Tue 25 Mar 2008
The albariño grape might be the great white grape of Spain. It grows particularly well in Rias Baixas, a small vineyard region in Galicia, Spain’s northwestern-most province. The Atlantic Ocean, which part of Riax Baixas touches, exerts a powerful influence on the coastal vineyards. The wines tend to be delicate, deeply floral and abundantly spicy. Though some producers are experimenting with barrel aging, I think that albariño doesn’t take kindly to such treatment; oak turns the wine into some alien distortion of itself and robs it of its inherent freshness and delightful character.
I tried two wines made from albariño grapes recently, and if they’re not the best I ever tasted, they come damned close. They’re made by Adegas d’Altamira, a small family-owned property above the Atlantic with beneficial proximity to ocean breezes and excellent drainage. Some of the albariño vines on the estate are over 100 years old; the entire estate was turned over to albariño in the late 1930s. Though several generations of the Touriño family had been involved in growing grapes and making wine, the first wines with labels bearing the estate’s name were bottled only in 2004. It was about time.
The estate produces two wines, the Brandal and the Adegas d’Altimiral; both are 100 percent albariño grapes. Neither sees any oak, and neither goes through malolactic fermentation, so the wines are incredibly fresh and crisp. The differences between the wines is that the Brandal undergoes 12 hours of pre-fermentation skin maceration and rests in stainless steel tanks for six months to be clarified. Adegas d’Altimira is given 24 hours of skin fermentation, and for three months of stabilization in tank, it rests on the lees of dead yeast cells to furnish the wine with depth and complexity.
The Brandal 2006 is absolutely lovely. Scents of crushed jasmine, roasted lemon and lemon curd and dried thyme waft from the glass. As you sip the wine, it picks up hints of peach and pear and a touch of dried orange rind, while layers of limestone and chalk add a bulwark of mineral-like seriousness. The texture is that gratifying combination of scintillating liveliness and talc-like softness; the finish brings in a bit of grapefruit bitterness. Brandal 2006 will make wonderful drinking through the summer, as an aperitif and with seafood appetizers or pasta dishes. The wine rates Very Good+. About $15, a Great Bargain.
If Brandal 2006 is lovely, Adegas d’Altamira 2006 is gorgeous. Take every element of Brandal ’06, intensify it and burnish it, but don’t let it be unbalanced or overbearing. Here we find suaveness, a hint of lushness tempered by a profound limestone-flinty element, a sense of energy derived from bell-like acid and the ripeness of juicy lemon, peach and pear flavors. The floral note is subdued, but the spicy aspect is more prominent. The wine, while crisp and jazzy, flows like silk over the tongue and palate. As with its less expensive cousin, the Adegas d’Altamira ’06 concludes with a bracing rinse of grapefruit and grapefruit rind. Serve with grilled fish and seafood though the end of 2008 and into 2009. Excellent. About $25.
The wines of Adegas d’Altamira are imported by Quintessential Wines in Napa, Ca. Visit quintessentialwines.com.