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Albariño is NZ’s white to watch, says Bob Campbell MW

Albariño could be the next white grape to emerge as a success in New Zealand, according to New Zealand wine ambassador Bob Campbell MW.

Bob Campbell MW (Photo: Rosie Finn)
Bob Campbell MW’s ‘A Journey of New Zealand Wine’ course covered topics ranging from New Zealand’s winemaking history to sustainability and closures (Photo: Rosie Finn/The New Zealand Wine Cellar)

Speaking at a New Zealand wine masterclass in London organised by The New Zealand Cellar, Campbell said there were several white varieties competing to become the next breakout white grape in the country – Grüner Veltliner and Arneis among them – but that “his money” was on Albariño following the release of a number of standout varietal wines made from the grape.

New Zealand whites are dominated by Sauvignon Blanc, with the grape representing 66% of total red and white wine production in 2015, according to New Zealand Winegrowers. Sauvignon Blanc is followed by Chardonnay (9% of total plantings), Pinot gris (6%), with smaller proportions of Riesling and Gewürztraminer and other minor white varieties.

However, Campbell explained that there are a large number of experimental plantings around the country, which could soon produce a “winner” that would be deemed successful enough to grow on a larger scale.

Although total plantings of Albarino in New Zealand stood at fewer than 30 largely experimental hectares in New Zealand Winegrowers Vineyard Register, the grape has produced several outstanding wines in recent vintages, Campbell observed, which had received high ratings from critics.

“Grüner could be a winner, Arneis is another one, but my money is on Albariño,” Campbell said at the tasting.

“We’ve got some very promising wines indeed being made from that grape, so I think that’s got exciting promise in New Zealand.”

Although Campbell pointed out that “there were quite a few bridges to cross” before an experimental grape like Albariño could become a mainstream New Zealand white grape, it was the most likely of the current experimental varieties to “come up trumps”.

Albarino’s home

Albariño originates from north-west Spain and north-west Portugal, where it is used to make varietal white wines. It is noted for its distinctive botanical aroma and fruit notes of citrus, apricot and peach. The wine produced is vibrant with bright acidity.

Most often fermented in stainless steel for early drinking, Albariño is a versatile grape that responds well to malolactic or barrel fermentation and maturation to create wines of complexity and ageability.

One high-profile New Zealand winery that is encouraged by the potential of Albariño is Villa Maria. The company launch its an Albariño in the UK last year with the Leftfield label, from Te Awa Hawkes Bay range. 

“The first vintage allocation of 2014 sold out in a matter of weeks,” said Paul Raper, Villa Maria market manager for the UK, Ireland and Middle East.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the customer and consumer response so far,” Raper added. “People appear to love the NZ signature of clean fruit that we bring to what is already a popular variety.  

“The grape variety has responded very well to the New Zealand climate on the North Island. Our plantings are limited to relatively small quantities (several hectares) in Gisborne at the minute but we’re certainly keeping an eye on the trend.

“We’ve already had to increase plantings to meet the demand and the signs are that we’ll be increasing plantings in the near future.” 

Another winery that has been encouraged by the response to Albariño is Nelson winery Neudorf, which launched its first estate-grown 100% Albariño – Moutere Albarino 2015 –from grapes grown on its Rosie’s Block vineyard site.

Judie Finn from Neudorf explained that as the largest fishing port in Australasia, Nelson’s terroir had similarities with Albariño’s native Galicia.

Although the wine is not yet available outside New Zealand, it has already received five stars from New Zealand buyer’s guide Michael Cooper.

Another one singled out by Bob Campbell MW is Matua’s Single Vineyard Albarino from Hawkes Bay, which Campbell recently awarded five stars.

Other NZ wineries currently experimenting with Albarino, according to New Zealand Winegrowers, are: Cooper’s Creek, Kono Beverages (Aronui), Wairau River, Nautilus, Astrolabe, Rod Macdonald, Waimea, Matawhero, Stanley Estates and Sileni.

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