Albari?o (Alvarinho) is a green-skinned grape variety native to Galicia on the north Atlantic coast of Spain. It is best known as being the key grape variety in the Rias Baixas DO, where it makes crisp but often well-textured white wines with peach, citrus and mineral characters that pair perfectly with the local seafood.
The variety is often made into a lightly sparkling Vinho Verde wine in Portugal, which is commonly labeled varietally to distinguish it from the usual Louriero-based Vinho Verde blend. Here, the variety is known as Alvarinho.
The variety is high in acidity, and can be produced as a light white wine or in a fuller style, with oak or lees aging adding to the texture and richness. A marine characteristic from the nearby Atlantic ocean is often discernible, sometimes manifesting itself as a slight salinity, which makes Albarino a perfect food wine.
Albarino is native to the area in the northwestern corner of the Iberian peninsula, but it is not clear on which side of the border – as it is planted widely on each side. In Spain, Albarino constitutes more than 90 percent of the grapes planted in the Rias Baixas area, where the complex mesoclimates within this DO signify the many different sub-regions and variations between vintages and vineyards.
In Portugal, Alvarinho Vinho Verde wines are sometimes bottled with a certain amount of carbon dioxide, resulting in wines that have a light, sparkling sensation in the mouth. They were the first Portuguese wines to be widely labeled and recognized by their varietal name, and the growth in their popularity has supported a boom in availability and price. These wines are usually intended for early consumption.
The high quality of Albari?o, its ability to cope with maritime macroclimates, and an increased interest in Spanish grape varieties, has seen the variety begin to find a home in various other parts of the world. It is planted in some of California's cooler areas, including slopes on the sea-facing side of the Coastal Mountains in San Luis Opispo County, where over 50 acres of the state's 20 of 120 hectares (50 of 300 acres) are found.
Climate change allows UK growers to start move away from weather-resistant hybrids to noble varieties. Albari?o, at home on the Atlantic coast, is showing some early promise, and may get a decent share of any future plantings not devoted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for sparkling wine.
Albari?o also has a foothold in a number of New Zealand wine regions, in particular in Marlborough, Gisborne and Nelson. However few if any wineries produce it in great volume at this stage. As of 2020 there were less than 40 hectares (100 acres) in total with few blocks of more than a single hectare.
Rather notoriously, DNA studies stated that just about all of the Albari?o in Australia was found by DNA studies to be Savagnin and from 2012 had to be labelled as such. The error had stemmed from a mix up in 1989 when Spanish authorities supplied the wrong variety as propagating material to CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
Such mixups are not uncommon with varieties like this one which have a tendency to mutate and adapt to its environment. This makes it hard to identify correctly in northwest Spain and may have been partly behind the problem. It also led some growers in Australia to question the decision to rename their vines as Savagnin.
Growers of Albari?o around the world note different morphology within the same vineyards. Some berries can have one seed while others have one.
Albarin – also an aromatic white wine variety grown in the northwest of Spain – has been widely assumed to be the same as Albari?o. DNA profiling carried out in 2010 showed these to be distinct. Alvarinho Lilás of Madeira is also distinct variety.
Previously, it was thought by some that Albari?o was a clone of Riesling, mutated over the centuries from cuttings brought to Iberia by French monks in the 12th century. Some Alsace and dry German Rieslings do have similar stone fruit aromas, but records of Riesling as a variety only date back to the 15th century.
Synonyms include: Alvarinho, Cainho Branco.
Food matches for Albarino include:
- Percebes (goose barnacles)
- Paella with lobster and chorizo
- Green-lipped mussels grilled with parsley butter