Everything you should know about albariño wine

Pazo Baión has contributed to place albariño wine at the forefront

Table of Contents

1. The origins
1.1. Myths and legends
1.2. The scientific revolution
2. The historical evolution
3. The geography of Albariño
3.1. The location and the land
3.2. Climate
4. The albariño grape
4.1. General characteristics
4.2. The acidity of the Albariño variety
5. Viticulture of Albariño
5.1. Cultivation methods and diseases
5.2. Planting and pruning
6. Characteristics of Albariño wine
6.1. Fresh flavors
6.2. High acidity and alcoholic gradation
6.3. Intense varietal perfume
6.4. Ageing on lees and aging
7. Albariño wine tasting
7.1. Visual phase
7.2. Olfactory phase
7.3. Tasting phase
8. Albariño wine pairings
9. The Designation of Origin Rías Baixas
9.1. Birth
9.2. Zones
9.3. Consolidation
9.4. Internationalization
10. The contribution of Pazo Baión to a millenary legacy
10.1. Wine tourism: the fusion between wine and its environment
10.2. Production of Albariño single-vineyard wines
10.3. Tradition, innovation, and avant-garde in Albariño wines with five centuries of history

There are elaborations so valuable and complex that they are incomprehensible. No matter how much we research, read or talk to experts, we will never be able to know and understand them in all their breadth. Having said that, today we are going to face a major challenge and try to compress everything there is to know about Albariño wine in a few words.

From the earth to the glass and through the centuries, this elaboration has become a reference in the world wine universe, arousing the admiration and curiosity of thousands of wine lovers who seek to buy albariño wine from anywhere on the planet. Therefore, today we embark on an adventure that combines history, mythology, science, and, above all, a lot of effort and wisdom.

The timeless story of a unique production: Albariño wine.

1. The origins

Every story has an origin. Even those we are told in media res. The story of Albariño wine is fascinating because it mixes beliefs and myths that are purely Galician with the extraordinary scientific advances we have experienced in recent years.

The extension of wine production took place in the Iberian Peninsula with the arrival of the Roman Empire, which had perfected its elaboration, but what is the origin of the Albariño wine produced in our lands?

1.1. Myths and legends

Galicia is famous for being the land of the meigas and for its powerful mythology surrounding death. But myths and legends are not limited to these fields. Much has been written and told about the apostle St. James, the road that leads to the city of the same name, and its impact on history.

Well, the legend about the origin of the Albariño wine is linked, precisely, to the Way of St. James. It maintains that the monks of Cluny introduced the albariño grape in Galicia during their journey along the Camino in the 12th century. To be more exact and to be able to link the myth with reality: they took it to the monastery of Armenteira, which is located in one of the main albariño wine-producing regions.

From there, the cultivation of the grape and the production of albariño wine spread to other regions of the Rías Baixas throughout the Middle Ages, even reaching Portugal.

Therefore, the albariño vine would have a foreign origin, although it adapted extremely well to the characteristics of the Galician soil and the Atlantic climate.

1.2. The scientific revolution

Fortunately, scientific advances have allowed researchers to analyze grapes and vines with precision and discover their origin. Which is none other than Galicia itself. The origin of this variety (Vitis vinifera L.) lies in the evolution of native wild vines.

In an old salt mine in Vigo, from Roman times, albariño grape seeds were found between the second and fourth centuries A.D., that is, long before the beginning of the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela.

The analysis of these seeds showed the similarity between them and the current albariño grape. This has led researchers to argue that the origin of Albariño wine lies in the domestication of native wild vines or their hybridization with varieties from other parts of the Empire.

Likewise, studies have shown that the northwest of the peninsula has fully differentiated edaphic and climatological characteristics that determine the vine varieties cultivated, including, of course, the albariño variety.

2. The historical evolution

Beyond the myth, the truth is that the production and elaboration of Albariño wine remained, for centuries, linked to the religious orders, since they were the main owners of the vineyards. Thus, there was a dichotomy between the red wine, made for self-consumption at the popular level, and the white wine, destined for the ruling classes and estates.

All this came to an end in the 19th century, with the liberal revolutions that swept through Europe. Thus, the confiscations, such as that of Mendizábal, expropriated the lands of the monasteries and auctioned them. In this way, the pazos and manor houses became the main production centers of Albariño.

This situation began to change in the mid-20th century. From then on, the cultivation of albariño vines spread throughout the territory of the Rías Baixas, ceasing to be a matter in the hands of the nobility to occupy, also, hundreds of peasants and small producers.

The following historical milestone, the establishment of the Rías Baixas Denomination of Origin, will be discussed in more detail later on, but its implementation laid the foundations for the cultivation of the Albariño grape and its transformation into wine to become a real industry. So much so that, over the last two decades, albariño wineries have grown and expanded the marketing of their products beyond our borders.

Thus, the cultivation of the vine and the production of Albariño wine has become a hallmark of local identity, an engine of growth and wealth generation, and a set of knowledge that is passed from father to son.

Albariño wine is famous all over the world

3. The geography of Albariño

The place where we are born is important to explain how we are. If this is valid when we talk about humans, unlike what the filmmaker-winemaker José Luis Cuerda showed in Amanece que no es poco, we are not born literally from the earth, imagine for the vines. The soil in which they take root and the climate in which they grow is key to shaping the grapes they produce. For this reason, it is necessary to take a closer look at the geography of Albariño wine.

3.1. The location and the land

Albariño vines are cultivated in lowlands, with an altitude of less than 300 m. Moreover, they are either close to the sea. To be precise, to some of the Rías Baixas, especially the Arousa.

Or, they are in the lower fluvial sections. For this reason, the Umia river is a fundamental geographical element, since vines are grown on its banks and albariño wine has been produced there since the Middle Ages. While the vines that grow in Condado de Tea are located near the Miño river.

The soil where the vines grow is usually alluvial and sandy, providing the nutrients needed by the wines while facilitating water drainage. Granite is present in these soils, which contributes to the characteristic acidity of Albariño wine.

3.2. Climate

Beyond varietal differences, vines are influenced by three common climatic factors:

  • Temperature.
  • Precipitation.
  • Sunshine.

The Atlantic climate, typical of Galicia, is influenced by the proximity of the vineyards to the sea or a river. It is characterized by generally mild temperatures and a high average rainfall, which decreases in the summer months. It is therefore well adapted to the needs of the vine, a plant that does not tolerate extreme temperatures.

This climate, characterized by high rainfall and average temperatures throughout the growing cycle, influences the fruity character and high acidity of the Albariño variety, which we will discuss later.

4. The Albariño grape

How can it be that from a few small berries we obtain a millenary elaboration such as wine, whose complexity generates that each elaboration is different? Because part of this complexity is already present in the grapes.

4.1. General characteristics

The Albariño grape, the best possible raw material for making white wines with great personality and structure, is characterized by:

  • It is small, circular, uniform and… white.
  • It is also grouped in small clusters.
  • Its skin is very smooth but its skin is thick.
  • It ripens late since its vegetative cycle is longer than that of other varieties.
  • During ripening, it acquires a pale yellow color with some green hints of its previous stages.
  • Its flesh is soft.
  • It gives greenish musts and these generate yellow wines with green tones.
  • It stands out for its intense floral aromas, which lead to wines that stand out for their floral and fruity aroma.

4.2. The acidity of the Albariño variety

If there is a fundamental characteristic of the albariño variety, it is its acidity. This characteristic, typical of the grape, is enhanced by the humid climate and granitic soil. This is why albariños stand out for their level of acidity. This gives them vitality, personality, and longevity.

The three wine acids that come from the grape are tartaric, malic, and citric. Among the three we can highlight the malic acid because its concentration level varies greatly depending on the grape variety, the area, or the climate. In the case of the Albariño grape, the concentration is high. And it is manifested in the characteristic freshness of this type of wine.

Thus, the acidity of the albariño grape has become one of the key factors to explain the success of these elaborations, elevating them in the wine world to the Olympus of white wines.

5. Viticulture of Albariño

The vine is a fascinating and complex plant, which needs a series of care and actions throughout its growing cycle to produce the highest quantity and quality of grapes. This is the task of the viticulture teams. If the winemakers transform the grapes into wine, the viticulturists ensure that the vine produces the best raw material.

5.1. Cultivation methods and diseases

The vines of the albariño variety are characterized by their great vigor and are usually cultivated using training systems such as trellising or espalier. In this way, the plant is trained as it grows. Why?

This keeps the grapes away from the soil and its humidity, which can end up causing fungal diseases. In addition, this facilitates airflow under the grapes and leaves.

Traditional protection systems against diseases such as mildew, to which the albariño grape is quite resistant, the botrytis fungus, which also finds in this grape a great strength or powdery mildew. Precisely against the fungi that cause this last disease, the albariño grape is sensitive.

Drought also causes problems in the cultivation of the vine. Thus, although in the humid climate where the albariño variety grows there is usually no drought, in case of drought, an irrigation system must be implemented.

Cultivation methods, centuries-old knowledge, and scientific and technological advances must be combined to protect the grapes from pests or diseases that could seriously damage them.

5.2. Planting and pruning

The ideal time to plant vines is in winter, the time when the soil rests. Vines live for many years and when they are old they produce fewer grapes, but of higher quality.

Of all the processes carried out throughout the vine growing cycle, the most important is pruning. It is essential to prune hard and carry out long pruning so that the vines have fewer leaves and more grapes.

This operation is carried out when it is cold and when the moon is in the waning quarter and consists of cutting a node.

Albariño wine is a unique elaboration

6. Characteristics of Albariño wine

We do not intend in this article to systematize every one of the characteristics of Albariño wines. It would be an arduous mission and, surely, impossible to carry out, since we are talking about extremely complex and delicate elaborations. Below we will highlight just a few of the characteristics that make Albariño wines praised, desired, and consumed all over the world.

6.1. Fresh flavors

This is the most obvious characteristic of this type of wine. Albariños stand out for their intense freshness. This makes them particularly pleasant in the mouth.

In addition, they are the perfect companions to pair with many foods, but also to enjoy on their own.

All beverages, not only wines, are more pleasant, interesting, and comforting if they are fresh.

Likewise, Albariño wines are characterized by a great development in the mouth. This, combined with their freshness, makes them real delights for the palate.

6.2. High acidity and alcoholic gradation

As we have been pointing out throughout this article, Albariño wines have an overflowing acidity. This comes, to a large extent, from the grape, but some acids appear later, during fermentation and aging.

The acidity of Albariño wines is between 7 and 9 grams per liter, while in most whites it is below four. This is key to understanding the complex structure of these wines, as well as their longevity, which is also above the average for white wines.

As regards alcohol content, this is between 12 and 13 degrees, which also means that albariños have more alcohol content than most white wines.

6.3. Intense varietal perfume

Although the freshness is the first thing that catches our attention, the intense varietal perfume of Albariño wine makes it an extraordinary wine. The aromas of the grape reach the enhanced wines. Thus, albariños stand out for their floral and fruity aromas.

Their aromatic composition is not limited to these primary notes, but during fermentation and aging, they acquire other aromas that add to their complexity and personality. Some are linked to the wood in which they are aged, others are sweeter, such as honey or candied fruits… The list of aromas is very long.

Each Albariño has its chromatic composition, but all of them stand out for their varietal perfume that seduces all the senses.

6.4. Ageing on lees and aging

In the popular imagination, the idea that white wines were young was installed a long time ago. Nothing could be further from the truth. Especially in the case of Albariño wines. Thus, in recent years, wines with three or four years of aging have been produced. Extraordinary elaborations demonstrate the aging capacity of the wines of this variety. As we have already mentioned, the grape’s overflowing natural acidity has played a key role in this.

On the other hand, albariños also stand out for being one of the few white wines that undergo fantastic aging on lees, i.e. with yeasts in charge of fermentation. This type of aging produces wines that stand out for their structure and smoothness, in which the varietal characteristics are enhanced.

7. Albariño wine tasting

What is the best way to discover all the characteristics of Albariño wine? Tasting it. It is that clear. In the different phases of the tasting, we obtain information about the wine, which allows us to unravel (almost) all its secrets.

7.1. Visual phase

This is the first phase of a tasting and consists of carefully observing the wine in the glass. Albariños stand out for their straw-yellow color with greenish tones and golden glints. A beautiful color that, through the layer, can give us information about the terrain and climate of the vines, the grape variety, the winemaking process, or aging. In other words, we can know everything about an Albariño.

To do so, we must know how to look at the wine and move it properly in the glass. Although it may seem trivial, this phase is important in the tasting and, paradoxically, it provides more information than it may seem at first glance.

7.2. Olfactory phase

Smell plays a central role in the consumption and enjoyment of wine. Its importance is such that it is almost on the same level as taste. Why?

Thanks to it we can perceive the aromas of the wine and understand its chromatic composition, one of the elements that make these elaborations unique.

During the olfactory phase, we can detect primary aromas, associated with the grape variety, secondary aromas, linked to fermentation, and tertiary aromas, linked to aging.

The primary notes are the easiest to perceive. Thus, when we bring our nose to a glass of Albariño, we can delight in its fruity and floral aromas.

To detect the secondary aromas, we must turn the glass to make it easier for our nose to detect them.

Finally, the bouquet or tertiary nuances are discovered by swirling the glass more vigorously. These aromas tell us about the aging process, which is why it is especially interesting in albariños, white wines that stand out precisely because of their maturity.

7.3. Tasting phase

Finally, we come to the tasting phase. In the mouth, many of the characteristics of the wine that we discussed earlier are manifested. From its freshness to its acidity, including its complex structure and alcohol content.

In the mouth, all the flavors and nuances dance, and, in the case of Albariño, freshness, and smoothness are combined with long developments, which leave fruity memories on the palate.

8. Albariño wine pairings

Taking into account the characteristics of Albariño wines and how they are shown through tasting, it is easy to see that these wines are perfect for pairing with delicious food.

The classic pairing of albariños has been with fish and seafood. On the one hand, its characteristics, especially its freshness, make it a perfect match with the flavors of the sea. On the other hand, the geography of Albariño establishes a logical connection between wine and seafood. After all, most of the areas where albariño vines are grown are close to the Rías Baixas, Europe’s marine larder.

Thus, albariño wine is the perfect companion for all types of fish, from turbot to sea bass, including cod, and for the most varied shellfish and mollusks. But its pairing potential is not limited to these products.

The more mature Albariño wines, in which aging is long and extremely careful, have a personality and structure that make them perfect companions for the best meats.

Likewise, there are albariños whose sweet notes make them an extraordinary match for the most delicious sweets and desserts.

The albariño wine stands out for its acidity

9. The Designation of Origin Rías Baixas

As we pointed out at the beginning of this article, the history of albariño changed forever when the Rías Baixas Designation of Origin and its Regulatory Council were launched. A legislative framework and an institutional infrastructure designed to value the quality of unique elaborations, guarantee their excellent quality, and project their image beyond our borders to consolidate a local industry with deep historical roots and great socioeconomic potential.

The Rías Baixas DO is one of the five wine appellations of origin in Galicia, together with Ribeiro, Valdeorras, Ribeira Sacra and Monterrei. It is also the one with the highest production. It is a sign of Galicia’s identity, culture, and history.

At this point, some people may wonder if all the grapes used in the production of DO Rías Baixas wines are albariño. The answer is no. But this variety accounts for 96% of the total production. Although other native varieties such as treixadura, loureira, and caíña blanca are also included as preferential varieties, as well as godello and torrontés as authorized varieties.

9.1. Birth

The institutionalization process began in 1980, the year in which the Specific Designation Albariño was created. Four years later, its Regulatory Council was set up, a body that guarantees the excellence of all the wines that bear the seal of the appellation.

This original denomination changed in 1988. In 1988, the Xunta de Galicia approved the regulations of the Rías Baixas Designation of Origin and its Regulatory Council. This change in the nomenclature was associated with the desire to include other wine-growing areas dedicated mainly to the cultivation of the Albariño variety but also cultivated other high-quality native varieties.

9.2. Zones

The DO Rías Baixas is made up of five geographical zones: Soutomaior, Ribeira do Ulla, Val do Salnés, O Rosal and Condado do Tea.

Originally it only covered Val do Salnés, Condado do Tea, and O Rosal. However, in 1996 the area of Soutomaior was incorporated and in 2000 the Ribeira do Ulla.

The region of O Salnés, where Pazo Baión is located and which lies at the foot of the Ría de Arousa, concentrates the bulk of production. So much so that two out of every three kilos of grapes harvested in the Rías Baixas DO come from this sub-region. The next with the highest volume of grapes is Condado do Tea.

In terms of the varieties grown, O Salnés also stands out. Since this area is characterized by the monoculture of the albariño variety. In the other geographical areas, the other varieties included or accepted by the DO are cultivated, although the cultivation of albariño maintains an overwhelming hegemony.

9.3. Consolidation

The institutionalization of Albariño and the expansion of the growing areas brought with it the progressive growth of production and the consolidation of the DO Rías Baixas as a prestigious brand both nationally and internationally.

This process, which began in the 1980s and took hold in the 1990s, has accelerated in the last two decades. Thus, so far this century, production and marketing have improved radically, exceeding all expectations, both in terms of quantity and quality.

The figures speak for themselves.

In 1990, less than 5 million kilos of grapes were harvested during the harvest and just over 3 million liters of wine were produced.

Three decades later, in 2021, more than 43 million kilos of grapes were harvested, almost all of them of the Albariño variety. Also, more than 36 million bottles were sold, representing 27.5 million liters of wine.

The figures leave no room for doubt: the growth recorded by the Rías Baixas DO and the wineries and winegrowers that make it up has been spectacular. What was a fledgling sector, which came from self-consumption, has been transformed into a constantly growing industry that combines the best raw material with experience and technological advances.

9.4. Internationalization

The consolidation of the Rías Baixas DO and the production of albariño wine has undoubtedly been linked to its internationalization. In the past, albariño wine was marketed almost entirely within Galicia itself or Spain as a whole. This has also changed in recent decades.

As of 1996, 447,250 liters of wine were exported from DO Rías Baixas wineries. In 2021, this figure exceeded 9.4 million liters and 56.2 million euros.

Albariños are currently consumed in 70 countries around the world. Although the United States and the United Kingdom remain the main international buyers, other markets, such as Japan, are expanding at a rapid pace. And all this despite Brexit and the economic crisis linked to the covid pandemic.

All these issues explain a fact of great importance: today, one out of every three bottles of Albariño is exported abroad.

Albariño wine has become a global production.

Albariño wine has a great personality

10. The contribution of Pazo Baión to a millenary legacy

One of the main wineries of the Rías Baixas DO, Condes de Albarei, took over the historic Pazo Baión and its vineyards in 2008. From that date, an ambitious project was launched, combining wine tourism with the production of single-estate Albariños. In little more than 10 years, Pazo Baión has become an avant-garde winery that contributes, through the daily efforts of all its staff, to albariño wine occupying the place it deserves in the world wine scene.

10.1. Wine tourism: the fusion between wine and its environment

One of the main signs of identity of Pazo Baión is, precisely, the building that gives its name to the winery. The former Casa de Fontán is a spectacular pazo with five centuries of history, surrounded by beautiful gardens. An estate in which tradition and the avant-garde combine, thanks to the project designed by the prestigious architect César Portela.

As if this were not enough, the pazo is surrounded by grandiose sloping vineyards, which form a microclimate and, also, a bucolic landscape in the heart of the Rías Baixas.

Thus, Pazo Baión is a unique place for wine tourism. Since it combines the best albariños with the weight and the weight of history, all surrounded by breathtaking nature.

The Rías Baixas, besides being the ideal place to cultivate and produce Albariño wine, are regions of great natural beauty and with villages steeped in history. An area where the mountains dialogue with the sea. Wine tourism is destined to be one of the strategic business lines of albariño.

10.2. Production of Albariño single-vineyard wines

If wine tourism is a hallmark of Pazo Baión, the production of single-estate Albariños is another key to its strategy and soul.

The winery is the only one in the entire Rías Baixas DO that makes single-estate Albariños, i.e. wines whose raw material is solely and exclusively the grapes harvested from the estate’s vineyards.

Pazo Baión does not buy or use albariño grapes from other farms or estates. All the grapes that make up its three single-estates albariños: Pazo Baión, Vides de Fontán, and Gran a Gran come from vineyards with hundreds of years of history. This entails:

  • The exhaustive and permanent control of the entire process, from the time the vines rest until the wine is bottled.
  • In-depth knowledge of the characteristics of the grapes and the differences that exist between one vineyard and another. This allows us to divide the grapes destined for each production process according to their peculiarities.
  • The exclusivity of Pazo Baión wines. Since these are only the result of the grapes grown in its vineyards, which makes them exclusive elaborations.

10.3. Tradition, innovation, and avant-garde in Albariño wines with five centuries of history

Having behind it a centuries-old historical background entails great responsibility. Pazo Baión is aware of this, which is why its wines combine tradition with innovation.

Over the last decade, the Pazo Baión winemaking team has studied the characteristics of the grapes and vineyards to produce three wines with unique personalities and characteristics.

Likewise, innovative processes have been implemented, such as enhancing noble rot to create the miraculous wine that is the semi-dry Gran a Gran. This is also a raisined wine, another process of great value.

For the production of the winery’s flagship wine, Pazo Baión, we worked on aging on lees, a process that we talked about earlier and that enhances the varietal qualities of Albariño wine.

While Vides de Fontán has innovated in the process of maturing albariños. A unique elaboration fruit of 3 years of aging, in which different sub-processes of maturation are combined, including the use of a concrete egg.

The best way to innovate is to have the roots firmly planted in the ground. Tradition and research are the keys to making avant-garde wines.

Although it is a millenary winemaking process, Albariño wine still has a long way to go. The wineries, winegrowers, and winemakers of the DO Rías Baixas are the actors who must deepen the path that has already been traveled to take their elaborations to the future.

We have probably not covered everything there is to know about Albariño wine, but we have tried. He who warns is not a traitor: such a complex, elegant and fascinating elaboration can only be contained inside a bottle, not in a mere set of words.

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