July has been a crazy month, with the so-called heat dome scorching much of western Canada with temperatures approaching 50˚C in parts of BC, and in the high 30s here in Alberta. We finally got some much-needed rain to cool us down to more livable temperatures, so I naturally reached out to the fully vaccinated members of my boozing posse last week to celebrate International Albariño Days, the second-oldest wine festival in Spain.
Faithful readers will recall that I have long been a supporter of Spanish wines, whose bargain price points punch above their weight due to the local vintners aging their wines in oak barrels for longer than their French and Italian counterparts.
For those not familiar with the varietal, Albariño is a white grape from the Rias Baixas wine region of northwestern Spain, also grown in neighbouring Portual, where it is known as Alvarinho. The true origins of the grape have been lost in the wine-soaked mists of time, but scholars suspect it to be an offshoot of Riesling imported from France in the 12th century.
My first exposure to Albariño was on a vacation to Spain many years ago, in a sidewalk café in the Plaza Mayor city square, the social hub of Madrid since the 15th century. I was cautiously nibbling on what my broken tourist Spanish understood as chipirones en su tinta, or baby squids stir-fried in their own ink, mixed with plenty of garlic and diced tomatoes. The deep indigo colour of the squid ink filled me with trepidation, but I struggled through with the help of a refreshing carafé of Albariño that the proprietor claimed to all gullible tourists like myself was grown and bottled on his family farm up north especially for his restaurant.
The Albariño grape is particularly aromatic, with strong notes of apricot and peach on the nose, followed by a crisp acidity with a lingering dry finish on the palate. This varietal is typically fermented in stainless steel vats, resulting in a fairly tart wine, but will develop into a slightly sweeter finish if aged in oak.
I prefer this wine served chilled on a hot day, and paired with Spanish tapas such as white fish or oysters, or maybe a soft and briny cheese. Its crisp acidity make it a natural complement to lighter fare, especially the earlier courses of salads or grilled vegetables.
The bulk of the Albariño plantings are still in Spain and Portugal, although California and Australia have seen increased plantings over the past decade. We even have a few Albariño producers in the Okanagan Valley of BC, pioneered a decade ago by a small family-run winery named Terravista just outside of Penticton, which only grows white Spanish grapes.
Sadly for we Albertans, Terravista Vineyards sells out their entire stock from the winery door every year, so it never appears on the shelves in our local shops on this side of the mountains. I make a point of visiting the winery on my regular pilgrimages to BC wine country, and always bring home a case to enjoy.
Fortunately, the Stag’s Hollow Winery jumped onto the Albariño bandwagon a few years ago, and has sufficient acres under vine to ship to Alberta, so BC-grown Albariño can be found on the shelves of your local well-stocked wine merchant.
The Stag’s Hollow vineyards are in the southern portion of the Okanagan Valley, where the desertlike soils and large diurnal swings between hot days and cool nights allow this grape to flourish, producing a full-bodied white wine with notes of melon and pineapple.
The southern tip of the Okanagan Valley never ceases to amaze me, home to Canada’s warmest lake, thanks to being the northernmost tip of the Sonoran Desert, which runs all the way from Mexico, terminating just on this side of the Canadian border. The climate is arid, with scrub brush hiding the native fauna of scorpions, rattlesnakes, horned toads, and the like. I am always reminded of the Road Runner cartoons when driving through the region on winery tours, which I hope to soon return to after this forced absence due to these dreadful pandemic times.
With the dog days of summer still before us, switch out your typical Sauv Blanc or Chardonnay white wines for an exciting new Albariño to enjoy for those sunny patio days ahead!