Albariño is ‘the wild horse’ grape

Rías Baixas’ flagship grape Albariño is a “wild horse that needs taming” according to one winemaker in the northwestern Spanish region.

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Albariño, the wild horse grape?

Speaking to the drinks business during a recent visit to the region, Roger Fernandez Gasull, winemaker at Bodega Vionta, said: “Albariño is a bit of a wild horse grape – you can’t drink it just after it’s been bottled, it needs time to calm down, so I’m reluctant to put the wines on sale too quickly until they’re ready.

Francisco Santiso, export manager of Dos Eidos, believes Albariño to be “the white equivalent” of Tempranillo in Spain.

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Winemaker José Manuel Martinez Juste is all for ageing Albariño in oak

“It’s the country’s most famous white grape and people are embracing it at wine bars in Barcelona and Madrid,” he said, revealing that vineyard land is incredibly hard to buy in Rías Baixas as it is divided up into small plots and shared among the children that inherit it.

The region appears divided on the subject of oak use, with many winemakers favouring the complexity and texture oak brings and others shunning it completely.

“I think oak hides the character of Albariño so I prefer not to use it. I love the racy acidity you get from the Albariños grown in the Salnés region close to the ocean,” Fernandez Gasull told db.

In the pro oak camp is José Manuel Martinez Juste, winemaker at Quinta Couselo, who is currently experimenting with ageing in barrels and foudres.

“I think oak adds an interesting and important dimension to the wines and the grape has the capacity to handle it. The oak also helps the wine to age for longer – I’m currently monitoring the results you get from barrel and 2,500-litre foudres from Cognac,” he told db.

“I want to reinterpret the winemaking customs of the past with modern technology to build upon what has come before,” he added.

Juste revealed to db that his year was the driest summer in Galicia on record. “Winemakers in Ribera Sacra are in real trouble as they had extreme drought conditions and the grapes weren’t properly protected, so the yields will be significantly down there.

“In Rías Baixas the harvest will be down by around 20% in the region but our harvest will be around the same level as last year,” he said.

Ploughing its own furrow in the region is Valmiñor Ebano, which recently released a red wine and plans on launching an Albariño-based vermouth next summer.

“Our vermouth is really aromatic and quite different to the others vermouths on the market. We were surprised by the quality of what we got from our land. It will feature 14 different herbs and spices. We’ve yet to choose the name or the packaging for it,” export manager Eric García told db.

“We have also revived a pre-phylloxera red grape called Castañal as a fun experiment to show that Rías Baixas is not just about Albariño. We made 1,200 bottles of the inaugural vintage and want to tell the world about it. People tend to compare it to Cabernet Franc,” he added.

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