM. ‘Crisp, with lemon-and-lime aromas leading to a riper palate, alongside apple notes. I’d match this with a light starter such as a vegetarian salad or oysters,’ SB.
£8.10, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

70 Quinta de Couselo, Turonia (Albariño) 2016, Rías Baixas
‘Super-bright acids, with green-apple skin, some lime leaf, and a lasting mineral finish. This is a good-quality wine that is just crying out for food,’ AI. ‘There’s good, fleshy fruit here, such as pear and nectarine, followed by a wave of acidity and salinity. Some grip, and even a slight spritz, makes this just right on its own, but it’d be very capable of food-matching too,’ CC.
£11, H2Vin, 020 3478 7376

68 Finca Viñoa, Ribeiro Blanco ‘V’ (Treixadura/Godello/Loureira) 2016, Ribeiro
‘A very fresh wine, with lovely flavours of ripe apricot and mandarin orange – definitely one for drinking on a hot, sunny terrace with friends,’ AP. ‘Soft and fresh, this has good body, with some lees stirring and bright mineral notes too. Good value here, and definitely a wine for food-matching,’ AI.
£11.00, H2Vin, 020 3478 7376

63 Xose Lois Sebio, Salvaxe (Lado blend) 2015, Ribeiro
‘Herbaceous, with a touch of yellow fruit, then peach and green banana, as well as sweet mint and lime, not to mention some fresh minerality,’ CS. ‘Fruity and substantial, with no shortage of tropical fruit notes such as guava, and plenty of acidity too,’ CC.
£25.06, Hallgarten & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

CONCLUSIONS
The number of tasting notes that mentioned sunshine, terraces, sea views and seafood says much about the overall style of these wines. They’re not only suggestions for serving, but also confirm that these wines have a distinct sense of place.
The Albariños here, hailing exclusively from Rías Baixas, seemed to fall into two separate styles, with light, citrus-dominated wines usually found at the lower price points, while the higher-priced Albariños brought further complexity to the table, such as herbaceousness and sometimes more maturity, too.While the Albariños, on average, scored as well as the other varietal wines and blends, it was Godello that really took top honours here, bagging first and second place, and averaging a few percentage points higher than the average Albariño score too.
You get what you pay for in this region, with many of the top scorers commanding some of the higher prices in the tasting, although there were some bargains to be found among those scoring 80% and above.

 

Many thanks to the team at Coq d’Argent for hosting the tasting, and for all their help on the day.

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