In Portugal known as Alvarinho, in Spain it goes by the name of Albariño.
Presumably brought to Iberia by Cluny monks in the twelfth century, its name "Alba-Riño" means "the white (wine) from the Rhine", and has locally been thought to be a Riesling clone originating from the Alsace region of France, although earliest known records of Riesling as a grape variety date from the 15th, rather than the 12th, century. It is also theorised that the grape is a close relative of the French grape Petit Manseng.
For hundreds of years, Alvariñho vines could be found growing around the trunks of poplar trees and in bushes along the outside margins of fields. A practice which some growers still use in Portugal's Vinho Verde region.
An old grape variety of exceptional quality and deservedly famed for the varietal wines it produces in the Vinho Verde region, specifically, the two sub-regions of Monção and Melgaço it is one of Portugal's finest and most characterful, it was one of the first Portuguese grape varieties to be bottled as a single variety. Full-bodied, subtly fragrant white wines are easy to recognise with their complex but delicate aromas. Increasingly it is blended with Loureiro in most Vinho Verde white wines, Alvarinho has a highly characteristic floral and fruity profile with notes of lime tree, balm mint, honeysuckle, peach, grapefruit and apple, all well-married with the high acidity typical of crisp white wines from north-west Portugal. The grapes yield balanced wines with good structure and moderate alcohol levels.
In the middle of the century, growers began making big investments and cultivating the grape in earnest.
In Vinho Verde, the vines are typically trained on high pergolas, which encourages over-cropping, often leading to grapes that are unable to exceed more than 8.5% potential alcohol. When grown in a vineyard, the vines need to be wire trained with large canopies to accommodate the 30 to 40 buds per vine that is typical. The grape responds well to the heat and humidity though the high yields and bunching of clusters usually keeps the grapes within the margins of ripeness.
As a mainstay of the Minho region, Alvarinho provides the steely structure to most Vinho Verde white wines while being the personality and predominant grape in those emanating specifically from Monção. The zesty acid, bright citrus and green apple flavors and refreshing personality make it a superb seafood wine. Even a perfect pairing for fish and chips, the wine’s acidity is a refreshing foil to the battered crust. North Asian fare, from Japanese yakatori to Korean pickled banchan, also make for great matches.
The wines are delicious young, but they can also age well, often for ten years or more. Alvarinho grows mostly along the River Minho, right up in the north of the Vinho Verde region - the northern Vinho Verde sub-regions of Monção and Melgaço are its famous heartlands. Compared to other Vinho Verde, it makes richer wines, higher in alcohol. Alvarinho vines are vigorous, and care is needed to restrain their exuberant vegetation, yet grape yield is low, the bunches small, the grapes very pippy.
Interestingly, around 2000, Albariño (as the variety is known in Spain) attracted the attention of Australian winemakers, several of whom began producing varietal wines. However, it has been discovered that grape growers and wine makers in Australia have been supplying and selling wrongly labelled Albarino for over a decade. They thought they were pouring money into the market for the Spanish grape, only to discover they were incorrectly sold cuttings of the French Savagnin grape instead.
A French expert visiting Australia raised questions in 2008, and DNA testing confirmed that the grapes are in fact French Savagnin. Almost all wine in Australia labelled as Albarino is Savagnin.
To ensure you are drinking the real thing, a trip to Spain and Portugal is a must to appreciate this wonderful wine in its own environment.
Day 16 of the 'Ancient Kingdoms of Spain and Portugal' 2017 tour is the place to be. Contact us for tour departure dates and refer to our brochure for more details.